TBR & Goals

October Try-A-Chapter TBR for the Uncanny & Scary Season!

Hi! Today’s post will be a TBR – one different from what I usually do.
It’s October, and I see October as a chance to explore genres I wouldn’t normally reach for, genres I have a complicated relationship with: horror and thrillers. I tried something of the sort last year and it didn’t pan out very well, but I think I would have been able to tell that those books weren’t actually my thing at all had I bothered to read a preview instead of jumping into them because of recommendations.

So, today, I’m combining the Try A Chapter tag with my TBR: I’ll try out most creepy and mysterious books I’ve marked as interesting on goodreads and choose what to read.


What I’m Trying

These Women by Ivy Pochoda: I first became interested in this purely because of the cover, then it stayed on my mind because it has been described as standing at the intersection between literary fiction and thriller, more a character study than something you’re supposed to “solve”, and maybe that’s more of my thing? Maybe the answer to being chronically disappointed by mystery reveals is to read books in which it’s not at all the point. Let’s try.
The preview: the first chapter is from the point of view of a sex worker, and I think she’s talking to someone in the hospital? I do like how this whole book seems to be about taking a completely different angle from most of the genre and centering the sex worker instead of making her a disposable victim (you don’t even have to have read or watched a lot of mysteries or thrillers to know that it’s a common thing because it is That Common). I think I like it, but I don’t know if it’s something I would reach for outside an “out of my comfort zone” challenge as this one. The writing is very unusual and deliberately choppy.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan: this is backlist and a favorite on US trans twitter, and I’m not sure I get what it is exactly, but hearing that is something both semi-autobiographical and with horror elements makes me really interested in it, given that the only other book I’ve read that walked the line between fiction and nonfiction is the masterpiece that was Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. I’m sure this will be completely different – books that can’t be pinned down in one genre tend to be! – but the point is that it sounds like it will be an Experience. Also, there’s very little I like as much as reading about haunted people. The main criticisms I saw of this one were that it’s pretentious (might be a problem depending on execution) and that it wanders a lot (I don’t think I’ll mind).
The preview: one thing I really like about this is that it doesn’t shy away from words like “crazy” and “insane”, deliberately. (If you’ve ever seen “ableist slur” discourse play out, well, you know why I’m saying this.) These are words I mostly avoid to not make others uncomfortable, but the thing is – living as the crazy one is much more than uncomfortable. Apart from that, this is thematically heavy but easily readable despite it not being in any hurry to make a point, possibly the best kind of combination. I still don’t have a clear idea of what this is going to be, but again, that is deliberate. I may never have one. It literally starts with “This is the book it is, which means it may not be the book you expect it to be.”

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power: let’s see if this is just like Wilder Girls, both in the sense that I thought it shouldn’t have been a YA book at all and in the sense that it’s not going to work for me. I hope I’m at least wrong about the second, and as I said once before, I want to see how the concept of “creepy cornfield” is executed. My opinion is that any huge monoculture is inherently creepy and so are a great number of plants if they get tall enough, but I don’t get why corn specifically is The Creepy Field in American culture.
The preview: I still don’t know about the corn, but the writing is breathtaking – even more than in Wilder Girls. The hints of “complicated mother-daughter relationship” are drawing me in already. I don’t know how credible my premise “I’m not into thrillers or horror” sounds now that I haven’t been able to exclude even one book yet, but that’s good news I guess? (Not necessarily, as many of them fail for me in the ending, but at least it won’t be like last year’s picks)

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson: this has one of the most striking covers I’ve ever set my eyes on, and it was the main reason this ended up on my TBR even though mysteries are not my genre at all. However, it’s high time I try something by this author, and the premise of this one sounds interesting – it’s about a Black girl who is accused of a murder she doesn’t remember committing, and I’ve heard its explores themes of misogynoir, abuse, and famous adult men exploiting teenage girls (don’t know the details because I want to avoid spoilers).
The preview: there are content warnings at the beginning, which is very considerate and that I really appreciate. As far as the story goes, it’s already setting up the tension effectively – only a few chapters into the flashback and I would be already worried for the main character even if I didn’t know the outcome. I think it’s going to be told mostly in flashbacks, though I’m not sure yet; I hope we gets more glimpses into the future timeline as well. The very short chapter make it feel like a tense, unputdownable read. If it weren’t for the fact that I don’t actually own this yet I’d be tempted to skim forward. The other thing that is holding me back is that this is going to be a necessarily heavy read – the kind I could only deal with on a day in which I’m not already doing badly, I think.

The Damned by Renée Ahdieh: I just want to go back to the decadent underworld of New Orleans and its secret societies in which the paranormal dwells (and marginalized people are accepted)! I’ve been seeing mostly negative reviews, but that was also true for the first book – slow-burn atmospheric paranormal isn’t for everyone nor is it trendy right now either – so I’m not that worried. Also this is one of my favorite covers to ever exist.
The preview: this is so dramatic, I love it already. I don’t know if I’ll like Bastien’s PoV as much as I liked Celine’s in the first book, but I hope so. Also Odette is there and it’s my obligation as a lesbian to read about her, if not now, at least soon. (I hope she gets a girlfriend…) My main worry at this point is that I won’t be able to remember all the names because the cast of characters only in the Court is neverending, but at least I have my e-copy of The Beautiful to search things in.

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall: a YA horror that apparently also has queer elements that was really hyped for being extremely creepy (at least by YA standards) last fall. It has to do with disappearances, a road that requires a toll, and it’s told in a mixed media format.
The preview: this isn’t bad – at all, at least from what I can tell – but it suffers here because it’s by far the book with the plainest writing on the list so far, and if there’s one thing I don’t like about writing it’s “plain”. Be weirder! I know many people’s idea of good writing is “writing that isn’t intrusive and gets the job done” but I don’t agree at all, I want to sink my teeth in it. I’m interested – the mixed media format is really intriguing – but it’s low priority.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas: since I’m a fool, I’m going to give yet another chance to something that has been marketed as Dark Academia, and not even one that is getting good reviews. (Maybe that means I’ll like it? Who knows.) However: I recently saw Kayla/booksandlala liken its weirdness to some of my favorite weird & underrated books in one of her recent videosThe Gallery of Unfinished Girls, A Room Away from the Wolves, and even A Like in the Dark. I want to know why.
The preview: …the chapters in this one are neverending. Like, the preview ends and we’re not even finished with chapter one. I still think it seems easily readable, or maybe I just think that about everything this evening. I don’t know. The writing isn’t horribly pretentious and no one is quoting Shakespeare at me, which is already a significant improvement from the last time I tried this genre. Also, the feeling of being lost is already coming through and giving me vague A Room Away from the Wolves vibes. (That book is also set in a place named “Catherine House”. How.) I don’t have a definite impression yet but I’m curious.

She’s Too Pretty To Burn by Wendy Heard: queer book twitter made so much noise when the cover of this YA thriller was released, and for good reasons! It looks so fascinating, and as it has been described as “an electric romance that sparks lethal danger”, inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray… of course I want to try it. I have an ARC and I’m going to read it for sure, all this trying a chapter is going to accomplish is deciding whether I want to read it right now.
The first chapter: so, this is compelling enough and something I would have absolutely loved at 16, which is a good sign for a YA book but not necessarily for my current enjoyment – though it’s too soon to say for sure. I will say that I really like the writing and that it’s already setting the tone very well, even though I’m not yet sold on the characters.

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour: haunting stories! I think including this one on this list is more of a stretch, as I’ve heard it’s more “introspective contemporary with magical elements” than anything remotely horror, but it has ghosts in it and I say it counts.
The preview: this is very… muted? Faded? I expected a quiet book from Nina LaCour, and this has again that feeling of isolation and loss, but in a completely different way from We Are Okay. I think it would take me more time than a brief preview to truly get into it, as it’s intentionally removed. I appreciate the already ominous tone. Maybe it’s a little more creepy than I thought? We’ll see.

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford: this is another weird genre-defying novel that has been described as “haunted” and compared to some of my favorite contemporary fantasy books; I have no idea what it is about but given this and the cover I don’t need much more to want to try it. I feel like it’s going to be way more ~literary than I’m used to but let’s see.
The preview: this is… really interesting and weird and the writing is gorgeous. I have no idea where it’s going but that’s both a good thing and something I imagine I’ll also feel after having finished the novel if I actually end up reading it (also not necessarily a bad thing? It depends). For something that is about taking body parts out of people, it isn’t even that gory, and I’m not yet sure about whether that’s a good thing or not.


Results!

I’ve been struggling with TBRs lately, so I’m not going to define one clearly; I’m going to give myself space to choose which books I’ll read as the month goes on instead of choosing them all now, which also gives me the chance to check out some that aren’t out yet (queer thriller They Never Learn by Layne Fargo) and even some self-published stuff that looks interesting if I have time.

For now, I will say that my priorities are:

  • Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power, which is the one that impressed me the most with its writing – Rory Power got even better in this aspect since Wilder Girls;
  • Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, because of the possible parallels with some of my favorite books, and because of how difficult to pin down and yet so… effective in setting the mood that beginning was;
  • The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, because the preview was promising and I’ve seen this recommended so many times by now that I can’t just drop it without going further;
  • I also really hope I’ll be able to fit The Damned by Renée Ahdieh in there, I just want to get back in this world.

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

TBR & Goals

5 YA Books I’d Like to Reread

To exist in the online book world is to always hear about the new books coming out. Deep down, I’m also always looking for something new, because isn’t a significant part of the drive to read born from curiosity? And while I can find “something new” in backlist books if I distract myself from new release hype for a moment, finding the motivation to reread books isn’t as easy.

I find this harder to do with YA books specifically. Maybe I’m afraid that the books I liked at 16 will be ruined for me if I read them now, despite having some evidence of the contrary from the few times I actually got through with those rereads – I still like most of them, just for different reasons. Or maybe it’s that I’m constantly being inundated with news about all the latest YA books, which means I’m more likely to reach for a new one when I just don’t have the energy to deal with the level of worldbuilding and complexity I want adult SFF to have. I don’t know.

But the thing is, from past rereads I know that every reread brings with itself something new. There are YA books I consider “favorites” that I liked without understanding why, because I read them at a time I didn’t have the tools to get into the reasons under “this made me feel a lot”. There are books that changed my life, and I want to know how that change will shape the experience of reading them. There are, on the opposite side, books I read at the worst possible time, but I only realized that in hindsight and now want to give them a fairer chance.

Today, I’m going to talk about five YA books I want to reread. Maybe that will help me motivate myself… at least, I hope.


Mirage by Somaiya Daud

I should probably add a disclaimer to this blog, “don’t trust anything that was written in 2018 too much”, but that’s especially true for everything I wrote in the fall of that year. I remember that my thoughts on Mirage were “this is great and one of the most original YA books I’ve ever read setting-wise, but something is missing and I’m not sure what”; now I know what was missing, and it was not about the book (for details, look for the Empire of Sand section). Two years later, I want to give this Moroccan-inspired sci-fantasy about colonization another chance, especially given how many amazing things I’ve been hearing about its sequel Court of Lions.

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

While I believe in the importance of representation of marginalized groups in fiction, I’ve never really understood why so many of the conversations around it focused on “seeing yourself”, or “being seen” by a book. Then it happened to me once, and I agree, while it’s still far from the main reason I read diverse books, it is life-changing if you’ve never experienced that before. The Dark Beneath the Ice is a horror novel that uses a haunting as a metaphor for the most painful aspects of anxiety, while featuring a textually mentally ill character – it’s not a it was ghosts all along story nor a it was mental illness all along story. The two are one and the same, and it makes so much sense. The thing about “anxiety disorders” is that their very name feels like a dismissal. “She has anxiety” feels so much like a slightly heavier version of “oh, she’s just shy“, and I hate it so much – it feels completely inappropriate for the life-ruining well of isolation it actually is to me. This book gets it; I also feel haunted sometimes. I want to know how it feels to go into it knowing what it’s trying to do from the beginning. Also, horror season is incoming!

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

I don’t know why I liked this book so much! Or, I do, superficially – the whimsically strange writing coupled with beautiful, macabre imagery means I will never forget certain scenes, and the gay subtext with the literal manifestation of Night helped, but I know that there was more to it. I know. I’ve read Never-Contented Things by the same author last year, and what was on the surface a nonsensical, at times grotesque story about escaping the faery realm was actually about cycles of abuse and recognizing actual love from codependency or neglect. I strongly suspect that Vassa in the Night also has a similar thematic core – maybe about parental neglect specifically? I’m not sure – but at 16 I… didn’t exactly miss it, I absorbed it without recognizing what it was. After all, at the time I thought that a book having some sort of message had to mean that it was preachy. I’m glad 16-year-old me didn’t actually have a platform?

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

This is a corollary to an upcoming post about my next step in the journey of “trying to figure out what I like in the mystery/thriller genre”. I read A Line in the Dark in 2017, and since then, it has been the only book in the mystery genre I’ve actually ever given five stars. I remember loving the lesbian love triangle, and I remember loving how flawed and… horny the main character Jess was allowed to be, in a way that I just couldn’t find back then. I remember the cold, lost atmosphere; the complicated feelings the Jess had in regards to gender presentation in her Chinese-American family, and how this book grappled with the racism, subtle and not, Jess gets from her crush’s white friends. I don’t remember what I liked about the mystery. I should find out!

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

Another book I read in 2018! This is also a YA fantasy inspired by Southeast Asia during French colonialism, featuring a main character with bipolar disorder who is trying to survive being mentally ill and magical when her magic is tied to necromancy. This book has a portrayal of mental illness that really spoke to me back when I was going through one of my worst moments with it, despite it not being something I actually “related” to (different illness). Also, it’s a gorgeous mixed media fantasy (how rare is that as a format?) that includes plays and sheet music. I just want to go back to it & get to the sequels.


Do you reread books often, or do you also get distracted by newer things?

TBR & Goals

Small September TBR

Since having a very small TBR back in August worked – of the six books, I only didn’t get to the novella, and that wasn’t all I read during the month – I’m going to try again.


Novels

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart – I’m intimidated by this one because it’s multi-PoV fantasy that reaches 450 pages from Orbit, and I have a mostly negative track record with long fantasy books from that imprint, but I’ve heard great things. I’m not even sure what it is exactly – I heard “gay” and “bone shard magic” and requested an ARC (I know. Went on a netgalley request spree back in July.)

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston – this is Even Longer but it’s one of my five star predictions and one I’ve heard amazing things about from people I trust on twitter. As with the one before, I’m not completely sure what it is about (I don’t like knowing too much about the premises of adult fantasy given how slowly they tend to develop…), but apparently it’s African fantasy involving a poison desert and I’m so here for it.

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke – some variety in genres is a good thing, and so I’m choosing this queer witchy YA contemporary with a gorgeous cover. I’ve heard very mixed things about it, but I’m hesitantly hopeful.

Novellas

Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling – another five star prediction! Also, reading some creepy stuff in September would mean I have new recommendations for that in October, if I want to write that kind of post, so now it’s the perfect time. Anyway, this is queer gothic feat. poisonous plants, and that’s perfect.

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg – the only book I still haven’t even tried from my TBR back in July, and it’s another I’ve heard mixed things about. I’m not sure what to expect – I don’t think I’ve ever read about elderly trans characters before, so it should be interesting.

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker (aka Seanan McGuire) – the novella I didn’t get to from the August TBR. This is the book-inside-the-book featured in Middlegame, which is just… so meta that I don’t know how to feel. I’m not sure it will be my thing, because the excerpts from this book were the least interesting part from Middlegame, but I’m intrigued.


I don’t think this is all I’ll read, but I like to give myself space to choose unexpected books through the month. Have you read or want to read any of these?

TBR & Goals

5 Star Predictions #5

Hello! In a surprising turn of events, it took me less to read all the 7 books I predicted would be five stars for me than it took me to read through all my 5 star predictions the last two times, in which I only chose five. I don’t know why either. Maybe it’s that this time I actually chose stuff I was excited about instead of following the hype, or maybe it’s that I’m finally learning to recognize which books I will like.

So, today I’m choosing the next round. Let’s see if it works!


First, a Wrap-Up

Evidence seems to point to “this time around I chose books I actually wanted to read”, as my success rate this time was also unusually high.

  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo – I’m glad this novella is getting a lot of love because it deserves all of it. I love stories told through details like this one, and the atmosphere really was what made it work. 5 stars.
  • Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee – I loved this. Not like I loved Machineries of Empire, but still a lot, and yes, I gave it 5 stars. The romance! The pacifist mecha dragon! So much good in here.
  • In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – this was perfect and there’s no doubt about that. Also an extremely intense read, so take care. 5 stars.
  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi – this was a remarkable book, and I’m so glad I read it (…and that I put it onto this list so that it didn’t stay on my TBR for years). I initially gave it 4 stars, but it stayed with me even more than I expected, so I raised it to 5 stars.
  • The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood – close enough! This was a very unusual and fun sci-fantasy novel full of unhinged immortal beings and other things that really appeal to me, so of course I loved a lot of it. I gave it 4.5 stars, but rounded up.
  • Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney – this was exactly my favorite kind of weird and I can’t believe I almost didn’t read it. Of course it was 5 stars, and it may be my favorite fae story.
  • Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente – I knew this was a risky one because it’s an older book, and in fact it didn’t work out (not a five stars) but I still loved it a lot, despite its many, many flaws. 3.5 stars, and yet I’m not disappointed.

And you know the other thing all of these books had in common? They weren’t YA. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

The New Predictions

As usual, no sequels! That would be too easy, or maybe I’m just looking for more reasons not to read them.

Backlist

The Devourers by Indra Das – beautifully written, Indian adult fantasy I’ve heard very little about, but every single thing I’ve heard about it was great? Of course I hope I’m going to love it.

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin – I know my experiences with this author are really uneven, but I loved The Narcomancer (in the collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month) so much and it’s set in the same world; The Killing Moon belongs on this list.

In at the Deep End by Kate Davies – because variety in genres is good, and what I need most is motivation to read the adult contemporaries on my TBR! Anyway, this should be an intense read about abuse in F/F relationships.

New Releases

Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott: I’ve somehow managed to not read a book by this author before, but this is a sapphic genderbent Alexander the Great retelling, and… wow do I have high hopes. Queer space operas usually end up being my favorite books of the year; at least, they have taken the first spot in the list the last three.

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston – I’ve never read anything by this author before either, but I’ve seen multiple people I trust a lot praise this on twitter recently, and I’m always looking for trying new-to-me voices in adult fantasy (which I don’t reach for often enough and that’s my fault). Also, “poison desert” sounds really creepy and I’m here for it.

Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling – I know, I know, the only book I’ve tried by this author it’s one that ended up on hold, but consider: queer horror with poisonous plants. Hello??


Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

TBR & Goals

August TBR, Maybe

What do you do when you’re not reading? Write a list of books to read, of course.

I know this is possibly the most nonsensical time to write a TBR, but I’m trying to see this less as a chore and more like a helpful list of books I might want to prioritize without needing to open my goodreads and scroll to the intimidating full TBR list.

Also, the TBR worked for June? I ended up not reading for half the month and all of July, but when I read, I read so much. (Enough that I ended up ignoring only one book out of nine!)


Priorities

These are the two books I’m currently reading and would like to finish. The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood is a fantasy novel with somewhat sci-fi-like aspects I’m mostly enjoying (but struggling with the pacing of); I also started the audiobook of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown but I know I won’t have a lot of chances to listen to it in the current situation, so that might have to wait until the second half of August (I really like it so far, though!). We’ll see.


Physical Books

The only physical book I brought with me when I left is The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, and the tablet I read my ebooks on is kind of falling apart and definitely laggy. Yes this is an attempt at convincing myself to read it. Will I end up not reading anything at all? Stay tuned for the answer you already know! (More seriously, I am at least going to try.)


eARCs

One of the main priorities has to be When Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, which I’m reading for a blog tour I was invited in back before the book’s release date got pushed to August. This is the last blog tour I’m ever going to take part in – I may or may not write a post about that when I have more time – but while I’m not excited about the event at all, I’m still really interested in the book: I read an excerpt a while ago and I remember being really into the aesthetic, and “Phantom of the Opera retelling” sounds fun.

Another is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. The fact that I have an eARC of it, even though it’s of a November 2019 edition, says a lot? I haven’t been great at keeping up with them, which is why I’m requesting a lot less. I started this one back in November, then went on a very unplanned hiatus during which I considered leaving blogging completely, and this book just got caught in the middle of that and I haven’t picked it up since. I need to change that.

Over the Woodward Wall by Deborah A. Baker is another I have an ARC of, and it’s tied to one of my favorite books of last year, so I definitely have the motivation to read it! Deborah A. Baker is yet another pseudonym of Seanan McGuire, and Over the Woodward Wall is the book-within-the-book that was featured inside Middlegame.


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Tag · TBR & Goals

Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag

Remember when it was 2019 and I posted things on time? Anyway. Exam season still hasn’t ended, but I managed to put together a version of this I was ok with, so here we go.

Despite being late, I still haven’t managed to find enough favorites to fill all questions with answers that are as satisfying to me as last year’s. I haven’t even had a bad reading year, not really; it’s just that most of what I read has been… good. I gave so many four stars compared to previous years.

1: Best book you’ve read so far this year:

I’d usually use this spot for novels, but this has been the year of nonfiction, and there’s no doubt that the best book I’ve read so far this year is In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. It’s a memoir about domestic abuse in a relationship between two women written in a very nontraditional format – the author looks at her own experience through archetypes, literary tropes and genre expectations – and it has so much to say about the way homophobia shapes abuse survivors’ experiences, and so many other things as well. I don’t think anything I can say can do this book justice, and so I’ll tell you to read it if you can. If what’s holding you back isn’t the heavy subject matter but the fact that you’ve barely read nonfiction/memoirs before and don’t know what to expect from one, I can say that was the case for me too.

2: Best sequel you’ve read so far this year:

Without a doubt, The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty, sequel to The City of Brass. It took the politics, intrigue, and pain to a whole new level – but it’s the complex, tangled web of character relationships that keeps this series alive, and this book started making use of its full potential. I can’t wait for the third book to follow the consequences even more. TKoC’s ending was explosive in so many ways. (And to think I almost didn’t continue the series. I have so many questions for past!Acqua)

3: A new release you haven’t read yet but really want to:

Surprisingly, I think I kept up with the new releases I was interested in pretty well! That was probably “helped” by some of them being pushed back. Anyway, apart from the obvious – it being that I still need to read the newly-released The Empire of Gold and definitely intend to do that before the end of the year – I’m looking forward to the recently-released The Damned by Renée Ahdieh, sequel to one of my favorite books of last year (The Beautiful), and to A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (loved the audiobook sample). My real problem is older backlist, I have so many books from last year I still want to read and haven’t even tried.

4: Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:

This answer is actually a lie! Or, incomplete; three of my most anticipated releases I’ve already included in an upcoming “5 star predictions” post and didn’t want to be repetitive, so they’re not here. Here, I’m going to talk about Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, a West African-inspired YA fantasy novel I’ve heard enough wonderful things about to be curious but not enough to be intimidated in any way by the hype (*hides from a stack of hyped YA fantasy avoided for exactly that reasons, the main one being King of Scars*); Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker aka Seanan McGuire, a book I know nothing about apart from its… meta ties to the alchemical masterpiece that was Middlegame; and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, sequel to one of the best and most unusual novels I’ve read this year.

5: Biggest disappointment:

It’s only by coincidence that The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon didn’t end up in a “5 star predictions” post. As it turns out, the bad reviews were right. This was described as “old-school fantasy, but make it diverse”, but it is only like old-school fantasy if you take away what made it feel special. That’s mostly nostalgia, let’s be honest; however, the unhurried, wandering nature had its own merits in that kind of books, and despite its length, The Priory of the Orange Tree is always in a hurry. It did keep all the worst parts of old-school fantasy though, the ones I’m glad we left behind years ago – the stiff writing style, the good vs. evil framing that was common back in the day, the way some of these old fantasy books relied on coincidences – while flattening everything as much as possible to fit it into a standalone. There’s no complexity; it was epic only in length. The only thing this book has going for it is the diversity, and I didn’t even like what it did with queerness and worldbuilding (more details in the review).

6: Biggest Surprise:

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders wasn’t even on my TBR. I hadn’t liked anything I tried by this author before, and this novel didn’t even have a great average rating on the hellsite goodreads. Then I decided to challenge myself to read all the Hugo finalists for best novel, and The City in the Middle of the Night ended up being my favorite novel I’ve read so far this year. The combination of layered worldbuilding full of cutting political and social commentary, the dreamlike atmosphere, and themes of unrequited queer love made it a stunning and unforgettable story. For a different reader, it might feel removed and anticlimatic; for me, it was perfect. (Also, if something is set on a tidally locked planet I automatically Love It. That’s just how it is.)

7: Favorite New Author (Debut or New To You):

This is always a difficult question because I never know whether an author is a favorite until I read multiple books of theirs, and that’s not something that can happen easily with debuts. Anyway, a new debut author I definitely want to read more from is Nghi Vo, author of The Empress of Salt and Fortune, a quiet, introspective, atmospheric novella even though it’s technically about toppling emperors (and now I can’t wait for the sequel); a new-to-me author who isn’t a debut is C.S.E. Cooney, who wrote the lovely and weird Desdemona and the Deep, probably the best fae book (whimsical, queer, very unromantic, with a dash of disturbing: as it should be!) we will ever get.

8: Newest Fictional Crush:

I didn’t really have one, but the closest thing I can currently think of is Parvaneh from Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust. What could ever be better than a morally questionable immortal moth girlfriend?

9: Newest Favorite Character:

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I don’t have a new all-time favorite character this year – as I said before, everything I read in 2020 was mostly good but there were surprisingly few standouts, and this is true across categories. I’m going to answer Felix Love from Felix Ever After, mostly because he surprised me: I don’t feel strongly about characters in contemporary the way I do in SFF. Felix was memorable in the way 90% of YA contemporary characters are not – he leapt off the page, and now that it’s been more than a month, I still think about him. There’s enough of a difference between my experience with this book and most of this genre that now, while I’m reading another contemporary that happens to be Just Perfectly Fine, I’m finding the characterization dull and mediocre, because the last contemporary I read was Felix Ever After and this just can’t compare.

10: A book that made you cry:

A discovery of the year is that while I rarely cry because of fiction, everything is different with nonfiction. I think the one that made me cry the most is All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. For many reasons, but mostly these three:

  • the way it talked about the effect of gender roles on small children
  • the way it talked about extended family in the context of queerness
  • the way it talked about coming out in real life vs. the narratives we’re sold

I had very different experiences with these things than the author, and yet close enough for it to seriously hurt (in a good way). These aren’t topics I often find in the [fictional] books I read, both because of the age ranges I prioritize and because of the topics that are prioritized by publishing (white American gatekeeping says that romance is the most interesting and relatable part of the teen experience, and you’re lucky if a YA book talks about family at all, much less the extended one. Support systems and one’s complicated relationship with them are “boring” apparently)

11: A book that made you happy:

Gideon the Ninth nails a certain part of my sense of humor perfectly. I’m… not that interested in clever witty banter in most situations, but when it comes to deliberately horrible puns? Keep throwing them at me, thank you. And I also found Phoenix Extravagant really funny, because the main character Jebi was a walking disaster and the mecha dragon, a pacifist weapon of mass destruction, was not.

12: Favorite adaptation:

I’ve only watched one, the Netflix show The Ghost Bride, so I guess that’s the answer. It was entertaining and I did like it, but as with 90% of the things I watch on a screen, I don’t think about it often.

13: Favorite post you’ve written:

Definitely On Rules and Magic Systems. I’m really proud of it, even though I’m not sure I was able to convey my point the way I wanted – and there was a bigger point to be made as well, mostly about the ways gatekeeping manifests itself through writing advice.

14: Most beautiful book you bought or received so far this year:

These three:

I honestly wasn’t a fan of this cover of The City in the Middle of the Night, and when it comes to the pictures on the internet I’m still not, but in person… it’s probably the prettiest book I own? It looks like a special edition of a classic. I love it.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me was in last year’s post too, but this time I actually bought a translated physical copy (randomly found it in a bookstore, I didn’t even know it existed!) so it’s here again and just as pretty as I thought. Then, of course, Monstress Vol. 4, which finally arrived this year in my country as well.

15. A book you want to read before the end of the year:

This question is kind of a joke, because every single time I name at least a book I don’t even try to read before the end of the year. To try something easier than three fantasy tomes like last year, I’m going to say a novella – Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor, as I’ve started rereading the series this year – as well as two YA novels, Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (which I will remove from my TBR if I don’t get to it by the end of the year) and The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis, which I recently found in my local bookstore when I didn’t even know it had been translated (see a trend? Will never make sense of the Italian publishing world).


Have you read or want to read any of these?

TBR & Goals

June 2020 TBR

For this month only, the TBR is back!

Given that June is exam month and given the overwhelming nature of 2020, I thought that I should try to add some structure to my day-to-day life, instead of running from it at every turn. I don’t know if it will work; maybe it really will be one of those months in which I end up not reading a word.


Several Degrees of Autobiographical

This is not a category I often reach for, and why not change that?

🏳️‍🌈 My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata – I bought this while going through my “must buy all the gay graphic novels I found in my bookstore” phase, even though I had never read a memoir back then. Now I have, and this looks even more interesting to me, even though I’m afraid I will find it too intense (from skimming it before buying it, I know it dealt with an eating disorder among other things.)

🏳️‍🌈 All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson – I’m not sure what “memoir-manifesto” entails exactly, but it’s about the author’s experiences with being Black and queer in America, and I think that June is an especially good time to read about real queer people who have experiences different from mine. Also, I’ve already heard many good things about this one from people I follow.

🏳️‍🌈 Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi – I own the Italian translation of this one, Acquadolce, and this just looks like the perfect moment to finally read it after it has been staring at me from my shelf for months. Akwaeke Emezi wrote Pet, one of my favorite books of last year, so I’m really looking forward to this, even though I haven’t yet understood which kind of book Freshwater is. (It’s a novel with autobiographical elements I think? It’s not a memoir. I also have no idea how these genres work.)


Short, Therefore Friendly

Short fiction has been one of the most queer places in publishing for a long while. Also, let’s be honest, there’s no way I’d get through nine novels in a month.

🏳️‍🌈 Finna by Nino Cipri – first, Tor.com novellas are easy to get through, second, I can’t believe I haven’t read the queer [f/non-binary] sci-fi IKEA book. All my friends on goodreads seem to have liked it to a degree, which is also encouraging.

🏳️‍🌈 The Candlevine Gardener and Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee – this will be my collection of the month, and this time I’m taking a break from short stories and reading a lot of flash fiction instead. After loving Lee’s other queer flash fiction collection The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales last July, I have high hopes for this one.

🏳️‍🌈 The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg – I don’t know much about this, but I have an old ARC and I know it has at least one trans main character (maybe a trans woman? I’m not sure and I haven’t read many reviews) and it’s a novella, so it’s perfect.


Miscellaneous Novels

I’ve found that the best way to induce a slump is having something stressful in real life, while the best way to fight it is variety in genres, so here we are.

🏳️‍🌈 Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender: I think this will be my choice for the audiobook of the month™, as contemporary is the genre I’m more comfortable with reading in this format. Anyway, I tried a chapter of this recently, really liked it, and would say the same of the audio narration (by Logan Rozos).
[Edit: started this morning]

🏳️‍🌈 The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood – I don’t know how I managed to not read this one yet when it’s one of my most anticipated releases of the year… which I’ve had since 2019 because back then I requested every ARC that sounded interesting (I know, the answer to “why haven’t I read this yet” is probably something like “I’m intimidated by things I think I’m going to like”). I should fix that.

🏳️‍🌈 Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller – I’ve had mixed experiences with Linsey Miller so far, and I’m kind of reluctant when it comes to YA fantasy in general, but this has an F/F romance with an asexual mc, and I liked the first chapter back when I tried it, so I’m hopeful.


Have you read or want to read any of these?

TBR & Goals

SapphicAThon #3: TBR

SapphicAThon is back! This is a read-a-thon dedicated to reading sapphic books, hosted by Jami @jamishelves, Elise @thebookishactress and Tash @immortalbanner on twitter. The twitter account of the read-a-thon is here for more information.


The Challenges

Let’s start with the obvious: there’s no way I’m going to read all of these in a week. I’m going to give myself an option for every challenge, but some of them I might complete by counting a book twice instead of actually reading every book I write here – and for some of these I might decide to read a sapphic short story instead.

#1: Reread a book

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I read A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo back in 2017 and loved it; since then, I haven’t read one contemporary mystery novel I’ve actually liked. I want to revisit this to see what about it worked for me that others don’t have (difficult to explain in a way that makes sense why you like a book if you only remember it vaguely), and also because I can’t wait to read about this messed up lesbian love triangle again. It’s shorter than 300 pages, and mysteries are generally easy to get through, so it shouldn’t take me too much time.

#2: Read a graphic novel

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The only two graphic novels left on my TBR are memoirs, so my choice will be Spinning by Tillie Walden – it’s longer than I’m used to in this format, but I already own a physical copy of it, and that’s great because I hate reading graphic novels on a screen and buying physical copies right now might not be easy.

Recommendations!

If you want to participate but are thinking, I can’t come up with any sapphic graphic novel right now, here are my three favorite sapphic graphic novels across genres, because why pass up on the occasion to talk about some of my favorites?

  • Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn & Claire Roe (adult noir): my underrated fave! About a young journalism intern trying to solve a mystery. It’s full of queer women who do horrible things with a kind of “the end justifies the means” logic; the main character is bisexual. All the characters are the worst and it’s also such a great time.
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (YA contemporary): set in high school, also one of the very few books I know dealing with an abusive relationship involving two girls. The art is gorgeous.
  • Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda (adult dark fantasy): if you marginally know anything about SFF graphic novels, you’ve heard of this one, but a lot of people don’t seem to know it’s sapphic! It is, it’s only that the first two volumes are subtler about it. The third is not. Anyway, steampunk Asian matriarchy full of queer women.

#3: Read a book with a trope you love

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I can’t believe how long it took me to find an answer to this question, as I couldn’t think of either tropes I loved or sapphic books that had them. Then I remembered that one of my favorite things to read about – maybe not exactly a trope, but I say it counts – is anything that blurs the boundary between magic and science, fantasy and sci-fi. The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood is space fantasy, so it’s perfect. I mean, it is for what I said, but it might not be for a readathon because it’s 464 pages of adult SFF, which takes me a while to get through. If I can’t fit it in here, I’ll count A Line in the Dark for this prompt because “F/F/F love triangle” is for sure one of my favorite tropes.

#4: Read a book by an author of color

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For this one, I’m going to pick Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo; I’ve recently discovered that one of the two main characters is a lesbian, and I think there’s an F/F romance. Also, I can’t wait to read Acevedo’s next book, after how much With the Fire on High affected me last year (has any other book ever convinced me to take up a hobby before? No.) It’s written in verse, which means it shouldn’t take me a long time to read, too.

#5: Read a book you got for free

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The Unspoken Name could count for this, as it’s a leftover ARC from one of last year’s netgalley request sprees, and so would The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, which involves lesbian teen witches and is also an ARC from when I was still requesting them (and if there had been a prompt for “pretty cover”, this would have been the best one). If I can’t manage to get through either, I’ll look for sapphic short stories that are interesting to me, but as I don’t love to make TBRs for short fiction, I’ll choose them as I go.

#6: Read a book that has been on your TBR a long time

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The book that is best described by this prompt is Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, an old, multi-PoV book that was released when I was nine (!!) and has at least one sapphic main character. I don’t know much about it apart from the fact that its plotline revolves around a sexually transmitted city, and isn’t that a remarkable premise. I haven’t read anything by Catherynne M. Valente in a while and I really should fix that, since she wrote some of my favorite books. But again, it’s adult SFF, so it might take me a while and I might choose something shorter if I need to, like a sapphic short story I’ve been wanting to read for a while or something like that.

#7: Free choice

I probably won’t be able to read six books to begin with, much less seven, but if I manage to fulfill some of the above challenges with short fiction I just might. If I get to that point, I’ll leave this one open anyway so that I have the space to choose according to my mood, as that usually helps me not to get stuck.


Will you participate in SapphicAThon? Have you read any of these?

TBR & Goals · Wrap-Up

An April Wrap-Up + Wyrd and Wonder Plans

To give you an idea of how confused I am and how much we are a joke to time itself, I first wrote “May Wrap-Up” and stared at the title of this post for a full ten seconds with the vague awareness that maybe something was off, just a little.


A Brief Life Update

April was exactly like March! Which means it was exactly like the second half of February, which means I haven’t been out of my house in more than two months. Well, there were some different flowers on my balcony, I guess, the prettiest one being this Anemone:

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April as a Reading Month

In April, I read 9 books:

  • 5 new novels, of which one I DNFed halfway through;
  • 2 novellas, of which one was a reread
  • 1 graphic novel
  • 1 anthology.

I also ended up reading 14 short stories (yes, this was one of those months) but I will talk about them in my next short fiction wrap-up and not here.

In terms of quantity, this month was average. In terms of quality, I went from not reading a five star novel for three months to finding five in just a month, so I think I can’t complain. I don’t write ratings in wrap-ups anymore, but I’m going to mark those with a 🐉.

What I Read

39855052 It didn’t start out too well: my first two reads were the Hungry Hearts anthology, that reminded me of how easily lack of cohesion can make an anthology fail (review to come soon), and Crier’s War by Nina Varela, which I DNFed halfway through (not for me).
I then finally read a sequel right after having reread the first book (yay), and read 🐉
The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty astonishingly quickly given how long books over 500 pages take me these days. I loved every moment of it, and wow, is fantasy amazing when the author knows how to build interesting and terribly tense interpersonal relationships along with a fascinating world.

48425575._sy475_Then I read an ARC of 🐉 Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee, a steampunk novel with folktale-like elements set in a country inspired by Korea under Japanese occupation. It’s easier to follow than Lee’s usual, and the portrayal of what it’s like to be an artist in a colonized country made it stand out (also, it was interesting to see Lee write from the PoV of someone who isn’t a genius, this time). You get all this with a non-binary main character, their pacifist mecha dragon best friend, and a female duelist the main character really shouldn’t be into, but is anyway. I could call this both “delightful and fun” and “bittersweet with some horrifying undertones”, and that’s always the best combination.

Then the Hugo Finalists were announced, and I decided to read some of them for a post I’m putting together with my opinions about this year’s line-up. The first of them was Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher, a cute but forgettable middle grade read about a boy who is a not-so-good mage and his armadillo familiar. I was luckier with my attempt at reading all the nominees in the Best Novel category, where I had only two books to get to:

  •  🐉 The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders wasn’t even on my TBR, but I ended up falling in love with it, which I would have never predicted – I didn’t like anything I tried by Anders before and this didn’t even have that many good reviews from people I follow! I thought it was an incredibly smart book, a story about the downfall of societies and what might work to save humanity on a hostile, tidally locked planet. At its heart is a toxic relationship between two women involving unrequited love and the differences brought by privileged upbringing. The writing and worldbuilding are wonderful, too. My review of this one is neverending because there’s so much to say and couldn’t bring myself to cut any of it out.
  • I finally stopped procrastinating on what was my most anticipated novel for the second half of last year, 🐉 Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and while I loved it deeply, it’s true that having expectations that high is never good (I wanted this to be an all-time favorite! As of now, it’s not). Still, it’s a really great read and just the kind of queer sci-fantasy mashup I love – with a mystery aspect thrown in the mix as well, because this book knows that you never have too many genres (or dated memes, or bones).

1684155061I also ended up reading a graphic novel, Eat and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo & Lilian Klepakowsky, told from the PoV of a woman with an eating disorder as she finds a magical chocolate bar that makes her relive some of the moments in her past that defined the negative relationship she has with herself and her body. It gets how much small, seemingly insignificant moments can have a impact on you as an adult; it explores  the long-term effects of bullying (books that do this are so rare!) and growing up in a casually fatphobic household. The art was great and everything was easy to follow despite the frequent flashbacks. Also, I loved the cat! More comics need to have cats in them.

43549397._sy475_Then I decided to reread Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Sometimes I get this feelings about books I read a few years ago – in this case, long enough that I was still a minor – that tells me that I might not have understood them. I had liked Binti back in 2017, but hadn’t thought about it often since. In 2019, it got translated in my country, and I had bought a copy of the trilogy because I like to support translations of diverse SFF, and since then I’ve had that feeling, maybe this book is better than I remembered. I don’t feel like that often, but when I do I’m usually right, and this time I was too. I feel like I got what this wanted to say so much more and I’m glad I reread it as an adult.

36292242._sy475_I broke my ARC ban twice this month! For my two most anticipated releases of the year, which I read immediately after getting (my ARC ban exists to avoid accumulation of ARCs aka reading stress), so I’m not too annoyed at myself. The second ARC I got was 🐉 Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, a fairytale-like fantasy novel set in a country inspired by ancient Persia and Zoroastrian beliefs. I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s the kind of book I think one should go into without knowing too much, but it was gorgeous and sapphic and maybe I even liked it more than Girls Made of Snow and Glass. Such an interesting twist on the “girl deadly to the touch” premise.


What to Expect in May


Decorative phoenix by Tanantachai Sirival 

May is Wyrd and Wonder month! Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy; if you haven’t heard of it yet, here’s the announcement post.

As I don’t write TBRs anymore, I thought I’d talk about what I’m planning for May here. I don’t know if I’ll actually be reading more fantasy than usual, as I’ve learned  – after trying to make monthly TBRs work for all of last year – that I can’t accurately predict what I’ll want to read, but I know that:

  • on May 6th, my review of Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust (out on July 7th) will be up;
  • on May 11th, a post I’m really excited about, On Rules and Magic Systems, will be up (…with footnotes!) That one was really fun to write, and I hope you’ll find it fun to read as well.
Other Readathons

From May 18th to May 25th SapphicAThon will also be running – my attempt at a weekly TBR will be up sometimes later this month (yes, a weekly TBR sounds more manageable) and I might take Wyrd and Wonder and SapphicAThon as an opportunity to read more F/F fantasy.

May is also the time of both the Tome Topple Readathon (May 9th-22nd) and the Asian Readathon, and while I don’t know if I plan to participate in either (as far as making an actual TBR and following challenges) but that might just be the encouragement I need to read the 600-page tome Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang. Problem is, it wouldn’t count for either SapphicAThon or Wyrd and Wonder, being not sapphic sci-fi. We’ll see.


Have you read any of these? How was April for you? Will you participate in Wyrd and Wonder and/or SapphicAThon?

TBR & Goals · Weekly

#5OnMyTBR — 5 Books Hyped in the Past

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

This week’s topic is Hype from the Past, so books on my TBR that aren’t new releases but are on my TBR.


Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

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This is the first one that came to mind, because I’m currently challenging myself to read all of this year’s Hugo finalists, and this was one of last year’s – I honestly don’t know why I haven’t read it yet, when it’s been on my TBR since 2017.

I started it (and got around two chapters in) during that very unlucky week in November 2019, alongside with Gideon the Ninth, then took a very sudden, unplanned hiatus for more than a month and just forgot about it. But now that I finally picked up Gideon the Ninth back up for the Hugo finalist challenge, I should just remember to get to this as well.


The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

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A moment of honesty: if it weren’t for the fact that I bought it when I knew myself a lot less, this wouldn’t be on my TBR at all, because there are two categories of fantasy stories I firmly don’t get along with, “clearly based on a real tragedy” (think The Poppy War) or “the conflict is driven by homophobia”, which seems to fit this one perfectly.

Still, I have it! And many people like it! I’m torn between curiosity and knowing deep down that this will be a terrible idea, but after all, if I don’t like it I can just put it down like I would with literally any other book. Instead I’m just here acting like its very presence on my shelf will threaten me if only I acknowledge it too much, which is very reasonable of me.


Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

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This was… pretty much half of my friends’ favorite book back in 2018? I still haven’t even tried a chapter of it, for no reason at all but the fact that seeing this book makes me think “oh I’ll get to it later”. It’s not even “I don’t want to get to it”, because I do. Later.

It probably has to do with the fact that at any point in the last two years, the last thing I’ve been wanting to read is “hard-hitting YA contemporary”, even if said book sounds and probably is amazing. I’m giving myself a deadline: if I haven’t read this by the end of the year, off my TBR it goes. No point in keeping it there when I’m clearly never going to read it (unlike Baru, I don’t own it). I hope to prove myself wrong.


Spinning by Tillie Walden

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I’ve known about this for years, and Tillie Walden’s comics are hyped in general, but I wasn’t going to read this until I decided I absolutely had to buy all the queer graphic novels in my bookstore, and so I own it now. I’ve since discovered that I do like memoirs sometimes, so I’m hopeful this will work for me as well. (The only thing that worries me is how long it is, but a graphic novel should be easy to get through.)


The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams

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This is significantly less hyped than any of the books on this list, because I don’t have that much backlist on my TBR (don’t get me wrong: I’m not good at getting to backlist. I’m just really good at removing things at the slightest hint of disinterest, as long as I haven’t already bought them). However, it is a really well-loved book for many of the people I follow! So, in my tiny bubble, it is something similar to hyped. Do I know what it’s about? No. Do I want to read it soon? Yes, because sometimes not knowing the details makes me more curious.

[It’s also longer than 500 pages, so “soon” might as well mean next year. Or maybe not, given how quickly I got through the 600 pages of The Kingdom of Copper. Not every book is a Jade War.]


Have you read any of these?