Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Mini Book Reviews: March 2019 (Part 1)


Today I am back with another set of mini book reviews!  #SpoilerAlert I really enjoyed each of these books 🙂

*Books included in this batch of mini book reviews: The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang, Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, Circe by Madeline Miller, and Moloka’i (Moloka’i #1) by Alan Brennert


» The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang



5-Star Rating System

*4.5 Stars*

I read this book in participating for #YARC2019.  This book is worth all the hype!  This will be another book in my “top books of 2019” list for sure!  If I had to sum up The Poppy War in a few words, they would be epic, brutal, and morally gray.

Rin was an excellent main character.  I really appreciated her drive, dedication, ambition, and hard work ethic.  Despite all the odds against her, Rin was determined to succeed in obtaining her dreams.  On the flip side, Rin can also toe that line between “right” and “wrong”.  I always highly enjoy reading books where the characters blur the line between “good” and “evil.”

I’m a sucker for a school setting.  I blame the fact that I was a total school nerd.  I really enjoyed the setting at the military academy & the different classes the students were enrolled in.  I also liked the Fight Club and Karate Kid vibes I was getting with all the martial arts & fighting competitions between students.

Another thing I appreciated about this book was the lack of romance.  The author did allude to a possibility of a romance in the future, but the romantic elements were pretty much absent in this book.  Can I also address the fact that there is a purely platonic relationship between a boy and a girl in this book?!  I adored Rin & Kitay’s friendship, and I will be absolutely devastated if they get involved in any other capacity.  Please don’t do that to me Kuang.  #JustSaying

With epic fantasy books like this, the writing can tend to be dense & heavy, but this is not the case with The Poppy WarI found Kuang’s writing to be very easy to read, making the pages fly by.  I also found myself highly amused & laughing out loud at a few different parts of the narrative.  Kudos to Kaung for her wit.   This book reminded me a bit of the same feelings I had while reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, so if you enjoyed that book, I’d recommend this one to you.

Like I mentioned above, this book is very morally gray in areasIt is definitely one of those books where moral dilemmas are abundant, and will make you think.  Do the characters make the right decision?  What would I have done if faced with the same dilemma?   If you like books that bring about philosophical questions, than you will enjoy The Poppy War.

If you are sensitive to graphic violence, I would probably steer clear of this one.  From about page 241 on, this book gets pretty brutal.  There were definitely a few scenes that were hard to get through.

The book did lose some steam at some points, hence the half star deduction.

***Trigger/content warnings: graphic violence, war scenes, drug use/addiction, torture, self mutilation, genocide, rape, etc.***

» Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

OnceUponARiveradd-to-goodreads-button5-Star Rating System

When I heard Diane Setterfield was coming out with this book I couldn’t contain my excitement!  The Thirteenth Tale is one of my favorite books ever.  Did Once Upon A River exceed my love for The Thirteenth Tale?  No, but I did really enjoy this one!

How do I best describe Once Upon A RiverI would say is a historical Gothic style mystery with a touch of magic realism… This story also had a folklore-like quality.  I would recommend Once Upon a River to fans of Kate Morton, as Morton & Setterfield have similar tones.  If you’ve never read either of these authors, you are really missing out.

Once Upon A River is one of those books where you are introduced to a new character every chapter for the first several chapters.  It was definitely overwhelming at first to try and keep track of all the characters & side plots.  It did take me a while until I was able to get into my reading groove.  Once we were introduced to all the key players and it was easier to keep everyone straight, my reading was smooth sailing.

I would like to acknowledge that Setterfield did a wonderful job of including a diverse cast of characters.  Not only do we get diversity, but I felt they were well represented & the author took great care in presenting these characters.   Oftentimes I feel like an author will include a characters just for the sake of diversity, but it did not feel like this here.

I loved how atmospheric Once Upon a River was.   Not only did the plot line have eerie tones, but the river-side town setting also enhanced the eerie tones.   The river was almost a character in and of itself, which I always appreciate in books.

I was absorbed in the mystery of who the little girl really was.  I just had to know who she really was, and where she came from.  Setterfield really does a great job of keeping the reader on their toes.  I will say that I did not guess correctly who the little girl really was, but the reveal definitely fit the story.  Once Upon a River is very much a slower moving mystery, so do not expect a fast-paced thriller style book.

***Trigger/content warnings: suicide, rape, domestic violence, racism, etc.***

» Circe by Madeline Miller



5-Star Rating System

After reading The Song of Achilles last year, I knew I was going to read more of Madeline Miller’s work.  I was thrilled when I learned that Miller was giving backstory to the Greek goddess Circe.  I LOVE when authors take a traditional secondary character and let them have the lime light.  

I adore how Madeline Miller weaves her Greek Mythology retellings.  The more of Madeline’s retellings I read, the more I want to read Homer’s The Illiad & The Odyssey.   Even though I have not read Homer’s books, from what I’ve researched, Miller stays true to the original story while creating an entirely new spin on the story.  Honestly, I hope she will continue this trend because I will read every one she comes out with.

Like I mentioned above, Circe gives backstory of the goddess Circe, daughter of the Titan Heilos and the Nymph Perse.  This book starts off with her early life among the Titans, then follows her from her banishment to Aiaia and onward.   I really enjoyed watching Circe’s personal development & growth from the beginning of the book, to the end.  Circe is seen as weak and treated as such by the other gods, but as her story progresses, Circe discovers her strength & power.  At the core, Circe is a journey to self discovery.

Circe is very much an epic fantasy, as you can probably guess.  This book spans centuries, so there are a lot of events and characters.  We get to see many well-known Greek gods like Zeus, Prometheus, Hermes, Athena, Apollo, etc.  I also felt all the feels when Achilles & Patroclus were mentioned by Odysseus, as I had read Song of Achilles.   Obviously Odysseus & his crew were a big part of this book as well.

Circe includes themes like complicated family dynamics, mortality vs. immortality, sexism/gender inequality, destiny, motherhood, sex positivity, and love.    I was engaged from beginning to end.  I have seen a few people mention that the book loses steam around the end, or that they were not satisfied with the ending.  I actually enjoyed how things played out at the end.  I will say that I did not particularly care for Circe’s final love interest, but it didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the book. 

I really enjoyed Song of Achilles, but I loved Circe even more.

*Trigger/content warning: rape, PTSD, torture, graphic scenes, etc*

» Moloka’i (Moloka’i #1) by Alan Brennert



5-Star Rating System

Moloka’i is an amazing historical fiction set in Hawaii that spans decades: 1891 through 1970s.  Moloka’i is about the leprosy settlement of Kalaupapa located on the island of Moloka’i (Hawaii) that was in operation from 1866 to 1969.  This story follows Rachel throughout the course of her life & her battle against leprosy.  At the tender age of 6, Rachel is ripped from her family & sent into quarantine at a local hospital.  After a year of no change, Rachel, now aged 7, is sent off to Moloka’i.

Since this book spans a lifetime, there are many characters that come and go throughout this story.   Brennert does such a wonderful job fleshing out all of his characters, I was personally invested in each character & their own stories.  One of the best aspects of this story was the relationships in Moloka’i.  Friendship is something that I will always love to read about, and there was a plethora of friendship included here.  There was also fantastic father-daughter relationship between Rachel & Henry – it was everything.

I really enjoyed seeing the progression of the Kalaupapa from when Rachel arrives until the end of the book.  The island transforms from an oppressive prison-like settlement, where patients do not have much in the ways of accommodations or technology due to lack of funding, to a settlement where patients can undergo treatment & live with modest comforts.

I loved seeing the Hawaiian culture & folklore throughout Moloka’i.  As a Disney fanatic, I highly enjoyed seeing a few stories of the demigod Mãui.  In case you didn’t know, the 2016 Disney movie Moana includes Mãui.  I was delighted to read more of his legendary exploits.

This book was absolutely heartbreaking on so many different levels.  I cried on two different occasions while reading it, and I seldom cry while reading books.   One of the things that I’ve been thinking about the most since finishing this book was the treatment of those with leprosy AND also the treatment of family members left behind.  It really does go to show you how fear of the unknown brings out the worst in people.

Moloka’i included themes like family (traditional and nontraditional), friendship, freedom, hope, love, religion/faith (Christianity vs. Paganism), illness, loss, and grief.   This book blew me away.  I read it along with one of my book clubs, and every member enjoyed it.  It also made for an excellent discussion.  It will definitely make my “top books of 2019” list.

***Content/trigger warning: suicide, domestic violence, racism, alcoholism, etc.***



Have you read any of these books?  If so, what did you think?

Comment below & let me know 🙂



16 thoughts on “Mini Book Reviews: March 2019 (Part 1)”

  1. Wonderful reviews! I can’t wait to read Circe next month and I’m hoping to read Once Upon a River soon as well. Both sound so good!


  2. Pingback: October 2020 TBR

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