Adult · lists

Books That Will Cause Problems On Purpose

Have you ever gone through a stressful time in your life and then thought well, now that I have some free time, why don’t I create some problems for myself?

If so, don’t worry! I have just the right reading list for you.


Low-Level Problems

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Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney: compared to a lot of other books on this list, Desdemona and the Deep is a really nice, straightforward, very queer novella involving humans just as much as fae or goblins. However, and I say this especially for ESL speakers like me, keep a vocabulary/some reliable internet translator at hand. Context won’t be enough; you’re going to need it.

  • Desdemona and the Deep, describing anything: …and they glowed with that gallimaufry of moonlight, twilight, and predatory flower-light…
  • me, a confused Italian: wtf is a gallimaufry??
  • Desdemona and the Deep, grinning up to its “festooned eyelids”: …and Chaz spared them a single glare from her alluvial larimar-on-scarlet eyes
  • me: oh sure. I know how that looks like

It’s intentionally over-the-top, and it’s a really fun time if that’s not too much for you. For me it wasn’t, because I like books that cause me problems and make me learn something, even if that something is a word I will never use, like “gallimaufry”.

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Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: I’m ranking this in the low-level problems category even though, I will admit, I didn’t fully understand this book nor was able to fully follow the timeline, but I got enough and getting more than that wasn’t necessary, because this novel is a masterpiece in being deceptively simple. Making a definitely non-linear story in which time repeatedly rewinds on itself feel linear is an achievement most authors don’t have the skill for. This feels straightforward, if weird – but it’s the farthest thing from the first, while the second describes it perfectly. My dear philosophical alchemical book. Unlike most of the books on this list, Middlegame goes out of its way to be readable, and it will still confuse you a lot!

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This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone: when I say that this book feels like an overgrown short story, I mean that it’s written in a style you’re probably familiar with if you’ve read a lot of short SFF – evocative vague sci-fi with a lot of flowery thrown in. It’s… definitely not for those who don’t like poetry, despite not having any actual poetry in it. I will fully admit that I think this style works better in a shorter format, but this was still a remarkable book made out of very pretty confusion. It being epistolary time travel doesn’t help, but if you too are a simple gay who will persevere for the enemies-to-lovers spy F/F romance, you’ll reach an ending that is a delight.


Medium-Level Problems

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The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley: I still have no idea what happened and hated almost every moment of reading this book (realistic and kind of apocalyptic near-future sci-fi about war… let’s just say it’s not my thing) but it was one of my favorites of last year and I think about it often. It has one of the best endings I’ve ever read, one that made reading a book I pretty much disliked everything about worth it, even though I’m still not sure anything about the book makes sense, because it’s one of those time travel books (those that make This Is How You Lose the Time War feel as if it made sense). What’s linear time, you ask? This book doesn’t seem to care.

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Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee: if it were up to me, this would go into the “low-level” tier, but it would be wrong to talk about Ninefox Gambit without taking consensus mechanics into account, and the crowd has spoken, mostly in the vein of Acqua, why does this read like a math textbook on acid. If you also happen to be completely immune to sciencespeak (I grew up around physicists, math space-fantasy cannot hurt me), I really recommend the mass murder magic math book! If not, you need the opposite ability than with Desdemona and the Deep: do not focus on the details. You’re not going to get them anyway, just like when your mother has decided she really, really needs to explain you that one math problem you didn’t get right now but you’re just trying to eat dinner: if the book tells you that “such a storm would scramble vectors”, just go with the idea that it’s something to avoid, whatever it might mean (if you have an overactive visual imagination like me, come up with your own very cool visual description of having your vectors scrambled! I recommend imagining a lot of fractals as you read this), and go on eating your scrambled eggs.

Radiance

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente: if The Light Brigade wins the award for best ending, Radiance wins the award for best prologue, as the prologue itself is a retro sci-fi meta commentary on prologues, and it only gets weirder from there. Making sense of something is infinitely more difficult when you’re not able to discern what’s fictional and what’s not inside the canon of the book, which is what happens with a meta narrative ever-rewriting itself through excerpts of nonexistent films in an alternate, decopunk fantasy version of our solar system. The best kind of trippy! And, as this “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” understands, you can never truly have too many genres.


High-Level Problems

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Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko: this is the only book on the list I can confidently say I didn’t get. It was ominous and metaphysical and overwhelming, and technically it’s about a magical school (but was it really?). My confusion is probably the result of a combination of symbolism being lost in translation, me not being familiar with the cultural context this was created in, and this book being generally, uh, obscure. It’s still an interesting experience, as long as you’re fine with the distinct possibility that you won’t understand three quarters of what you read – it pretty much makes as much sense as its cover does, which is to say, I don’t know what that is, but it sure gives me a certain feeling.

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Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer: or, a compilation of things I’ve said about this book scattered around this blog and its comments

  • “It took me ten tries to get through the first chapter and I’m not even sure why I did this to myself, but I did it and now I feel accomplished”
  • “one of the most boring things I’ve ever read and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I’ve also four-starred it because it’s great (it’s not. But it kind of is?)”
  • “I hate-read this book. I hate-read it because there was no way something as convoluted and heavy as this really got published and won awards”
  • “this is what happens when your novel is 90% worldbuilding and basically the book equivalent of a 18th century philosophy shitpost.”
  • “a terrible slog with cw: cannibalism levels of questionable content”
  • “if you want to read a story about the slow fall into chaos of a not-so-utopian utopia because of a heretical brothel, two deity children and a group of stabby celebrities, this may be for you!”
  • “I ended up giving this book four stars for the effort. The author’s or mine? I don’t know, but there sure was a lot of effort involved”
  • TL;DR: read it! Then judge me for recommending it to you.
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The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar: adult SFF authors in an experimental mood scare me and this book is the reason why. What about a novel in which there’s technically no time travel and the timeline would be, could maybe have been linear but there’s pretty much a time jump in every paragraph, if you want to call it that, because this isn’t so much a story as a staircase of moments sliding in and out of focus as you go up and down in the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of memories? And not all memories would conform to every definition of truth. Reading it feels like trying to hold onto smoke, it’s an authentic lyrical headache – one I loved deeply, and the part called The History of Music will always be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed.


Have you read any of these? Do you have any recommendations for this? [Also, why can’t “a problematic book” mean “a book that causes problems on purpose”. That would be way funnier]

lists

Non-Novel Favorites of 2019

As I said in my post about my favorite novels of the year, I also have a lot of “favorites of 2019” that aren’t novels, and I will talk about them in this post.


Novellas

2019 was a great year for novellas, and less of a great year for me actually reading them. I still have to get to a few titles I’m really interested in, like the unanimously-praised Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney and the unusual-looking The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall. And I should definitely reach for more novellas, because I read 15 and 5 of them ended up being favorites, and that’s not even all the five stars. If only with full novels I could find a favorite every three books.

My 5 favorites were:

In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire: Seanan McGuire has outdone herself this year. Both her books were full five stars for me, which I didn’t expect, as I had liked many of her previous ones, but hadn’t rated them that highly before.
I have such fond memories of In An Absent Dream because I listened to it on audiobook (the only audiobook I’ve ever liked!) on the two days I was going with my class on botanical excursions, two of the best days I had in 2019. The audiobook is perfect – the narration was so good I felt as if I could see and feel the goblin market’s world – and the story is as well. It’s about unfairness, navigating two worlds, and how freedom isn’t always defined by choice. It made me think about so many things and it’s one of those stories that will stay for me for a long time. It’s bitter and I wouldn’t change one thing about it, despite how much I wish it could have gone differently.

The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang: I will never not be there for F/F villain romances. As it’s tradition for this novella series, it’s written in an experimental format – this time, it’s a drunken monologue – and I loved that about it, as the point is as much the story as it’s Lady Han’s current feelings about what happened, the hindsight, the hate coexisting with grief. She is telling the story of how her very dysfunctional relationship with the empress led to the dawn of a revolution, and I will always value tragic queer stories that are not tragedies about being queer.

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark: this universe (the same of A Dead Djinn in Cairo) is one of the best examples of imaginative worldbuilding in fantasy. I will always love stories about cities that feel alive and chaotic and real, and this is all of that while mixing steampunk and paranormal, which is a great concept in itself. I mean, haunted aerial trams? One can’t do better than that, and the way this novella balances between “paranormal mystery” and “story about the advances in technology and society” is also masterful – it is mostly about the ghost, but also about corruption and politics and there’s a background storyline about women’s right to vote. I hope I will get more from this world, and P. Djèlí Clark is becoming one of my favorite authors.

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone: If I had known what this novella truly was – the closest a book can get to poetry without being in verse – I would have liked it even more, so I plan to reread it at some point.
I’ve seen it end up on many other lists of favorites, and I can definitely see why, from the perfect hook “F/F enemies-to-lovers between two spies during a time travel war” to it being one of the most beautiful examples of sci-fantasy I’ve ever seen, with a dynamic between the two main characters that is so intense and… such a powerful positive force in a way we don’t usually get for F/F relationships. A really remarkable novella I expect to win a lot of awards this next season.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole: this is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read. I’ve never been to New York and I’m probably imagining it wrong as well, but I felt as if I was walking alongside with the characters: the author’s attention to detail made this sweet romance unforgettable. This is a second chance F/F romance between two Black women and I loved Fabiola and Likotsi’s story so much.


Short Stories & Novelettes

Sadly, I didn’t have as much time to check out short stories in the second half of the year as I did in the first, so I basically didn’t read any after… July? But I did find some favorites during the first half of the year.

Circus Girl, the Hunter, and Mirror Boy by JY Yang: sometimes a story stays with you because it hit you in a way only short stories can, so personal and close that you can barely look at it with any distance. I can’t tell you what it’s actually about, but I can tell you that nothing has ever described so well the feeling of being forced to face your own past coping mechanisms – the struggle between what the world says you should feel about what you did to survive and what you actually feel.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho: the cutest F/F short story between a human and an imugi who wants to become a dragon. Funny and bittersweet and definitely deserving of the Hugo, it’s about perseverance, and when that is a good idea, and the great things you stumble into while looking for something else.

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly: the most interesting banquet/revolution story you will ever read, as well as a really smart way to explore the link between food and memory in a more… literal way. I can’t say more without spoilers but I loved this a lot.


Collections

I haven’t read an anthology in all of 2019? 2018 was a year of slowly realizing I don’t like them 90% of the time, and this is the consequence. What I can like, however, is collections written by my favorite authors. I read 4, and one of them ended up being a favorite. (The other three, Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee, Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard, and Meet Me in the Future by Kameron Hurley, were also really good but not favorites.)

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The Fox Tower and Other Tales by Yoon Ha Lee is a collection of delightful flash fiction fairytales. It’s sweeter than anything you’ll find in Lee’s books, but still with the very characteristic kind of writing I love about them – the blurred lines between magic and math, magic and science, and the many, many foxes. Also, many stories are queer, of course. It made me so happy.


Comics & Graphic Novels

After this Out of My Comfort Zone experiment at the beginning of 2019, I decided I wanted to read more of them, and for once, I actually did. I went from having read 4 graphic novels in 2018 to this year’s 16. My five favorites were:

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell: this is a graphic novel about Freddie, an Asian-American girl who is in a toxic relationship with a white, popular girl who keeps breaking up with her. I stayed up late to read it because it’s wonderful, as much a story about the importance of friendships in your life as as it is a celebration of queerness – yes, even though it follows a relationship gone wrong that needs to end. And the art? Breathtaking. I want to reread this soon.

Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn & Claire Roe: as it’s important to me, a queer person, to read about failed queer relationships, it also is to read about morally messed up queer stories like this one. A vital part of being acknowledged as human in fiction is being allowed to be a horrible person without being turned into a caricature, and this was the deeply unhetical noir with a mostly queer female cast I didn’t know I always needed.

Monstress Vol. 3: Haven by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda: I could tell you that I liked this because the story or the art (both are amazing, don’t get me wrong), which is true, but honestly the thing I remember most vividly was just how much I was into some drawings of one of the antagonists. I’m glad my favorite bookish villainesses only exist in written form or I wouldn’t survive.

Sol by Loputyn: this collection of gothic illustrations by Italian artist Jessica Cioffi is the drawn equivalent of a poetry collection, and I’m sad that the author being from Italy means it won’t get any attention outside of my country despite having barely any words in it (it wouldn’t need to be translated). It goes from sweet to sad to eldritch in a few steps, and it’s gorgeously witchy. Most of the illustrations featuring couples are M/F, but there are a few F/F ones as well, and to see queerness in Italian-authored books is everything to me. (If you want to see a little more of the art, here’s my review.)

La mia ciclotimia ha la coda rossa by Lou Lubie: a memoir about living with cyclothymia I liked so much that I made my whole family read it (it helps that it’s short and has an amazing sense of humor) and they all liked it! I recommend it if you ever want to start/continue a conversation about mental illness with someone, even if you don’t have any kind of bipolar disorder – as far as I know, I don’t, but some parts of this were relevant to me as well. It exists in Italian, French (original language) and Spanish.


Poetry

Poetry is something I should explore more, but I don’t quite know where to start. The only kind of poetry I read this year – The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, a novel written in verse – was a favorite, so I really should try more.

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This is a story about growing into your own identity, following a gay Black boy as he understands what he wants from his life and what it means for him to be gay, to be biracial, to be Jamaican and British and Cypriot, and finding his own people as well. It focuses on friendships and family and some of the poems about that really resonated with me.


Shows

I would never have thought there would be a section like this in one of my “favorites” posts. While I did watch 3 movies this year (a record? maybe?), none of them was anything like a favorite, but I absolutely have to mention The Untamed, the only show I watched, adaptation of the Chinese novel Mo Dao Zu Shi by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu.

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I read the novel and really liked it, but this story ended up working even more this way for me, which I didn’t expect at all, as I usually lose interest in TV shows. And yes, while unlike the novel it can’t let its main character kiss because of censorship, it’s still so blatantly gay that my straight friend got it (without me telling her) during the first episode.
Anyway, if you don’t know what it’s about (which would surprise me, unless somehow you’re never on social media but you are reading this blog – this is everywhere) I can tell you that it’s a Chinese fantasy story involving necromancy, war, and an epic romance – starting out with the resurrection of the most hated person in the whole country, our main character Wei Wuxian.


What did you think of these?

lists · Weekly

Favorite Books of 2019

It’s time for my favorite post of the year!

Favorite books of 2019” is also the Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl), and since in 2019 I’ve read aroung 100 books instead of 150 as I did in 2018 and 2017, I’m actually going to stop myself at ten, with five honorable mentions at the end. My list of favorites that aren’t novels (so, from novellas and graphic novels to TV shows and poetry) will be in a different post, hopefully coming soon.

I chose the order in a way that wouldn’t only count how much I liked the story – as I liked all of these, and putting them in order basing myself only on that was going to be difficult – but also how much they affected me after I read them.

My favorite book is at the end of the list.


The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

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The best books about space are always the ones that manage to make you feel small while reminding you that life is beautiful, and how we can thrive on this spinning rock of a planet. And there’s something about the way K. Ancrum writes that is perfect for that: the short chapters and the mixed media format combined make you fly through the story quickly, but the feeling of wonder and hope stays with you.
This is also a story about queer found family and star-spanning sapphic love, and what more could one want?

The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

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The Lost Coast is a love letter to the communities queer people form and the power of queer love, wrapped in a wonderfully atmospheric contemporary-fantasy package. This is one of those books that is queer to its essence while not being about tragedy, because there’s more that is unique about our experiences than pain and trauma; it’s a story about finding and recognizing your own power in the context of a group, and the importance of having people to ground you as well. I hope I’ll get to spend more time with Danny, Rush and the other witches in the Californian redwoods.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

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Among all the impactful, stare-at-the-sky-in-wonder, weird, and challenging reads, sometimes I forget that reading can be, you know, fun. Fun doesn’t mean mindless or forgettable: sometimes you want to remind yourself what it was like to be a tween who wants to go on an adventure, and sometimes you want to get emotional about fox ghosts, in a book that has the same feel as the ones from your childhood – but that, unlike them, has the existence of queer/trans/polyamorous people built in its very worldbuilding and is based in a non-western culture, being Korean-inspired sci-fi. If I could give one book to tween Acqua, it would be this one; that doesn’t mean it was any less valuable as an adult.

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

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At this point, I know I will always fall in love with the kind of stories whose point is to ask, does the end really justify these means, all over again. I’m predictable, and so is this book, but sometimes it doesn’t matter because the execution is that good. The Fever King is a story about trauma, intergenerational and not, and what it means to live as a survivor; it also has one of the most interesting sci-fantasy magic systems I’ve ever read, directly based on learning. I can’t wait to see where this story will bring me with The Electric Heir next year, and whether Noam and Dara will get to be something resembling happy and in love.
Also, if you like reading about villains, please, read this book. I hadn’t had such an intense book hangover since 2017.

The Wise and the Wicked by Rebecca Podos

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I don’t know if I get what it means to be in love with a person, but I know this book does.
The Wise and the Wicked is a story about looking at the future while dealing with intergenerational trauma, following a magical Russian-American family, and it has what’s my favorite m/f romance of the year. It felt so real, and sweet, and sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of how a romance can be all of these things while being what makes a book shine. (I’m usually more here for tense, possibly evil stuff.)
Everything about this felt so vibrant and alive, just as bright and unforgettable as its cover. Because of its kind of magical weirdness, its attention to detail, and the major queer characters and trans love interest, I’d recommend this book to everyone who likes Anna-Marie McLemore’s novels.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

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Sometimes a book can change your life.
I’m not a different person than I was when I read With the Fire on High, a story about an Afro-Puerto Rican teen mother who wants to become a chef, but it did set my life on a different path than the one it would have taken otherwise. It’s as much about finding the strenght to make difficult decisions about your own future as it is about the link between food and culture, and I really needed to think about both things. There are many ways books have affected me – this is not the only novel I’ve read that has made see my life in a different way – but “literally pick up a hobby” was not one of them. I’m not almost-magical like Emoni, but I can do more by myself than hard-boil an egg now, and that’s progress.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

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Let’s start this by saying that the main character is named Jam and her parents are Bitter and Aloe, “bitter Aloe jam”, and any book that includes a blatant Aloe ferox reference has to end up on a list of favorites. (That is, after all, my favorite plant.)
Not only Pet is a near-future utopian story and the closest I’ve ever seen to a middle grade-YA crossover, it’s one following a black trans girl with selective mutism in which not one of these three things is ever seen as a problem by anyone or the narrative, and it’s also one of the stories with the most relevant commentary on complacency and the nature of evil I’ve ever read. It’s probably the only book I’d really recommend to everyone.

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

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By now, I think it’s obvious that if you’re writing adult SFF, the one way to my heart is to build something that feels like a puzzle to read, one that requires effort while feeling effortless, one that won’t let me stop thinking about its content for a moment while I’m not reading it.
This is about science and philosophy, about superpowers and alchemy, about power and balance, it’s a mindfuck and a masterpiece, and over all of that, it’s about an ascent to godhood.

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

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I have condensed many times this book down to “space archeology, with pirates”, and it is that, and it also has F/F hero/villain sexual tension, and horrible cults, and wonderful, vaguely terrifying alien artifacts.
It is all of these things, but what stood out to me the most about it was the scale on which it operated. From it being something as small as the story of someone learning to cope with her traumatic past and finding a sense of self, to it being a story about systems of government and sentience’s neverending search for fairness, and to it being about something as incomprehensible to the human mind as what’s written in the scaffolding of the universe – there were so many levels to this, and as I said before, the best books about space are the ones that get how impossibly enormous this everything is, while reminding you that the personal still matters.

Edit [June 2020]: sometimes the people who write books you love end up being terrible people. I can’t recommend this book anymore; for the reasons, read here.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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“Court intrigue set in the heart of a space empire, featuring a main F/F romance and an unforgettable cast in which you’ll see other powerful, active, competent women apart from the main character and her love interest” was already a perfect premise, but I was still not ready for this. A Memory Called Empire is about navigating two different cultures when the one you weren’t born into is devouring the one you were, and about living as a bilingual person; I usually don’t get to see what I deal with in my daily life reflected in a novel, much less in SFF involving queer characters. There’s even a subplot involving a sci-fi-induced haunting, and the court intrigue is the best court intrigue I’ve read in years if not ever, and with all of these things, there was no way this wouldn’t end up being my favorite book of the year.


Honorable Mentions

I haven’t read enough books to have 15 favorites exactly like last year, but I have five more books that were really important to me, so here they are!

Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali, that didn’t end up on the “favorites” list just because I don’t particularly like the number eleven, for showing me how beautiful the YA contemporary romance genre is in the hands of a skilled author and making me believe in it again.

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh, for reminding me that popular disdain towards a trope doesn’t necessarily mean the book has nothing to say, and for its unapologetic portrayal of a heroine navigating Catholic self-loathing. Bring love triangles back, thank you.

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter, as I’ve never been told by so many people that they’ve read a book because of me as with this one, is important to me both for the way it talks about messed up people’s twisty path to hope and healing, and for reminding me that sometimes good reviews do matter.

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante, for showing me that stories about bilingual ESL main characters can get published (the main character is a Salvadorian lesbian), for being the most heartrending YA book of the year, and for having the softest romance born from horrible circumstances.

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, for being the book I’ve thought about the most this year, probably, and for being a masterpiece I deeply appreciated despite it including so many things I theoretically hate. It’s not my favorite book by Kameron Hurley, but it is her best one.


What were your favorite books of 2019?

lists

Least Favorite Books of 2019

While I’ll wait next year to post my list of favorite novels in the hopes of finding a new favorite in these last few days, I hope I won’t have anything to add to this list, so here it is.

As my main goal for 2020 is reading less without feeling bad about it, I want to be able to spend less time on books I hate, so I’m going to think about what can I do to avoid books like these. But there are good news: while this list last year was of 15 books, today I have only 8, and this is already an improvement.

From the one I “liked” the most to the one I liked the least:


#8: Ruse

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I wish I could tell you what exactly went wrong with this book, when Want was one of my favorite books back in 2017. Sadly, I don’t remember one thing that happened in here. Not one scene. I remember feeling misled because the cover implied there would be more Lingyi that there actually was (and with that, more of the f/f couple, but it never actually got any more development), but that’s it. Completely forgettable, and it shouldn’t have been, with that cast of characters.

#7: The Nowhere Girls

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I didn’t get much out of this. One could say, it’s for young teens, but young teens deserve better than a book that preaches at them while botching things on the side – the portrayal of sensory issues was not good, and others have pointed out other things as well; the author tried to do too many things in too little space and with experiences she didn’t share. Lots of good intentions, but the story is boring and the romances are an unnecessary, underdeveloped afterthought.

For next year: no feminism 101 books.

#6: Girls of Storm and Shadow

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This is not the worst book I’ve read this year, but it’s definitely the biggest disappointment, as Girls of Paper and Fire was one of my favorite books of last year. To me, it felt on many levels like something that was written in a rush, 400 pages of badly written filler with some small redeeming moments (the scenes between Lei and Wren are still the sweetest, even when they hurt). On some level, I wish it had been a standalone, but I know this sequel has been important to many as well, so… I just wish I had ignored it, mostly, and I don’t recommend it.

For next year: ignore sequels if the early reviews are bad since you tend not to like direct sequels anyway, and don’t get annoyed if they get pushed back; that might save the series for you, and publishing’s pace isn’t healthy for anyone.

#5: Here There Are Monsters

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Another big disappointment, as Amelinda Bérubé’s The Dark Beneath the Ice is one of my favorite books ever. I didn’t get the point of this: it wasn’t creepy, it wasn’t meaningful (or: I didn’t get it?), it wasn’t interesting – it was just full of ugly things happening to teens, with nothing similar to catharsis anywhere in the book, and neither the resolution nor the characters’ motivations made any sense to me. Yeah, maybe I really just didn’t get it.

#4: After the Eclipse

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As forgettable as it was predictable, focusing on the mystery and on the shocking aspects instead than on developing the characters. It was a quick read, sure, but it felt like a waste of time.

For next year: maybe I don’t like adult thrillers? I need to remember that they easily don’t work for me and that to pick them up I need a strong motivation (note: it might be tempting, future self, but “it has lesbians” is not a strong motivation).

#3: The Waking Forest

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An overwritten, convoluted mess that didn’t seem to have a point and ended in a worse one than where it began. Also, books that get advertised as one thing and use the “it was just a dream” trope to become something completely different are the bane of my existence.

For next year: request less ARCs, and why read straight YA fantasy anyway?

#2: Nevernight

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It’s not that the way this book casually mangled the Italian language meant to mock bilingual ESL existence by implying “I’m English-speaking and don’t need to make any effort to get published in your country, your language is beneath me” but it sure does feel like that. Not my only problem, of course, but for that I’m going to link my review. I’m not going to waste any more time on this.

For next year: white men who write fantasy are put on pedestals without them needing to put any effort in anything, and I probably should remember it next time I consider picking up a fantasy book written by one. Also, why read Jay Kristoff.

#1: If We Were Villains

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We don’t have any ground to complain about YA heroines lacking personality when Oliver Marks, or this whole cast of characters really, exists.

For next year: if the word “Shakespeare” is anywhere in the synopsis, I probably don’t want to read it.


Have you read any of these? What was your least favorite book of 2019?

lists · Short fiction

Pride Recommendations: Short Fiction

I recently said, in my post about unpopular opinions, that I think short fiction doesn’t get half the appreciation it deserves. So not why make a post about my favorite queer short fiction like the one I did for graphic novels?


Novellas

  • the Tensorate series by JY Yang is my favorite novella series. It follows the rise of a revolution and the conflict between magic and technology in an Asian-inspired world, and part of the reason it’s one of my favorites is exactly the worldbuilding. This world’s concept of gender is completely different from our own, this series has multiple characters that we would consider to be trans, and there’s so much casual queerness.
  • I very recently read an ARC of This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone, and… while I thought it got somewhat pretentious at times, its premise is “epistolary f/f enemies to lovers with time travel” and the story itself is even better than it sounds. I loved the way this ended so much that words wouldn’t do it justice. A love born during war is a love that endures so much, and… just read this, ok?

  • If you’re here, you’ve probably already heard of the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, and you might also already know that I love it – and one of the things I love about it is the casual queerness (book one has an asexual protagonist, book two follows a girl who likes girls, and there’s a trans side character). Another reason this series means a lot to me is how it talks about being lost, about growing up feeling like you are in the wrong place, and it’s… bittersweet, overall.
  • One of my favorite f/f romances is Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole, a story about a second-chance romance between two black women set in New York. The atmosphere was everything I could have wanted and more. It’s tied to the Reluctant Royals series, which are m/f royalty romance novels with black women as protagonists,  but you don’t need to have read the novels to understand this.

Short Stories and Novelettes

All the ones that are free to read online are linked.

I

Paranormal. While finding queer vampires in traditionally published novels and novellas is difficult, finding them in short stories is surprisingly easy, probably because people are willing to take more risks – and publish stories in a “dead” trend (sigh) – with short stories.

  • 26849365Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong: an f/f/f love triangle in which two out of the three characters are vampire-like creatures that eat bad thoughts, all three women are Asian, and the story is about toxic relationships and hunger and I loved it so much. (I’m glad that for once I agree with the Nebula awards about which story deserved to win.)
  • Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara: horny trans vampires. Yes, I really do think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever read, with the parallels it drew between transition and vampirism.
  • Sucks (To Be You) by Katharine Duckett: a succubus becomes obsessed with a woman instead of the other way around, because, as she discovers, being a succubus in the age of social media is complicated. Anyway: the voice in this story. It has so much energy.
II

Dark fantasy, because you can never read enough weird, bloodthirsty and otherwise disturbing short stories.

  • 26837046The Lily and the Horn by Catherynne M. Valente: queer women who are poisoners! Beautiful writing! The most mouth-watering descriptions of poisoned food you will ever read! And war, you should know, is a dinner party.
  • I Built this City For You by Cassandra Khaw: Hello. Is this your city? This story starts in the weirdest way possible, and only gets better; I love everything about it. Stories about cities and people’s relationships with them, stories about toxic relationships, even f/f ones, stories about this specific kind of speculative elements – I will never stop loving them, and the writing got under my skin.
  • Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton in Three Sides of a Heart: f/f/m polyamory, body doubles, court intrigue, a worldbuilding more interesting and complex than half the fantasy novels I read, and an unforgettable atmosphere (the descriptions!!). One of my favorites.
  • Super-Luminous Spiral by Cameron Van Sant: if you’ve ever wondered how hallucinating about literary fiction and the concept of the “muse” but with a magical trans character involved would feel like, well… this story exists.
III

Quiet, bittersweet and/or sad stories, because quiet stories are underrated – and because, about the sad ones, I might not be able to read most sad queer novels, but I love sad queer short stories (and will always believe in the right of queer creators to write what they want). The stories not being long 300+ pages makes all the difference.

  • 35395539All the Time We’ve Left to Spend by Alyssa Wong: the fact that this one wasn’t nominated for either a Hugo or a Nebula is a sign that things are going wrong. Anyway, this is about a Japanese girl visiting a hotel where the memories of dead members of a pop band are preserved, and it’s… queer and haunting.
  • Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Yang: this needs trigger warnings for being set in a homophobic world and for having a torture scene (not of a character who, as far as we know, is queer). It’s also one of my favorite short stories, about a forbidden f/f romance and magical songs in space. JY Yang’s descriptions are some of the best things I have ever read.
  • The Imitation Sea by Lora Gray: this is about grief and the aftermath of a suicide and it deals with homophobic religious abuse, so be careful. It’s also one of the most atmospheric and beautiful things I’ve ever read. I don’t know how I had not heard of this author before.
  • The Shadow Postulates by Yoon Ha Lee in Conservation of Shadows: this isn’t a sad story, just a quiet one, one that blends magic and mathematics, and the main character is a lesbian learning sword-dancing (sword lesbian!!). The worldbuilding in this one is everything to me (terrifying magical shadows tied to math? an university in which they study said math?) and I would read a whole book set there.
IV

F/F. So far, I have talked about queer stories I wouldn’t really classify as love stories, as some of these were about toxic relationships and death or didn’t have a relationship in them at all. But here are my favorite f/f stories with a happy ending!

  • 43064429If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho: an imugi trying to became a dragon keeps failing and meets a woman in the process! Funny, romantic, and very gay.
  • The End of Love by Nina LaCour in Summer Days and Summer Nights: on the surface, this is a cute, happy story about a girl finding love after she stopped believing in it (because her parents divorced). Not on the surface, this is the first thing with f/f content I had ever read and it will always mean a lot to me.
  • Death and the Maiden by Tara Sim in Color Outside the Lines: an f/f retelling of Hades and Persephone with an Indian main character! The atmosphere has a Star-Touched Queen feeling but gay and that was everything I didn’t know I wanted.
V

M/M stories that don’t fit into the previous categories, relatively happy:

  • ExtracurricularActivitiesExtracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee: this is technically tied to Ninefox Gambit, but as it’s set 300+ years before the trilogy, and as I read it before the book, I don’t think it’s an issue. It’s a story about a bisexual secret agent going on a mission in a neighboring space democracy (all the while flirting with a man he really shouldn’t be flirting with!) and it’s really fun.
  • Court of Birth, Court of Strength by Aliette de Bodard: this is also tied to the series Dominion of the Fallen, but again, it can be read without knowing anything about it and it’s set long before it. It’s about gay fallen angels and political intrigue, and the romance is… really well-written for something this short.
  • Unbound by Naomi Salman in Twisted Romance: contemporary romance about a mechanic and a mysterious neighbor, who is rumored of working in a sex club. It involves bondage and it’s one of my favorite short romances.

Do you have any queer short fiction recommendations? Have you read any of these?

lists

Pride Recommendations: Graphic Novels

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


Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

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

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


Twisted Romance by Alex de Campi

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


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

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

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


On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

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

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


Bloom by Kevin Panetta & Savanna Ganucheau

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

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


What are your favorite queer graphic novels?

lists

T10T: Books I Haven’t Talked About In A While (And They Deserve Better)

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 Audio Freebie. Since I don’t listen to audiobooks and don’t have a lot to say about music, I’m ignoring the “audio” part completely, and I’m going to make a list of books I don’t talk about often (and why).

I have read hundreds of books in the last four years, and I liked most of them. However, there are some I don’t talk about often, for one reason or another – they didn’t fit any  recent weekly meme prompt, I haven’t thought about them a lot, or they were good but flawed and I don’t love having to recommend things that I rated under 4 stars.

And yes, it’s basically part two of the post “Ten Books I Love But Rarely Mention on this Blog” I wrote a year ago, except I don’t love all of these (I like them, but for most of them, “love” is too much).


American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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I have no excuse. This is a gorgeous, somewhat underrated book about a young Haitian immigrant living in the US. It’s a story about institutional racism and police violence just as much as it is a story about first love, family, and getting used to a country with a culture completely different from your own. It also has magical realism aspects and it’s beautifully written. It’s like The Hate U Give meets Anna-Marie McLemore’s novels and it’s worth picking up if you liked any of the two.


God’s War by Kameron Hurley

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I talk about the wonderful all-lesbian biopunk horror book The Stars Are Legion all the time, and I have talked about The Light Brigade on this blog too, before reading it (now I’ve read it; it’s not as good as The Stars Are Legion but it’s… Interesting).

Despite all of this, I almost never talk about the other Kameron Hurley book I’ve read, God’s War – even though it is a desert sci-fantasy story with bug-powered technology and a bisexual main character, and isn’t that A Premise – and there are three reasons for this:

  • I read while I was in the hospital. I definitely wasn’t at my best, and my memories of this are very foggy.
  • It’s good, but not as good as Kameron Hurley’s other novels; the worldbuilding was very flawed.
  • I rated it 3.5 stars, which is exactly the “I liked reading it and I liked a lot of things about it but there are enough flaws that it will never end up on a recommendation list because there are books in this genre I liked a lot more” spot.

Ash by Malinda Lo

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I prefer to hype up new queer releases, because – at least until these last two years – if someone was even only marginally interested in f/f books, they had heard of Malinda Lo and her most well-known novel, Ash, an f/f Cinderella retelling. However, I’m not sure that’s the case today, as more recent and hyped novels get published (I’m thinking about Girls of Paper and Fire and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Leah on the Offbeat).

So: if you haven’t heard of it, Ash is a quiet, slow-paced love story about a girl who falls in love with a female huntress instead of a prince, about a girl who talks with mysterious faeries, and if you like quiet stories set in forests (so many descriptions of trees!) you really need to read this.


How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

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I… don’t think I’ve ever really talked about this novel on my blog? That’s because, unlike many other readers, I found the romance in this book underwhelming and it was overall not really my kind of thing (also one of the side characters was such an Italian stereotype it was annoying?)

But I mean, I still gave it 3.5 stars, so I did like it. This is an atmospheric f/f story following a girl who lives with an irresponsible, neglectful mother, and I thought this last aspect was explored really well. Also, explicit bi rep! And have I mentioned that the writing was really good too? I wonder if I’d like it more on reread.


What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

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The reason I don’t talk about this is a combination of this book being well-known enough to not need my hype and the fact that I don’t know how to recommend it. It’s not a romance, but those who don’t like tropey romances will be very frustrated by the journey?

I liked it because it felt like a realistic (if at times over-the-top… but real life can be that way!) story about two boys falling in love but not really knowing how to make it work, and I feel like that’s the right story only for a very specific audience. Between this and the very annoying and frequent pop culture references, I’m not surprised this book is so polarizing.


Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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…I don’t remember this book enough to recommend it the way it deserves. (Also, it doesn’t really need me to hype it up.)

I don’t mean that to say that this was forgettable, I just read it a long time ago. I remember that it was really diverse and that it meant a lot to me – I related to Nancy because of her feelings about portal fantasy worlds, and because of her ability to see the magic in stillness. Do I remember anything about the plot? No.


Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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Another book in the 3.5 stars spot! “3.5 stars” often also means “I have no idea how I feel about this, even though I liked most of it“, which is exactly what happened with this book. To recommend it, I think I’d need to reread it to see how I feel about it now, because:

  • the writing was amazing, the atmosphere too, but the pacing was terrible and I was bored for all of the second half;
  • I liked the main character and the ownvoices bipolar representation, but I thought that both this book’s attitude toward sex and the sex scenes were pretty cringe-y;
  • I love this kind of paranormal creature/human romance, but I can’t recommend it as a romance with that ending;
  • I liked that this was set in Europe, but according to reviews the German in this book doesn’t make any sense;
  • I liked that it called out racism, but I think you shouldn’t have the only openly racist character in a book set in Germany be Italian. And especially you shouldn’t make comments on his bushy eyebrows.

There are a lot of great things about this book (the atmosphere, how quiet it is, the focus on music) but I don’t feel like recommending something I have so many problems with.


Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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On one hand, oblivion is the right place for novels that have m/f romances as aggressively mediocre as this one. On the other hand, this is a story about a scientist queen with anxiety, and it’s a fascinating murder mystery court intrigue novel set in a fictional world with no magic in it. They use chemistry to scare away the enemies instead! I loved this concept and the main character, and this truly was a fascinating read.

Again, this is a 3.5 star novel: I liked it, but not enough for it to take the place on recommendation lists of other fantasy books I liked more.


American Panda by Gloria Chao

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I don’t talk about American Panda often because I don’t really know how to talk about it. Most of my posts are about SFF, and this is a contemporary, a contemporary that is neither a summer-y read nor a romance, which are the contemporaries I talk about the most (but it does have a romance in it). I think one could describe it as an “issue book”, as it’s mostly a story about a Taiwanese-American girl who has very traditional, strict parents, but as “issue book” often has negative connotations, I usually avoid that descriptor.

Anyway, if you want to read a heartftelt, heavy-and-yet-funny (Mei’s narrative voice is amazing) story about a girl navigating two cultures, you should try American Panda.


The Price Guite to the Occult by Leslye Walton

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I haven’t talked a lot about this book because I admit it myself, the plotting and romance in here are mediocre at best. But I really don’t understand why this isn’t more hyped, since the prose and atmosphere are really pretty and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender was even worse in the plot and romance aspects.

The main reason I like this book is the representation: it follows a main character who dropped out of high school because of depression and has a history of self-harm, but is now in recovery. I loved how… tactful her portrayal was, how she wasn’t shamed for her history and past trauma – she had an abusive mother and during the story lives with her gay grandmothers. It always means a lot to me to see mentally ill main characters in fantasy.


Have you read any of these? Are there any books you like but don’t talk about often?

lists

Recommendation Time: A List Inspired by Shadow and Bone

In which I recommend books starting from a very well-known one I have reread recently.

Disclaimer: this is not a “books similar to Shadow and Bone” post. You don’t have to like Shadow and Bone to like any of these books!

I’m just using a well-known book to recommend things that deal with similar themes or have a similar aesthetic, but some of them aren’t similar to Shadow and Bone at all when seen as a whole.


↬ You liked the dark world of Shadow and Bone and want to read something that  is still set in/inspired by Eastern Europe but feels more adult and complex.

 

  • you like books that are somewhat challenging, great (if heavy) writing, toxic romances, magic that doesn’t answer to rules, and would love to read something that dealt with Russian history in the first half of the 20th century: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente.
  • you want something subtler, with just a touch of romance, and a more reckless-and-lovable heroine. Also, atmosphere is really important to you, you don’t mind slow pacing, and would love to read something about the conflict of Christianity and Paganism: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
  • what if overdramatic wizards are exactly your thing but you’d like to read a book in which the overdramatic wizard isn’t great with people at all? If you’d like to read something about a Polish-inspired world and agree that plants can be really creepy,  I recommend Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

↬ Your favorite part of Shadow and Bone was without a doubt the villain, and you want to read a book that is specifically about whether the end ever justifies the means, of course featuring mass death and fascinating villainous characters.

 

  • Is “reading about immortal people being horrible” your favorite genre? Well. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee doesn’t have one nearly-immortal villainous character, it has two. Who are trying to get back at each other. This series is about very smart people doing horrible things and what drives them to do that, in space, with a lot of explosions and mass murder. (Also: all-queer cast!)
  • If you liked the whole “does the end ever justify the means” theme of Shadow and Bone regarding the situation of magical users, you need to read The Fever King by Victoria Lee. Especially if you like to read about gay teenagers just trying their best and side characters who are fascinating manipulative bastards. (Also: Jewish biracial main character, Jewish side characters, main m/m romance.)

↬ You want something like Shadow and Bone that has more court intrigue, more romance, and explores the religious themes more too.

 

  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: could I not include the book I’ve seen described multiple times as a Shadow and Bone for adults, with both more romance and more political intrigue, about a polyamorous relationship between gods? Of course not.
  • Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan: do you want to read more fantasy books in which there’s a villain romance (although one that doesn’t have the same dynamic as the one in Shadow and Bone) and in which the magic system is tied to religion and also includes blood magic? This book exists and I love it. Also, the second half features deadly court intrigue!
  • Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge: if you liked the love triangle in Shadow and Bone and want to read one that is even better, with a more morally gray lead, I would recommend this. I don’t remember much about it because I read it in 2016, but I remember loving the atmosphere, the main character, and the French-inspired fantasy world.

↬ Your favorite part of Shadow and Bone was the “power corrupts/is addicting” theme, but you want to read something that takes it further.

 

  • if you like retellings and want to read one that deals with how the allure of power,  both in a magical and political sense, can corrupt people, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, an East Asian retelling of Snow White from the PoV of the Evil Queen, could be the book for you.
  • if you like complex magic systems that are perfectly integrated in the society of the fantasy world you’re reading about, you should try the adult fantasy book Jade City by Fonda Lee, a story about a fictional Asian-inspired society in which jade is magical and jade can be addicting.

↬ You liked the classic fantasy trope of the heroine who has to learn to use her powers (including many training montages), and you’d like a more diverse version of that.

 

  • the book with my favorite training montages ever is Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, a story about magical assassin nuns training in a monastery. The book is slow-paced because the main character (who is bisexual, by the way) spends most of the book learning and going to class, but I didn’t mind that at all, because this book’s training montages are wonderful and the worldbuilding even more so.
  • if you’re looking for a book that has a more maybe-villainous heroine than Shadow and Bone had, but really like training montages anyway and don’t mind a heavy, descriptive writing style, I recommend The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco.
  • And if we’re still talking about very morally gray heroines who end up attending magical school, I can’t not mention The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, in which a girl goes to a military academy and learns about magic not because she was the chosen one, but because she worked harder than everyone else. (I… didn’t like the rest of the book, the parts not set in the school, but my opinion is very unpopular; you’ll probably love it if you like grimdark. Look up the trigger warnings, though, if you haven’t heard about them.)

↬ You didn’t actually care for a certain villainous character much, but you really liked Alina and just want to read something about girls taking down evil, manipulative men, in a book that is not as overwhelmingly straight and white as Shadow and Bone.

 

  • Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan is a story about a girl who has been forced to become a concubine of the demon king in a Malaysian-inspired fantasy world. It’s about women finding a way to fight back in a world in which they’re just seen as objects, and it also features a beautiful forbidden f/f romance.
  • If you want something that is about women supporting each other and is beautifully written, gay, and very quiet, I recommend Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, another Snow White retelling that features women working together against the evil man who is trying to use them. And, just like Shadow and Bone, it has a beautiful wintry atmosphere.

↬ You want to read something fantasy written by authors who are Eastern European.

 

  • I sadly don’t know much about modern SFF by Eastern European authors, for various reasons, but I have read the Ukrainian novel Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, translated in English from Russian, and I can say that if you want something set in a magical school in modern Russia that will change all your ideas about how fantasy can be like, you really should try reading it.
  • I have recommended another book written by Naomi Novik on this list, but I also want to remind all of you that the Lithuanian-inspired fantasy Spinning Silver, a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin that explicitly challenges the antisemitism of the fairytale by centering a Jewish main character, exists. It’s an atmospheric, slow-paced story about women supporting each other against terrible men, and it includes some of the best romantic storylines in adult fantasy. The author is of Polish and Lithuanian Jewish descent.
  • If you want to read a story about sisters that combines fairytale-like atmosphere, Eastern European fairytales, and poetry (it’s a subversive retelling of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market), with wonderful food descriptions and writing that integrates seamlessly both Ukrainian and Yiddish words, I recommend The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner, an author who is Jewish and of Eastern European descent. I DNFed this book because I really didn’t like the parts written in verse (and the bad ARC formatting was giving me a headache), but I still recommend it because think it could work for someone who likes this kind of poetry more.

Are there any other books you’d recommend for these categories?

lists

3-in-1 Recommendation Post

I wanted to write a recommendation list but didn’t know what to write about and that’s how we ended up with this. I hope you like my twist on the “if you like this, try that” recommendation posts!

Disclaimer: I in no way mean to imply that any of these books are alike/very similar. They’re not – especially in category 1 and 5, in which they’re all from different genres. I just feel like they can appeal to the same kind of reader.


So You Like A Challenge

read them! then judge me for recommending them to you

Have you ever felt like the books you’re currently reading aren’t challenging you enough? Do you want to read something that will consume you, surprise you, and leave you with the knowledge that you’ve never read anything quite like it and never will again? Are you ok with not understanding all of what you read?

Then I can recommend you these three unique and truly bizarre books, three of the most challenging novels I’ve ever read.

  • Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente is a “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” told through transcriptions of parts of fictional films. It’s a love letter to filmmaking and stories, with dizzyingly beautiful descriptions of sci-fantasy settings, and you won’t be able to keep straight what’s real and what’s fictional inside the book.
  • Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer: the 25th century from the point of view of someone who just really likes 17th century philosophy. It’s basically 90% worldbuilding, and if that sounds boring – oh, it is. It’s really boring, but that’s exactly how the extremely disturbing trainwreck in part two sneaks up on you! It totally pays off in the worst way, and this is the kind of futuristic story that feels at the same time possible, surprisingly alien, and horrifying. Is this an utopia, a dystopia or neither? I still don’t know the answer. Anyway, try this. It’s worth reading just to hate on the narrator.
  • Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko: to give you an idea of how good this book is, I’m just going to tell you that this is the only novel I’ve ever really disliked that regularly makes it to my recommendation lists. It’s the kind of book in which the individual scenes make sense but the whole does not. I have no idea what the fuck I read, but was it An Experience. I really recommend it if you ever want a headache you are ok with not understanding most of it but want to read something that in a way is about growing up (which is confusing, like this book).

Emotional, Diverse Multi-PoV Contemporary

they will make you cry but they’re so wholesome

So you like pain? What about books that will smash your heart to pieces and then put it back together again, making you cry of happiness in the end? Those are the best kinds of contemporary novels. And today I’m recommending three books that deal with heavy topics like adoption, teen pregnancy, friendship break-ups, grief, and alcoholism with grace, heart and a lot of reader tears.

  • Far From the Tree by Robin Benway is the most well-known of these three – it won a National Book Award and it’s deserved – and it follows three biological siblings who were adopted by different families/are in foster care as they reconnect. It talks about adoption, teen pregnancy, and family. If you’re putting this off because, like I did, you think this is going to be a sappy story, I can tell you it isn’t.
  • This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow: I love this book so much? And it’s so underrated. I have yet to find another contemporary book which follows three characters who are all dealing with their own mental health issues – grief and anxiety, low self-esteem after a toxic relationship, recovery from addiction – and does all their journeys justice. This has two very sweet romances – one f/f and one m/f – and it’s about three girls who were once friends as they reconnect through music. Also, two of the three main characters are black (ownvoices rep). It’s the kind of contemporary that manages to be a light read even though its themes are heavy without ever feeling superficial. I know I’m talking a lot about it lately, but that’s because it deserves better than 250 ratings on goodreads!
  • The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk: another story about teenagers as they find each other through music! This follows an adopted Korean-American teen, a black girl, and a white gay boy who all have lost someone close to them – a friend, a sister, a boyfriend – as they work through their grief. It’s one of the first positive representations of a character going to therapy I’ve seen and that meant a lot to me. This is another really underrated novel, but it’s really good, the kind of good that hurts. It needs trigger warnings for biphobia (the gay main character has some internalized prejudice and I have mixed feelings about how the story dealt with that) but apart from that, I loved it.

Political Intrigue In Space

they’re so good and very gay, please read them

What’s better than political intrigue? Political intrigue in space following a mostly, if not all-queer cast!

Anyway. Many people mention that they like political intrigue, and they want to read more novels in which the intrigue is actually unpredictable. And here’s my list of novels set in space that deal with complex political situations! In all of them the complex worldbuilding paid off and all of them had twists I didn’t see coming.

  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: a story about a vengeful AI and an evil space empire told through two timelines. It’s the kind of effortlessly compelling high-stakes sci-fi I would recommend to anyone who isn’t intimidated by complex worldbuilding and wants to read about politics, power dynamics in interactions between cultures, the nature of humanity and sentience – and who gets to decide who is human and sentient. And it’s set in an empire with a concept of gender and family very different from our own, which is really interesting to read.
  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee: this is a story about sieges. On the surface, it’s a story about a disgraced captain, Cheris, who is shackled to the ghost of Jedao – a general who was a tactical genius and also a mass murderer – to win an impossible siege. At the same time, it’s the story of Jedao’s siege of Cheris’ mind and beliefs, and the story of a space empire divided into bickering factions all threatened by an external enemy and held together by someone who might be even worse. It has an all-queer cast, math-inspired magic in space, no romance and plenty of explosions. It’s the best thing I’ve ever read.
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: I still haven’t fully recovered from this one. Many parts of it hit really close, it’s… personal. It’s the only book I’ve ever read that talks about what it’s like to grow up on literature not written for you or anyone from your country, written in a language that isn’t your own, because when your neighbors are far more powerful than your country is, they get to set the standards of what is good literature – and even which ways of living are modern and civilized. It’s a story about a woman who, after being thrown into political intrigue at court (she’s an ambassador), changes the history of an empire she both loves and hates. Also, it has a main f/f romance, a mostly-queer cast and possibly the best court intrigue I’ve ever read.

Monster Love

because monster romance is the best romance!

Romance storylines in fantasy often leave a lot to be desired. But you know which kind of romance rarely disappoints me? Monster romances. Give me all the weird and complicated and unusual romances in which the love interest has the best aesthetic – be it a chaos entity or a shapeshifter or an evil broody elf – and I will end up loving them.

  • In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard: a lesbian scholar and a bisexual shapeshifting dragon woman fall in love in this Vietnamese-inspired Beauty and the Beast retelling! It’s the only monster romance I know in which both main characters are women and it also has the best descriptions ever – do you like beautiful but dangerous palaces in which doors can lead to gardens and libraries as often as they can lead to death? Anyway, this was one of my favorite relationships of 2018, to see the dragon Vu Côn act like she’s totally not into the main character and then as she tries to flirt with fruits anyway…
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: I’ve seen this book described as Shadow and Bone for adults and that’s… accurate. If you thought this book wouldn’t be a “let’s sleep with the chaos god amidst deadly political intrigue in a palace that is basically floating in the sky”, you were wrong. It’s that book, and the chaos god is also genderfluid (what is gender to a god) and the main character is a bisexual brown woman.
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: monster romance as a genre is by definition extra and really dramatic – which is what I love about it. Give me all the overdramatic monster love interests who are not as scary as they initially seemed – but nothing is as extra as this book. This book doesn’t have a monster romance, it has two. One between a Jewish daughter of a moneylender and what’s basically a broody ice elf and the other between the daughter of a duke and a possessed Tsar. And it’s a story about women supporting each other against terrible men as well! Pick up this slow-paced, wintry retelling of Rumpelstiltskin and get ready for the feelings.

Hard-Hitting SFF

I believe in exploring hard topics but I don’t believe in hopelessness

Some words like “relevant” and “important” are overused enough to be pretty much meaningless, like a lot of the words thrown around for buzz when it comes to book promotion. That’s why I never use them – well, almost. There are some books that – in my opinion – actually fit what those words mean. They’re not easy reads in any way, but I really think they’re worth it.

  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon: this is set in a generation spaceship whose social order is very similar to the society in the United States before the civil war. It’s a story about enslaved people enduring horrible things, about the ways they are affected by them, about the small ways they still find to fight back. It’s also a story that talks about how gender roles are imposed, taught, made up – and it really makes you look at them and at cisheteronormativity and think “was I really taught to think that was natural? And people still believe it?”. It talks about the many forms racism can take, from the outwardly violent parts to the ones that look like details but really aren’t. It also has a mostly-queer cast (the main character is intersex and maybe non-binary, and there are explicitly non-binary major characters) and the main character is autistic.
  • Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly: this is a story about the rise of a fascist government in a previously-accepting city from the point of view of marginalized characters – two queer men, one of which is a person of color, and a woman who is a sex worker. I still can’t think of any other book that balanced the fun – because yes, this was a fun read at times – with the darkness as effectively as this book does, and what it did haunts me. It has that tone of “it happened, and it can happen again, quickly” but it’s not hopeless, which would have made it unreadable. It’s… a lot and it is upsetting and it also should have more readers.
  • Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan: I often talk about this novel because it has one of my favorite romances ever – an f/f forbidden slow burn, the kind of romance that blooms in stolen moments and I love everything about it. But that’s not what this book is about. This is a story about being a rape survivor set in a Malaysian-inspired kingdom in which young girls are forced to become concubines of a demon king. It portrays the many reaction women have to assault and rape culture, including enduring, fighting back, starting to see it as normal and hurting other girls because they have been hurt themselves. It’s… an exploration of that and I thought it was very well-written (and, of course, hard to read).

Have you read or want to read any of these? Have you ever read three books you think would appeal to the same kind of reader even though they’re not really similar?

 

lists · Weekly

Favorite Books of 2018

It’s time for my favorite post of the year, about my favorite books of the year!

Favorite books of 2018” is also the Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl), but since I read 160 books this year, I won’t stop myself to 10. Even with a list of 15 books, I’m not talking about some novels I read and loved that deserve at least a mention, like the wonderful sci-fantasy Mahabharata retelling A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna, the fast-paced urban fantasy story about the dark side of teenage love Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova, or the heartbreaking queer spy thriller Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly.
I already wrote my list of favorites that aren’t novels, here.

Anyway, this is my favorite post to write because it’s about what I did right, what I found that I loved, about what not only didn’t disappoint, but surprised me.

My favorite book of the year is at the end of the list.


The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

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I hadn’t realized how powerful it would be to read about a group of girls who decide to go on a quest to slay a monster because they want to, not because they have to, until I read The Boneless Mercies. Reading about active protagonists is so refreshing. Of course I loved the friendships, the chilling atmosphere and the reversal of typical gender roles (the girls are warriors, witches and monsters, the boy is a healer) but what made The Boneless Mercies a favorite for me is that it is a story about carving your place in a world that doesn’t want you, about deciding to not be small and quiet anymore, about being a woman and seeking glory. And it’s epic, as it should be.

Temper by Nicky Drayden

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I haven’t read anything similar to Nicky Drayden’s Temper and I don’t think I will ever find it. This is a very unusual genre-defying story set in a place inspired by South Africa in which everyone has a twin, and vices and virtues are split between them. This is a story about siblings, messy families, a very unique fictional school, and demonic possessions, with so many plot twists I could have never seen coming that made sense nonetheless – as much as everything in here made sense, but this is the way my favorite kind of fun, lovable weird stories are.

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

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Into the Drowning Deep is a sci-fi horror novel about scientists going on an expedition to find mermaids in the Mariana Trench. It’s a story about environmentalism, about the relationship humans have with the ocean, and it had the marine horror content I had been looking for. To see a story that not only gets that the sea is beautiful and the sea is scary, but follows these themes also from the point of view of a diverse cast which includes a queer marine biologist meant a lot to me. The f/f relationship in here – Tory, the bisexual biologist, and Olivia, an autistic lesbian who is a camera operator – was one of my favorite romances of the year. I also really liked the people-eating mermaids, but that was not a surprise.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Spinning Silver is a subversive retelling of Rumpelstiltskin set in a Lithuanian-inspired magical country in which the winter seems to never end, there are cruel creatures living in the snowy forests – the Staryk – and the reluctant Tsar may or may not be possessed. It’s a story about women supporting each other, about marriage, about being a daughter, following many point of views – including the daughter of a Jewish moneylender, an abuse survivor working to repay her debts and for freedom, and a not-so-beautiful but very clever daughter of a duke. It follows so many storylines, slowly, but does so in a way that feels effortless, and it’s one of the most beautiful fantasy books I’ve read this year.

Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Blanca & Roja is a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red meets Swan Lake featuring latinx, trans and disabled people as main characters. It’s a story about defying binaries, not letting yourself be defined by stereotypes, and giving yourself the space to be different from what you thought you had to be. As usual for McLemore’s books, the writing is gorgeous and the romances are perfect – this book has two of them! Also, I love how her books always feel so real and close just as much as they feel like timeless fairytales.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

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The Astonishing Color of After follows Leigh, a Taiwanese-American teenager who goes to Taiwan to reconnect with her mother’s side of the family after her mother dies by suicide. It’s a beautiful story about the importance of mental health awareness, about grief and moving on. There was something magical about it, and I don’t mean that just because it’s a contemporary story with speculative aspects, but something about the writing, about seeing different generations interact through the language barrier, about Leigh’s feelings for her family and her art, stayed with me. Also, while YA books have wonderful representation of mentally ill teens, their portrayal of mentally ill adults is often one-dimensional, especially if they’re parents. The Astonishing Color of After, however, is a book that gets it. It gets that someone may love their partner and their children and still be suicidal, because while having people who love and support you can help, it’s not in any way a cure.

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

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Even though YA books were full of love triangles until 2015, there are very few stories following polyamorous relationships in this age range, and Strange Grace is one of these (m/nb/f). It’s a story about a magical town in which nothing bad ever happens, but this bargain has an ugly side, as it requires human sacrifice. I loved its atmosphere, I loved its magic, I loved the detailed, macabre descriptions of the creepy forest, I loved the way the three main characters interacted and their relationship. It’s also a story about dismantling gender essentialism, which was interesting to read, and I know I won’t forget this book.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

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Witchmark is a sweet m/m paranormal romance, a fun murder mystery, a historical fantasy novel about PTSD and the aftermath of war inspired by Edwardian England, and a gaslamp story that explores class privilege – all in one book. One book that is just a bit longer than 300 pages, and yet it’s such a multilayered story in which not one of the aspects I listed is neglected, the characters are well-developed, and the romance is amazing. I can’t wait for the sequel, which is also going to be f/f.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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If someone had told me two years ago that a YA fantasy book that not only had a main f/f relationship, but also had a Malaysian-inspired world and talked about sexual assault, would have been a NYT bestseller, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’m so glad this book exists, and I think I needed it when I was in high school – it says some things about recognizing attraction and navigating women’s spaces when you’re queer that would have helped me a lot – even though it’s a really heavy read (there is pet death, rape and outing in this book). This is a beautiful, necessary book that gets that being a victim doesn’t make you helpless, just like it doesn’t make you a good person, as victims themselves sometimes turn against other victims. It’s one of the few novels I’ve read in which the portrayal of “girl-on-girl hate” was not only everything but a lazy device to have tension, but actually made the book better.

Final Draft by Riley Redgate

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In a world in which the “tormented artist” stereotype is often romanticized, I think YA books like Final Draft, books that explicitly tell you that the pursuit of art isn’t worth your sanity, are really important. This is a story about perfectionism and dealing with academic pressure when you’re mentally ill, and some parts of it were very close to things that I experienced myself – like anxiety ruining what was once just a fun hobby for you. But it’s also a hopeful story, with one of my favorite romances ever – I loved Laila (who is biracial Ecuadorian and pansexual) and Hannah (Korean lesbian) so much.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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I read this book in a hospital, right after a surgery, during one of the most stressful times of my life – and it made me really happy even then. I should probably reread it because I was definitely not at my best, but this book helped me go through those days. It’s a story about… Eurovision in space, involving aliens, in which if humans lose, they’re all going to die. It’s over-the-top and weird in the best way, it’s very queer, it’s political and unapologetic and against fascism without ever feeling preachy, it features a flamingo/anglerfish hybrid-looking alien and a hyperactive time-traveling red panda. It’s beautifully written, as Valente’s books always are – it may even be my favorite of all of them (I have to reread it to be sure).

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

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The House of Binding Thorns is one of the best sequels I’ve ever read, in a series that is now one of my all-time favorites. It’s a Gothic fantasy story set in a post-apocalyptic historical version of Paris in which there are fallen angels and Vietnamese dragons, and it’s also very queer. There’s an m/m arranged marriage in this book, and a main f/f couple in which one of the character is trans! It also features some things I love but don’t find as often as I want in fantasy, like quality villain content and very creepy descriptions of trees. It’s a dark series in the way post-apocalyptic stories usually are, but it’s about characters surviving and finding ways to support each other in a ruined world, so it doesn’t have the hopelessness that often keeps me away from this genre. Also, the lost, vaguely creepy atmosphere is perfect.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

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Do I always love the books about people taking down the evil space empires? It seems so.
Ancillary Justice is the first book in an imaginative sci-fi series that deserved all the awards it got. I mean, it’s basically about a character who claims to be a person from outside the evil space empire but she’s actually a spaceship in a trench coat, a lost human captain who should have died a thousand years ago, and a disaster villain engaged in a surprisingly complex scheme of self-backstabbing. It’s great.

I like it enough that I’m currently making my dad read it, and he usually doesn’t read genre fiction. I hope he likes it too?

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

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I don’t know if I can explain what The Dark Beneath the Ice means to me. Have you ever read a book and thought this gets me or I have done that, I am doing that, I have thought that? That’s me with this YA horror novel. And no, I’ve never been haunted, but as I see it, this isn’t really a haunting – for me, it’s more… anxiety horror, avoidance horror, because it talks about the ways using avoidance as a coping mechanism for anxiety hurts you, but it describes it with a paranormal twist. As I’m often skeptical of the way paranormal and horror stories portray mental illness (I really don’t like the she’s not ill, she’s magic! trope), I was really surprised by how clever this set up was and how much I loved it. The f/f romance in this was also wonderful, and it’s always great to read YA books that talk explicitly about characters taking medication for their illnesses.

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

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Revenant Gun is the third book in the sci-fi trilogy Machineries of Empire, also known on this blog as “the mass murder magic math books” or, also, “my favorite books”.
This series has so many things that I like in SFF – villains who are the worst and own it, “heroes” who aren’t good people either (all the characters are kind of horrible. I love all of them), an all-queer cast, almost no romance, magical science, and characters making bad decisions because sometimes there aren’t good options. Also, the message about surviving an ugly world through hobbies? There’s one conversation in which Mikodez (he’s probably my favorite character) and Brezan talk about that, and I think I found it at the right time.
My favorite kind of stories are the ones that manage to be really dark and never a chore to read at the same time – and Revenant Gun was this for me. I love reading about all versions of Jedao, but teen Jedao’s PoV is, in a way, exactly the kind of thing I like the most about this series: it’s a combination of really sad and hilarious, and it works.


What were your favorite books of 2018?