T10T: Out of My Comfort Zone

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 I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone.

If you want to read more about this topic, I have an ongoing series of posts about reading genres and formats I don’t usually read, Out of My Comfort Zone. Some of the next topics might be either adult thrillers, middle grade contemporary or adult literary fiction. (Let me know which one you’d like me to focus on first!)

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite


I’ve always avoided historical romance. As someone who usually ends up being bored by both non-historical romance and non-romance historical, combining the two things didn’t seem like a good idea.

However, making things gay also makes things automatically more interesting, apparently, because I loved the romance in this book so much. The writing was perfect, the atmosphere too, and the scientist/artist f/f romance was everything. And while it’s set in 1816, it’s not a story about how hard it is to be gay! It’s fun and it’s happy and it was all it needed to be.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan


YA fantasy, especially f/f YA fantasy, is perfectly within my comfort zone. Books about girls who are forced to basically be sex slaves definitely are not.

This… wasn’t painless. I said in my review that if you’ve ever been forced to do things that you found humiliating or violating, even though they’re not even remotely similar to (or of the magnitude of) what the main character goes through, this will bring them up in your head, so be careful with it. And it was still worth it for me. It’s a beautiful story about resistance and about a forbidden queer romance born in an unlikely, dark place; the descriptions of this world (which is Malaysian and Chinese-inspired, too) are so beautiful that I wanted to see it, even though it’s the kind of place I would never want to be in.

(It still meant that I ended up DNFing a book that dealt with a similar topic a few days later, Empire of Sand, because I couldn’t do this anymore.)

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley


This novel had so many things I should hate in it. Senseless slaughter. Realistic-feeling military training. Depressing atmosphere. A world devastated by climate change. War, war, war. Corporations rule the world. Extremely confusing timeline due to continuous time jumps. But if a book has so many things I hate in it and I still end up not hating it and I think about it… if not every day, at least every week months after I read it, it means that it’s great.

This is one of the worst and best things I’ve ever read, at the same time.

Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda


I might have a medium-to-high tolerance for gore in a written format, but I have no tolerance at all when it comes to movies, or, as this graphic novel showed me, to drawings. But it’s so beautiful and queer and angry that it was worth it anyway, even though it’s all but a light read, especially for a graphic novel. This is now one of my favorite series, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly


This is about the rise of fascism in a fictional world.

It is, together with Girls of Paper and Fire, probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever read in my life. I don’t think I would be able to reread it, especially now. And yet… I loved it. I loved it because it is a laugh in the face of overwhelming horror, it’s a reminder that things can still be done and life doesn’t stop there, and it’s for the most part an unambiguously fun book, with intrigue and romance. That doesn’t diminish its message: I actually think that books that try to handle heavy topics without humor forget one of humans’ favorite coping mechanisms, and from a writing standpoint, it works better than endless misery – it never lets you get used to to the pain, so it hurts more when things inevitably fall apart.

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter


This is a contemporary fantasy story with horror aspects following an abusive and incestuous relationship between two foster siblings, and it’s as unpleasant as YA gets. It’s also a beautiful story about getting out of said toxic relationship, and finding… if not healing, at least a beginning, told from the point of view of a genderqueer person.

It has one of the best character arcs I’ve ever read, but if I said that I actually enjoyed any part of it, I would be lying.

Twisted Romance (edited by) Alex de Campi


Graphic novels and anthologies aren’t something I reach for that often to begin with, and this one is both – it’s made of short stories both in a traditional format and as short comics. Also, it’s about romance.

The fact that this is specifically about “unusual romance” – both in the sense that many of these stories are paranormal, fantasy or sci-fi, and in the sense that here you’ll find characters that have often been excluded from mainstream romance, from polyamorous women to kinky queer people and asexual men – meant that I ended up loving it. A surprising amount of my problems with the romance genre come from what people think a happy ending should look like (monogamous couple – which, if the main character is a woman in a full-length novel, is almost always heterosexual), which never applied to this.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee


I don’t read a lot of middle grade, because my experiences with it in the last few years have mostly been negative. It probably has to do with the fact that the most popular middle grade books of the decade are Rick Riordan’s, and I really don’t like his style – and yes, what is popular does affect what gets published.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel about this at first (it is a RR presents book) but this… this was gorgeous and it reminded me a little of how I felt when I read The Golden Compass. It felt wild and free in ways adult and YA books just don’t, and middle-school-Acqua would have loved this. And it is the casually queer and trans novel middle-school-Acqua needed so much, too.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta


Poetry is really hit-or-miss for me, especially when it comes to poetry novels. I loved The Poet X and haven’t had any luck since, but then I found out about this and bought it on a whim. Best decision of the entire month of August! This is a coming-of-age story about a gay biracial black boy as he and finds himself through drag culture and poetry, and while it wasn’t as solid on an individual poem level as The Poet X, it was less shaky in terms of storyline, and just as beautiful.

Sometimes, picking up random things because they sound good actually works?

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé


I have talked about this book many times on this blog, because it’s one of my all-time favorites and probably the book that has affected my perception of myself more deeply since I started reading (the best portrayal of anxiety I’ve ever read, and from the point of view of a queer girl: the things representation can do). One thing I don’t often say is that before reading this novel, I thought I didn’t like horror.

Horror is still not in my comfort zone, but now I know that I can like it, when it talks about mental illness in a sensitive way and not for shock value.

Have you read any of these? Do you often find favorites outside your comfort zone?

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi · Short fiction

Review: Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard

45429770._sy475_Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight is a short story collection written by one of my favorite authors, Aliette de Bodard.

I knew I needed to read this when I got to know that there was an f/f novella in it – about Emmanuelle and Selene from the Dominion of the Fallen series, and really, the main reason I love them are the scenes of them I saw in various short stories and novellas, this one included – and it didn’t disappoint. I probably would have read this anyway because I always want more Xuya universe (and short stories set in space in general), but the fact that the novella wasn’t the only f/f story was also a nice surprise.

As one can guess from the title, most stories in Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight have something to do with a war. If you think this could be repetitive, it’s not, because these stories about war aren’t stories about battles, but about the repercussions of it. It’s about how war changes people on a personal level just as much as it can change a country, and about how war and diaspora influence a culture.
What I want the most from collections (and anthologies, too), is that they feel more than the sum of their parts, and that’s definitely true for this book. There’s a value in this multifaceted approach to a theme that one can’t get from reading all these stories individually in different moments.
So yes, this is about war, from many different angles, and yet it’s all but depressing. Some parts of it are definitely dark – I think this hits the darkest points in The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile and in The Waiting Stars, though The Jaguar House, In Shadow was also almost there, since it dealt with totalitarianism – but others aren’t, and the collection ends on a lighter note with the novella Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness, in which the main characters try to make a party work in the aftermath of the fall of House Silverspires. (By the way: all the scenes involving Morningstar were so funny. I’m kind of sorry for Emmanuelle, but… so funny)

Even then, not all stories deal primarily with war. The Dust Queen is about the role of pain in art, Pearl is a beautiful retelling of a Vietnamese lengend in space, and there are a few stories that are mostly about grief – Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight, which was a reread for me and my introduction to the Xuya universe, and A Salvaging of Ghosts – and some in which the main theme is colonization, my two favorite stories in here, Memorials and Immersion.
Memorials does talk about the aftermath of a war, and it’s about… pain-based tourism and voyeuristic portrayals of war, but it’s also a story about taking back the ways your culture is misrepresented, and about what you owe to your people. This one was so vivid that the first thing I think of when I think about this book are the food descriptions (especially the scene in which the aunts order chè ba màu).
Immersion is about globalization as a subtler form of colonization. It’s one of the stories that stands better on its own and it’s about how the colonizer’s interpretation of a culture can be prioritized, and about how people who are used to living as a part of the dominant culture assume their own as a default (the usual “I have no culture”) and so they try to reduce others to a few key points, the ones that feel the most different. About how this affects the people who are othered, and their sense of self, because being more similar to the dominant culture is seen as “progress” no matter what, and people end up hurting themselves in the attempt to assimilate. There’s a lot here and it deserves all the awards it got.

(Also, I didn’t mention it before because that’s true for basically everything Aliette de Bodard writes, but I think all the main characters are people of color, mostly but not only Vietnamese, and almost all of them are women.)

Since these stories have been written from 2010 to 2019, there are a few that feel dated. While I really liked The Shipmaker for being a bittersweet f/f story, the way it talked about being queer in a far-future space society and the way it accidentally conflated having an uterus with being a woman really made the fact that it was written in 2011 stand out.
Overall, while not every story worked for me on its own – that’s the way collection and anthologies go – I’m really satisfied with the collection as a whole, and I really appreciated seeing so many sides of the Xuya universe, which I previously mostly knew from the novellas. If I rated every story individually, I would have an average rating of 4.07, but this is worth more than that for me, and I rated it five stars on goodreads.

The Shipmaker – 4,5
The Jaguar House, in Shadow – 4,5
Scattered Along the River of Heaven – 2,5
Immersion – 5
The Waiting Stars – 2,5
Memorials – 5
The Breath of War – 3
The Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile – 3,5
The Dust Queen – 4
Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight – 4,5
A Salvaging of Ghosts – 3
Pearl – 5
Children of Thorns, Children of Water – 5
Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness – 5

TBR & Goals

Small September TBR

In August, I had a lot of free time and still ended up reading less than I expected; during September, I won’t have that much (any?) free time, so I want to be kinder to myself and write a slightly shorter TBR.

How August Went

  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – read, ★★★ (review)
  • War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi – still to read
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinsonstill to read
  • Jade War by Fonda Lee  read, ★★★ (review)
  • A House of Rage and Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna – still to read
  • The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore – read, ★★★★½
  • Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’KeefeDNF, no rating
  • Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard – read, ★★★★★
  • The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – reread, ★★★★¼ (review)

As you can see, not too bad – and as all the books on this list I read were adult fantasy/sci-fi novels, so the slower pace is also justified. Struggling so much with Jade War certainly didn’t help.

September ARCs

The true priorities of the month. I managed to get my September ARCs down to a manageable number in August, which is great, let’s keep up with this.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – this sounds like a somewhat heavy, beautifully written book, and I hope that, unlike this author’s Hugo-award-winning short story about librarians, I don’t end up hating it. (I mean, I loved another of her short stories, so I’m hopeful?)

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger – I actually have no idea what this is about, but I’ve heard so many promising things in the last few days. I also found Paul Krueger’s previous book Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge really enjoyable, so I hope this is just as fun.

A House of Rage and Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna – I… don’t remember A Spark of White Fire that well, so I’m not as interested as I was when I first read it. It’s always like this with sequels when too much time has passed, but I hope trying to actually read the book will change my mind. It has happened before.

Other Books

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden – I’ve had the new novel by one of my favorite authors for months and I still haven’t read it. How. This is technically out in October, so not something I feel I need to get done right now, but I want to read it soon. It has biological spaceships!

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – I rarely include new releases I don’t already own in TBRs, but I really do want to get to the “lesbian necromancers in space” book when it comes out. If I’m not able to get to it in September (for example, if I order a physical copy and it doesn’t get here in time), I’m just going to replace this and won’t count it as a fail as long as I end up reading something else instead.

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard (reread) – after my really successful reread of The House of Shattered Wings, I plan to go on and reread this one to finally get to The House of Sundering Flames. As this is one of my favorite fantasy books ever, I can’t wait.

Have you read or are you anticipating any of these?

Book review

I DNFed Them, But They’re Worth Looking Into

There are books I DNF because I genuinely think they’re bad and wouldn’t want to recommend them just as much as I didn’t want to continue reading, and then there are books that I DNFed for other reasons, from personal ones to other circumstances.

The thing is, when the books in the second DNF category are ARCs, I always feel bad about it, because I was given them by a publisher for a honest review, and giving my honest opinion of something when I didn’t even manage to get halfway through is… difficult.

So I am going to talk about these, but it won’t be a full review and/or have a rating, as I don’t feel comfortable with rating books I DNFed early.

The Truth Is by NoNieqa Ramos

36316601._sx318_About this one, I can say with a certain degree of confidence that I really liked what it was trying to do, and that I didn’t find anything really wrong with the execution either. This is the story of Verdad, a 15-year-old Puerto Rican girl, as she tries to understand her place in the world, comes to terms with the death of her best friend, falls in love, questions her sexuality and also her views on queerness and race.

Reason I DNFed: this was a case of me greatly overestimating my capability of reading books about queer/questioning teenagers with queerphobic parents.

Now, let’s talk about the things I liked:

  • this is a story about a young teen, which is sadly uncommon in YA novels, especially when it comes to YA novels about teens of color;
  • this is a story about a young teen raised by a somewhat bigoted parent that lets her be like young teens raised in bigoted environments are: bigoted themselves, and really confused. While I couldn’t deal with her mother’s overt transphobia and homophobia, I didn’t have a problem with Verdad messing up all the time. She starts having feeling for a trans boy at her school, and so her internal monologue turns into a worried “am I a lesbian? does this make me a lesbian?” Of course, this isn’t how things work, but raised-in-Italian-catholic-school-hell 15-year-old me wouldn’t have known that either.
  • This is also a story about anti-blackness in Puerto Rican communities. At the beginning of the book, Verdad is anti-black, though she doesn’t really realize that until later. The main character also struggles with not feeling “Puerto Rican enough” because Spanish isn’t easy to learn for her, and I always love when stories explore the link between culture and language while talking about bilingualism.
  • Verdad is also dealing with PTSD after losing her best friend in a shooting, and I really liked the way this aspect was written.
  • Also: there’s a lot of Spanish in this book that the author never translates, which is honestly the right choice (and if I had to learn English and be good enough at it to even read the book, monolinguals shouldn’t complain and use the internet a little), and the fun thing is, being Italian means that I understood most of it while not actually knowing a word of Spanish.

Things I didn’t like:

  • sometimes this did feel like it was written by someone trying to speak like a 15-year-old. I’m not 15 anymore and soon my age won’t end in -teen anymore either, so I might be wrong, but I don’t think anyone actually refers to other people by their twitter or other social media handle in real life;
  • something I’m more sure about: some parts really stood out as written by someone who, instead of going to school in the 2010s, has taught in school in the 2010s. Yes, teens are always on their phones, but what the author thinks they do while they’re on their phone… that’s what a teacher would say. We’re not texting, most of the time. Verdad went from sounding like a young teen to sounding like my aunt, a teacher.
  • there was a lot of unintentional arophobia – I’m 15, so soon I will fall in love, and my mom knows that, because it’s biology!, and things like that. I might be wrong about this, but knowing what authors usually do with arophobia (they don’t even realize it was there), I don’t have high hopes about it being challenged later.

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe

41085049I DNFed this one earlier than The Truth Is, so I can’t say if I liked what it was trying to do or not; but it is about a sergeant reawakening from a space battle in which she was injured… 230 years later. On an enemy ship.

Reason I DNFed: I really couldn’t get into this. While Sanda’s storyline was – as far as I read – straightforward enough and easy to follow, the book is made of really short chapters, and between two Sanda chapters you always get one or more set “before”, following other characters. I understood nothing of what happened in those. My threshold for putting up with initially confusing worldbuilding and fictional societies in adult sci-fi isn’t usually this low, but nothing about this book made me think the effort would be worth it. (Which is also probably due to the fact that it really doesn’t seem to be my kind of sci-fi.)

But let’s talk about what I liked:

  • While I don’t know if there are any queer main characters, I did like that from the first chapter we get to know that the main character has two fathers, and that (I think) queerness isn’t in any way an issue in this future;
  • Sanda is an amputee, which should be far more common when it comes to stories about war and characters surviving improbable disastrous situations.
  • Tension and stakes were definitely there, in Sanda’s storyline. Mysterious enemy ship, and the enemies really might have designed a planet-destroying weapon they aren’t fully able to control… it’s a lot (and I wish the other chapters were as interesting and less of a “I have no idea what this means or how anyone and anything looks like, and most of all, why I should care” mess)
  • If you, like me, care about this sort of thing: the enemy spaceship has an AI, and it talks to the main character. I didn’t get far enough to really understand Bero’s (the AI’s) personality, but this part had the potential to be interesting.

What I didn’t like:

  • apart from the confusion, multi-PoV books with really short chapters tend to take me out of the story continuously, so I paradoxically end up reading them more slowly.

Have you ever DNFed books you didn’t think were bad?


Two Books, One Stone Book Tag

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?

Book review · Young adult

Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

38612739Pet is a story about how evil – any kind of evil – thrives in plain sight when people start refusing to look for it, to acknowledge that it can and does exist. It’s a story about how this refusal of any kind of discomfort, this hiding from the world’s truth, hurts and silences victims.

It follows Jam, a black trans girl with selective mutism who lives in Lucille, a town in a future version of America that would look like an utopia to us. Not only the people around Jam accept all of her as she is, Lucille as a whole doesn’t have “monsters” anymore: no police to fear, no hoarding billionaries or evil politicians or backstabbing bigots. Evil has been defeated, people say, but as Jam soon discovers, that’s never really the case.

This is a charming little book. It’s so short, but it has so much to say, with this world balanced between surreal and futuristic, in which creatures can come through paintings and monsters are still so familiar. It’s not contemporary, but it’s that kind of book that feels more real than reality, and one I would recommend to readers of all ages. I think that it’s technically a much-needed lower YA, as the main character is 15, but it’s accessible even to younger readers, and adults could get a lot out of it as well. From what Petsays about the nature of evil to what it says about what makes a monster, or an angel – not the appearance, not what they are, but what they do – there are a lot of important messages and reminders in this book.

I think it’s really interesting how, in an age range that is supposedly geared towards teenagers (so, from 13 to 19, and even then, people will tell you that it’s technically meant to be 14-17), characters that are younger than 16 are so uncommon in YA. I think this is one of the reasons this book felt so unlike every YA novel I had ever read before – Jam is a 15-year-old girl who actually feels like one, and Pet talks about the typical difficulties of being a young teen in the world: Jam doesn’t know how to communicate with her parents anymore, she’s slowly realizing that the world is uglier than she has believed for all her life, and is terrified that people won’t listen to her just because of her age. I remember experiencing all of these things myself, and it’s sad that the YA age range usually avoids dealing with these topics to favor storylines that are more appealing to adults instead.

Pet also focuses a lot on family dynamics, both in Jam’s own family – Jam’s relationships with her parents, Bitter and Aloe, is really developed, which is also uncommon in YA – and in her friend Redemption’s, in which Jam has been told “hides a monster”. I loved the portrayal of Redemption’s family, it’s so uncommon to see extended families and polyamory representation (Redemption’s parents are a woman, a non-binary person, and a man, but aunts and uncles are almost like parents to him too) in books, but even families that look perfect can have their ugly sides. And this is still a story with a happy ending, the best possible ending given the circumstances. Just because it has an important message, it doesn’t mean it has to be constantly painful.

And then there’s the relationship between Jam and Pet, the creature that came through Jam’s mother’s paining. I loved what this book did with Pet, especially what Pet meant to Jam – their complicated friendship, their disagreements abou how to pursue justice, and how Pet taught Jam to be brave and that sometimes discomfort is a positive thing.

I hope Pet ends up reaching a lot of people; I think most could get something useful from this.

My rating: ★★★★★

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee

37578998For something that took me more than a month to complete, this was surprisingly fun. It’s just that the writing leaned into the aspect I didn’t like in Jade City even more than in the first book – giving you far more details than you actually need to understand the story – and that’s how we got a 600-page sequel that was at the same time far too long and far too short for what it was trying to do.

I’ll try to explain what went wrong, which I can sum up as “I’ve never read a book in which the pacing was so bad“. The scenes themselves are slow, often full of paragraphs and paragraphs of useless infodumps; I skimmed most of the non-dialogue parts in the second half and still didn’t struggle at all with understanding the story. (It was more fun that way, actually.)
Why far too short, then? Because in this book, the sense of passage of time goes completely out of the window after 30%. There are enormous time jumps between chapters, and you’re not told that so much time has passed until, for example, the book tells you that the character who was pregnant a few chapters ago is also pregnant now… with another child. Where did that year go?

Which is how I started focusing on odd details, one of them being the unusual amount of pregnancies in this book. I joked that this book, sequel to Jade City, should really have been called Pregnancity: every single relevant female character but the villain (and even a few of the not relevant ones) gets pregnant in this book, some of them multiple times, for a total of six pregnancies. I guess that’s what happens when you put too many straight people on an island.

The only major gay character, the token self-loathing gay cousin, is away in another country, and queer women don’t seem to exist. I won’t tell you that this book is bad because it has none, but I do wish there had been less overwhelming heterosexuality and more female characters in general (…all of them can get pregnant because there are only a few relevant ones to begin with).
Now that I got my complaints out of the way, let’s talk about what I liked.

Jade War is an ambitious sequel. A lot of things about it didn’t work for me, but something I never lost was my interest in it, or my attachment to the characters. I loved reading about these complicated family dynamics, seeing how far the character would go for each other and for what they believe in – sometimes, maybe too far; there were a few scenes that surprised me that way, and yet they made so much sense. I’ve always been interested in stories about families and stories about loyalty and its limits, and this is both, so it’s perfect.
Also, can we talk about how refreshing it is to read an adult book in which sibling relationships are the backbone of the story? We’re lucky if even YA novels remember that siblings are a thing.
I might not have been there for the politics and the overly-detailed worldbuilding, but I was always there for the quieter scenes, the ones in which I saw the characters interact. There was always tension, and it always felt personal and real. I loved all of them.

(Also, not to be predictable, but I’m really fascinated by Ayt Mada and would love to have her PoV.)

Once I stopped forcing myself to wade through the text walls, the plot also turned out to be really engaging, complex and surprising, and this time I also loved the ending.
So, will I continue the series? It depends on how long the third book will be and how willing I’ll be to get into something just to skim it, but I really do want to know what happens. I even have some theories:

Spoiler-y theories

Since Jade City had a plot-relevant near-lethal duel halfway through involving Lan, and Jade War had a plot-relevant near-lethal duel halfway through involving Shae, it only makes sense that Jade Legacy will have a plot-relevant duel halfway through involving Hilo, only I have a hunch that this time it will actually be lethal for him. I don’t know who the opponent is, I just hope it’s not Bero.

My rating: ★★★