Book review · Short fiction · Adult

Reviews: 2019 Novellas From Tor.com

Today, I’m reviewing three Tor.com novellas that came out this year, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh and Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan.


38244358In an Absent Dream is a cautionary tale about the dangers and consequences of indecision. You go into it knowing – or at least strongly suspecting – what’s going to happen, and that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking or impactful, because its tragic nature doesn’t live in a twist or in a revelation, but in how easily avoidable on a superficial level and completely inevitable deep down its ending felt.

This is a story about being caught between two worlds, about the inherent unfairness of having to choose paired with how it would be unfair to the people around you not to – because you can’t live in two worlds at the same time.

I think every reader can relate to Lundy’s struggle on some level. I think most of us have dreamed, at some point or another, to be able to escape to a magical world. After all, it’s what this series is about. It’s easy, and this book acknowledges that, to think that choosing one world over another would be painless when one isn’t actually confronted with that choice.
Lundy, unlike most people, is given that choice – and in a modern culture that values individual choices as the pillar of freedom, it’s really interesting and chilling to see how having to choose tears her apart.
I feel like we often overlook the role and power of communities even when we talk about agency and how a character’s choices should be the ones to drive the story, so this book is, if anything, a necessary reminder.

This novella also made me think about fairness, about whether something like that can ever really exist. The world of the Goblin Market is fair, supposedly – but is it really? It certainly highlighted a lot of flaws in our own, but it’s still not a place I would ever want to be in. I think most humans need some unfairness to exist and not be stifled by rules, but unfairness is a bad thing (now I’m thinking about the intermediate disturbance hypothesis in ecology and maybe humanity needs something like that to thrive too? But still, where would be the balance in that).
I don’t know. I’m not sure the way this book would want me to be. But it made me think about many things in a really short time, and I appreciate that a lot.

On a different level, I loved this book for the way it made the Goblin Market come to life. I felt like I could taste the pies and climb the trees along with Moon and Lundy, and I could see the archivist’s shack. This is even more remarkable considering that I usually struggle with this aspect while listening to audiobooks, but not this time. Cynthia Hopkins’ narration was amazing, and I might even say that Seanan McGuire’s writing works better when narrated, as it relies heavily on telling instead of showing. It slows down the story when you’re reading, but it’s actually a strength when the story is being read to you, and that was really interesting to experience.

My rating: ★★★★¾


43459657Silver in the Wood reads like a forest fairytale. It could be seen like a loose m/m retelling of the Green Man myths, so it’s fitting that this is a story about rebirth and reawakening, not only of nature after spring but of people after toxic relationships.

It’s a quiet, slow story, and if at first I thought that the pacing was odd – things happen too quickly, but the book is still slow? – I realized that in a way it was a reflection of how the main character, who is part of the wood, experienced time himself.

This is also one of the best plant magic stories I’ve ever read. Not only it’s about a vaguely creepy wood, it actually talks about which trees there are in detail – elms, oaks, and even a mention of gorse (I love gorse) – and there are scenes in which roots and vines are weapons.

What didn’t work for me as much was the romance, as this is barely longer than 100 pages and the characters interact for only half of them; I thought it was cute, but I didn’t feel it.

At times it reminded me of Witchmark for the sweet romance between a human and a paranormal creature, at times it reminded me of Strange Grace for the isolated town in the wood and the terrible things that lurk in it, and I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who liked those books.

My rating: ★★★★


40939044Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a mind-bending and very gay futuristic sci-fi novella whose main character is a queer latinx woman.

At first, I thought this was going to be a cave horror story about an f/f/f love triangle, which I loved as a concept, but this book turned out to be something entirely different, which was… both the story’s main strength and weakness.

I love being surprised by things that are properly foreshadowed, but when the foreshadowing makes you feel like the main character could say “and it was all just a dream!” at any moment, it’s not really an enjoyable experience. (That’s not what happened, by the way.)
Because Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is dreamlike in an ephemeral way: it’s not whimsical, it just feels like it could fall apart at any moment and become something else – because that’s what dreams do.

Also, this book reminded me why I dislike amnesia as a trope: I don’t know the main character when I start the book, and when she doesn’t know herself either, how am I really going to ever get to know her? (Especially in so little space.)

However, I liked this book’s message and the way it talked about trauma and inner strength. (I wish I could say more, because I thought that aspect was really well-written, but it would be full of spoilers.) Also, reading something that is really short but manages to surprise me twice anyway is always pleasant.

My rating: ★★★¼


What are your favorite Tor.com novellas? Have you read any of these?

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Book review · contemporary · Fantasy · Young adult

Reviews: Two F/F YA Books

Today, I’m reviewing two f/f young adult books I’ve read recently, one contemporary and one fantasy.


Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

31180248I’ve now read all the books Becky Albertalli has written, and of them, Leah on the Offbeat felt like the most realistic one to me. There’s an amount of teenage drama that would be annoying, if I didn’t remember how it was like to be in high school and hear about my classmates’ relationship problems.

Teenagers are messy, teenage relationships are even messier, and I loved how this book didn’t shy away from that for a moment. The result is a novel with a plot that is less solid than Simon vs.‘s, but one that actually feels like a story about real teenagers. I mean, it features a friend group that is mostly queer and the characters aren’t even out to each other for most of high school, and yes, that’s far more common than YA books would lead you to believe.

Leah Burke as a character felt so real to me. She constantly says the wrong thing, she overreacts, she misinterprets, she doesn’t know how to communicate. She’s a 17-year-old girl, not a role model, and I liked her so much for it. Sometimes she reminded me of myself, sometimes she reminded me of things some of my classmates have done. Teenage girls have… a lot of emotions and don’t always cope in the healthiest ways, and this book knows that. What I don’t get is all the hate Leah got for being a realistic teenage girl, but I can’t say I’m surprised, seeing how the book community is usually about girls who don’t deserve a halo.
Her relationship with Abby was very cute, but not without misunderstandings, because both girls are insecure and kind of take it out on each other at times (see: the label policing conversation – that’s Leah being a dick because she feels guilty about 100 other things; I never got the impression that the book wanted me to agree with her). However, their dynamic didn’t feel unhealthy to me overall.

I have to say that reading these books also makes me kind of sad, because while I’m always glad I can find happy queer stories (this time, one that was translated in my language!), this hasn’t been my high school experience, not even close– and to see books that say things like “you’ll miss these years!!”… well, I hope not. They were a five-year-long nightmare. I’m a year out of high school and I miss nothing.

Also: this time the pop culture references felt less overwhelming, maybe because I expected them, but the translation continued to make very questionable choices. I especially disliked the way the minor non-binary character was handled, as this book had the Italian version of “she uses they/them pronouns”.

My rating: ★★★★


The Afterward by E.K. Johnston

36998181Me and E.K. Johnston’s writing just don’t get along. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just that the narrative choices don’t make any sense to me: in years of reading fantasy, I’ve never read a book that had at the same time this many infodumps and a worldbuilding as generic, inconsistent and lacking in details as The Afterward.

Let’s talk about what I mean:

  • generic: this book has a typical medieval fantasy aesthetic, with knights and kings and magical gems, which is fine, if not exactly my preference;
  • inconsistent: what sets it apart from many other fantasy books is that it has gender equality to a degree and less queerphobia, which would have been great if the book hadn’t gone about it in an extremely inconsistent way, for example by telling us that the language shifted to include non-binary people but constantly using binarist phrasings – and since we’re talking about the way things are phrased, some parts were really uncomfortable to read as an aromantic person;
  • lacking in details: the Mage Keep is the only place that was really described, and I have no idea how anything else looked like. It relied a lot on the idea that the reader could envision a generic medieval fantasy world, but that’s both boring for me and lazy writing.

I had a similar problem with That Inevitable Victorian Thing – at this point, I doubt she’s able to write worldbuilding that doesn’t fall apart if you look at it twice – so I think she’s just not the author for me.

Now, let’s mostly focus on the positives, since this was, after all, a three star book – and three stars isn’t a bad rating for me.
The Afterward is a quietly subversive fantasy novel. It looks generic on the surface, and its world is, but what it does with the set-up isn’t. Instead of having a group of men with the one woman™ go on a quest, it’s a group of female knights (one of which is a trans woman) and thieves with only one man, and the story centers an f/f relationship between two young women of color. What it did with arranged marriage tropes was really interesting to see too, as it didn’t approach it the way most YA fantasy novels do.

I thought that The Afterward would be about what happens after the quest, but it isn’t, not really – half of it is set during the before. I can’t really complain about that, since those are the parts of the book in which we actually see the f/f couple instead of only hearing about it while the girls are separated. However, the quest itself wasn’t that interesting to read about.

And finally: the f/f romance. I loved Olsa and Kalanthe’s dynamic, but they aren’t in the same place for most of the book. Which is sad, because the scenes in which they were together were enough to make me at least believe in the romance, so I wonder how strongly I would have felt about it had it had more page time.

My rating: ★★★

Weekly

T10T: Unpopular Bookish Opinions

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Unpopular Bookish Opinions.

I might try to keep my blog positive outside of reviews, but the truth will always be that I’ve been introduced to booktube, and then to the rest of the book community, by the unpopular opinion book tag. So I couldn’t ignore this, could I?


#1

↠ I want adult sci-fi to be challenging; if it isn’t, I get bored

I feel like my adult sci-fi recommendations should come with a disclaimer, something like “Acqua liked it, which means that the worldbuiliding is either dense, very bizarre, or on the verge on nonsensical (but she thought it was fun)”

I’ve tried reading adult sci-fi that was more low on the worldbuilding, but… I either didn’t care about it or actively hated it. Because what I like about adult sci-fi, the reason I sometimes say that it’s my favorite genre, is that it’s the only genre that is allowed to be completely out there with the worldbuilding. Trying to figure out the world is part of the fun, and the weirder it is, the better, so throw the overcomplicated weird worldbuilding/technology at me, please.


#2

↠ A few polarizing and/or underrated books I love:

  • Temper by Nicky Drayden: this one got so little visibility, but it’s one of the most original and funny things I’ve ever read. It’s a bizarre fantasy novel set in an alternate South Africa, and I can’t even tell you what it was about, there was so much going on. It was an experience and I really recommend it if you, like me, are always there for weird stories
  • Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee: for a NYT Bestseller, I’ve heard surprisingly little about it, and not all I’ve heard has been good, when… this is probably the only middle grade novel that has managed to keep my attention in years, and it’s such a fun read involving a gumiho in space in a casually queer world. It made me so happy.
  • A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo: the other day, I saw Tillie Walden describe why she loved this book so much, and… same. Contemporary lesbians in a story that isn’t about romance, in a story in which they get to be morally gray, in which they get to be messy and even horny without being flattened to a stereotype. However, many reviews on goodreads see this as bad lesbian rep, and do I disagree

#3

↠ Some authors I can’t get into:

  • Sarah Gailey: I’m seeing more people talk about them lately, as their debut novel came out recently, but: I’ve tried their stories multiple times – both novellas in the River of Teeth series, some shorter fiction, and even some poetry – and I haven’t liked one of them. I almost never one-star short fiction, but the Hugo-nominated story STET even managed to make me angry, so I don’t think I’ll ever try anything by them again.
  • E.K. Johnston: after reading two of her books, I just think she’s incapable of putting together a worldbuilding that doesn’t fall apart because of inconsistencies if you look at it twice. Which makes me sad, because the premises of her (very queer) books always look perfect.
  • Jay Kristoff: I thought the writing in Illuminae read a lot like “edgy preteen”, so I tried something that he wrote by himself and that was adult, Nevernight, which ended up feeling like “edgy preteen with a thesaurus”, and that wasn’t even the worst part – that would be the cringe-y fake Italian-inspired setting. [Gladiatii? Are we serious? But to be honest I quit when a character said “mi Dona” for something that was meant to be the equivalent of “my lady”, probably inspired by the words “mia” (my, singular female form) and “donna” (woman), but “mi dona” means “it suits me” and it’s used for dresses. I… can’t take any of this seriously, I’m sorry]

#4

↠ My problem with many fae books is that in them the fae think almost like a human would, so I don’t get the “blue and orange morality” content

In many popular fae books, the fae are either basically elves with less of an obsession for nature and more superpowers (…A Court of Thorns and Roses), or something that feels like a sad caricature of a high school bully (The Cruel Prince). In both cases, they feel a lot like humans, but I prefer faeries who don’t.

Some examples of portrayals I like:

  • Under the Pendulum Sun is my all-time favorite portrayal of the fae. All of it is a very sick mind game, and the fae in this book can’t be understood by humans, which I really appreciated. Then the book added its own… twist to it. Not going to say more because spoilers, but if you’re into disturbing novels, try this.
  • An Enchantment of Ravens is the demonstration that you can write a fae romance in a world in which the fae are monsters: Rook is more the exception than the rule, and the rest of the fair folk… well, they’re not people anyone would like to spend that much time with.
  • The fae in Never-Contented Things are kind of incidental, as it’s mostly a story about getting out of an abusive relationship, but I loved how cruel for the sake of it they were. They’re monstrous and cold and yet so fascinating (Unselle!) and this is what I want from this kind of stories.

#5

↠ I am instantly wary of any book described as “hopepunk”

If you’ve been there before, you might know that I’m not the biggest fan of grimdark, or of grim stories in general. Hopelessness isn’t something I want from what I read for entertainment. However.

I don’t see the point of hopepunk at all. I mean, the word was created to mean something that, to me, feels like it could be applied to every single book that isn’t grimdark, which makes it functionally useless (it might be that I read a lot of YA, but “as much as we have that core of malice and evil, we also have a huge capacity to do good and to take care of each other and to make the world a better place” could describe 90% of what I read). Which means that almost no one uses this word for books that are dark but human and recognize that things can get better, or even for the average funny YA in which some bad things happen but there’s a happily ever after because the characters learn to stand up for what they believe in (or something like that).

It means that the books that actually get described with it are things that fully intend to beat you over the head with how everything will be fine 🙂 and we’re going to make the world better if we’re kind to each other 🙂 and remember to breathe 🙂 – which to me is just as irritating as the novels that want to convince me that the world is inherently horrible no matter what people do.

I love hopeful stories, but the parts in which they make me feel the hope are the ones that matter, not the ones in which they constantly tell me about it.


#6

↠ Short fiction doesn’t get half the appreciation it deserves

There are very few novels that I think “changed my life”. I can count… maybe three at most? And I’ve read 400+ novels since 2016. I haven’t read nearly as much short stories, but I know of a short story that really changed my life, and the idea that short fiction is somehow lesser or even less impactful than novels is a lie.


#7

↠ I’m tired of certain premises that seem to be everywhere in YA fantasy lately

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about dystopian worlds or retellings of the same five fairytales, but there are three YA trends that, in the last four years, seem to be everywhere:

  • the main character goes on a quest to rescue a sibling we know nothing about
  • the princess who needs to take back the throne or the magician who needs to take back the banned magic (or the magical princess who needs to take back both the throne and the banned magic!)
  • the main character who needs to infiltrate a place where there happens to be a person of their age who works for the opposite side and they’re meant to kill each other but they fall in love instead (sounds very specific? YA is convinced this is the only way to have the enemies-to-lovers trope, so there are a lot of them.)

Sometimes, all three happen at once – looking at you, Ruined by Amy Tintera – and there’s nothing wrong with them, I’d just like YA to understand that if it takes a risk for once, its readers won’t hate it for that. We don’t need to pick three plotlines, do almost nothing but that for 4 years, and then declare them dead for the following decade (see paranormal romances).

Since I don’t believe in complaining without recommendations, a few underrated books that don’t follow any of these storylines:

  • Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton: a dark fantasy story set in an isolated town with a terrible secret, involving polyamory and a terrifying wood.
  • The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad: slow-paced, character-driven silk road fantasy involving intrigue, so many food descriptions, and surprisingly few clichés.
  • The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke: how often do you see stories about women going on a quest because they want to? I certainly never had before.

#8

↠ Adult SFF isn’t all white men, you’re just not looking

19161852If you believe this, I’m going to ask you to look at my post about the Hugo Award Finalists (all adult SFF in various formats) of this year, count the white men, and come back here. And it’s not like it’s a new development of 2019 – the all-agender sci-fi Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie won basically all the awards it could have won in 2013. You probably also know of award-winning N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor, and there are so many others. Could it be better? Definitely, but so could YA.

There are few things that annoy me as much as YA readers who supposedly avoid adult fiction because according to them it’s “all white men”, while in reality they’re reading popular adult fantasy by women and mislabeling it as YA, and avoiding all diverse sci-fi because it’s too complicated or something (just because I like the complicated ones it doesn’t mean they’re all like that! Just… that’s what I’m going to recommend, because I have no intention to lie about what I like?)
To me, these complaints feel as absurd as would one about YA being all white men because John Green is popular.


#9

Part of the reason I tend to avoid some adult fantasy books is that I’m tired of gatekeeping nonsense

[or: I just complained about the YA readership, now let’s complain about the adult one]

Some people will tell you that you don’t have the right to call yourself a fantasy fan unless you’ve read certain authors. If you’ve in some way interacted with adult SFF circles, you probably already have a list in your head – and that’s the fastest way to make me not want to read a book.

Also, I have tried some of them, and… they weren’t even good. Some of my most memorable reactions have been “I’ve never read a book that was so obsessed with boobs and yet at the same time so dedicated to make me understand that it doesn’t know how boobs work” and “please get someone with a sense of humor to proofread your next one”.


#10

↠ Inconsistent and lacking worldbuilding is one of the worst things that can happen to a sci-fi or fantasy book.

I don’t really understand the idea of “the worldbuilding was bad but the characters were so interesting that I didn’t care”.

Characters should feel shaped by their world, and how can that happen if the world doesn’t feel real? I’ve seen what happens in American SFF novels in which the worldbuilding felt like an afterthought: the characters feel, act and talk like modern white Americans.

And yes, I will have a problem if in your fake renaissance Italy novel the characters’ ideas of family and concepts of ethics are those of a modern anglo protestant. at least base their hangups on catholicism. Bad worldbuilding often reminds me that there is a significant portion of Americans who still think of themselves as the default humans.


I’m not going to pretend this made sense in any way, coherence is overrated, but I’d love to know what you think of these things!

lists

Pride Recommendations: Graphic Novels

Today, I’m going to talk about my favorite queer graphic novels, both because I’ve recently read new ones I really liked, and because I don’t talk about the ones I love that aren’t new often enough.


Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

This is an ongoing dark fantasy series, and I consider it one of my favorites. The queer representation in it is somewhat subtle at first, also because the worldbuilding is a lot to take in, but with time it becomes clear that this series is set in a steampunk Asian-inspired matriarchy in which heteronormativity isn’t a thing. By the third volume, it’s explicit that the main character Maika is queer and that her relationship with Tuya wasn’t platonic.

I like this series mainly for the art. The cover should already give you an idea of what it’s like inside, and it is one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever read. It makes the gory fight scenes look pretty, and the landscapes are everything. For the plot, I feel like I can describe Monstress as “a darker Daughter of Smoke and Bone meets Kameron Hurley’s books”, because that’s exactly how it feels. Also, I’d usually avoid saying things like “this is written for [x]”, but this genuinely feels like it’s written for queer women – it’s full of morally gray and villainous women who are beautiful and yet never look like a 90% cleavage caricature you’d find in so many other comics with female villains.


Twisted Romance by Alex de Campi

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This is one of my favorite anthologies, and I can’t believe how underrated it is. It’s an anthology of unusual romance stories, both in prose and in comic form, and most of the stories in it are queer (also, many main characters are people of color and there’s fat rep). There are polyamorous lesbians, bisexual vampires, monster hunters falling in love, girls escaping abusive relationship, m/m romances in space, and also asexual representation and discussions of kink, consent and whether anyone is ever “owed” romance (spoiler: no). Not every story worked for me, but I still think it’s gorgeous.


Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

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A new one! I read it a few days ago and it instantly became my favorite standalone graphic novel. The art in it is gorgeous – detailed, soft, and atmospheric, in beautiful shades of gray and pink, and I wanted to stare at it forever – and so is the message. This is a story about a biracial East Asian girl who is in love with her perfect, popular girlfriend Laura Dean. However, Laura Dean keeps cheating on her, breaking up with her, demanding her time while barely giving anything back. This is a story about the meaning and role of love and relationships, about how they don’t exist to isolate you, about the importance of being there for your friends.

It means a lot to me to see that we’re able to get queer stories that are neither happy nor tragic, stories that deal with struggles that aren’t unique to queer girls but with all the nuances details that are.


On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

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This is technically available online as a webcomic, and I read it like that, but maybe it would make sense to read it as a physical copy, as it always took forever to load. Anyway, this is a space fantasy story about a girl trying to find her way back to her girlfriend in a space that is very different from our own. From floating palaces to flying fish and fox ghosts, there’s an entire universe of magic in this book, and I think that people who love the found family trope will love this.

The art style is very… muted, quiet, almost overwhelmingly so – the kind of quiet that haunts you – but there’s a beauty to it.


Bloom by Kevin Panetta & Savanna Ganucheau

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A cute graphic novel about two boys falling in love while working in a bakery, of course featuring lots of food (there are even recipes in the graphic novel) and also a surprising amount of drawing of flowers. It’s set in a coastal town and it almost had the perfect summer-y atmosphere – I say almost because the blue-to-gray palette wasn’t, in my opinion, what suited the story.

It is as adorable as it sounds, but I think that anyone who wants to get into this should also keep in mind that it follows a very insecure (and immature) main character who is dealing with a lot of self-doubt and with a friendship he doesn’t realize is toxic, and there’s also some miscommunication involved, so I wouldn’t describe it as pure fluff. However, I actually appreciated Ari’s development and how this novel talked about understanding what you want from your future and who you want to spend it with.


What are your favorite queer graphic novels?

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

42505366Annihilation meets Lord of the Flies in this YA literary horror debut featuring a quite deadly illness that slowly turns an all-girl school’s students into monsters.

Unfortunately, me and this book didn’t click as much as I hoped after seeing that cover – one of the most gorgeous in YA – and what this book was about, since it promised creepy woods and queer girls. It delivered both, but I found only one of them actually satisfying.

The main reason this book didn’t work for me were the characters. There wasn’t anything wrong with them, not really, but by the end of the book, I realized that I didn’t know them at all, which was the reason I couldn’t bring myself to care about them. I rooted for them, of course, but I didn’t feel it.
They felt so distant that I started to wonder whether this was intentional and the author was trying to mirror what Annihilation did with its main character. (And it really feels like a YA version of that! It even has the bear.) I can’t know the author’s intent, but the Annihilation approach worked because that book was barely longer than a novella, not even reaching 200 pages.

Another theory is that she chose not to develop her characters because Wilder Girls is meant to be a general portrayal of the experience of girlhood in a misogynistic world – which it could be, since this can be seen as a story about how girls are constantly made to change, told to be different, told that their bodies should be always beautiful, told that their bodies belong to everyone but them. Even then, I still don’t think this was the best choice (if it really was intentional). I just… couldn’t get invested in anything but the atmosphere.

Also: (spoilers)

I’m so tired of “climate change!!” plot twists in books that never in any way talk about ecology. It may be that I’m studying it and so I feel strongly about that, but to me it feels like constantly reading novels in which every plot twist involves deities but that never actually talk about religion. Of course we want to talk about climate change, of course it’s horrifying, but that’s exactly why you shouldn’t throw it around as if it were magic that is completely not tied to how ecosystems actually work.
I strongly believe that metaphors for something should make sense emotionally, and this… didn’t? I don’t know, when the cause was revealed I was pretty underwhelmed, and the worst thing is that I can already think of a lot of ways a similar set-up would have made a far better metaphor for climate change

 

Apart from that, I can say that this book is really well-written. The writing is gorgeous and evocative, the pacing excellent, and this is one of the best examples of plant horror I’ve ever read, because for once, I’ve found a plant horror book that actually tells you how the forest looks like and which trees are there (pines, spruces – yes, this book doesn’t call all of them pines, I love that – and broadleaf deciduous trees). I still didn’t love it, as I prefer books in which the forest horror comes from the plants and not from the animals that roam it.
Also, creepy tide pools! There are creepy tide pools! I loved the setting so much.

In addition to what didn’t work for me about the characters, this book also had what didn’t work for me about Annihilation, the sad, lost and gloomy tone, as I find it exhausting, but that’s not the book’s fault.

My rating: ★★★½

If you want to know the trigger warnings for Wilder Girlsthis list on the author’s site is comprehensive, but to that I’d add “therapy session gone wrong”, because I needed it.

Wrap-Up

May 2019 Highlights

Welcome back to the Monthly Highlights series, in which I tell about my month by ignoring everything that happens in my life apart from novels and botany. I still manage to be accurate, because my life is boring.


What I Read

This month:

  • I read 2 new novels and reread 3
  • I listened to the audiobook of a novella
  • I read a short story collection.

I didn’t read a lot in May, but I don’t mind that, because all the seven books I read were over four stars. I’m also a slow rereader, and I knew I wasn’t going to get to much when I decided to dedicate the month to a Machineries of Empire reread. (Totally worth it, by the way, but you probably already know what I think.)

What I Liked

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↬ The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta is a contemporary fantasy novel following a group of queer witches living in a small town near the redwoods in California

  • It’s GAY and it has TREES
  • …anyway. Now that you know my priorities, I can say that it’s exactly the kind of atmospheric, witch-y story I had been looking for since The Raven Cycle
  • there’s an f/f romance but to be honest the G(r)ays all felt in love with each other
  • this is about belonging and community and the power found in them, and isn’t that a queer story™ in itself
  • I feel like when people think about books about the queer experience they always think about coming out, as if that were the only part that matters
  • I think it’s important to remember that this is contemporary fantasy and not contemporary from the beginning, so that you don’t feel weird about people walking barefoot in the woods at night
  • I’ve heard almost nothing about this, which kind of makes me sad, because we might be getting a lot of f/f releases this year, but so many of them are being overlooked?

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I’d need to reread the other novellas to be sure (be sure!), but In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire might even be my favorite book in the series so far.

  • I recommend the audiobook, and if you know me, you know that I’d never recommend the audiobook, but it’s short and the narration is amazing
  • also Seanan McGuire’s writing relies on telling more than showing, which works better when the story is being told to you
  • so atmospheric and vivid and I could see and feel the Goblin Market
  • how can something be so beautiful and so sad at the same time
  • about choices and fairness and the consequences of loneliness? There’s a lot to talk about here, it might be a novella but it’s the kind of thing I’d love to discuss
  • it took me almost a month to read because I’m terrible at audiobooks and because I listened to it while traveling (for the “going around my region to see the plants” thing) in two separate occasions

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I spent most of the month rereading my favorite series, which everyone is tired of hearing me talk about, and its new short story collection (Hexarchate Stories), so I’ll try to be concise

  • I didn’t love the sequel novella Glass Cannon as much as the novels; what it was doing made sense and so I appreciated it, but it had an exposition problem (and the execution was messy by this series’ standard; it needed more space)
  • however, it was hilarious and the short stories were delightful
  • I had already read some of them – half of Hexarchate Stories can be found on the internet, because this is a collection of stories set in the Hexarchate written over the years and published in various places. Anyway, it’s nice to have them all together
  • the stories vary from “cute vignette with cats” and “fun caper” to “ominous foreshadowing” and “basically porn without plot”, I love variety

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Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson comes out in June (I read an eARC) and it was even better than I expected it to be

  • it reminded me of An Enchantment of Ravens because of the humor – which I loved, YA fantasy often takes itself too seriously and this doesn’t – but it’s such a different book that I’d recommend it even to those who hated AEOR
  • the romance was really cute but let’s be honest, I was there mostly for Silas, Nathaniel’s inherited demon™, who had the personality of a distinguished demonic noble crossed with an outraged cat
  • sometimes a family is a sword-welding librarian, a bisexual disaster of a necromancer, and the demon who totally doesn’t care about them, no, why, where did you get that from
  • the demon who told him bedtime stories I’m dying
  • also, it’s set in a library and it’s full of terrifying magical books, what more do you want from life?
  • the pacing was somewhat messy, I often felt like things took too long to get started and then ended up feeling rushed

Plant News

I’m not even pretending this section is for something else at this point
  • Guess what? I learned to recognize even more plants. No one is surprised. Anyway, this month’s highlights are the scorpion senna (Hippocrepis emerus), the mastic shrub (Pistacia lentiscus), the bloody dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) and the manna ash (Fraxinus ornus). I can also now tell apart various species of broom (Genisteae) at a glance!
  • From my hike in the Mediterranean shrubland, the first thing I learned is that almost every plant in it – it doesn’t matter if it’s a shrub, an herb, some kind of vine, or a tree – is full of thorns and personally hates you. The second thing I learned is that the next time I will bring scissors and gloves. (I almost paid my Calicotome spinosa sprig with blood. I won’t do that again.)
  • I saw some species of non-photosynthetic plants (so, without chlorophyll) this month! They’re actually pretty common, as I’m discovering.

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  • One was the bird-nest orchid, Neottia nidus-avis [right (Yes I know it’s blurry)], which lives because of symbiosis with mycorrhizal fungi. I didn’t even know that kind of thing could exist before, so it was really interesting to see.
  • The weird plant [center] the flowerbeds in my city are full of is also non-photosynthetic – it’s a parasite of the common ivy (Hedera helix), whose name is… ivy broomrape (Orobanche hederae). Nice.
  • I’m not 100% sure the Cytinus hypocistis [left], a plant which is a parasite of the Cistus genus, is non-photosynthetic, but I think it is – and anyway, it’s really pretty, so there’s a photo of that one too.
  • I don’t know if I want to become a botanist, it’s too soon to tell what I’ll do in five years, and it’s not that I feel that more strongly about plants than I do about other life forms – I just think that while talking about parasitic plants won’t gross most people out, most might not appreciate my “parasitic isopod found in the fish I had for lunch” updates as much, that’s it
  • When it comes to macroscopic life forms, I want to know about it

Cover reveals!

Cover reveals of books I’m more or less interested in that happened this month.

  • Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller: I didn’t have the best experiences with Linsey Miller’s previous series, mostly because of the writing, but I believe in giving second chances to authors who write queer books, and this one is f/f. The cover looks like icing gone wrong, but oh well.
  • Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan: the warrior lesbians are back, and both on the cover, and I can’t wait
  • The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper: I’m not completely sure I’m going to read this but it looks really cute and I’m glad there are not one but two explicitly gay YA covers this month
  • Docile by K.M. Szpara: it’s here. I’m not sure it’s going to work for me, as it’s completely out of my comfort zone, but this book’s premise sounds amazing and K.M. Szpara is one of my favorite short fiction authors, I can’t not try it

How was May for you? Any new favorite books/book covers?

Weekly

T10T: Favorite F/F Speculative Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Books From My Favorite Genre.

The category I picked isn’t a genre. I don’t really have a favorite genre – I usually say it’s adult sci-fi because almost all the books I read from it end up being favorites, but I’m extremely picky about the ones I even decide to try and I didn’t have enough novels I loved for a list.

So I decided to write a list of favorite f/f speculative fiction, because I’m tired of hearing that it doesn’t exist and because it’s Pride Month and I do what I want.


A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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My own true love A Memory Called Empire is an adult sci-fi novel following the new ambassador of a small space station while she lives in the planet-capital of the very powerful neighboring empire. It’s a story about what it’s like to live while navigating two cultures, and the main character happens to be a lesbian. There’s no homophobia in this book, just a lot of very dangerous and deadly political intrigue.

The plot twists made my head spin in the best way, the slow-burn f/f romance killed me, and the wordlbuilding is so well-crafted and unique that it manages both to feel impossibly modern and read like political court fantasy anyway.


The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

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The Lost Coast is another recent favorite. I loved for its atmosphere and writing, but the main reason this had such an impact on me is the way it talked about queerness. It’s such a welcoming story, right from the first page, one that talks about the role that community has in finding yourself, and the many ways women can support each other – and isn’t that relevant to the queer girl experience? It talks about the impacts of homophobia without actually showing any of it, which I really appreciated.

This is a story of a group of queer witches who live near the Californian redwoods and are all kind of in love with each other. And I might not love recommending novels by comparing them to really popular ones, but I honestly believe this is the closest we’re ever going to get to an f/f Raven Cycle (witches and wood magic! friendship! whimsical  and vaguely creepy! ghosts!).
The romance was really soft, too.


The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

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If you’re tired of soft – sometimes I am too, since finding novels about queer women that are well-written and not at all soft isn’t that easy – I recommend The Stars Are Legion, an all-lesbian biopunk space opera following an amnesiac warrior and her scheming ex-girlfriend who end up involved in a love triangle with a antiheroine/villainess romance (yes, there’s an explicit antiheroine/villainess sex scene).

I also recommend this if you’re really into weird, completely out-there worldbuilding, because this is exactly that, and I loved every moment of it, even though I’m usually not that into gore. (Seriously, if gore is a problem for you, don’t read this book – or most biopunk horror, I’d say.)


Dominion of the Fallen by Aliette de Bodard

Dominion of the Fallen is an underrated adult historical fantasy series set in a early 20th century Paris devastated by a magical war. It’s a story about people surviving among the ruins, featuring a lot of political intrigue between “Houses” of magical beings. As these novels follow mostly different PoVs, there are not one but two established f/f romances:

  • In The House of Shattered wings, we have Selene and Emmanuelle (who, I’ve heard, will have a PoV in The House of Sundering Flames too), two fallen angels who are trying to keep House Silverspires from being torn apart by a mysterious attacker
  • In The House of Binding Thorns, we have the trans fallen angel Berith and her wife Françoise, who is a Vietnamese-French human woman. They’re trying to not get involved in political intrigue and mostly failing.

The first book is solid but not perfect; the second one is everything to me (and also has an m/m couple I love; this series gets gayer with every book).


Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

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If you think that the ocean is terrifying and would like to be terrified, know that I relate and that Into the Drowning Deep is the perfect book for you. There’s a scene in here that I still think about often, and it’s been almost a year.

For a more serious description, this is a sci-fi horror novel based around environmentalist themes and human relationships with the ocean. I thought that aspect could have been handled better, but I really liked this book nonetheless, especially for the f/f romance – as it turns out, bisexual marine biologist + autistic lesbian camera operator + mermaids trying to eat everyone is the perfect combination.


Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

This series is probably the most hyped on this list, and I can say that the hype it got is deserved. Girls of Paper and Fire is a story about trauma, rape culture, and the dynamics of oppressive systems told from the point of view of Lei, a girl who is kidnapped from her home and forced to become a concubine of the demon king in this Malaysian-inspired fantasy world.

I really appreciated this book’s message, the way it talked about resisting and fighting back against predators and also about how sometimes women themselves make the world more difficult for other women, but what I loved the most about it was the gorgeous f/f romance. Lei and Wren find each other in stolen moments, and are each other’s light in a dark world. They are, of course, forced to hide how they feel from the others, and to see this kind of “forbidden court romance” featuring two girls of color instead of a white girl and a white boy makes me really hopeful about the future of YA.


Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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A subversive, quiet retelling of Snow White in which the Evil Queen isn’t evil and in which the Snow White character doesn’t fall for a prince but for the court surgeon, who happens to be a girl. It takes a well-known story and writes one whose message is more relevant to today’s society, with women working together instead of trying to tear each other apart, but without ever losing the fairytale feel.

It’s not romance-focused, but I thought the relationship was really cute anyway, and if you like slow-paced, wintry fantasy, no book does that as well as Girls Made of Snow and Glass.


In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

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If you want something that is more romance-focused, my favorite f/f fantasy romance is In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in which the beast is a shapeshifting dragon set in a Vietnamese-inspired world. The relationship in here… it has every element of B&tB I love without the Stokholm Syndrome feel some of its retelling have.

Its setting reminded me of both The Star-Touched Queen and Cruel Beauty, as it mostly takes place in a palace of illusions, with door that lead to impossible rooms and mysterious libraries, while firmly remaining its own (very weird) thing.


Ash by Malinda Lo

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Ash is an f/f fantasy classic that has inspired many authors writing queer fantasy today. Like the previous two books, it’s a quiet retelling centering a romantic relationship between two girls, this time in a story inspired by Cinderella.

It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember loving it for how calm and low-stakes it was, because after all the fantasy novels in which the characters have to find a way to save the world, this was such a breath of fresh air. Sometimes you just want to read a story in which there are many descriptions of forests and two girls fall in love.


I Could Also Recommend

  • The Afterward by E.K. Johnston: a medieval fantasy that feels at the same time classic (about a quest) and subversive (centering queer women, turning some fantasy tropes on their heads). The romance was great but the worldbuilding could have been better.
  • Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova: an urban fantasy novel following a bisexual latinx girl as she goes on a quest in a terrifying parallel world to save her family. I loved this book’s message but felt like the characters could have used some development.
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power: a horror novel in the vein of Annihilation, very atmospheric and well-written. Its tone and its focus on themes and metaphors rather than the girls and their relationships (which felt very underdeveloped to me) made me think it would have been better as an adult novel. I would have hated this at 16.
  • The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera: an epic adult fantasy novel about a fated romance between two warrior princesses. As cheesy as it sounds, and really slow-paced too, but the book makes it work. However, I recommend reading the reviews on goodreads that talk about the [mis]representation of Asian cultures.

Have you read any of these? What are your favorite f/f sci-fi and fantasy books?