Weekly

T10T: My Underrated Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Books I Loved with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads.

Some of these have… less than 500 ratings. Which is a crime, because all of these were four stars and up and they should get more love and hype. I’m not including ARCs that haven’t been published yet in the actual list, for obvious reasons, but here are some ARCs I liked that are probably going to be under-the-radar:

  • The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown, a quiet f/f contemporary mystery perfect for fans of We Are Okay;
  • The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore, an imaginative and atmospheric desert fantasy following a family of assassins as they try to solve a mystery; it has a mostly-queer cast;
  • Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter, a contemporary story with a horror twist following a codependent relationship between two queer foster siblings and very creepy faeries. Great character development, read it if you like stories about getting out of abusive relationships. (Edit: trigger warnings in the review linked, I recommend reading them before going into the book. I liked this but I wish I had known what I was going into.)

But now, let’s get to the actual list.


Twisted Romance, edited by Alex de Campi

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  • this is: an anthology of short comics and short stories.
  • I rated it 4 stars, but some parts of it stayed with me in ways I didn’t expect.

Every time is the best time to pick up this anthology about unusual romance stories written by a diverse group of authors. Most stories are queer, there is polyamory, there are m/m vampires, there’s kink representation, there are magical lesbians and epic space romances… please read it. It’s so underrated.


This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

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  • this is: a heartfelt contemporary story about three girls, music, and recovery
  • I rated it 4 stars and you really should pick it up if you liked Far From the Tree.

I don’t understand how this book got so little hype and so few people are reading it. I hear many bloggers say that they want ownvoices books that aren’t issue books, and this is a story about music and mending a friendship following three girls, two of which are black (ownvoices rep) and there is an f/f romance! Also, it’s one of the books that portrays what it’s like to be in recovery – from trauma, from a toxic relationship, from alcoholism: all these girls are struggling in different ways – more realistically. And the two romances (f/f and m/f) were so cute.


Darkling by Brooklyn Ray

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  • this is: a new adult m/m paranormal romance with a trans main character
  • I rated it 4.5 stars.

A romance novella I can recommend! If you like witchy books, angry characters, messy and complex friend group dynamic and blood magic, you should read this book. The atmosphere is wonderful, there’s necromancy, and the romance is great too. Also, it’s short, which your goodreads reading challenge (if you have one) will appreciate.


Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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  • this is: a dark urban fantasy story about vampires set in Mexico City
  • I rated it 4 stars.

Do you want to read a story about vampires that is based on Aztec mythology? In Certain Dark Things, one of the two main characters, Atl, is a Tlāhuihpochtli – a descendant of Aztec vampires. She’s also bisexual and one of the best female characters I’ve ever read about. This book completely subverts the usual inexperienced girl/broody vampire dynamic by having a soft boy and a dangerous, mysterious girl as the main characters. I don’t know why I don’t hear more people talk about this book since it’s one of the most interesting urban fantasy novels I’ve ever read – its portrayal of vampires was something I had never seen before.


A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

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  • this is: a lushly written space fantasy retelling of the Mahabharata.
  • I rated it 4.5 stars.

I hate the lost princess trope and this book made me like it, but that’s the magic of good writing, interesting plot, and great atmosphere. Here you’ll find gods, palaces floating among nebulas, deadly but talkative spaceships, and intrigue – yes, this book’s political intrigue is as good as it gets in YA. Also, I found many (spoiler-y) aspects of it really subversive and I really think this series doesn’t get even half of the recognition it deserves.


A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

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  • this is: a Lovecraftian Southern Gothic novella following a black bluesman and the cursed music that won’t let him go
  • I rated it 5 stars.

I’ve been talking about how good and underrated Cassandra Khaw is since before I started this blog, but I always feel like I’m screaming to the void. Which makes sense: if you’re ever in the mood for things about screaming and voids, you should really read Cassandra Khaw’s fiction. Or, do you want to read something about fighting your monsters in which the writing in stunning? Pick up A Song for Quiet.


The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

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  • this is: a YA horror with an f/f romance following what may or may not be a haunting
  • I rated it 5 stars.

This is a delightfully creepy and very gay YA book with a great wintry atmosphere and mental illness representation I loved. No one talks about it, and in a way I get that this would be a very polarizing and not hyped read even if more people read it, because the main reasons this worked for me so much are very personal, but… this has less than 500 ratings on goodreads and it deserves better.


For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

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  • this is: a YA fantasy book about a girl who is able to make shadow puppets through necromancy
  • I rated it 4 stars.

I really don’t get why this isn’t more popular. It’s one of the best fantasy books I read in 2018, and yes, at times it is formulaic, but… so are all 90% of YA fantasy books that get popular? This approaches a lot of topics – like colonization and living with bipolar disorder* – with nuance, and has a really interesting cast of characters I loved. It also has solid worldbuilding (it’s set in a country inspired by Southeast Asia during French colonization), it’s told in a mixed media format (maps! sheet music! plays!) and features the most original portrayal of necromancy I’ve ever seen. This really is a hidden gem.

*I thought that went without saying, but: don’t listen to reviews that say things like “I’m not [x] but I thought that this book, that had ownvoices representation of [x], represented [x] badly”. In this case, [x]= bipolar disorder, but it could be any other marginalization.


Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

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  • this is: a collection of sci-fantasy short stories
  • I rated it 5 stars

Yoon Ha Lee’s other books are reasonably well-known, but his collection of short stories? I’ve never seen anyone talk about it, which is a shame, because this has some of the most gorgeous short fiction I’ve ever read in it (Ghostweight!!), featuring necromancy, books that grow teeth, characters that come to life, fallen space cities, war-kites, deadly origami, and weapons that can erase a person’s ancestry. It deals with themes like colonization, the importance of language and the cost of war, all the stories are beautifully written and worth your time.


What are some great books you never hear anyone talk about?

Weekly

T10T: Hidden Gems

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 Hidden Gems.

Which books haven’t been talked about as much or haven’t been marketed as strongly that you think deserve some recognition?

Or “books I always scream about, but I don’t feel like enough people are screaming about them and that’s A Problem”.


The Dark Beneath the Ice

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The Dark Beneath the Ice is a YA horror book that just came out in August. I started reading it the day it was released, because I couldn’t not read a horror book with a f/f relationship in it, and now it’s one of my favorite books. It’s a story about being a mentally ill teenage girl, but told through paranormal metaphors. I loved the representation of mental illness here – it’s a story about self-hate and how toxic avoidance can be as a coping mechanism – and the romance was really sweet too, which was a warm note in a very creepy, dark book. The atmosphere was also wonderful – I felt cold in the middle of August! – and I can’t believe I haven’t heard many people talk about this.


A Spark of White Fire

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I know A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna just came out, but it’s getting very little hype and I don’t want this genre-bending space fantasy gem to remain hidden. This retelling of the Mahabharata is probably the best YA space opera I’ve ever read – not only because I love genre-bending books and this is a fantasy story set in space, but also because it’s a young adult book that gets political intrigue right. There are no good and bad people, everyone is wrong and probably wants the throne, and war may or may not be unavoidable.


Temper

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Nicky Drayden’s debut, The Prey of Gods, isn’t that well-known either, but at least I had heard some people talk about it (or I wouldn’t have found it). I haven’t heard much about Temper, however – which is a shame, because this is even better and one of the most imaginative SFF I’ve read in a while. Temper is set in a alternate universe Cape Town in which colonialism didn’t happen, and it’s a genre-bending story involving demonic possessions, the conflict between religion and science, and one of the weirdest magical schools ever. Temper is set in a society where there are four different genders one person can be assigned at birth, which was really interesting. Also, all-black cast!


The Gallery of Unfinished Girls

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The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is my favorite YA standalone and the definition of a hidden gem, which is also why I’m always talking about it. This is a coming-of-age magical realism story following a bisexual Puerto Rican painter, Mercedes Moreno, as she struggles with artist’s block and perfectionism. I have never read another story that captured so well the awkwardness and magic of being a teenage girl. It’s a nostalgic, hopeful book about moving on, and about the fact that life is worth living even with all its imperfections. It’s a beautiful story and I can’t believe that it’s been a year and it still has less than 500 ratings on goodreads.


Dominion of the Fallen series

The Dominion of the Fallen series is a historical fantasy series about feuding fallen angels set in post-apocalyptic Paris, with a diverse cast – between the first two books, we have addiction rep, many main characters of color (mainly Vietnamese), and many queer characters (established f/f couples, in the second book also a m/m couple and a trans main character). It’s now one of my favorite series. It’s very atmospheric and dark and it has the best political intrigue.


Witchmark

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Witchmark is a paranormal murder mystery with steampunk aspects which reads like a really sweet m/m romance. Its premise is unlike everything I had read before, and it’s one of those stories that use typical romance tropes in a way that makes the journey really enjoyable even if you already know the ending. It came out in June 2018 and I haven’t heard many people talk about it, which is a shame because this is a beautiful story and why would you want to pass on a m/m romance between a human and a paranormal fae-like creature when there’s also murder involved?


Under the Pendulum Sun

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Do you like Gothic fantasy? Do you like to read stories about the fae? Do you like fae stories even though when you read them you always feel like they never go far enough – because the fae are never creepy enough or as messed up as inhuman creatures would certainly be? Read Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng, it’s about Victorian missionaries in fairyland and everything that can possibly go wrong does. And yes, the sun is literally a pendulum.


Three Sides of a Heart

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I usually say that all short fiction is underrated, and I still think this, but most of the time YA anthologies aren’t too underhyped. But after Three Sides of a Heart was released, I’ve heard almost no one talk about it.
This is my favorite YA anthology, because it shows the still unexplored potential of the love triangle trope: even if that trope is overused, there are so many kinds of love triangles you’ve probably never seen in YA books. My favorite stories were Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton (f/f/m polyamory, my all-time favorite YA short story), Vega by Brenna Yovanoff (a triangle between a girl, a boy and a city) and Unus, Duo, Tres by Bethany Hagen (m/m/f polyamorous vampires).


The Wicker King

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Do you want to read something really short and really weird that kind of has a fairytale vibe and it’s about messed up teenagers and will give you too many emotions you didn’t ask for? Read The Wicker King by K Ancrum. Also, it has a polyamorous m/m/f relationship in it (even though it focuses more on the m/m side of it) and that’s very uncommon in YA.
This book isn’t that well-known but almost all my goodreads friends who read it loved it and if you haven’t read it yet you should! It’s the weirdest and I promise that you won’t forget it easily.


A Line in the Dark

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A Line in the Dark is a very weird, genre-bending underrated book. It follows Jess Wong, a Chinese-American lesbian, and it’s a story about toxic friendships, the line between love and obsession, and the messiest f/f/f love triangle ever. No wonder it involves murder.
The first half of this book is told in first person and it’s a quiet, kind of creepy slice-of-life story, the second half is a murder mystery told in third person. It’s the kind of story I couldn’t stop reading, and I always love when books involving mysteries are addicting. [Also, it’s an evil murder book but no lesbians die.]


Have you read any of these? Are they on your TBR? Do you have any recommendations for books that are underrated/underhyped?

Weekly

T5W: Underrated Books + Hidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre(s)

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This is T5W Rewind Month, which means I get to choose a topic between all the past ones. I chose Underrated BooksHidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre.

What underrated means for me: I don’t hear enough people talk about it and/or it had less than 1600 ratings on goodreads when I wrote this post.

I also chose to cheat because there’s no way I could only choose five, and what you get is three underrated books from five genres I love.


Weird Contemporary Fiction

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz: This contemporary novel with magical realism aspects follows bisexual Puerto Rican painter Mercedes Moreno. It’s about growing up and the hidden magic of everyday life. It’s the best coming-of-age novel I’ve ever read and was also my favorite YA release of 2017, but unfortunately it received very little hype and it’s the definition of a hidden gem.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda LoHalf quiet slice-of-life and half mystery, this books follows a love triangle between three lesbians, with a Chinese-American main character. It’s a story about the lines between friendship, unrequited love and obsession. I couldn’t put it down because of the flawed, morally gray characters.

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson: Considering how well-loved the other books by this author are, I’m surprised by how little hype The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza got. It’s a contemporary book about choices with a speculative twist, and it  follows a bisexual Cuban magical girl. It’s very weird and more people should read it.


Historical

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages: this is a quiet novella set in San Francisco in 1940. It follows a group of queer women, some of which are magical, and it has a very cute f/f romance. It’s a quick read with a wonderful atmosphere.

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng: This book follows two Victorian missionaries in fairyland, and of course everything goes wrong. I can’t say much without spoilers, but I definitely recommend it if you like seriously messed up faeries, mind games and dark stories.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee: another book set in San Francisco, but in 1906 – and this time there’s no magic, but there’s an earthquake. This book follows Chinese-American Mercy Wong and how the earthquake changed her life. A very underrated YA novel about friendship and the only realistic historical book I’ve ever loved.


Science Fiction

Want by Cindy Pon: If you like the idea of dystopian books but are tired of “America, but slightly uglier” settings, Want is a dystopian book set in Taiwan with really interesting aesthetics (near-future sci-fi technology side-by-side with ancient buildings), themes (this is a story about class privilege) and a great ensemble cast. Also, heist plot!

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard: My favorite novella of the year so far. The Tea Master and the Detective isn’t from Tor.com, so I feel like many people don’t even know it exists – which is a shame, since it’s Vietnamese-inspired space opera and a Sherlock Holmes retelling in space in which Holmes is a woman and Watson is a sentient spaceship.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden: A bizarre sci-fantary novel set in South Africa that feels as if it’s on drugs. There’s implied crab/porpoise drug-induced sex during the first chapter and an invasion of dik-diks. Sometimes it was just too much, but I loved the characters, and it’s also very queer. Try this; you won’t forget it.


High Fantasy

Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett: An underrated fantasy novel set in a kingdom inspired by the Himalayas in which the goal isn’t saving the world, defeating an enemy or winning a game: it’s climbing the highest mountain. If you like slow, atmospheric fantasy stories with many magical creatures, mythology and evil plot twists, try this book.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera: It shouldn’t surprise me that f/f stories get ignored often, but this book is about warrior lesbian princesses who fight demons and are fated lovers, and I don’t understand why no one is reading this. One of the best epic fantasy books I’ve read in the last years.
[While this is inspired by Japanese and Mongolian cultures, I wouldn’t recommend it for that, I’ve heard that aspect isn’t done well at all]

Tensorate series by JY Yang: My favorite novella series at the moment. It’s a sci-fantasy story set in an East and Southeast Asian-inspired world. It deals with themes such as grief, family and the balance between magic and science. I love the worldbuilding because it’s beautiful (the best descriptions and magic system) and trans-inclusive.


Urban Fantasy

Darkling by Brooklyn Ray: another underhyped novella, the beginning of the Port Lewis Witches series; it’s a witch-y m/m romance with a trans main character and an interesting atmosphere. I loved all the characters, and it’s a very quick, light read if you do not mind blood magic.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger: an urban fantasy book that received very little hype, it’s a story about demon-fighting bartenders (with magical drinks!) in Chicago featuring a Chinese-American heroine, and it’s as fun and light as it sounds. Couldn’t put it down.

Paris Adrift by EJ Swift: Time travel in Paris! It has the best atmosphere, of course, and it also gets really political; I had never seen speculative fiction address the rise of neo-fascism before. I didn’t love the beginning, but the problems I had with it weren’t in the second half (which was wonderful) and I loved the depiction of the main character’s panic disorder.


Which of your favorite books deserve more hype? Recommend me some hidden gems.

Weekly

T5W: Hidden Fantasy Gems

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is  Hidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre.

What are some of your favorite books in your favorite genre that don’t get a lot of hype?

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a favorite genre. My favorite book is a weird mix of sci-fi and fantasy in space, and most of my favorites are in some way genre-bending. But the genre I read the most is fantasy, so this is a list of hidden fantasy gems.


Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

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Under the Pendulum Sun is worth your time just because of how weird it is. Do you want to read about a hidden Gothic fairyland with the creepiest fae ever, where the sun is literally a pendulum and the moon is a fish? Do you want to read about missionaries having theological debates with fae queens? Do you want to read about clockwork fae masquerades? Try this. If you like weird, you won’t be disappointed. And just look at that cover.


Tensorate by JY Yang

Tensorate is a quartet of novellas (the cover of To Ascend to Godhood hasn’t been revealed yet) set in a fantasy world inspired by East and Southeast Asian mythology. It explores themes of family, grief and the conflict between magic and technology, and it has an all-queer cast. It’s currently my favorite novella series because of its characters and worldbuilding – I love this world and all the magical creatures in it.


The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

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The Tiger’s Daughter is an epic fantasy book about two warrior heirs who fall in love while fighting demons, bandits and an evil emperor. It’s a slow epistolary novel, so don’t expect a fast-paced adventure, but if you want a slow-burn f/f romance, here it is. I love both Shefali and Shizuka and I can’t wait to read more about them in The Phoenix Empress. It’s the only f/f adult fantasy series I found so far and I think it should get more hype. It’s not flawless, but it’s really important to me.


Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

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Do you like modern fairytale retellings that aren’t based on the same three western fairytales? Do you want to read beautiful, macabre descriptions? Vassa in the Night is a modern retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful set in a fantasy Brooklyn in which Baba Yaga’s stores walk around on chicken legs. It’s one of the weirdest YA books ever written and I will never stop screaming at all of you to read it.


Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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Of all the books on this list, this is the only one that received a decent (still too small) amount of positive hype, but I will talk about it regardless because it’s been a few months since the release date and I feel like people are already forgetting that this beautiful, quiet, subversive f/f retelling of Snow White exists. And that would be a shame.


Do you have a favorite genre? Have you read any of these?