Review: The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander

Title: The Library of Ever
Author: Zeno Alexander
Rating: ★★★½
Summary: With her parents off traveling the globe, Lenora is bored, bored, bored—until she discovers a secret doorway into the ultimate library. Mazelike and reality-bending, this library contains all of the universe’s wisdom: every book ever written and every fact ever known––and Lenora is now its newly appointed Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian. As she rockets to the stars, travels to a future filled with robots, and faces down a dark nothingness that wants to destroy all knowledge, Lenora will have to test her limits and uncover secrets hidden among its shelves in order to save the library itself.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

Her parents hardly ever brought her here, and Lenora was determined, when she grew up, to go to the library anytime she wanted.

The Library of Ever was cute, but after reading through all of the glowing four and five-star reviews, I’m beginning to think that I was not the target audience for this book. (But I’m okay with that!) With a colorful, eye-catching cover and the word “library” in its title, I was pretty much always going to check out the summary, but reading that it was “an adventure across time and space as a young girl becomes a warrior for the forces of knowledge”? UM YES PLEASE.

At almost 200 pages (of kid-lit sized paper and font), it took me just over an hour to finish—but perhaps that was part of the problem. I approach one-sitting reads much differently than ones which take multiple sessions, and I’m also not used to the pace of kid-lit. A lot of the fiction I read is character driven and, although stuff happens, what I find most interesting is how the characters react to or are changed by those events. Zeno Alexander doesn’t even give his main character Lenora a last name. We know that she’s being babysat by someone she doesn’t particularly like and that she’s annoyed at being told to wait in the car while her babysitter runs into the library, but that’s pretty much it. Her curiosity immediately kick-starts the plot and then the book basically doesn’t stop moving.

For me, this kind of frenetic pace was exhausting. I was in that place while reading where I was really tired but knew that if I just powered through, I could finish––but you can’t read this book and only half pay attention. Alexander so perfectly weaves each chapter with the next that if you’re not careful, you become lost in the maze he’s created. But for others? This kind of story probably feels exciting. Whether Lenora’s adventures are “real” isn’t the point: it’s the confidence she gains, the lessons she learns, the cool and noteworthy facts she uncovers.

Alexander wants his readers to fall in love with books and reading the same way Lenora does, and it saddens me that I wasn’t as wowed by The Library of Ever as other readers. Maybe I’ve let the Forces of Darkness in and lost my kid at heart.

Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Title: Night Film
Author: Marisha Pessl
Rating: ★★★
Summary: When Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse, her death is ruled a suicide, but investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath and two strangers are drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.


I’m not sure if I would have picked up Night Film had I not first read other Marisha Pessl novels—but I loved Special Topics in Calamity Physics and Neverworld Wake, and so perhaps went into Night Film expecting to love it just as much because Pessl wrote it. Her narrative tone is there, as well as her penchant for a plucky adolescent female protagonist, but in this one, Ashley doesn’t get to tell her own story. She dies at the beginning of the novel and so does her voice, her character only coming through via her relationships to other people. There’s the book’s narrator, Scott, who is investigating her death; Hopper, who knew Ashley as a teenager; and Stanislas Cordova, her father, who becomes almost more of an obsession to Scott than Ashley’s death. And on top of everything is the perception of Ashley, which morphs and twists depending on who’s talking and what they believe, but never really Ashley herself.

It’s not that I didn’t like Night Film, but perhaps that I was expecting one thing while it was another entirely. By the end of the novel, Pessl effectively wraps up the overarching mystery, but after finishing the book amidst a three-hour reading session, it didn’t sit right. I wanted her to continue making me feel physically uncomfortable, the way I felt while Scott was trapped in a seemingly endless maze of Cordova’s immaculate film sets, having to reconcile the vibrant movie scenes with their static physical counterparts. It’s the dissonance that I liked, the feeling like something is there, just out of reach, your eyes straining to make sense of shadow. Pessl wove this otherness so perfectly through Neverworld Wake, but it doesn’t quite work in Night Film because she doesn’t let us decide for ourselves what’s real. Instead of a definitive yes or no, I craved a maybe, that last lingering shot which reveals a sudden, subtle shift to everything that’s come before.

Would I recommend Night Film? Maybe. It’s just as lush and pleasantly overwhelming as her other work, the story sucking you in until you drop all other activities in favor of finishing, but I felt almost cheated by the end, all the hours I’d spent reading amounting to a that’s it? On one hand, Night Film works as a mystery novel; on the other, a meditation on obsession and celebrity and what an artistic creator owes to their fans. But Pessl’s attempts to imbue the novel with an eerie subtext, that hush of otherness, never quite took. Whenever she pulled back the curtain, I wanted to preserve the illusion.

Review: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Title: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world.


Published only months prior to its theatrical film release, Hidden Figures is pretty much what its subtitle implies: a heretofore unexplored look at the numerous black female mathematicians and engineers who worked at NASA during the Space Race and beyond. I may have been spoiled from watching the movie first, but the book ends up falling flat, stretched too thin in Margot Lee Shetterly’s attempt to reference twenty years worth of history in under 300 pages. The film has a much better structure, so just knowing that a coherent story featuring three protagonists who only briefly intersect is possible makes Lee Shetterly’s narrative jumbled in comparison. There’s simply too much information and too many players at work to try and remember all of it. (And Lee Shetterly does try to reference all of it.)

I may also be judging Hidden Figures too critically. For example, Lee Shetterly writes in the the book’s epilogue:

That even Katherine Johnson’s remarkable achievements can’t quite match some of the myths that have grown up around her is a sign of the strength of the vacuum caused by the long absence of African Americans from mainstream history. For too long, history has imposed a binary condition on black citizens: either nameless or renowned, menial or exceptional, passive recipients of the forces of history or superheroes who acquire mythic status not just because of their deeds but because of their scarcity. The power of the history of NASA’s black computers is that even the Firsts weren’t the Onlies.

Maybe this book doesn’t live up to my expectations, though, because there has been nothing like it. Could Lee Shetterly have expanded her narrative in some places rather than in others? Yes—but in providing a macro focus, she allows her protagonists to become more multi-faceted; they weren’t just but also. I mean, there were numerous threads Lee Shetterly could have tugged on to satisfy my desire for a more nuanced social critique as it related to gender roles and skin color. She also could have whittled down her protagonists to the three highlighted in the film, or maybe even two or just one. (But, then again, would I have even read that book? Picked up a biography of a women I didn’t recognize?)

Part of the problem I had with Hidden Figures is that there was too much information—but this isn’t a problem Lee Shetterly should have to fix alone. The mere existence of the book is a testament to the fact that different stories need to be told by diverse authors. A different author’s take on Lee Shetterly’s subject would have been a different reading experience, but it probably wouldn’t have had the same pathos or narrative urgency. In her hands, this story becomes her story, and in telling her story, she makes us care about something no one seemed to care about before.

So here’s to more of those stories. Thanks, Margot, for being the First. (Hopefully you won’t stay the Only.)

Review: My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

Title: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
Author: Christina Lauren
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Millie Morris may have four guys as best friends, but she’s still perma-single. When a routine university function turns into a black-tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact to find plus-ones for the event via online dating. There’s only one hitch, though: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid, secretly hook up—only to mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic. But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart, and Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”: Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Cat” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship…while Millie struggles to resist temptation in real life. She’ll either have to concur intimacy or risk losing her best friend, forever.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

Like Millie, I have had the Talk with myself: do I stay friends with this person or do I try to be more than friends? Is this regular “I’ve made a new acquaintance” excitement or more “I want to see you without your clothes” anticipation? Do I want this person to like me or do I want them to like me? As Millie asks, “are these spasms in my stomach what most normal people describe as love”—or are they simply just spasms?

As my first Christina Lauren novel, I went into My Favorite Half-Night Stand not knowing what to expect. The sexy times: great. The banter and accurate portrayal of friendship: awesome. The “I’m almost 30 and still don’t have my shit together”: I feel you 🙏. I legit read this in two sittings, desperate to figure out how Millie and Reid were going to get their HEA, both engrossed in the plot and amused by the antics.

But there were also a lot of “oh don’t do that” moments, too. Millie came off as emotionally stunted, her behavior more suited to someone who’s (maybe) in her early twenties instead of solid 29 with a super grown-up job. I’m sure that her duplicitousness was mostly manufactured for the plot, but it also went on longer than necessary. (Making a fake dating profile to ward off dick pics is one thing. Carrying on a correspondence with your best friend when a) he doesn’t know it’s you and b) you are both clearly developing feelings for each other’s online personas is another.) Then there’s Reid, who was guilty of one of my biggest pet peeves once he’d had his own Moment and then didn’t talk to Millie about it. (Yes I understand this is not always easy but most things aren’t and this is fiction and UGH JUST ACT LIKE ADULTS.)

Had I heard good things about other Christina Lauren books? Definitely. Did I enjoy the friends-to-lovers trope? Absolutely. Can I recommend a character who catfishes her best friend? Eh… maybe? My Favorite Half-Night Stand was one of those books that sucks you in and makes you desperate to keep reading. It’s only when you’ve finished do you realize, “oh, maybe I didn’t love it that much after all.” So enjoy the post-coital glow—but maybe don’t stay until morning.

Review: Notes from My Captivity by Kathy Parks

Title: Notes from My Captivity
Author: Kathy Parks
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Adrienne cares about three things: getting into a great college, becoming a revered journalist, and making her late father proud. So when she’s offered the chance to write an article that will get her into her dream school and debunk her stepfather’s belief in a legendary family of hermits, there’s no question that she’s going to fly across the world to investigate. But the Russian terrain is unforgiving and, when disaster strikes, none of the extensive preparations seem to matter. Now Adrienne’s being held captive by the family she was convinced didn’t exist, and her best hope for escape is to act like she cares about them, even if it means wooing the youngest son.


Notes from My Captivity is a strange novel, and flew way, way under the radar when it was published this past summer. (TBH, the only reason I read it was because a patron donated her ARC and I was like why not.) Kathy Parks divides her book into three-ish parts, but each one kind of blends together that the story moves forward before you stop to question whether any of it even makes sense. There’s a river-rafting adventure, then some conspiracy-theory fueled mystery, and then straight-up magical realism. (I mean, Parks includes these so-subtle-you-miss-them hints that not everything is as it seems, but they’re basically no less magical than a teenager stranded in Siberia so, you know, whatever.)

I didn’t not like the book, but rather felt like the supernatural elements weren’t introduced in such a way to satisfyingly get me to the ending that Parks wrote. (Like, does she classify this book as magical realism or just simply magical or as an allegory for faith?) I liked the mystery aspects (and their debunking) way more than the literal trek it took to get to that point in the story, and a part of me wishes Park could have written a little less literal action to more quickly focus on the emotional action.

With that said, however, Adrienne felt like an authentic teen completely thrown out of her element, written with pathos and an emotional arc that I could follow and root for. Her motivations were clear, her behavior genuine, and her grief palpable. And the book itself is filled with such great sarcasm and a swoon-worthy first-love that the good parts successfully tuck the bad ones out of sight.

Review: Call Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit

Title: Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Rating: ★★★½
Summary: In this powerful and wide-ranging collection of essays, Solnit turns her attention to battles over meaning, place, language, and belonging at the heart of the defining crises of our time. She explores the way emotions shape political life, electoral politics, police shootings and gentrification, the life of an extraordinary man on death row, the pipeline protest at Standing Rock, and the existential threat posed by climate change. To get to the root of these American crises, she counters the despair of our age with a dose of solidarity, creativity, and hope.


I always go into Rebecca Solnit essays expecting so much, mostly because it takes all of my brain power to focus on both the subject of her words and the particular way she writes them. In the foreword to her newest collection, Solnit writes that “calling things by their true names cuts through the lies that excuse, buffer, muddle, disguise, avoid, or encourage inaction, indifference, [and] obliviousness.” Naming something means acknowledgment, and acknowledgment inspires action. This theme runs through each essay, and Solnit encourages us to explore with her. How do our reactions to events help define both them and ourselves? In what ways can we make connections between experiences and history?

Although Solnit included essays written years ago, they still feel pertinent, book-ended by injustices that happened only months prior. And I think that’s why I enjoy her writing so much: she’s able to react to something in the moment as well as from a historical perspective. She’s published collections consistently every few years, and her commentary always brings a breath of fresh air to what otherwise is a shitty situation.

(Solnit is a regular contributor to Lit Hub should you desire more of her writing.)

Review: The Dazzling Heights by Katharine McGee

Title: The Dazzling Heights (The Thousandth Floor #2)
Author: Katharine McGee
Rating: ★★★
Summary: New York City, 2118. Leda is haunted by memories of what happened on the worst night of her life. Watt just wants to put everything behind him…until Leda forces him to start hacking again. Rylin wins a scholarship to an upper-floor school, but being there also means seeing the boy whose heart she broke – and who broke hers in return. Avery is tormented by her love for the one person in the world she can never have. And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who arrives in New York determined to cause a stir. And she knows exactly where to begin.


After feeling kind of so-so about The Thousandth Floor, I still put this book immediately on my TBR list once I realized it was being published. (Because apparently I have a weakness for rich teens getting in trouble? Idk.) The Dazzling Heights is a solid expansion of McGee’s series and just as engrossing as its predecessor – we get to follow the same set of characters but there’s even more drama and heartbreak in a gorgeous, lush setting. (And, let me tell you, I am here. for. it. I didn’t so much as read this book as inhale it.) While not everything gets wrapped up from the first book, enough does to leave readers satisfied – while also leaving room for new plots and characters to have you biting your nails in anticipation.

Can The Towering Sky come out now please??