I missed yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday because the topic (Books I’ve Read That I’d Like In My Personal Library) wasn’t something I had answers for, so this time you get a tag.
This tag was created by Shawn The Book Maniac. I wasn’t tagged by anyone.
1. The second-last book you read
Iron & Velvet by Alexis Hall. I really liked it, for what it was – a somewhat fanfiction-y short novel about an f/f vampire romance that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Since it’s a self-aware book whose humor kind of relies on the reader’s ability to recognize all the urban fantasy clichés and references, it gave me a lot of flashbacks to the old urban fantasy books I read, and wow, did I not want to remember the Fever series. (I read it at 16. It was addicting, but I don’t think I’ve ever hated a main couple as much as in here – especially Jericho Barrons, he was so gross. Gay urban fantasy is so much better.)
Anyway, this spends a lot of time making fun of urban fantasy tropes, but not in a “I’m superior to this” way, and it’s so refreshing. I can’t wait to read more from this author, especially since I had The Affair of the Mysterious Letter on my TBR. The review of this one should be up in a few days!
2. The second book from the top of your TBR
I don’t have a numbered TBR list, so I’m going to talk about a book I’m hoping to read soon that still won’t be the next book I read, and that’s Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney. I first heard of this novella because of Kathy (her review) and since then I haven’t had as much time to read as I hoped, but I really, really want to get to it after what I’ve heard about it. It sounds so magical and unique.
(Well, I just said I want to read it soon! That means it probably won’t get read until next August.)
3. Two 2-star reads
I only rated three books two stars this year, and out of them I’m going to talk about The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees and The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, because I’ve talked about Here There Are Monsters multiple times recently.
- The Waking Forest was, more than anything, overwritten and unnecessary. The author probably wanted to write something with a prose reminiscent of Laini Taylor’s and Catherynne M. Valente, but the result was a condensation of pretentious and often nonsensical descriptions; the plot was unnecessarily convoluted for something that turned out to be one of the most cliché YA fantasy stories I had ever read. I still really enjoyed the atmosphere and part of the first half.
- The Nowhere Girls is another book that tried to do way more than it could – it tried to be an universal story about teenage girls, but some parts came across as… “let’s mention this for shock value or token points”? Which is not something you would expect from a book that handles well another very difficult topic (rape). I also thought the portrayal of sensory issues had some very glaring problems. I still really appreciated the goal, but it didn’t get there for me.
4. Two great books by the same author
There’s no way around this: Sarah Porter’s books are weird and uncomfortable reads, but once you get past that – they’re beautifully written, and have a beautiful message as well. My favorite is Vassa in the Night, this macabre modern fairytale, but Never-Contented Things is even more mature as a book, and certainly intense*.
I think that a lot of writing advice and even a lot of people’s ideas of what makes “good writing” are mostly useful advice to get a solid-but-very-bland writing, but I want authors to go further, to learn the rules and then take risks. I really appreciate when I’m able to open a book and immediately know that yes, it’s [author], that’s unmistakable because no one else writes this very specific kind of weird. Sarah Porter is one of those authors – no one else will ever tell you that the bridge is sweating birds wet as fresh-washed socks, after all.
[*I really recommend looking up the content warnings if you’re interested in these, they’re as dark as YA gets, especially NCT.]
5. Two bails or two books you wish you’d bailed on or two books you hated
I’m going to talk about two recent DNFs I haven’t really talked about yet on this blog.
- The Plus One by Natasha West: it’s probably not great of me, but I tend to be wary of indie/self-published books – most of my experiences with them haven’t been the best. However, I’m always willing to give a chance to f/f content that is recommended to me, and after seeing multiple people I follow hype up books by Natasha West, I thought, why not? Well. I don’t know if it was the fact that at the same time I was reading a book by Aliette de Bodard, who tends to go for really long sentences, but this book had the most awkward and stilted writing I had read in… months if not years? It was all really short sentences, and the first chapter wasn’t an introduction to the main character and her life, it was a page-long infodump about her relationship, all awkward exposition. If fantasy authors can manage to introduce a new world without needing to do this, contemporary ones really should do better. To explain what I mean when I say it’s all short sentences, I’m going to quote the beginning of chapter one, because it really is all like this:
Charlie Black was sleeping deeply when her phone rang. She was incensed at the interruption. She’d been in the midst of quite the dream about Lucy. Lucy naked, to be more precise. In real life, she’d seen Lucy undressed many times.
- All of Us With Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil: so, this is about a 17-year-old girl in a relationship with a 28-year-old man. There is nothing that even hinted at the content in the ARC (also needed CWs for rape of a minor and drug use), and while this was one of the most beautifully written things I had ever read, it really wasn’t something I wanted to spend my free time on. Especially not when the first reviews saying that this book promoted unhealthy age gaps and power imbalances were appearing. On one hand, for how the whole thing was and felt (as if you were hallucinating), I don’t think it’s that likely that someone could read this and think “this looks like life advice, I should do that”. On the other hand, this book went out of its way to make excuses for the male character (in the part I read), which, without considering whether or not someone could look at this and see a relationship one should aspire to, I just really didn’t like to read. But at the same time, this is clearly a really personal story, and I didn’t want to be the person who was like “your lived experience, which is very different from mine, is wrong”. So I DNFed it.
6. Two favorite reads so far this year
I feel like I talk about my favorites constantly, so I’m going to try and talk about two I haven’t talked about as much in the last few weeks:
- The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark: I recently said that I don’t love reading stories about haunted houses, but I sure do love reading stories about haunted tram cars, apparently. This is exactly what the title tells you, except the tram car is from this alternate version of Cairo’s aerial trams – this is set in a city where steampunk meeting and blending with the paranormal is everyday life, after all. I also thought the dynamic between the two main characters (basically experience detective and newbie detective) was really funny.
- Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali: this one was such a surprise. I liked Saints and Misfits, but I didn’t love it. This one, however? So much emotion. I felt for Zayneb and for Adam and for Adam’s family and the romance was so, so cute and real. “Fierce girl and soft, quiet boy” really are the best m/f contemporary dynamic. And this is the kind of novel that balances dealing with bigotry (Islamophobia) while also being a really romantic read perfectly. Books usually focus more on one of the two aspects, but I thought that in this one, both were perfect.
7. Two new favorite BookTubers
I don’t try to look for new ones often enough, and all the ones I watch are ones I’ve been subscribed to for months? If you have recommendations, especially for small creators and/or people who talk about diverse books, I’d love to know them!
8. A book you’ve read twice
I just finished my reread of The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – and I have to say, being already invested in the characters (in Philippe and Madeleine because they grew on me during the second book, in Selene because of short stories) helped. One of my main problems with this first book, after all, was the fact that I couldn’t get attached to the characters, but I still ended up really liking it even the first time around.
Anyway, I still think the second book is infinitely better, let’s see if my reread confirms that.
9. Two fabulous quotes from books you’ve read recently
“The storm dragon replied that, above all things, a dragon is a state of mind, and it, like the storm dragon, had been born of their welcome.”
― The Dragon Festival by Yoon Ha Lee, in The Fox Tower and Other Tales
“You can’t build an emotionless, rational, decision-making machine, because emotionality and rationality aren’t actually separate—and all those people who spent literally millennians arguing that they were, were relying on their emotions to tell them that emotions weren’t doing them any good.”
― Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
About the Yoon Ha Lee quote, I love this idea with all my heart as a concept, and about the Elizabeth Bear one, Ancestral Night is exactly the kind of book that keeps throwing ideas at you, and it will make you think about how we see AIs are just as much as it will make you think about how we see about democracy and government and capitalism and fairness. It’s such a smart book, and so much fun to read.
Have you read or want to read any of these? What is the most trope-y and cringe-inducing urban fantasy book you’ve read?