Book review

Three Three-Star Reviews

Three stars as a rating can mean so many things! They’re often either 1) a book I had no expectation for that ended up being good but not great or 2) a book I was expecting to love that ended up being good but not as good as I wanted it to be.

Today, book one is category #2, book two is category #1, and book three is neither.

20734002Anna-Marie McLemore has improved a lot since her debut.

She’s one of my favorite authors, she has written one of my favorite books ever (When the Moon Was Ours) and another I really liked (Wild Beauty). This one, however, just wasn’t as good. It lacked the grace that I associate with McLemore’s writing, and the meticulous attention to details that I love about her books.

This is not to say The Weight of Feathers isn’t a solid, beautifully-written book. It is, but the combination of my expectations and some tropes I don’t care much about – have I ever really cared about a forbidden Romeo-and-Juliet situation in my reading life – meant that I ended up not feeling strongly about it, hence the three stars.

Another thing that didn’t really work for me was the ending. I’m not at my best lately, so it may be just me, but I found some of the things that happened somewhat confusing and the story felt very open-ended. Especially the whole evil chemical plant thing. Maybe I did really miss something.

Also, it took me half of this book to accept that the male main character was called Cluck, which is probably the worst name in YA lit, a genre full of Caelaeneas and Evelayns. Not only it’s ugly, it’s also apparently a slang word for drug addict? Why did this happen

I know this review sounded negative so far, but I did like some parts of this. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the romance, while it wasn’t really my kind of thing, was well-written. Reading about two feuding, traveling families (one that performs as mermaids, the other as faeries) was really interesting – even though this is oddly not the first book I’ve read about a latinx performing mermaid.
This book also says some really interesting things about prejudice and getting out of a toxic family situation. (Be aware that this book has an explicit portrayal of physical abuse. It’s also full of challenged anti-Romani slurs)

Anyway, this was good but not that memorable, and I hope I’ll be able to get to Blanca & Roja this month too because I’m sure I’m going to love it.

My rating: ★★★¼

37570551This wasn’t perfect, but queer fiction about fighting bigots is the best kind of fiction.
Creatures of Want and Ruin follows Ellie, a moonshine smuggler in prohibition-era Long Island. She is a polyamorous woman in an open relationship with a bisexual man, and in this story she will have to fight demon-raising bigots masquerading as religious people with the help of her diverse group of friends.

I thought I wasn’t going to like this book. I DNFed its companion prequel earlier this year, and I still don’t recommend it, but the good thing is that you don’t need to read it to understand this one. It’s just set in the same world, but it feels darker, and it features really creepy fungi that almost feel lovecraftian.

I thought this book said some really interesting things about what it’s like to love a place even though the people who live there with you hate everything you stand for. Bigots are people who project their insecurities on people who – according to them – don’t belong there, but just because there are bigots, it doesn’t mean the place you grew up is any less a part of you, any less yours.
This book also talked about how bigotry works in general, and it was really interesting – and heartbreaking – to read.

However, there were many things I didn’t love about Creatures of Want and Ruin. First of all, it’s full of infodumps, and the main reason I read this book so quickly is that I skimmed a lot. Also, I didn’t like how a certain disabled character is basically used as a plot device throughout the entire story.
This story is told through two PoVs: Ellie’s and Fin’s. Fin’s just wasn’t as interesting, I didn’t care about her failed marriage – the resolution of that was obvious from the start – but I did end up liking how she and Ellie became allies. I also liked the side characters, there was black and Cuban side representation here.

My rating: ★★★

37534901What The Consuming Fire lacks in depth, it makes up for in entertainment and solid plotting.
While reading this sequel, I finally understood what exactly wasn’t working for me when I reread – and loved a lot less – The Collapsing Empire. It’s about the relationships. And with that I do not mean only the romance, even though it’s part of the problem.
Every relationship the characters have in this book has basically no depth to it, even when the character involved aren’t completely flat (and they often are).

In this installment, Marce and Cardenia like each other because… plot? Because they’re a man and a woman? I don’t know, and it’s been a while since I read a relationship so lacking in chemistry, and it’s not like Kiva Lagos (whom I love) and her female love interest are that much more convincing either. Yes, I love that there was bisexual rep and an f/f relationship, but the romantic subplots are flat and the author didn’t convince me that any of the characters were even only physically attracted to anyone. The “friendships” and mother-daughter relationship do not feel fleshed out in any way either.

Which is a shame, because this series is so much fun. It’s such a wild ride, I couldn’t stop reading, and the plot twists truly surprised me. It’s twisted and political and full of intrigue and all the things I love. I only wish it wasn’t so plot-driven it’s almost impossible to actually get attached to anyone.

It even says a lot of interesting things about how societies and empires work, and about the role of religion in empires. The thing is, fast-paced fun books with flat characters and character interactions don’t feel as fast-paced and fun when you reread them, and this means this series will ultimately end up being forgettable, no matter the interesting worldbuilding, themes and plot.

My rating: ★★★¼


Adult · Book review · Sci-fi · Short fiction

Reviews: Space Opera Edition

19175494On a Red Station, Drifting is a novella set in the Xuya universe, the first according to publication order, and of course I unintentionally read this (companion) series backwards. It also ended up being my least favorite so far.
…which means I can tell you that this series gets better with each book.

This novella is a story about the repercussions of war on a space station. We do not actually see anything about the war, but we see how the station struggles with resources when more and more refugees come in. I thought this was a really interesting choice, and that’s one of the things I like the most about this series – it focuses on the stories we usually do not see in sci-fi books. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about space battles, but I also like to read about characters living their lives in space. This kind of point of view usually gets ignored.

It’s also a story about family and the way difficult circumstances tend to strain those bonds. Many of the characters in this story resent each other – Quyen is looking for control while the station’s AI is deteriorating, Linh is dealing with the consequences of choices made on a distant planet, and other characters are looking for escape, or desperately trying to challenge inequality with the wrong means.
The characters’ decisions were never unbelievable, but the constant clashes between them, paired with the (very short) length of this story, prevented me from ever really caring about anyone.

The main reason I didn’t like this story as much as the other two novellas was the way it talked about suicide. I don’t want to spoil anything, but what happened felt a lot like the usual “suicide is selfish” narrative. Now, I know the characters’ thoughts about that are both due to the fact that they were obviously upset and also to the way their culture thinks about suicide, but it still hurt to read. I wish I had know it was there, because now I kind of wish I hadn’t read it. I prefer to believe basic mental health awareness exists in space.

Anyway, I still really enjoyed many aspects of this book – mainly because I love the worldbuilding. It’s set in a Vietnamese space empire, and with every novella I get to know more about the details, from the way marriage is seen to the inequalities that exist in this universe. My favorite parts are always the ones that have to do with Minds, and the station’s AI was my favorite character in this book.

My rating: ★★★¼

TheCollapsingEmpireI thought I hated sci-fi books. That was before I decided to try the adult ones instead of limiting myself to YA, as YA sci-fi tends to disappoint me more often than not.

The Collapsing Empire is one of the books that helped me understand I actually love this genre, and I’m so glad I decided to pick it up. I may haven’t found a young adult book that gets the mix of politics, science and action right yet, but this one does. It’s also surprisingly easy to read, for an adult book heavy on politics. It’s violent, but it also made me laugh a lot.

The first time I read it, I rated this book a full five because I was surprised by how much I liked it. With this reread, I decided to lower it to 4.5: some of the character weren’t as developed or as interesting as they should have been.

It mainly follows three PoVs:
🌟 Cardenia Wu, the new empress, who is trying her best to rule a collapsing empire. Deserves better, but she’s kind of bland;
🌟 Marce Claremont, a physicist. He’s kind of a stereotypical character, as he’s a socially awkward, physically weak scientist, and while I didn’t feel strongly about him, I did end up liking him;
🌟 Kiva Lagos, merchant and disaster bisexual (it’s canon!) whose vocabulary is mainly composed by swear words. This would have been irritating in any other book, but not here – I loved her and her rude pragmatism a lot, she’s my favorite PoV character.

One thing that I missed the first time I read this book was the environmentalism. The empire is falling apart, but (most of) the people in power are either in denial or trying to make more money out of the situation, because priorities. It’s really entertaining how disgusting some people – like the villainous Nohamapetan family – can be in those situations, but the parallels with global warming aren’t as fun.

My rating: ★★★★½