Wrap-Up

A March Wrap-Up

I officially haven’t been out of my house for over a month! Oh, what a lovely time this has been.


Life Update

What there is to say? Not much at all, and I hope it stays that way, because the only way I see Big Events happening right now would be if something turned worse. Still, since this is a space in which the only non-bookish things I focus on are nice things, I won’t talk about that and will instead tell you that March was an absolutely amazing month for the flowers on my balcony. My favorite picture I took was this one, because I’m really happy to see that I’m far from the only one who likes the muscari:

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Armenian grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) with bumblebee

Bumblebees are the cutest insects (fuzzy!), but regular bees come here too sometimes – though for some reason I don’t see them as often on my balcony – and I love seeing all of them around.


What I Read

This month, I read 13 books, which is… the most I’ve read in a month this year, I think. Of them:

  • 5 were novels (not counting the 2 I DNFed), of which 1 was a reread
  • 2 were novellas
  • 3 were nonfiction
  • 2 were poetry collections
  • 1 was a short story collection.

Reading-wise, this was a pretty good month, but: the five star curse continues. I still haven’t rated a new novel five stars this whole year. Short stories, novellas, nonfiction, novels I reread? Yes, several. That isn’t happening with novels, for some obscure reason. Also, this month I gave out an unusual number of three stars.

The beginning of March was off to a bad start; I managed to DNF two books before I finally finished something. These two books were ARCs from before I stopped requesting them, so I’m not that surprised – I know I would have weeded out one of them had I tried a chapter of it. ARCs of full novels just aren’t worth it when I can’t even get a taste of what kind of book they’re going to be beforehand.

  • My first DNF was Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: this one put me to sleep. It took 35% of the book to even get through the things mentioned in the synopsis, and as with… pretty much all adult thrillers I tried so far, I hated every single character (well, not the main character, I just didn’t care about her). I don’t know why it seems to be such a core part of adult thrillers to portray all characters in a way that makes the reader wish they would die as soon as possible, because I don’t get it – why would I want to spend 400 pages following the problems of people I hate? I just don’t care. The writing was really good, and for someone who likes this genre, this is probably a very solid-if-slow book with an amazing atmosphere. I’m not that person, and the only thing I found interesting were the details about shark fishing (marine ecology & fisheries management brain was really interested in that, far more than anything in the story). [I also skimmed to the ending and, still, *yawn*].
  • My second DNF was Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen: this time the Try A Chapter test failed me. I liked the beginning; it felt like a fun-if-overwhelmingly-heterosexual story, and it was up until the author introduced a Chinese-Italian side character who was a walking Italian stereotype (emotionally unstable aka the dark side of the “Italians are so passionate” lie, handsy, an accent the others won’t stop mentioning: can we not) and I quit. I also think that I’m… just not going to get much out of this kind of YA contemporary anymore, and that’s one of the reasons I’m (a little reluctantly) moving towards adult contemporary fiction.

40539165._sy475_Then I finally finished (and liked!) a book, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I reviewed it here, and I can say that it was an encouraging introduction to adult contemporary fiction, though so far the main thing that stands out to me about the adult contemporaries and litfict I’ve tried, compared to both YA and adult SFF, is the amount of uncomfortable/bad sex the main characters are having. So many examples of that are found also in Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, the collection I’ve read this month (which I surprisingly didn’t love).

I then made my first attempt at a fantasy audiobook, with mixed results – not only because The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett (review) was mostly an ok book, but also because I hadn’t understood how much not knowing how to write the name of everyone but the main character would have been a pain while writing the review. Luckily I found the names in other reviews, but before that, it mostly went like this:

the audiobook: EIRHAN and FARHOD
my brain: …Airhorn? Heron and Farrhad?

The Winter Duke took me half a month, but The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon took me even longer, and not only because of how long it was; mostly because it was utterly mediocre. It’s now been a few days since I finished it, and I keep coming back to how lazy the plotting was, especially by adult fantasy standards. It’s the kind of book I mostly enjoyed while reading, but that I never wanted to pick back up again – because when I wasn’t reading it, all the things I didn’t like about it came to me more vividly than what I actually liked (as in, it’s a relatively smooth-sailing adventure fantasy with not many surprises but a really nice setting and dragons). I was also reading a physical copy, which was physically uncomfortable. As with The Winter Duke, I had a lot of mixed feelings about it, I hope I’ll be able to post my review here soon.

Uncharacteristically for me, I also read a sequel I was anticipating! Stormsong by C.L. Polk, sequel to one of my favorite books, Witchmark. I really liked it, but not as much as the first book, and I wish it had spent more time developing the romance. Still, I’m really proud of myself for finally reading three new fantasy novels.

I also had another out-of-character moment when I went on a poetry-and-nonfiction reading spree due to the free scribd trial; you can read about those five books here in detail, but to sum up:

  • 41745412I started with Soft Science by Franny Choi, a poetry collection I’ve been wanting to read for a while because of how much I liked the cover, and it was really interesting but also really confusing; probably the kind of thing one should take more time with than I did
  • soft magic. by Upile Chisala was a heartwarming, sweet, straightforward poetry collection that was overall a complete miss for me;
  • I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom was an amazing collection of essays about dysfunctional dynamics in queer communities that I think would be really useful to anyone active on queer book twitter;
  • Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, is exactly what it claims to be, focusing on the how of a different kind of justice than the one we’re accustomed to, focused on healing instead of punishment, and I really liked it as well;
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Walls Kimmerer is a book by a Potawatomi environmental biologist that should be required reading for everyone who wants to talk about ecology and human’s relationship with the environment, because the amount of people who don’t realize are spreading ecofascist rhetoric is concerning.

After that, I decided to read two novellas; reviews of both will be hopefully up soon:

Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo. I was interested in it because it was described as “for fans of JY Neon Yang’s Tensorate” and also some comparisons with Mo Dao Zu Shi characters were made – and I have to say, while I didn’t really see the latter, it did remind me of The Ascent to Godhood and I would definitely recommend it to Tensorate fans; it’s now one of my new favorite novellas. Such a wonderful, quiet book for something about an upheaval of an empire.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho, which I didn’t feel as strongly about – maybe novellas just aren’t the right format for group casts, they almost never work for me (I remember River of Teeth failing for me for that reason) – but it was a fun adventure involving brigands and badass nuns. Zen Cho really nails it when it comes to humor.

32718027The last thing I finished in March was my audiobook reread of The City of Brass, which I started the day I discovered scribd was giving everyone a free trial for which they didn’t ask credit card information (…there was no way I’d ever reread this on ebook, too long, and the audiobook would have been 25€). I keep returning to how easily this wouldn’t have happened: I was ready to give up on the series. And then, I loved it even more the second time around – it helped that I remembered everything about setup and worldbuilding and very little about the plot twists, for some very lucky reason – and now I’m ready to finally continue the series.


How was your reading month?

Book review · Nonfiction

Unexpected Nonfiction & Poetry Time

This month, Scribd is free without needing payment info, so I created an account I’ll probably not renew after these 30 days are over (for personal reasons unrelated to the actual platform, my experience with it so far is great!). The unexpected result? Having access to so many books for free gave me a reason to:

  • listen to adult fantasy audiobooks, which are usually far too expensive (25 € for a book? Especially for a reread? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen)
  • read completely outside of my comfort zone – and especially reach for books that were on my radar for a while but that I had heard so little about I didn’t feel comfortable buying them.

The result? A nonfiction & poetry binge. 2016!me, no, who am I kidding, even 2019!me would be incredibly confused.

I must be getting old!


Poetry Collections

This is a format that is definitely out of my comfort zone, as I don’t think I had ever read any before now! I have read and loved poetry novels, though (The Poet X, The Black Flamingo), so I thought exploring was a good idea.

41745412Soft Science is a poetry collection that had been on my “maybe TBR” for more than two months now, mostly because of the cover.  Reading it felt like trying to grasp onto something as it disintegrates in your hands and falls through your fingers, which I guess is what the author was going for.

I didn’t get a lot of this. It’s probably not the right collection to start with if you – like me – aren’t used to reading poetry at all, but it was still a really interesting experience. Taken literally, there’s often not a lot to get, because everything in this collection is an exercise in breaking apart, shattering and mixing words, playing with format and the many ways English can be broken and still carry so much meaning if only you look at it sideways.

A lot of this is also talking about perspective and its consequence, othering. No wonder a lot of its imagery relies on cyborgs and AIs. It’s about living as a woman in our world, in which being hammered into a shape made to please others is just a day like another and sex is a no-win situation; it’s about living as a queer Asian-American woman in America, in which racism and xenophobia are everyday occurrences and the internet highlights the worst of it.

It made me think about language barriers, and how there was yet another, unexpected one because of my first language, and try as I might holding onto English will always be more difficult to me.
So, no, I didn’t understand a lot of this. It might have been the point. I might be missing the point entirely. That still doesn’t mean this has no value, even when so much of our ways to measure worth and consciousness rely on something as self-centered as understanding and “relatability”. It made me think about many things in a more indirect way, so I guess it worked.

My rating: ★★★★

27207807._sy475_Another collection I tried was soft magic. by Upile Chisala (I noticed it by chance, and after reading Soft Science, it only felt right? And it was really short), which unfortunately I didn’t like as much. It was sweet, heartwarming, and very straightforward, which apparently aren’t things I look for in poetry. At least now I know?

I decided not to rate this, as my reasons for not liking this had also to do with personal disconnect, and when I’m not the target audience for this – it’s a collection with strong religious themes specifically aimed at Black women and I’m neither religious nor Black – it just didn’t feel right to.


Nonfiction

46391051._sy475_I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom is a collection of essays and poetry that mostly ended up on my reading list because of something I read on autostraddle – I don’t remember where exactly, but this was one of the recommendations.

I don’t really know how to review nonfiction made up of essays and poetry, but this was definitely a worthwhile read. It’s an attempt to reframe how we think about justice and the meaning itself of healing in marginalized communities – where so many of us are traumatized, and it talks both about the concept of safety in the context of trauma and about the commodification of trauma in the Discourse™.

As there is a lot in here about how queer communities fail their members that uncannily (or maybe not, all things considered) mirrors queer book twitter’s most dysfunctional behavior patterns, I think many of my friends and followers could get something out of it as well.

My rating: ★★★★★

51778952._sx318_sy475_Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a collection of essays, interviews and toolkits on transformative justice that also ended up on my radar because of autostraddle (this time, because of a review. Sometimes I do remember things.)

It explores how justice can look like outside of a system as ineffective at actually reducing violence and supporting survivors as it is the prison system in America, with a focus on trans, queer, and disabled communities of color.

It was a really interesting read: it focuses on the how of something that so far I had only seen mentioned as theory before – when there are people doing this.

My thoughts varied from “I strongly agree and wish that was already a more widespread reality” and “this is a life-changing perspective” to “that sounds like a terrible idea” depending on the essay, so, just as fiction collections, nonfiction collections are bound to be mixed bags! It’s still really honest about the many ways these kinds of process can fail, which I really appreciated – after all, it’s still barely-charted territory. Overall, I also think our  world would greatly benefit if the focus of justice were on the future, on healing and moving on and taking the steps to make sure that something doesn’t happen again, instead of handing out punishments that often make things worse for everyone anyway.

My rating: ★★★★

17465709Since I just read a nonfiction book about healing between humans, it only seemed right to read something specifically about healing human’s relationship with what is not human, so I read Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, in which the author brings her perspective both as a professor of environmental biology and as a Potawatomi woman to talk about humans’ relationship with the environment.

In a time in which ecofascism (the belief that humans are somehow inherently separated from “nature”, which must be preserved “pure” and “untouched”, as if we weren’t all an interdependent net) is on the rise, I think this is an incredibly important read and was really valuable to me both as someone who is definitely feeling the weight of climate anxiety and as a natural sciences student.

I think it’s going to be even more valuable for someone who actually lives in Turtle Island/North America, because something inherent to environmental knowledge is that while some things are universal, you can’t talk about everywhere by using a specific place as a model; every place has its own species and communities and interactions and… different things to say, in a way. And different people, of course. (It would be such a huge mistake to not include the humans; we are a part of the communities and ecosystems just as much as everyone else, and while we have a lot in common with each other, we are never the same.)

I think that in this age of global warming it’s easy to despair and think that humans are inherently bad and can do nothing but damage. This book is an answer to that, and it talks about how science, indigenous wisdom, and our ability to actually understand what the environment says (so, learning to read the signals that are its language) can show us a different way to exist.

Also, sometimes it’s really nice to read from someone who is also involved in botanical science and has very strong “unscientific” feelings and opinions on plants. It can also be a strength – I don’t know if I would have grown up learning to distinguish trees the way I do had I not been like that.

My rating: ★★★★ (a little repetitive at times)


Have you read or want to read any of these? Do you read poetry collections and nonfiction often?

 

Tag

Monthly Try A Chapter #4

Welcome to the fourth monthly Try A Chapter! This time I’m yet again going to try mostly older books, because I don’t have many March releases on my TBR (which is instead full of stuff that comes out in April and May, for some reason).


The Books

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The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern: I want to be honest with myself and say that I’m never going to read this unless I make an effort to reach for it, because I’m bad at long books. I hope reading the first chapter will convince this is worth doing at some point!
The first chapter: fine fine fine I’m reading this, the writing is too nice for me to say no, and it also looks easy to get through! (I say, while also having the distinct impression of having understood nothing of what was happening.) I might try the audiobook but I’m not sure, I feel like I’d miss a lot. We’ll see.
[will definitely continue]

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A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers: F/F sci-fi, which of course appeals to me, but I’ve never read anything by this author before despite the fact that she has a significant backlist.
The first chapter: looks like this is the kind of sci-fi that thinks throwing acronyms at you is worldbuilding (…my opinion is that all sci-fi could stand to have less acronyms), and while usually I’m not worried when I understand nothing in this genre, this also didn’t hint at anything that sounded interesting. And I know it might… not sound believable given what my favorite book is, but I usually don’t like to read about the military. I don’t think this is for me.
[removed from TBR]

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You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce: several reviewers I talk with often loved this! It’s a mystery (I think?) that blurs the line between real and paranormal, and it could either be something I find amazing or something that is incredibly not for me, as anything with mystery elements often is.
The first chapter: I mean, I think it would be lovely if the mixed media parts were readable on ebook, but what do I know about formatting. Apart from that, it’s… really weird and I’m not sure if that’s my kind of weird. The writing is really good, though, and I’m curious about a lot of things already. I’ll see if I’m ever in the mood for it in the next few months, else I’ll remove it – anything mystery/thriller disappoints me more often than not, so there’s no need to let them on my TBR to stratify.
[keeping it on the maybe shelf]

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Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw: I keep hearing that this is a weird book about monsters and there’s some queerness in it and both things really appeal to me! On the other hand, I’m shallow and… this is probably one of the ugliest covers I know.
The first chapter: monster doctor! monster doctor! “treating the differently alive”, oh wow, isn’t that a realistic-sounding euphemism. I really like the writing already and overall it sounds really interesting, I want to read it.
[will continue at some point]

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Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone: another apparently-it’s-sapphic novel from last year, this time adult SFF. I haven’t even tried it, for no reason at all. It sounds like it could be very fun, as I think it’s set between near future and far (maybe parallel universe) future.
The first chapter: oh, I really liked this! At least, I really like the narration and what it’s saying about how a surveillance state is like, and I’m intrigued. It looks like the kind of book that manages to balance lightness and humor with that kind of background.
[will definitely continue]

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Carnival by Elizabeth Bear: if I don’t remember wrong, this is Bear’s debut novel, apparently a queer (I think m/m but I’m not at all sure) sci-fi published in 2006. Queer books have always been around in the genre. Elizabeth Bear is the author of one of my favorite books of last year, and yet I haven’t tried anything else by her since – I should change that. Will this book be the right place to start from?
The first chapter: I love how Elizabeth Bear writes about space! Though it does feel really dated – I mean, if I read a queer sci-fi that had a homophobic society (or, as far as I understand? Sci-fi beginnings are always a little weird) published in 2020, I’d be annoyed; space is gay and we know that. But I get why something published 15 years ago would do this. Still, this sounds really interesting and I do want to read it.
[will continue at some point]


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Miscellaneous

Acqua di More and TV Shows #1

My country has been on lockdown since two weeks after my exam days ended, so I’ve barely been outside at all this year, which means I’ve had a lot of time for things that aren’t books, including – for the first time in my life – TV shows.

Before I had this giftcard-bought, soon-to-be-expired Netflix account, I had only watched one show, Chén Qíng Lìng aka The Untamed, which I really liked. I had very little knowledge of what I would like in a show, so in the beginning there were a few misses.


The DNFs

  • Trinkets (2019): 90% of my motivation for creating a Netflix account was “I want to see queer girls on a screen”, so I pretty much tried a queer show randomly, wondering why I had never heard about it. Well, now I think the reason might be that it’s bad. It’s unbearably awkward, one of the main teen girls is played by someone who is very clearly almost 30, and there was this weird ~frenemy~ dynamic that could have had so much potential, but the show was shallow enough that it just felt stupid. I spent most of the episodes wanting to shake all the characters, then I just decided to quit.
  • Sex Education (2019-2020): I thought, maybe I should try something hyped if the underhyped shows are like that. So I tried the most hyped thing on twitter at the time, and… I really don’t get what people like about this. At all. It made me decide that I’m definitely not watching anything about high schoolers ever again, so at least I got something out of it.

The Ghost Bride (2020)

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Then I finally stumbled on something I could stand! I tried an episode back in February, liked it, and then didn’t continue because I’m bad at series; I thank 24hr.YaBookBlog’s review for convincing me to continue.

The Ghost Bride is a tale about ghosts, family ties and the importance of pursuing your dreams, set in Malacca at the end of the 19th century. It has a gorgeous atmosphere and costumes, which were what drew me to it to begin with, and then it ended up involving… a love square featuring ghosts and supernatural creatures? It was such a fun time, with the best possible ending, and I always live for things in which the villain has a weird obsession for the main character! (This time, not in any way reciprocated, so it’s not a villain romance.)

I don’t remember* any canon queer content, but as far as I could tell there was nothing in canon to contradict my firm belief that Lim Yan Hong was most definitely a lesbian.

*I say this because my screen anxiety requires skimming and I can miss subtle things that way

I’m giving it 4 stars, since it made me want to read the book.

Tales of the City (2019 miniseries)

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I had heard nothing about this either, so I was a little apprehensive at first, but it ended up being something that a) I could stand, b) was very very queer, and c) was not about high schoolers, thankfully, for once. [why are almost all contemporary queer shows about high schoolers?]

It’s a really interesting, lively, fun portrayal of the San Francisco queer scene, following mostly interpersonal drama (relationship and friendship as much as family) and only sometimes something darker, with an overall light tone but also some difficult discussions – it talks about intergenerational conflict in the queer community, gentrification, the meaning of family, adults discovering new things about their sexuality…
Overall, it was such a beautiful portrayal of found family.

I have to admit that I skimmed most scenes following the token straight people straight main characters, who as far as I understood were people from previous series in the same setting (which I haven’t watched and one doesn’t need to watch to understand this); I also didn’t love the final twist (oh, of course the only character who is very heavily coded as neurodivergent is evil), so I’m giving 3.5 stars, but it was still a very fun time for a day in which I didn’t want to get out of bed.


If there’s a netflix show (especially if queer!) that you really recommend, please tell me! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Fantasy

Rating My Favorite Fantasy Palaces

What would fantasy be like without some nice murderous palaces?

In this post, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite palaces in the genre, and rate the beauty vs. corruption contrast.


The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

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This post was inspired by The Winter Duke, which I recently finished listening. I have complicated feelings about it – full review here! – but what I don’t feel ambiguously about is the setting. This book was advertised as “lesbian political fantasy on ice” and it’s exactly that, down to being set in a castle made of ice and overrun by winter roses (Kylma Above), floating above an icy lake with a mysterious deepwater magical city below (Kylma Below). If you’re thinking well, that sounds incredibly impractical, it is! People have to be careful not to freeze, and a lot of things are kept together by magical pacts, which is really fun when most don’t understand how those magical pacts actually work.

Beauty: a solid 7/10; really pretty, but I appreciate practicality and this has none
Corruption: 8/10. Far from the most extreme on this list, but the way the succession line is established is pretty messed up, and there sure is a lot of betraying!


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

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Over the city called Sky is the royal palace, also called Sky (these people don’t have much imagination when it comes to names), standing on a column not visible for a distance. Defies physics and common sense purely for the aesthetic, but at least the characters don’t risk freezing their ass off if they get distracted, and I appreciate the pragmatism of having an execution method as effective as the flight on the way down. It’s also an easy way to trap your nephews in line for the throne so that they can’t easily escape the intrigue or the vengeful gods!
(By the way, I’m so glad this is getting some hype lately, since it’s my favorite thing I’ve read by N.K. Jemisin, and it’s really underappreciated.)

Beauty: absolutely gorgeous. 10/10
Corruption: it’s a colonialist, god-enslaving murder nightmare! 9/10.


In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

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You won’t risk getting murdered by the inhabitants of the palace this time – the shapeshifting dragon inhabiting it is actually a peaceful person, if really intimidating – but don’t worry! The palace will do its best to murder you itself.
It’s the palace of the Vanishers, the invaders who left behind a broken, twisted world, and it’s pretty much the building equivalent of an Escher painting, if Escher’s paintings were evil. A door (which you might find on the walls, ceilings, or pavement) might lead  you to a beautiful garden as well to a terrible death.

Beauty: I have a taste for the broken, weird and nonsensical, so this gets a solid 8/10
Corruption: it starts from horribly corrupted premises, but all in all, the result isn’t that bad! 6/10, not that cruel.


The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

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For another place with very unusual anatomy, we’ll have to visit the palace of Akaran, the mysterious reign Maya is led to after escaping her own world. It’s beautiful and full of secrets, and if atmosphere is an important component of fantasy for you, you definitely won’t be disappointed by Roshani Chokshi’s writing. (Akaran isn’t even the prettiest place in the book! That would be the Night Bazaar.)
I will always have a weakness for the kind of place where every rooms hides its own mystery and danger, so of course I fell in love with this from the beginning.

Beauty: the prettiest underworld one will ever have the chance to witness. 9/10
Corruption: not corrupted at all actually! Who knew a nice place could exist in this post. Of course, don’t get me wrong – there are dead people. 2/10


Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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The Little Palace lies in the wood like something born of a fairytale, in the perfect location for the characters to take walks by the lake and ignore the garish Grand Palace. It’s just as pretty inside, finely and tastefully decorated, with a wonderful library and mysterious passages.
Something very wrong might be going on under the façade, but now, that’s just part of the fun!

Beauty: 8/10, great atmosphere, could use serious improvements on the food
Corruption: once one understands what’s actually going on, it’s… pretty high, I’d say an 8/10.


Tensorate by JY Yang

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I fell in love with the Great High Palace of the Protectorate from the first pages of The Black Tides of Heaven, in which a minor character has to go up a never-ending staircase to reach a marvel of architecture and slackcraft (something between science and magic, favorite trope alert), which includes a floating goldfish pond enveloping part of the palace. I fell even more in love with it when I realized just how rotten the people living in it were.

Beauty: 8/10. Not many descriptions are given, but what I saw was absolutely unforgettable
Corruption: 9/10 just because of how much implied abuse goes on between the scenes; the royals are one worse than the other.


The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

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The whole of Daevabad would get a pretty high rating on both the beauty and the corruption scale, but today we’re going to talk about the most important part of it, the palace of the Nahid. I’m currently re-listening to this book (let’s thank scribd for being free the whole month without needing any credit card info, so that I can listen to a 19-hour-long, 25€-worth audiobook for free) and I had forgotten just how creepy it was. An ancient white ziggurat with impossibly beautiful, bejeweled gardens, fountains in which water turns into blood out of spite – the palace doesn’t approve its current inhabitants – and creepy murals that reappear out of nowhere on walls that didn’t exist before. Sadly, I’m listening to this and so probably missing half of the details, but it’s definitely haunted and glorious.

Beauty: 9/10. S.A. Chakraborty certainly doesn’t spare us the descriptions! It would have been an 8 for the details on the winged-lion throne alone.
Corruption: 9/10. Oh wow there’s so much horrible backstory I didn’t even remember from the first time around. This is going to be fun


Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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The Hidden Palace is the lair of the Demon King, the place where eight Paper Caste (human) girls are forced to become concubines every year. No book understands how much evil stands out on a beautiful background – and how much beauty shines if surrounded by evil – the way Girls of Paper and Fire does. In this place, you’ll find descriptions of beautiful dresses and food that will make you hungry and some of the best atmosphere you’ll ever see, paired with some of the most horrifying, deliberate violence I’ve ever found in a YA fantasy.

Beauty: 8/10, it’s breathtaking but you have an effort to ignore what’s actually going on in it to notice that;
Corruption: 10/10. No doubt about that, and it’s really not subtle about it either.


What are your favorite fantasy palaces?

Weekly

#5OnMyTBR: Rom-Coms

#5OnMyTBR is a bookish meme hosted by E. @ Local Bee Hunter’s Nook and you can learn more about it here or in the post announcing it. It occurs every Monday when we post about 5 books on our TBR.

This week’s topic is rom-coms. I don’t have that many on my TBR anymore – both because my TBR is small in general and because I’m reading less and less YA contemporary, which is what 90% of my rom-coms are – but I had enough for this list.


Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

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This is a F/F hate-to-love romance published last year that I haven’t read yet for no reason at all, since it sounds amazing – and I might have seen mixed reviews of it (mostly because one of the girls is apparently really rude at some point?), but I’ve also seen some really convincing five star ones.


I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

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Ok this one is on my TBR just because of how radiant this cover is. If pure joy had a form? This is about a girl who “has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star” and falls in love with her competitor in the process. It’s m/f with a bisexual main character, if I remember right.


The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

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Another contemporary F/F romance! And with a lesbian muslim main character. Twitter loves this one, and I might not have seen a lot of reviews of it but it sounds adorable.


Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

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I didn’t know if this counted until I found a tweet from the author, who described it as a rom-com. In which the main character kills people, of course, where would the fun be otherwise? Anyway, ready for this paranormal romance with a gumiho as a main character.


I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn

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A Japanese-American girl is invited by her grandparents to Kyoto and falls in love with a boy who “moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot”. This sounds lighthearted and incredibly cute and I’m always here for contemporary stories in non-US settings.


Have you read any of these?

Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

47172364._sy475_Don’t let the rating I’m going to give this lesbian political fantasy on ice mislead you; this is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend or advise against depending on these two options:

⇝ If you like plot-driven books, not in the sense of “fast-paced” (this isn’t) but meaning that you like amazing, complex, unpredictable political intrigue while character development can come second (as in, the characters are well-built, but the character arc moves at a… glacial pace), you’ll love this book.
⇝ If you like character-driven books and the most important part of political intrigue for you isn’t so much the politics but the way they influence deep, well-developed interpersonal relationships, or the way circumstances strain people and force them to reexamine their outlook and loyalties, this won’t do much for you. The main character doesn’t begin doing these things until 75% in.

This is a good book. I can’t understate how much one part of the final twist (there are so many twists, and yet they all make sense) took me by surprise, and YA fantasy hasn’t managed to do that in years. I also know that I would never have finished it had I not started skimming, or if it hadn’t been an audiobook.

The Winter Duke has an incredibly satisfying ending after all the frustrating events I had to read about, and the F/F romance was sweet, and just a treasure overall. Inkar was my favorite character, and it’s a shame that for plot reason we didn’t get much of her until the end.
I also have good things to say about the atmosphere, since this book is set in an ice castle, one standing over a moat hiding a magical underwater city below, and that’s just an amazing setting to explore. So is the idea of so many things being powered by magic when the characters’ don’t truly understand the forces at play.

It only failed in what I realize is the most important thing for me – the characters, and especially the main character, who was really flawed and had sensible reasons for doing what she did (of course at first she thought ruling meant being ruthless, seeing how her family was; she’s a victim perpetuating the cycle) but kept not learning from her mistakes, over and over and over, almost only because it was necessary for her to be dense for the plot to move forward.
I had to spend more than half of this book reading the same scenes with the same dynamic: Ekata tries to keep Inkar away, tries to rule without thinking of the consequences first and alienates people in the process, her prime minister scolds her, she keeps trying to wake up her father even when it’s obvious that would be the worst move, and tries to fend off Sigis’ advances without success.

That was the other problem, apart from how repetitive this dynamic was – I constantly had to read about skeevy Sigis, and I was so tired of that. Sigis this, Sigis that, Sigis invades Ekata’s personal space, Sigis creeps her out, Sigis threatens her and her friends and is almost so efficient he felt like a villain sue at times (though in the end I didn’t think he was one), Sigis gets more lines than the actual love interest (why). He isn’t an interesting character, he was always saying the same things, and I spent most of this book feeling bored and annoyed until I started skimming his scenes: they were unnecessary enough that I still understood everything. While this is not a Beauty and the Beast retelling at all, it’s the equivalent of a Beauty and the Beast retelling that dedicates no time to the Beast and has instead the main character talk with Gaston for most of the book. Why would I want to read that?

My rating: ★★½