Weekly

T5W: If You Liked This, Try That

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is Books to Give as Gifts.

Create a recommendations guide for a person. Be creative with this. It can be simple such as “books for parents” […]. You can even take out the category completely and have all 5 be suggestions for different types of people!

I decided to write a list of recommendations based on well-known books and more underrated ones! It’s not exactly a holiday gift guide but it was the closest thing I could think of.


If you liked Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, read This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

I love well-written emotional contemporary, and that’s what these books are. While Far From the Tree by Robin Benway follows three siblings reconnecting after being in foster care/being adopted by different families, This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow follows three girls becoming friends again through music after circumstances drew them apart. Both books follow three different PoVs, have heartwarming f/f romances, and deal with teen pregnancy without sounding like cautionary tales. They also have beautiful mental health representation and deal with the theme of recognizing that you deserve the good things that happen to you.


If you liked Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, read For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

Both of these books follow girls of color fighting back against their oppressors and learning to use the magic they’re hated for, a power that influences the boundary between life and death. If you liked the romance and the plotline of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, I think you’re also going to like For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, a book inspired by Southeast Asia during French colonization, following a bipolar girl who is a necromancer. It’s also a mixed media fantasy book, which was really interesting to read.


If you liked The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, read In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Do you like lush, romantic stories set in dangerous palaces in which nothing is what it seems and doors can lead to magical gardens as easily as they lead to death? Do you want to read a retelling of a well-known western story that is inspired by non-western cultures? The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, a retelling of Hades and Persephone inspired by Hindu mythology, and In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with an all-Vietnamese cast, are the books I would recommend. The second one has an f/f romance in which the love interest is a shapeshifting dragon!


If you liked The Reader by Traci Chee, read The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

What about magical, slow-paced YA fantasy? The Reader by Traci Chee, a fantasy book about books, and The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, a fantasy book about a princess going on a quest to save her kingdom from colonization, have many things in common. One of them is the beautiful writing (some of the best descriptions in YA fantasy), another the unique way their plotlines come together in the end. If you prefer plot-driven stories with a great atmosphere to character-driven ones, these are for you.


If you liked The Mortal Instrumens by Cassandra Clare, read Brooklyn Brujas by Zoraida Córdova

The Shadowhunter Chronicles is the kind of saga full of urban fantasy tropes that often manages to feel fresh anyway. I love the mythology and how many secrets there are in that world, which is something I also love about the Brooklyn Brujas series. It follows a family of brujas, but they are not the only magical people – as we see in the second book, Bruja Born (my favorite so far), there are also vampires and walking dead people (casimuertos). Many of the aspects of it are inspired by latinx traditions, it’s a wonderful multicultural series with a focus on family, and the first book, Labyrinth Lost, also has a bisexual f/f/m love triangle. I feel like Labyrinth Lost will especially appeal to the younger fans of TMI who want to see an interesting spin on the chosen one trope and a creepy but not too scary portal fantasy world. The Brooklyn Brujas series is very tropey like Shadowhunters, but it’s one of the things that make it work.


Have you read any of these?

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Weekly

T10T: SFF Books Set Outside the US

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 a freebie.

I decided to talk about books set outside the United States. I tried to find as much ownvoices books and books not written from a tourist’s PoV (I’m not interested in those) as I could.


Why I Chose This Topic

I’m Italian. Almost all books set on Earth I read are set in the United States, but I think American books, as they are the most likely to be read and translated worldwide, should represent a wider variety of settings, from an insider PoV (if they’re about American tourists who have no cultural tie to the country they’re visiting… you’re still reading about Americans). This especially matters to me with SFF.

Also, not all people writing books in English are from America or the UK either!


Montenegro

WickedLikeaWildfire

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović is a very underrated, beautiful book following two sisters living in contemporary Montenegro whose magic is tied to glasswork and music. It means so much to me, even though it’s not and has never been one of my favorite books: it’s a story about two Southeastern European girls, one of which is queer, that isn’t written from a tourist PoV. I’m so glad it got published in the US, I thought books like this just got ignored. I’m partially of Southeastern European descent (not from Montenegro, though) and this is the only time I’ve seen Southeastern Europe in a book, and this is also the only book I’ve ever read whose setting truly felt like home – it takes place in a town on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, just like my hometown is.


Ireland

Spellbook

Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle is a contemporary fantasy novel set in an Irish small town where, after the night of the bonfire, everyone lost something. It’s the kind of book in which you don’t know whether the magic is actually real or an illusion, it’s one of the most atmospheric novels I’ve ever read, and it’s about a beautiful found family in which most characters are queer (two bi girls and a lesbian out of five people. There’s a very cute f/f couple). The more I think about it, the more I love it. The author is Irish and French!


Taiwan

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan is a beautiful contemporary fantasy story book a Taiwanese-American girl reconnecting with her mother’s side of her family in Taiwan after her mother’s death by suicide. It’s a beautiful story about art, family and the importance of mental health awareness. I loved everything about it, but what I liked the most was seeing Leigh’s interactions with her grandparents and her feelings about being biracial and American in Taiwan. It’s so different from a Tourist Experience™ book, and it means so much to me to see this kind of stories published.

Want by Cindy Pon is a near-future sci-fi story set in Taiwan about teens fighting against an evil corporation to defend themselves and the environment, and they do so by kidnapping a heiress and infiltrating the rich. I loved it so much. One of my favorite aspects were the descriptions of sci-fi Taiwan, it was so interesting to see the old side-by-side with the new. I can’t wait for Ruse, the sequel, which apparently will take place in Shanghai!


France

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The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – if you like diverse SFF, you should read this series. It’s an awesome political fantasy story about feuding Houses of fallen angels and Vietnamese dragons set in post-apocalyptic historical Paris, and it gets more queer with every book! It’s really atmospheric and very creepy at times, and I love it – so much that the second book will be on my end-of-the-year list of favorites, I already know. It’s also written by an author who lives in Paris, and you can feel that.


South Africa

The Prey of Gods and Temper by Nicky Drayden are two delightfully weird books set in South Africa. The first is a near-future sci-fantasy book which involves ancient vengeful gods, drug-induced superpowers and religious AI revolutions. The second one is more of an alt-history fantasy story set in a Cape Town in a world in which colonialism didn’t happen, and it’s one of the most twisted stories I’ve ever read. If you like weird books that will make you think “WTF did I just read” at least ten different times and will surprise you with their plot twists, you need to try these two books.


Nigeria

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Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor is a novel set in – and as you discover, about – Lagos. It’s a very ambitious, original multi-pov story, and I can say I have read nothing similar. It wasn’t really my thing and I found it confusing sometimes, but I found the marine horror in it very interesting to read about. It’s a very fascinating read and a very unusual alien “invasion” (but is it?) story.


Mexico

CertainDarkThings

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a noir vampire novel set in Mexico City, and it’s both unlike every urban fantasy and every vampire book I’ve ever read. It subverts the usual bad boy vampire/good human girl dynamic: it has an (awesome) bad & bisexual girl vampire, Atl (Tlāhuihpochtli, descendant of Aztec shapeshifting vampires) and a soft human boy, Domingo, as the main characters. I can’t believe how underrated this is, there are so many different kinds of vampires here and it needs more hype. And it’s by a Mexican author!


Egypt

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The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty is a fantasy novel that starts in 18th Century Cairo, a setting I had never seen before in a book (when we talk about Egypt, people always think about things older than Cleopatra for some reason) and continues in a magical city inhabited by the Daeva. It’s slow-paced and atmospheric and an all-around beautiful book, and it’s also political fantasy at its best. So much well-written intrigue.


Japan

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The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco is a YA horror book told from the point of view of a vengeful Japanese ghost girl. I don’t know how common it is to read horror from the PoV of the horror itself as I don’t know the genre well, but I had never seen this before. Half of this book is set in America, the other (far more interesting and creepy) half in Japan. It’s a solid creepy YA.


Russia

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I wanted to end this list with a translated SFF novel, because this rarely happens. Anyway, there are a lot of books about fake fantasy Russia, and I enjoyed many of them too, but Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko is a novel set in Russia and Ukraine written by Ukrainian authors. I usually don’t put books I two-starred in recommendation lists, but I truly think this is worth reading if you’re fine with not understanding half of what you read.
Apparently, it’s a story about the creepiest, ugliest magical school in fiction, but it’s so much more than that. This book is as weird as it gets without being totally incomprehensible,  and I still don’t think I got it as much as I should have, but it’s also a portrayal of modern Russia and modern Russian culture that I hadn’t seen in fiction yet. It is boring, and it does often leave a bad taste, but it’s also very addicting? So I think I don’t not recommend it, personally. It exists. If it sounds like something you could – not enjoy, because I don’t think that’s the point – be interested in, maybe pick it up? I kind of hated it and I’m still glad I read it.


What are your favorite SFF books set outside the US?

Book review · Fantasy · Young adult

Review: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

38525180Muse of Nightmares is such a refreshing book.
Most YA fantasy novels I’ve read this year disappointed me. I love young adult fantasy, without it I wouldn’t be here writing reviews, but as a genre, it has a flaw: it’s very repetitive. I have read enough teen revolution books to last a lifetime, and yes I keep finding ones I enjoy, but sometimes, it’s great to read a YA book that does something different.

This is a story about the aftermath of a war, about healing, as a person and as a society. I can’t think of another book that follows these themes, and I am surprised by how subversive Muse of Nightmares is as a fantasy story exactly because of its refusal of violence. Everyone has been hurt, and it would be so easy to hurt more, but what I loved the most about this book was how it never took the easy way out.

Muse of Nightmares is the opposite of lazy writing and plotting.
It would have been so easy to paint certain characters – Minya, for example, or the Mesarthim as a whole – as villains and turning them into targets whose only function is to be slaughtered. This book doesn’t go there. But not only nothing is solved through violence in this story, there aren’t even any real living villains. Muse of Nightmares refuses to flatten its characters into stereotypes that often do not represent reality anyway. That’s not to say evil people just do not exist – Skathis and Isagol were very much evil – but most people are victims, most people are hurt.
By avoiding lazy simplifications, this book manages to say a lot of interesting things about trauma, recovery, community and forgiveness.
And that’s the main reason I do not mind its flaws.

Muse of Nightmares isn’t as good as Strange the Dreamer. It just doesn’t have the sense of wonder the first book has. It doesn’t feel as magical or mysterious, even though it is still beautiful and full of monsters. And that’s not to say there’s nothing new here – there are a lot of twists and revelations and all my questions were answered. But with this book, it became even more obvious that one of the main reasons this series works is that its main character, Lazlo Strange, is kind of flat. He can do no wrong, and that’s why this series is so unique and works so well – but that still doesn’t mean he is compelling. By refusing to flatten its antagonists into villains, this book ended up flattening its protagonists. Lazlo and Sarai – even though I find Sarai far more interesting than Lazlo – ended up feeling almost like sidekicks in their own story, surrounded by more complex characters like Minya, Eril-Fane and even Thyon, Ruby and Sparrow.

I still loved this book, but I think it is no coincidence that my favorite scenes were always the ones about Thyon. And that’s not only because he is discovering his sexuality or because in his scenes there’s Calixte, awesome lesbian and funniest character in the whole book. That’s because Thyon has a really meaningful and interesting character arc in so little space, which managed to be both believable and kind of adorable. Lazlo and Sarai? They love each other, they can do no wrong, they have very little development. I love them, but I skimmed most of their romantic scenes because they were boring.

As usual, Laini Taylor’s writing was gorgeous and so was the atmosphere, but I think that if you’re reading this review, you already know that. Anyway, I’m so glad I read this, I finally know what was going on with Korako and Weep’s name. This is a series I really recommend to everyone who is looking for some truly unique YA fantasy content.

(Warning: this book contains suicidal ideation and frequent references to past rape.)

My rating: ★★★★½

Wrap-Up

November 2018 Wrap-Up

In November I read 14 books:

  • 11 new novels, of which 3 I DNFed and 4 were ARCs
  • 3 rereads (novels)
  • 1 novella

Unfortunately, I ended up not caring about more than half of them. This wasn’t a good month for me, I kept finding a lot of mediocre stuff.

I also tried to read – and had to put down – Mirage by Somayia Daoud. I will give this book another chance, but I have to say that I’m kind of tired of reading about protagonists who are trapped in a place and forced to do things they find humiliating and I need to take a break from this kind of SFF for a while.


Didn’t Like

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron – ★★ DNF
A short book I found lacking in pretty much every aspect – characterization, romance (I’m always sad when I don’t like the f/f ones, but it was so flat), setting (there was no atmosphere) and writing (juvenile, this almost felt like middle grade). I wanted to like this book about fallen angels in Edinburgh, but I was so bored I DNFed it after the halfway mark, which I almost never do.

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – ★★½ DNF
I don’t have much to say about this one – it’s beautifully written and well-researched and everything a historical book with just a hint of magic should be, but it just really wasn’t for me. Which is a shame because it mentioned the Genoese a lot, and I always love to read about Genoese history. Also, the main character is Circassian!

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri – ★★½ DNF
This was just… boring. And upsetting. The atmosphere was great and so was the worldbuilding, but nothing happened, and there was always the possibility the main character would be forced to have sex with someone she didn’t want to have sex with. I can read books involving sexual assault, but it has to be worth it. Here, it wasn’t. Again, another book in which the main character is trapped in a place where she’s forced to do things she finds painful or humiliating. Great.

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield – ★★½
A novella about a time-traveling sapphich highwaywoman robbing sexual predators with the help of the scientist girlfriend? Great concept. The actual story, however, was so confusing it was nearly unreadable, and there was very little f/f romance (the sapphic main character, who is only one of the two main characters, spends more time flirting with a man than with her girlfriend).

Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko – ★★½
In my review of K. Ancrum’s The Wicker King, I said that reading it was like watching a story unfold through opaque glass – I thought it was a beautiful book, but I couldn’t connect with it. Vita Nostra is like watching a story unfold through opaque glass, except the glass is now shattered, but you realized that the story was actually inside it – and now you’re trying to put it together even though you could cut yourself in the process. This is is a wholly unpleasant book with an overwhelmingly hopeless atmosphere that is also weirdly addicting for reasons I don’t understand. I don’t even know what it was about, I didn’t get it, I was bored, and yet. At least I can say it was memorable?


Could Have Been Better

The Phoenix Empress by K Arsenault Rivera – ★★¾
One of the worst cases of middle book syndrome I’ve ever witnessed (if I can call it that). Even ignoring all the structural issues, I’m here for the romance, I don’t care about that 40% made up of flashbacks in which the main character is alone (and I already know what happens). So much filler, so watered down, which is sad, because I love all the characters. The more I think about this, the more I think this shouldn’t have have been a series at all, and I doubt the third book will be better (I don’t think I’ll read it).

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – ★★¾
I probably would have liked this a lot, had I read two or three years ago. But I haven’t, and it may be unfair to this book, but I’ve already read this story too many times, and this felt very formulaic. The romance was lackluster and contrived. I really liked some aspects of the worldbuilding (but there was still a lot of room for improvement) and loved the main character, but these two things weren’t enough to make me care about this story as much as I hoped. Maybe I went into it with too-high expectations.

The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones – ★★★
A solid, fast-paced and yet underwhelming book about self-hate, parental abuse, and learning to let people in. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I didn’t have the time to get attached to any of the side characters or the romance, even though I did like Dee and her character arc. Also, my suspension of disbelief suffered a lot here. Forgettable.


Liked

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi – ★★★★½ [lowered in this reread]
I didn’t love this book as much as I did on my first read – fast-paced fun books that do not have that much depth are less fun and feel less fast-paced on reread – but I still really like this. It convinced me I wanted to read more adult sci-fi, it will always have a special place in my heart. Also: one out of the three PoV character is bisexual, my favorite one (Kiva! How did I miss that the first time around, she literally has sex with a woman at some point.) Anyway, this is a story about an empire falling apart and people, who have the worst priorities, trying to make money out of it instead of helping each other. It’s very entertaining and full of backstabbing, but it becomes less fun when you notice the parallels with global warming.

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow – ★★★★¼
A story about three girls, Dia, Jules and Hanna, and their recovery from (respectively) trauma, a toxic relationship and alcoholism. It’s also a story about second-chance friendship, about people reconnecting through music. A story that talks about addiction and teen pregnancy without sounding judgmental or like a cautionary tale. This is a beautiful, underrated book I wish more people knew about. Also, there’s a very cute f/f romance and two of the main characters aren’t white.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera – ★★★★½ [raised in this reread]
I’m glad this book exists.
It’s the heaviest, most slow-burn and slow-paced fantasy romance novel I’ve ever read, full of “fated lovers” tropes and promises and all the stuff I would normally hate, but we usually don’t get those things with f/f content. And yes, it’s far from perfect – sometimes it really did get boring, and the reviews talking about the misrepresentations of Asian cultures on goodreads are worth reading – but we live in a world in which a book about warrior princesses falling in love can exist and that’s something. I also love Shefali and Shizuka a lot.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway – ★★★★½
I can’t believe I removed this book from my TBR last year (in my defense, it sounded sappy, and I thought the f/f relationship was going to have a sad ending). But I found out that it got translated in Italian when I was in a bookstore, and I read all queer books that get translated in my language if they’re not Call Me By Your Name. And as it turns out, this is a beautiful book about family and overcoming self-hate and I’m so glad teenagers in my country can pick it up now. Like This Is What It Feels Like, it deals with teen pregnancy, alcoholism and people reconnecting after circumstances separated them, so I feel like if you like one of these two, you’ll also like the other.


Loved

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – ★★★★¾
I rarely say it because it’s often overused, but I think this book is necessary. Not only it’s a fantasy book set in a country inspired by Malaysia with a wonderful, sweet f/f romance, it’s also a multilayered, complex exploration of what it means to be a victim of sexual violence (specifically as a queer teenager of color) and of the way women react to sexual violence. It’s set in a beautiful, horrifying palace it has some of the most interesting characters I’ve found in YA fantasy this year, and I know I won’t forget it. It was everything but an easy read (it’s probably the book that started by “trapped main character” fatigue!), but it was worth it for me.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – ★★★★★
Anna-Marie McLemore’s books are magical in a way very few other novels are. When the Moon Was Ours is my favorite by her so far, and with this reread I fell in love with this story again, with Miel and Sam’s sweet friends-to-lovers romance, and I remembered how much it meant to me to see a character of Italian descent (Sam is an Italian-Pakistani trans boy, Miel is latinx) that wasn’t in any way an Italian stereotype in an American book, and to see a girl struggling with an unusual plant-related phobia like I do. Also, this book has the perfect autumn atmosphere, creepy glass coffins, and food scenes that will make you hungry.

Book review · Fantasy

Mini Reviews: Two Books I DNFed Halfway Through

36156699Out of the Blue is an example of awesome premise and mediocre execution. I mean, it’s a story about fallen angels in Edinburgh with a romance between a biracial Sri Lankan girl and a girl with cystic fibrosis. I thought I was going to love it, but this book just didn’t manage to hold my interest. I can’t even point out one thing that didn’t work for me – there are too many. Most of them are minor, and they wouldn’t make me dislike a book by themselves, but together?

The writing style was both juvenile – the characters felt a lot younger than they were supposed to be, I almost felt like I was reading middle grade – and emotionless, the characters lacked depth and development, and there was no sense of setting or atmosphere. I think the best word I could use to describe Out of the Blue is “lacking”: it’s very short, and yet it’s boring; it has an awesome premise, but it made me feel nothing; it had a romance, but its development was barely there (and what was there felt fake).
It’s not even a bad book, it’s just so flat and forgettable I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

My rating: ★★


39714124Empire of Sand is a slow-paced desert fantasy novel set in a world inspired by the Mughal Empire.

As I had never read a book inspired by this part of India’s history, and as I usually love slow, atmospheric fantasy, I thought I would at least like Empire of Sand, but it just didn’t work for me. After loving the first 20% of it, in which a magical world with an unique magic system inspired by Indian classical dance and complex history was introduced, I started liking this book less and less, because of the pacing.

From around 25% of the book to at least 65%, the main character Mehr is trapped in an unwanted (at least at the beginning) arranged marriage, in a place in which she’s forced to perform magical rituals that hurt her, and in which there’s the constant threat that she will be forced to have sex with a person she doesn’t want to have sex with. The situation doesn’t change much, I found all of it very difficult to read, and then I couldn’t anymore. Maybe it wouldn’t have affected me so much had I not read Girls of Paper and Fire just a few days ago, another fantasy book (which I loved) in which the main character is constantly under the threat of sexual assault. I don’t know, I just know that I need to step back from this kind of fantasy stories for a while.

I put off DNFing this book and writing this review even though I knew for a few days that I wasn’t going to continue – when you notice you’d rather do homework than read a book there’s something wrong – because I really didn’t want to write a bad review of this. I loved the beginning and the world is genuinely interesting. I also think that fantasy book that follow non-western history and that show women who are strong in a different way than the average fantasy are really important, but I just couldn’t get through the middle of this.

My rating: ★★½

Weekly

T10T: Winter Recommendations

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 Wintry Reads.

During the winter, I like to read: fantasy books set in snowy places, and quiet novels in every genre.


Retellings

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – a subversive adult fantasy retelling of Rumpelstiltskin set in a fantasy country inspired by Lithuania, told from the point of view of the daughter of a Jewish moneylender. It’s a story about a magical, never-ending winter, dangerous snow faeries, and a possessed Tsar. It’s so atmospheric it made me feel cold in July, and it’s the perfect winter book.

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke – a genderbent retelling of Beowulf following a girl gang of Boneless Mercies, who are mercy-killers for a living, as they decide to go on a quest (no, no one forces them. I love active protagonists) to become heroes and find glory. It’s a story about magic and witches, and it’s epic and nostalgic, beautiful and a bit slow-paced, the way I want wintry fantasy books to be.


Quiet YA Fantasy

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – this is my favorite quiet YA fantasy book. It’s slow-paced, beautifully written and atmospheric, it has an f/f romance between a princess and the court surgeon, and it reads like a fairytale. It was marketed as a “feminist Snow White”, even though it doesn’t feel like a direct retelling.

Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett – this is a very unique fantasy book set in a world inspired by the Himalayas (so much snow!). I loved how the main characters’ goal was not defeating an enemy or winning a competition, but climbing a magical mountain no one has ever climbed before (I love active, adventurous protagonists!). Also, the mythology of this world was really interesting and as unique as the premise.


Contemporary

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour – this is a book about loneliness, unrequited love and grief, and it’s very slow-paced for something so short, but it’s also one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. It’s set during the winter and it’s very atmospheric, so it’s perfect for the season.

A Like in the Dark by Malinda Lo – an unputdownable story that is half dark slice-of-life contemporary (in first person) and half mystery (in third person). One of the most unique YA book I’ve ever read, it follows an unhealthy f/f/f love triangle from the point of view of Jess, a Chinese-American lesbian. It has a late-autumn, almost wintry atmosphere I loved.


Russian Folklore

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente – at times weird, at times confusing, at times horrifying, but always beautiful, Deathless is one of my favorite books ever. It’s a retelling of the Russian fairytale The Death of Koschei the Deathless taking place during the first half of the 20th century, and it’s unforgettable. It’s one of my favorite winter reads.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – another historical fantasy book inspired by Russian folklore, The Bear and the Nightingale is set during the middle ages (14th century, I think) and it’s a very atmospheric story following a girl that doesn’t fit into gender roles and a mysterious frost demon.


Horror

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé – a chilling horror read about anxiety, avoidance and isolation, in which ice is one of the most important symbols. I loved its oppressive atmosphere even when I read it this summer, but I think it would also be a perfect winter read if you want something that is a bit creepy. The mental illness rep in here is great and so is the f/f romance.

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp – if The Dark Beneath the Ice is anxiety horror, Before I Let Go is inspiration porn horror. It was marketed as a mystery, but as a mystery it’s mediocre at best. As it’s an unsettling story of a small town in Alaska exploiting a bipolar girl as “inspiration”, I consider it horror. It’s not perfect and I didn’t love it, but it is a solid winter book.


Winterstrike

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Winterstrike by Yoon Ha Lee isn’t a book. I don’t know exactly how to explain what it is, it’s halfway between a game and a choose-your-own-aventure story, but it’s the most wintry (and even the most atmospheric, maybe) thing I’ve ever read. It’s set in a “winterlocked” magical city that has been destroyed by the cursed winter, and the ruins may be more beautiful than the city was. I really recommend this because it’s free to play and perfect for the season.


What are your favorite winter books?

lists

15 New Releases to Read Before the End of the Year

My favorite posts to write are the end-of-the-year lists, those in which I talk about my favorite and least favorite books of the year. They’re also some of my favorite posts to read.

When I write those lists, I always hope there are a lot of new releases that aren’t sequels on them – not because the backlist isn’t important to me, but because I want new books, especially debuts, to end up on my “favorite” lists the year they get published.

I don’t know if any of you care about this, but even if you don’t, here are 15 books that came out in 2018, some of which very underrated, that are worth reading and may even end up on your “favorites” list, if we have similar tastes! Some of them certainly made it to mine.


YA Contemporary

I think 2018 has been a great year for contemporary books. Not only this genre is years ahead of YA fantasy in terms of diversity, I also love how easy it is to find fun stories and really powerful ones at the same time.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (debut) – I feel like I don’t talk about this book enough. This is a poetry book, the only poetry book I’ve ever liked, and yes, it’s worth trying even if you don’t love poetry (I don’t, usually). It’s that good. It follows Xiomara Batista, an afro-latina girl, and her struggles with religion, sexuality as a woman growing up in a Catholic family, and body image.

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow – a wonderful story about recovery (from trauma, from addiction and from a toxic relationship) following three girls who were once friends as they reconnect through music. It deals with teen pregnancy without sounding like a cautionary tale, and there’s a very cute f/f romance. It’s a very emotional book and I loved all of it; it also has really good mental illness representation.

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo – this is the perfect summer contemporary, so I understand if people don’t want to read it in December, but I read it when it wasn’t summer and loved it anyways. It’s a story about family and friendship told from the point of view of Clara, a Korean-Brazilian girl living in Los Angeles who is known for being a prankster. It has the best food description (parts of it are set in a Korean-Brazilian food truck) and it’s the kind of fun, cute contemporary that doesn’t feel trite even though it’s predictable, the kind I can’t get enough of.


Unique Retellings

Retelling are everywhere these days, and not all of them are good or as original as I’d want them to be. But this year I found some that were both well-written and unique – because they were either a new take on a familiar story, or retellings of a story I had never seen retold before.

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna – this is a space fantasy retelling of the Mahabharata, and it’s both ownvoices and an awesome story full of well-written political intrigue. Also, the setting is unlike everything I had ever read before (I love genre-bending stories!) and this is the first book that made me actually like the lost princess trope. It’s great and really underrated (less than 200 ratings on goodreads!), if you like political fantasy and/or space operas, try this!

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke – genderbent Beowulf. That was enough for me to read it, but if that’s not enough for you, what about: a gang of norse female warriors + a witch + a soft healer boy who decide to leave mercy killing behind to go on a quest and slay a monster (not because they had to but because they can and they want to?) Also, no romance, sex positivity, and so much sapphic subtext. I loved every moment of this atmospheric, almost nostalgic story – it’s surprisingly quiet, but that’s what made it stand out from many other YA fantasy books.

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard – my favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling, and I’ve read many. This is an f/f version in which the “beast” is actually a shapeshifting dragon, and the whole cast is Vietnamese. I also loved the setting, this book takes place in a terrifying but beautiful palace in which every door can lead to danger. My favorite aspect was, of course, the romance – I had been looking for this kind of f/f content for a while and I’m so glad I read this novella.


Historical Fantasy

Fantasy books inspired by past real-world situations. I thought I didn’t like this kind of novels, but 2018 proved me wrong – there are so many great historical fantasy releases!

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark – an alternate history novel set in New Orleans in a world in which the American Civil War ended with a truce. It follows a young black girl who has been blessed by the orisha of storms, Oya, and it’s a short, atmospheric read. I want to know more about this world, I loved the main character and many of the side ones (especially the bisexual airship captain) and I also loved the steampunk aspects, of course.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk (debut) – this book is so many things. A paranormal m/m romance, a gaslamp mystery about class privilege, a story about the way society fails veterans set in a world inspired by Edwardian England. It’s so many things and it manages to explore all of these aspects, none of them fell flat. I love this book and I wish it were more hyped.

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig – this fantasy book is set in a fictional world inspired by Southeast Asia during French colonization. It’s a story about a bipolar girl trying to survive in a world in which people with her magical powers are hunted down and killed. She’s a necromancer, and this book has the most original portrayal of necromancy I’ve ever read – Jetta uses her powers to make shadow plays. Another really unique thing about For a Muse of Fire is that it’s told in a mixed media format, and I loved seeing this in a fantasy book. I don’t know why I haven’t heard many people talk about it, it’s a really good YA fantasy.


Miscellaneous Fantasy Releases

Other fantasy books I loved. This year there weren’t as many as I wanted them to be, which is sad but it also makes easier to write lists.

Temper by Nicky Drayden – an underhyped adult fantasy release set in an alternate-history Cape Town in which colonization never happened. It’s fast-paced, messy and fun in a way few adult fantasy books are, it doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s also one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. The main characters are terrible people I’d normally hate, and yet this book makes it work. There are so many plot twists in here I didn’t see coming, and that happens more rarely than it should.

Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift – Time travel in Paris! There are many reasons I ended up liking it after the beginning didn’t convince me. One of them is the wonderful atmopshere, another is that this was the first time I saw explicit panic attacks in a fantasy book. I also loved Hallie. She is a very reserved person – I thought she was a flat character at the beginning of the book, and was I wrong (why do I like characters who hide from themselves so much?). To this day I remember the second half of this book vividly because of how unashamedly political (we love anti-fascist fiction) it was, and for how much it felt like a fever dream. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything similar.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (debut) – one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve read in months, and I’m so glad it’s getting the recognition it deserves. It’s an f/f story set in a kingdom inspired by Malaysia (and written by a Malaysian author), and it’s about the ways women react to sexual violence, following two queer girls as they find the strength to fight back. It’s a  very dark, heavy read, but it’s worth it. The atmosphere and descriptions are beautiful, too, which somehow made the book an easier read.


Great Mental Health Rep

In 2018 I finally found some books whose anxiety/depression representation I actually liked!

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (debut) – this. book. The Astonishing Color of After is a magical realism story about a biracial Taiwanese girl reconnecting with her culture and her mother’s side of her family after her mother died by suicide, and it has the most nuanced portrayal of a mentally ill parent I’ve ever seen in fiction. Also, part of this is set in Taiwan, and I always want to support contemporary-set books that take place outside the US.

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé (debut) – this book has the best portrayal of mental illness I’ve ever read. Yes, it’s horror, anxiety horror, as it talks about anxiety and unhealthy coping mechanisms through horror metaphors. This book gets how hopeless and scary it’s like, but it doesn’t make you feel hopeless, which is a very difficult thing to achieve. If you’ve ever wanted to disappear, to fold yourself into nothing and let the world slide around your irrelevance, you’ll probably get this book. It also has a great f/f romance!

Final Draft by Riley Redgate – this contemporary book is a very honest, very heartbreaking portrayal of how anxiety affects hobbies, from the point of view of Laila, a pansexual Ecuadorian girl who is a writer. Difficult to read, but worth it – the romance is one of the best I’ve read this year, if not ever. Laila falls in love with her Korean-American best friend, Hannah, and this is the first time I’ve liked the friends to lovers trope since When the Moon Was Ours.


Have you read or want to read any of these? And if you have recommendations for underrated 2018 releases worth reading before the end of the year, I’d love to hear them!