Wrap-Up

August 2020 Wrap-Up

Here I am, back to monthly wrap-ups! At least I read enough this month to make an individual post.


Life Update

After two exam months, August was a much-needed empty one. For the first two weeks, I was in the Rhaetian Alps; the rest of the month was pretty much like July minus the studying. By which I mean, my project involving becoming friends with all the city’s cats continued. I know many by now, several of which meow at me in recognition, but I finally have a Best Friend! She calls and follows me when she sees me, and she also tried to jump on my knees while I was crouching to pet her (startling me. sorry cat. The second picture is her right after that happened, by the way):

People who say cats love you just because you feed them are wrong! I don’t feed any of them and we’re still friends. And, as far as the Rhaetian Alps time went, it wouldn’t be Acqua’s blog without plant pictures:

  • maybe an unusually pink Astro alpino (alpine daisy, Aster alpinus)
  • Euphrasia, also known as eyebright: I had never seen so many of them in flower, the meadow looked like something that had just been touched by fairies.

What I Read

This month I read seven things, one short story and six novels, and DNFed a seventh. The short story was The Mysterious Study of Doctor Sex by Tamsyn Muir, following Camilla and Palamedes from Gideon the Ninth; it was fun but a little underwhelming and I don’t have much to say about it, so let’s get to the novels:

At the beginning of this month, my brain was still fried from exams, by which I mean it took me almost a week to finish a book I was already halfway through, and I was even liking it! I ended up giving The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood 4.5 stars.
I’m used to predicting when the most intense parts of the book will happen basing myself on how far into it I am, as most books follow a very predictable structure. This one doesn’t, it even has a time jump of several years when you’re 30% in, which was both really interesting and horrible for my attention span. It was a very weird time and I recommend it especially if you like to read adult fantasy about unhinged immortal beings. (review)

Then I started Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles. I’ve already talked about it several times by now, but this book would have benefited from more editing and just… more substance. It did have some of the most memorably-written descriptions I’ve found this year, though, so if you’re a really atmosphere-driven reader who just wants to Imagine the Pretty, you’re going to have fun with this! I gave it 3 stars. (review; discussion of the atmosphere)

As I said I would in my August TBR, I tried The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson and determined that this is a story I’d love to read while I’m not witnessing the global rise of fascism. One could say that these books are more relevant than ever, and I agree, but I need to keep my energy for mentally dealing with this sort of thing for when I read actual, non-fictional news. If you’re someone who can’t get anxiety attacks from media, I do recommend trying this out because I do think it’s doing a lot. I wouldn’t have felt this way otherwise.
Another book that ended up not working for me is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, because I don’t get along with books that clearly think action scenes for the sake of action are interesting. I got through this book in two days because I skimmed most of them, I was so bored – I gave it 2 stars. At this point, I’m not sure I want to reach for Black Sun at all later this year, because everything I’ve tried by this author hasn’t worked for me.

All the while, I was listening to the audiobook of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, a West African-inspired YA fantasy that ended up restoring my interest and trust in this genre. For a long time, the best thing I could say about the YA fantasy I was reading was “I would have loved this at 16, I’m glad it exists”, but yes, there are stories that I can still love now, and this is one of them. From the world full of magical creatures, mysterious deities and unraveling legends to the very real, deliberate focus on mental health and xenophobia – it’s beautiful, compelling, and well-crafted. I gave it 4.75 stars; it’s one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve read in a while.

Then I read the weirdest contemporary I’ve ever found, The Pursuit of Miss Heartbreak Hotel by Moe Bonneau. It’s an F/F coming-of-age story that deals with mental illness (mainly OCD) and a relative’s terminal illness. The writing happens to be very strange. Everyone speaks in the same, unexplained slang; the word choices go from “unusual” to “outright baffling”; and the writing has a rhythm to it that makes it feel like poetry. It has no author note. I’m not surprised this got many bad reviews, but personally I really liked it and I have theories on why this was the way it was – and in a novel about finding the courage to be yourself, I appreciated the unapologetic weirdness. I gave it 4 stars.

The last book I read was Night Shine by Tessa Gratton, my favorite of the month (maybe favorite of the year? too soon to tell). This is a subversive queer YA fantasy about identity, choice, and the damaging, restrictive nature of binaries. The writing is beautiful and dreamlike, and so is the way it talks about learning who you are and the nature of identity and gender. Of course, my favorite aspect was the romance between the main character and the Sorceress, because villainesses are hot in a gay way. When I hear about someone named The Sorceress Who Eats Girls, the main thing I also want to know is whether she’s single. I gave this 5 stars.

As you can see, this was an unusual month – one in which I found not one but two YA fantasy books I loved (…it’s been so long), and I’m even currently reading a third that may also fit that, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko. After two years of either avoiding or being disappointed by this genre (and sometimes by its adult counterpart as well), it’s so refreshing. I mean, I’m aware that I would have loved something with the concept of Night Shine even more if it had been an adult book, because it would have been allowed to be just a little darker and subtler and that would have been perfect, but you know what? It’s great the way it is already. Please ignore the unfortunate cover and read it.


Have you read or want to read any of these? How was August for you?

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?

Wrap-Up

August 2019 Highlights

Welcome to a new post in the Monthly Highlights series, in which I talk about the best books I read this month, what happened in August, and some book-related news.


What I Read

In August I read 13 books:

  • 8 new novels, of which 4 were ARCs and 2 I DNFed halfway through;
  • 2 collections, of which one was an ARC
  • 2 short stories
  • 1 reread of a novel

Quantity-wise, this might look worse than my average (I did read 15 books in July and not one was a DNF or a short story), but it’s actually not that bad, as two of the novels I read this month were over 500 pages (Jade War reached 600, even though it really didn’t need to). Quality-wise, this month wasn’t the best either; as usual, I’m going to talk in detail only about the books I really liked.

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↬ Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard is a collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors.

  • it talks about war, culture, colonialism and loss, and it’s as beautiful as it is painful. Even if you aren’t interested in the collection, I still really recommend the short story Immersion (the best one in my opinion), which is free online.
  • it was so interesting to see so many facets of Xuya. I only know this universe from short fiction – and as all the stories are set in different places on Earth or in space, in very different times, I still feel like I don’t know this world at all. Which only intrigues me more, because what we see is so fascinating.
  • the novella Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness made me love Emmanuelle/Selene as a couple, finally. From the book, I never cared about them strongly, but to read a story about them? Amazing. After this and Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship, they’re one of my favorite f/f couples.
  • there was so much f/f content in this book. Two short stories, a novella, and casually queer side characters… perfect. Also, nearly every main character is a woman and all of them are people of color (predominantly, but not only, Vietnamese)

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↬ The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore is the second book in The Chronicles of Ghadid, companion sequel to The Perfect Assassin.

  • F/F ASSASSIN BOOK
  • Buddy read with Silvia! This was my first buddy read, and it was fun, and we should definitely do that again someday. So many dead camel jokes
  • Necromancy! Blood magic! Far wilder and darker than the first book, and larger in scope, but also messier both in storyline and pacing
  • still liked it more, and I did really like The Perfect Assassin
  • the romance was perfect. Useless lesbian with highly dubious morals and a need to prove herself meets sweet but somewhat judgmental healer girl. Disaster ensues.
  • Heru. He did really have all the best lines.

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The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta is a coming-of-age poetry novel following a gay biracial black boy.

  • About black biracial and queer identity, and especially about what being a queer man of color means in a world that expects conformity.
  • The main character finds himself through drag and I loved both this aspect and the discussion of toxic masculinity tied to it
  • Such an emotional read.
  • Some of the poems about friendship and family were just so painful and real
  • It’s set in the UK. Only this… relatively slight (still a western English-speaking country) change of scenery was so refreshing and made me realize just how overwhelmingly American supposedly diverse books are, especially when it comes to contemporary.

Games

↬ This month, I also played the online interactive fiction game The Moonlit Tower by Yoon Ha Lee (2002).

  • It’s from 2002. I was two at the time. This is so old! (Or, I am so young?)
  • the premise is that you’re lost in a mysterious but really beautiful tower and want to know how you got there and how to get out
  • perfect atmosphere
  • do you know how many times I tried to convince the game to let me eat inedible things?
  • Game: there are pines
  • Acqua: EAT PINE
  • Game, exhausted: [for the twentieth time], that’s plainly inedible
  • as usual, the writing was beautiful, and this was overall a really interesting and calming experience, which is great, since the other game by Yoon Ha Lee, Winterstrike, will soon not exist anymore (which makes me really sad, I loved just how weird and unique it was as a whole).

What Happened in August

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  • I spent a week in the Rhaetian Alps. It rained almost all the time, but at least the flowers were pretty. Here’s some raponzoli (Phyteuma sp.), which in English are called rampions – a really misleading name, considering that they share it with the edible campanula (Campanula rapunculus, the raperonzolo), a completely different plant which gave the name to the fairytale of Rapunzel. One of them has a six-spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) on it.
  • I also managed to have a few other underwater photography days in the second half of August:


Interesting Cover Reveals

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo – new Tor.com novella! This has, in my opinion, one of the most interesting covers I’ve ever seen. Also, I’ve heard it’s queer and that it has been compared to the Tensorate and I can’t wait.

The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee – first, this cover is perfect and will look really well side-by-side with The Fever King. Second, I’m scared.

The US cover of The House of Sundering Flames by Aliette de Bodard has finally been revealed! I don’t love it, but I don’t love any of the US covers, so this wasn’t a surprise. Still can’t wait to read the book, of course.


How was August for you? Have you read or are you anticipating any of these?

Wrap-Up

July 2019 Highlights

Welcome to another post in my Monthly Highlights series, in which I will talk about everything book-related (and sometimes not) that happened in July.


What I Read

July was exam month for Acqua and heatwave month for Europe, so I’m surprised that I still managed to read 15 books:

  • 10 novels, of which 6 were ARCs
  • 2 novellas, of which 1 was an ARC
  • 2 collections, of which 1 was an ARC
  • 1 graphic novel, which was an ARC

I didn’t read as much as I read in June, but I did read just as many novels – this time, without DNFing one – so I consider this a good reading month. Rating-wise, there were a lot of four stars (eight of those 15 books were four stars), a few fives and threes, and a two. We’re over halfway through the year and I still haven’t rated a book one star!

As usual for a highlight post, I will only talk about the books I liked the most.

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↬ Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear is a space opera novel following Haimey Dz, a black lesbian space salvager, as she discovers an abandoned ship and the terrifying truths tied to its existence.

  • this is officially the most unexpected favorite of the year. I hated it at the beginning and wanted to DNF it, but as usual, sci-fi with somewhat dense worldbuilding is worth it
  • I had so much fun with this, even when the story got really dark, because this was just so interesting and beautiful. I was never bored, and this is longer than 500 pages.
  • the premise of this book is basically “archeology in space, but with pirates“, and if you thought it couldn’t get better than that, what if I told you that there’s lesbian villain kissing involving the evil pirate lady?
  • no romance, a great emphasis on friendships between queer characters, and does this book understand that everything, including space, is better with cats
  • combine the ideas of “ancient mysterious artifacts”, “alien technology incomprehensible to humans”, and “the terrifying beauty of space” and you get the aesthetic of this book
  • Haimey’s character arc is one of the best I’ve read in months. This is a story about coming to terms with trauma (she has PTSD from growing up in a cult) and while it gets dark at times, the ending was everything to me.

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↬ The Fox Tower and Other Tales by Yoon Ha Lee is a collection of cute flash fairytales and prose poems.

  • queer (f/f and m/m stories and some non-binary main characters) twists on familiar fairytale tropes and archetypes are so refreshing
  • cuddly foxes!
  • flash fiction is a lot like poetry, which means that sometimes this goes a little for the “pretty for the sake of it”, and… I love that. Because Yoon Ha Lee’s descriptions are many things but are never banal
  • I am still thinking about descriptions like “crystals unfed by unsunlight”. It shouldn’t make sense, in a literal way it does not make sense, but it does, it always does
  • then there are three prose poems, two of which – Candle and Thunder – are clearly tied to some characters from Ninefox Gambit and I still have so many feelings
  • “I don’t expect your hands to glove black (ashes are my favorite fashion)” I personally hate you, [spoilery name censored]
  • “and sometimes it’s about gunfire opening your heart” of course you’d use that imagery, go figure
  • it’s not really tied to the Machineries of Empire universe if you don’t want to scream “Jedao, NO” at some point
  • this, overall, made me so happy and there’s a lot of value in that.

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↬ Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is a futuristic novel following Jam, a black trans girl with selective mutism, in a world in which evil doesn’t exist anymore… or so she’s told.

  • I recommend this book to… almost everyone? It’s really short and it’s the kind of thing middle schoolers can read and understand but that adult can also get important things from
  • It’s unlike everything I’ve ever read. This is a YA book with no romance (already uncommon), following a 15-year-old main character (also not common) who is a disabled black trans girl (previously unheard of in tradpub YA novels) in a book that isn’t about her being marginalized. It’s also about a society that looks utopian to us (why are all futuristic novels dystopian?) and it involves paranormal elements.
  • it’s about how evil is allowed to thrive unseen when people start refusing to admit that it can exist, and it has a lot of really interesting things to say about what makes a monster, and what – specifically – makes monsters so dangerous
  • it’s a charming kind of weird, beautifully written, and unique
  • the main character isn’t always able to voice and as someone who has also struggled with voicing things (for slightly different reasons, but it’s not that different from the outside), the fact that no one ever makes her selective mutism a problem meant so much to me

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The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang is the fourth and final book in the Tensorate series. It follows Lady Han, a courtesan-turned-revolutionary, and it’s written in the form of a drunken monologue.

  • I know “drunken monologue” doesn’t sound appealing at all but it works
  • this was a great month when it came to f/f villain kissing, because this is about the relationship between Lady Han and Hekate, the series’ villainess
  • how did I not know this was an f/f villain romance before reading it. how.
  • a tragic gay story, but not the kind of homophobia-related tragic gay story we’re used to; it’s a story about two very morally gray women and how their relationship fell apart
  • queer stories should get to be sad like the non-queer ones do, in ways that have nothing to do with the characters’ marginalizations
  • everyone is kind of horrible and I loved that
  • the best novella in the series, and I don’t say that lightly when this was already my favorite novella series. I love this world so much
  • …I still want more Tensorate

Life Update

  • Despite exams, I was finally able to have a free morning for my first Underwater Photography Day of the year. The quality of the water wasn’t the best – it wasn’t dirty (I know where and when to go to avoid that most of the time) but it was somewhat… cloudy? Not sure what the right word is in English, but I couldn’t see very far. Anyway, that was probably caused by a recent coastal storm.
  • Still managed to take some pictures, and the Cystoseira are still there, which should be a good thing (Cystoseira is a genus of algae known for being bioindicators of good water quality)


Cover Reveals

YA


Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen – I love this cover, it looks like such a cute, fun romance, one following East Asian-American characters and set outside the US!

When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan & Robin Stevenson – this one is also set outside the US, it’s a Canadian YA novel about teens going on a road trip to get to Toronto Pride, and… there are so many queer YA novels, but surprisingly few of them feature Pride parades. I’m glad that this exists and that it looks really gay from the outside already.

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett – all I know about this one is that it’s f/f and will have a setting with a really wintry atmosphere. The cover looks a little too “generic YA fantasy for my taste” (it reminds me a lot of Bloodleaf, for example) but the details are everything.

Adult

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood – F/F fantasy!! I don’t love this cover, but I am really anticipating this book. I’m not sure what it is about Tor and F/F involving necromancy but I support the idea?

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – and I thought Borne was trippy. Oh well? (I love this, but it also almost hurts to look at)

Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty – I still have to read the second book (I know, I know), but can we just say that the UK covers of this series are objectively superior? They have a simple, straightforward and effective aesthetic.


How was July for you? Have you read/are you anticipating any of these?

TBR & Goals

August TBR

Technically, August hasn’t begun yet and I have already read parts of several of these books, but what can you expect from a Ninefox Gambit fan but calendrical heresy?


How Did July Go?

Not that well, if I look at my TBR; pretty well, if I consider that this isn’t all I read:

  • With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – still to read
  • The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding read, ★★★★ (RTC on this blog tomorrow)
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas read, ★★★★ (review)
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia  read, ★★★★ (review)
  • Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe – still to read
  • Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim – read, ★★★¾ (review)
  • Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno – still to read
  • The Truth Is by NoNieqa Ramos – still to read
  • Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear – read, ★★★★★ (RTC on this blog)

For a month during which I had exams and didn’t have a stable connection for a week – which prevented me from buying new ebooks, which is why With the Fire on High and Don’t Date Rosa Santos had to wait – this is pretty good, especially since I changed my plans halfway through for a read-a-thon. What is less good is that I’m falling behind on ARCs, and I can already tell that September will be problematic (however: I’ll try to not let that stress me, I’m not going to feel stressed because of books of all things.)


Emotionally Difficult Reads

The first third of August should be stable (no exams, no university, finally) – which is more than I can ask for the rest of the year. It’s a small window of time, so I don’t know if I will actually be able to read much, but… I waited a whole year for the perfect moment to read these emotionally difficult books, which this time are my priority instead of ARCs.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – usually, if I end up quitting a book because it feels too depressing, I don’t pick it up again. But this is the most critically acclaimed fantasy trilogy of this decade, so not even giving it another chance would just feel wrong.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi – this is YA, which means it could be marginally less exhausting than the other two in this category, but I’m just going to say that if I had known that it prominently featured climate change, I wouldn’t have requested an ARC of it. The ecology course was enough for an entire year.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – I am voluntarily walking into something I know could seriously hurt me (and not in a good way), because I’m definitely not smart, and what can we do about it?


I Should Read Some Sequels…

…but I’m not sure which ones yet. I will be starting two new high fantasy series (see previous category), and if I like those first books, I give myself permission to temporarily ignore Jade War and AHoRaS and read The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky and/or The Monster Baru Cormorant instead, or any other sequel. Everything is fine, as long as these three are sequels (note for future Acqua: no, novellas don’t count).

Jade War by Fonda Lee – I’m cheating, because technically this is an overdue ARC that I’m already 40% through, but I know this is going to take me weeks (I’d love this series a lot more, if going through three chapters didn’t take me a day and if Jade War weren’t a 600-page-tome), so I need to motivate myself.

A House of Rage and Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna – this is out at the beginning of September, and I’d love to read it before release date, but I don’t know how realistic that is as an idea. I might have to skim through/reread A Spark of White Fire first, too, so we’ll see.

The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore – if everything goes according to plan, this is a buddyread with Silvia! Can’t wait to be back in Ghadid and see other gay assassins. (Yes, this is an f/f assassin book, and isn’t that the best concept?)


Other Priorities

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe – I know. I didn’t get to this one last month because I ran out of time, but this needs to happen, it was out in June. Also, it looks great?

Of Wars, Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard – I’ve also already started this short story collection, and I will be slowly reading it over the course of the month. I hate reading collections all together, but a little every day? I loved doing that with Conservation of Shadows and The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales, I hope it works for this one too. (I’ve already read two stories and they were amazing.)

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (reread) – I will be rereading this one to eventually get to The House of Sundering Flames, which came out a few days ago. I can’t wait to get back into this world, and it would mean a lot to me if some of you tried it as well? I get that the first book isn’t the best thing ever, but I really do think this series is underrated.


TBR Add Ban

Right now, my TBR is at 159 books. It might not look like a lot – I know that many people have goodreads TBRs of more than 500 books, and my “owned” (ebooks/eARCs + a few finished physical copies) TBR is actually around 30 – but I really don’t want it to reach 200 again. So I’m giving myself a rule: I can only add a book for every book I remove. Let’s see if it works?


Have you read or are you anticipating any of these?