Adult · lists

Books That Will Cause Problems On Purpose

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

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


Low-Level Problems

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

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

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

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

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


Medium-Level Problems

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

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

Radiance

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


High-Level Problems

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

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

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


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

lists

Least Favorite Books of 2019

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

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

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


#8: Ruse

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

#7: The Nowhere Girls

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

For next year: no feminism 101 books.

#6: Girls of Storm and Shadow

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

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

#5: Here There Are Monsters

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

#4: After the Eclipse

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

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

#3: The Waking Forest

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

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

#2: Nevernight

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

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

#1: If We Were Villains

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

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


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

lists

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

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Audio Freebie. Since I don’t listen to audiobooks and don’t have a lot to say about music, I’m ignoring the “audio” part completely, and I’m going to make a list of books I don’t talk about often (and why).

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

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


American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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


God’s War by Kameron Hurley

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

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

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

Ash by Malinda Lo

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

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


How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

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

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


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

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

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


Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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

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


Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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

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

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


Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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

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


American Panda by Gloria Chao

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

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


The Price Guite to the Occult by Leslye Walton

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

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


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

lists · Short fiction

Favorites of 2018: 10 Favorite Novellas, Comics, Poetry, Anthologies & More

It’s time for the end-of-the-year lists of favorites!

This is the post in which I list my favorites that aren’t novels or that it would be unfair to compare to traditional novels (because they’re too short, because they’re written in a format I’m not used to). Unlike my list of favorite novels, they are in no particular order.


Monstress Vol. 2 by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

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This comic finally got translated in my country, and I’m so glad it did, since it’s a story about an angry monster girl in a steampunk Asian matriarchy which is also kind of gay (and then explicitly gay later on) and we usually don’t get this. The art is gorgeous enough that I don’t mind the significant amount of graphic gore, and it’s probably the main reason I love this series so much (the art, not the gore. Sometimes I had to look away). Also the plot is very intricate and the narration doesn’t talk down to the reader, which I really appreciate – if you want something that is like a darker Daughter of Smoke and Bone which is as beautiful as Laini Taylor’s writing because of Sana Takeda’s art, read this!

Twisted Romance Vol. 1, edited by Alex de Campi

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I picked up this anthology of short comics and prose short fiction on a whim, and it’s probably one of the best choices I made in 2018. It has all my favorite aspects of the romance genre – it’s queer, it’s diverse, it explores “unconventional” love stories – without what usually doesn’t work for me in romance novels, which is the length (…I get why people love slow-burn stories, but my attention span can’t do it). There’s polyamory, there are monster romances, there are discussions of abusive relationships and consent. It’s so good and I didn’t even mind that I ended up liking the prose short stories more than the comic parts (which were also really good).

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

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Conservation of Shadows is my favorite short story collection. I already knew I was going to like this because I had loved everything I had read by Yoon Ha Lee before, but some of these short stories managed to surprise me anyway. Not only is the first story, Ghostweight, probably one of my favorite short stories and one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever read, but there was so much variety here. From stories about colonization to tactical linguistics, from quantum chess in space to a story built around an ancestry-erasing gun? So many interesting concepts. I still remember every story vividly, and it’s been months.

Three Sides of a Heart, edited by Natalie C. Parker

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Three Sides of a Heart is the anthology that made me realize I actually really like love triangles. Not every story in it worked for me, but so many of them did, and they made me understand how little YA books have actually explored the potential of this trope while overusing it. Queer love triangles! Love triangles that end in polyamory! This book is full of them, and now I want all of these things in novels too. However, I would be completely fine if I never saw the “straight girl is torn between straight bad boy and straight best friend” version again.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

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The Tea Master and the Detective is a sci-fi retelling of Sherlock Holmes in which Holmes is a Vietnamese woman, Long Chau, and Watson is a sentient spaceship, The Shadow’s Child. You don’t need to know anything about Sherlock Holmes (I don’t, not really) or to have read the other companion novellas in the Xuya series (I read them after this one) to understand this. I loved everything about this world, from the idea of deep space to the way sentient spaceships, the “minds”, were portrayed, but what I liked the most were The Shadow’s Child and Long Chau’s interactions. I love non-romantic human/AI relationships and this was no exception. Also, to see “cold”, competent women who are not in a romantic relationship nor seeking one means a lot to me.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

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I just said I like non-romantic human/AI interactions, but this made me discover I also like the AI/AI ones. I think Artificial Condition by Martha Wells is the only book I’ve read which had a relevant one, and I think Murderbot and ART’s interactions (…”ART” is the way Murderbot calls the spaceship, and it actually means “asshole research transport”, if you’re wondering how their “friendship” is like) were the main reason I ended up liking this second novella more than the other two in the series. Anyway, if you ever want to read about a bot with anxiety who is just trying its best to get the irrational humans out of danger, read this series!

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

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The Black God’s Drums is an alt-history steampunk novella set in New Orleans in a version of American history in which the Civil War ended with a truce, and it follows a young black girl who has been touched by Oya, the orisha of storms. What I loved the most was the atmosphere and setting, the way the fictional technology met the magic, but I also really liked reading Creeper/Jaqueline’s PoV and her interactions with the Trinidadian airship captain.

Darkling by Brooklyn Ray

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Novellas are the best format for romance! Anyway, this is a series about a group of queer witches, and this first book follows Ryder, who is trans, in love with his friend Liam, and hiding that he’s a necromancer. I loved reading about this couple – the friends-to-lovers trope usually doesn’t work for me as much as I want it to but here it was perfect – and about all the side characters (Ryder’s sister was my favorite). I also really liked the rainy, dark atmosphere of Port Lewis.

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Technically, this one is a novel. It’s just that it didn’t feel fair to me to compare it with books that had 300+ pages since it doesn’t even reach 150. It would have had so much competition on the favorite novels list (which I’m going to post on January 1) and I didn’t want this book to not end up on a list of favorites (when it is one) just because I spent less time with the characters.

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…post-colonial f/f Beauty and the Beast retelling featuring a Vietnamese cast, in which the Beast is a shapeshifting dragon? Of course I had to read it and it was just as good as I hoped it would be. Yên and Vu Côn are one of my favorite couples of the year and I loved the setting just as much – there are few settings I love as much as creepy and dangerous but very pretty palaces. Also, the themes. This is a Beauty and the Beast retelling in which the main character’s agency is important and so is consent (which I wish were more common in this kind of stories), and it’s a story about living in a broken world but trying to make the best of it.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

This is also a novel! A poetry novel. Again, it’s a favorite that I didn’t want to not end up on a “favorite” list just because it was written in a format I’m not used to.

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The Poet X is a beautiful story about self-discovery, first love and what it’s like to grow up in a religious environment (specifically Catholic) when you’re not a believer – or at least disagree with a significant number of things that the people around you believe (about what it should be the role of women, about sexuality, about self-expression). It follows Xiomara, a Dominican-American teen girl, and it talks about harassment, growing up with strict parents, and finding your voice through writing. As I grew up in a Catholic environment too and hated almost every moment of it, I could see myself in many of the things Xiomara thought and felt, and some of the poems here made me tear up.


What were your favorite books of 2018 that weren’t novels/weren’t written in a way you were used to?

lists

15 New Releases to Read Before the End of the Year

My favorite posts to write are the end-of-the-year lists, those in which I talk about my favorite and least favorite books of the year. They’re also some of my favorite posts to read.

When I write those lists, I always hope there are a lot of new releases that aren’t sequels on them – not because the backlist isn’t important to me, but because I want new books, especially debuts, to end up on my “favorite” lists the year they get published.

I don’t know if any of you care about this, but even if you don’t, here are 15 books that came out in 2018, some of which very underrated, that are worth reading and may even end up on your “favorites” list, if we have similar tastes! Some of them certainly made it to mine.


YA Contemporary

I think 2018 has been a great year for contemporary books. Not only this genre is years ahead of YA fantasy in terms of diversity, I also love how easy it is to find fun stories and really powerful ones at the same time.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (debut) – I feel like I don’t talk about this book enough. This is a poetry book, the only poetry book I’ve ever liked, and yes, it’s worth trying even if you don’t love poetry (I don’t, usually). It’s that good. It follows Xiomara Batista, an afro-latina girl, and her struggles with religion, sexuality as a woman growing up in a Catholic family, and body image.

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow – a wonderful story about recovery (from trauma, from addiction and from a toxic relationship) following three girls who were once friends as they reconnect through music. It deals with teen pregnancy without sounding like a cautionary tale, and there’s a very cute f/f romance. It’s a very emotional book and I loved all of it; it also has really good mental illness representation.

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo – this is the perfect summer contemporary, so I understand if people don’t want to read it in December, but I read it when it wasn’t summer and loved it anyways. It’s a story about family and friendship told from the point of view of Clara, a Korean-Brazilian girl living in Los Angeles who is known for being a prankster. It has the best food description (parts of it are set in a Korean-Brazilian food truck) and it’s the kind of fun, cute contemporary that doesn’t feel trite even though it’s predictable, the kind I can’t get enough of.


Unique Retellings

Retelling are everywhere these days, and not all of them are good or as original as I’d want them to be. But this year I found some that were both well-written and unique – because they were either a new take on a familiar story, or retellings of a story I had never seen retold before.

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna – this is a space fantasy retelling of the Mahabharata, and it’s both ownvoices and an awesome story full of well-written political intrigue. Also, the setting is unlike everything I had ever read before (I love genre-bending stories!) and this is the first book that made me actually like the lost princess trope. It’s great and really underrated (less than 200 ratings on goodreads!), if you like political fantasy and/or space operas, try this!

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke – genderbent Beowulf. That was enough for me to read it, but if that’s not enough for you, what about: a gang of norse female warriors + a witch + a soft healer boy who decide to leave mercy killing behind to go on a quest and slay a monster (not because they had to but because they can and they want to?) Also, no romance, sex positivity, and so much sapphic subtext. I loved every moment of this atmospheric, almost nostalgic story – it’s surprisingly quiet, but that’s what made it stand out from many other YA fantasy books.

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard – my favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling, and I’ve read many. This is an f/f version in which the “beast” is actually a shapeshifting dragon, and the whole cast is Vietnamese. I also loved the setting, this book takes place in a terrifying but beautiful palace in which every door can lead to danger. My favorite aspect was, of course, the romance – I had been looking for this kind of f/f content for a while and I’m so glad I read this novella.


Historical Fantasy

Fantasy books inspired by past real-world situations. I thought I didn’t like this kind of novels, but 2018 proved me wrong – there are so many great historical fantasy releases!

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark – an alternate history novel set in New Orleans in a world in which the American Civil War ended with a truce. It follows a young black girl who has been blessed by the orisha of storms, Oya, and it’s a short, atmospheric read. I want to know more about this world, I loved the main character and many of the side ones (especially the bisexual airship captain) and I also loved the steampunk aspects, of course.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk (debut) – this book is so many things. A paranormal m/m romance, a gaslamp mystery about class privilege, a story about the way society fails veterans set in a world inspired by Edwardian England. It’s so many things and it manages to explore all of these aspects, none of them fell flat. I love this book and I wish it were more hyped.

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig – this fantasy book is set in a fictional world inspired by Southeast Asia during French colonization. It’s a story about a bipolar girl trying to survive in a world in which people with her magical powers are hunted down and killed. She’s a necromancer, and this book has the most original portrayal of necromancy I’ve ever read – Jetta uses her powers to make shadow plays. Another really unique thing about For a Muse of Fire is that it’s told in a mixed media format, and I loved seeing this in a fantasy book. I don’t know why I haven’t heard many people talk about it, it’s a really good YA fantasy.


Miscellaneous Fantasy Releases

Other fantasy books I loved. This year there weren’t as many as I wanted them to be, which is sad but it also makes easier to write lists.

Temper by Nicky Drayden – an underhyped adult fantasy release set in an alternate-history Cape Town in which colonization never happened. It’s fast-paced, messy and fun in a way few adult fantasy books are, it doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s also one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. The main characters are terrible people I’d normally hate, and yet this book makes it work. There are so many plot twists in here I didn’t see coming, and that happens more rarely than it should.

Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift – Time travel in Paris! There are many reasons I ended up liking it after the beginning didn’t convince me. One of them is the wonderful atmopshere, another is that this was the first time I saw explicit panic attacks in a fantasy book. I also loved Hallie. She is a very reserved person – I thought she was a flat character at the beginning of the book, and was I wrong (why do I like characters who hide from themselves so much?). To this day I remember the second half of this book vividly because of how unashamedly political (we love anti-fascist fiction) it was, and for how much it felt like a fever dream. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything similar.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (debut) – one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve read in months, and I’m so glad it’s getting the recognition it deserves. It’s an f/f story set in a kingdom inspired by Malaysia (and written by a Malaysian author), and it’s about the ways women react to sexual violence, following two queer girls as they find the strength to fight back. It’s a  very dark, heavy read, but it’s worth it. The atmosphere and descriptions are beautiful, too, which somehow made the book an easier read.


Great Mental Health Rep

In 2018 I finally found some books whose anxiety/depression representation I actually liked!

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (debut) – this. book. The Astonishing Color of After is a magical realism story about a biracial Taiwanese girl reconnecting with her culture and her mother’s side of her family after her mother died by suicide, and it has the most nuanced portrayal of a mentally ill parent I’ve ever seen in fiction. Also, part of this is set in Taiwan, and I always want to support contemporary-set books that take place outside the US.

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé (debut) – this book has the best portrayal of mental illness I’ve ever read. Yes, it’s horror, anxiety horror, as it talks about anxiety and unhealthy coping mechanisms through horror metaphors. This book gets how hopeless and scary it’s like, but it doesn’t make you feel hopeless, which is a very difficult thing to achieve. If you’ve ever wanted to disappear, to fold yourself into nothing and let the world slide around your irrelevance, you’ll probably get this book. It also has a great f/f romance!

Final Draft by Riley Redgate – this contemporary book is a very honest, very heartbreaking portrayal of how anxiety affects hobbies, from the point of view of Laila, a pansexual Ecuadorian girl who is a writer. Difficult to read, but worth it – the romance is one of the best I’ve read this year, if not ever. Laila falls in love with her Korean-American best friend, Hannah, and this is the first time I’ve liked the friends to lovers trope since When the Moon Was Ours.


Have you read or want to read any of these? And if you have recommendations for underrated 2018 releases worth reading before the end of the year, I’d love to hear them!

lists

10 Books I Love But Rarely Mention on this Blog

Today it’s Wednesday, and I’d post a T5W, but I don’t have answers for this and next week’s topic.

There are some favorites I don’t talk about often enough.
Sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes they just don’t come up in T5W topics, sometimes there’s no excuse. I’m pretty sure I never mentioned at least two of these.


Persons Non Grata by Cassandra Khaw

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I have talked about the Persons Non Grata series on this blog before, but it’s on this list because I don’t talk about it as much as I should – and I love the second book in the series. Hammers on Bone is an interesting look at the noir genre and it deals with domestic abuse; A Song for Quiet is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read, a lovecraftian southern gothic novella about grief. I have loved everything I’ve read by Cassandra Khaw so far (I recommend I Built This City for You, free online, if you want to see how she writes), and she’s one of the most underrated SFF authors.


Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

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This is one of my favorite historical fiction books, which is a genre I rarely reach for, but Stacey Lee’s writing style draws me in. Outrun the Moon is about a Chinese-American girl who gets into an all-white boarding school in San Francisco right before the earthquake of 1906. I don’t talk about this one often because I haven’t read it in almost two years and I rarely talk about historical fiction, but it’s still a very good book and a perfect middle grade/YA crossover. I definitely should mention it more.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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This is one of those books I really liked but never talk about. Why? Because The Hate U Give doesn’t need my hype. If you’re here, you’re likely a YA blogger, and if you are, you’ve heard of this and not because of me. The top 5 Wednesday lists are short, and I try to prioritize books that are underhyped – that’s the reason you’re more likely to see me scream about Under the Pendulum Sun or the Tensorate series rather than The Hate U Give or Six of Crows, even if I liked all of them.


Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popović

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I don’t talk about this one often because I had mixed feelings on it: I didn’t like the characters for reasons I’m not going to get into now, but this book is really important to me because of its setting – it felt like home. I never get to experience this: all* YA books are either set in the US or in some fantasy place/space. Wicked Like a Wildfire is set on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and that’s where I live too. I’m Italian, not Montenegrin, but where I live doesn’t look so different.

*but why don’t you read Italian books then? Almost all YA books (especially SFF) are translated, so yes, I want to see these things in American books or I’ll never get them.


Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

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Borne is probably the one I talked about the most on this list, but for a book that almost made it to my top 15 of last year, I don’t talk about it enough. It’s a biopunk colorful apocalypse about a woman and the weird plant-animal-whatever-monster she adopted, who is the perfect combination of cute and dangerous. Also, there are flying bears and humans being humans, which sometimes means disaster and sometimes means good things.


The Falconer by Elizabeth May

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If you like historical fantasy/steampunk, Scotland, fairies or revenge storylines, you need to read this. It was one of my favorite books before I started blogging, and I loved the sequel (which I read last year, so I don’t think my opinion on this has changed that much). It’s about a girl who is a debutante by day and a fairy hunter/steampunk scientist by night. There’s also a romance plotline, but it isn’t the focus of the story.


The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

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I really liked this series, but it doesn’t need my hype and its fandom is nearly as toxic as SJM’s lately. (All I see is people dragging the author – you’re aware you can’t have the book without the author, right…? The Raven Cycle wouldn’t be great if taken away from Maggie Stiefvater because it doesn’t exist without Maggie Stiefvater. You’re allowed to like problematic stuff, stop acting like the author is 100% bad and the books are 100% pure, untainted material!)


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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This book is beautiful, but I don’t feel strongly about it. It’s one of those books I consider favorites but almost never think about – the setting and the writing were so beautiful I focused on them instead of the characters and plot. That’s also why I want to reread this.


The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

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I almost never talk about this because I loved the first book but the series went downhill and I’m sad. The first book is a quiet, atmospheric story about friendship and romance, there was a lot of character development and an irritating love triangle I didn’t hate just because of the mystery element. In the second and third book there isn’t a mystery element anymore and the series just wasn’t that interesting, but the first one remains one of my favorite fantasy books.


Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

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I really liked this contemporary book – I loved the main character’s voice (…this book is about a group of a cappella singers and this sounds like a pun now), but this had a crossdressing plotline and while I didn’t think it handled it terribly (at least it mentioned trans and non-binary people!), I don’t like how so many books with this trope get published when there are almost none about trans characters. And I’m always hesitant to recommend something that had a naked reveal scene in it.


Are there any books you love(d) but rarely mention?

Young adult

Low-rated Books I Love

A list of books I rated more than 3 stars whose average rating on goodreads is under 3.60. Inspired by Lala’s video on Booksandlala and by Elise’s post on thebookishactress.


Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke – average rating: 3.5; my rating: 3.5

Unsurprisingly, the list starts with a Tucholke book.

Why is this book on the list if your rating is the average rating? Because it’s a really polarizing one, and I didn’t rate it 3.5 stars because of the common critiques (no plot, unhealthy relationship, etc – which are all true) but because of the exoticization of the Italian culture/characters (that was… gross). Otherwise, a really interesting, twisted book.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – average rating: 3.5; my rating: 5

I didn’t expect this book to be on the list. It’s one of my all-time favorite YA fantasy book. The writing is beautiful, the plot is really original and the world is inspired by Hindu mythology. It’s really weird, lyrical and description-heavy, so I understand that it isn’t for everyone, but it’s just… beautiful. Also, I liked the romance, and that almost never happens.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo – average rating: 3.5; my rating: 4.75

Half dark contemporary, half mystery, this is a really unusual book (which is true for most books on this list). It’s about the twisted friendships and relationships between three lesbians. I think it should be more hyped, I had never read anything similar to this. It’s one of my favorite books of this year.

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller – average rating: 3.5; my rating: 3.5

Another fantasy book that is unfairly hated. I totally understand the bad reviews – the worldbuilding is mediocre, and there are some clichés – but I also found it really entertaining. And the bad reviews that said “the main character didn’t need to be genderfluid” are kind of gross.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury – average rating: 3.4; my rating: 4.5

A quiet, slow, underrated fantasy book. Not for everyone – there’s a love triangle and there’s hardly any action – but I loved the atmosphere and the main character.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger – average rating: 3.4; my rating: 4

One of the very few new adult books that is not a romance, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is about demon-fighting bartenders, and it’s great. Not mind-blowing, maybe, but it’s a really entertaining, quick read.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter – average rating: 3.4; my rating: 5

One of my favorite books of all times, Vassa in the Night is a whimsy, macabre, surreal retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful, set in Brooklyn. Many readers loved it because of the beautiful imagery and writing, many hated it because they didn’t understand what was going on. If you are into darker retellings and Russian fairytales, try this.

If you like the idea of Baba Yaga Stores walking around New York on chicken legs, try this.

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza – average rating: 3.3; my rating: 3.5

This was a surprise. Why is this book so hated? As far as YA sci-fi goes, this book is good. It’s fast-paced, fun, and it deals with some really important themes. Yes, the worldbuilding was terrible… just like in every YA sci-fi book ever.

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – average rating: 3.3; my rating: 4.5

Another Tucholke book! Everything about her books is weird – the writing, the plot, the characters – so I understand why they are not loved. But they’re so atmospheric…

After the Woods by Kim Savage – average rating: 3.2; my rating: 4

And the last book on this list is the first mystery book I’ve ever read. It’s not perfect – the ending was unsatisfying, and there were some spoilery things that bothered me – but the writing (especially the descriptions) were great, the woods were very creepy, and it deals with an unlikable main character in an unhealthy friendship. And I really liked it.


What are your favorite underrated books?

Weekly

T5W: Villainous Faves

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is  Problematic Faves.

Characters you don’t want to love, but you can’t help liking.

If I had to answer this – if I had to make a list of characters “I don’t want to love but I can’t help liking” my answer would be none. That’s because I don’t believe characters can be problematic, and I have no problems with liking villains.

Yes, characters can do bad things, but villains are villains for a reason (you can’t have some kinds of narratives without villains!), and if someone tells you you shouldn’t like a villain/a morally gray character… they’re wrong. Also kind of controlling and unable to understand how stories work, but this is another discussion, the one where you have to explain that liking a fictional mass murderer doesn’t mean you would ever want to emulate them.

If the books excuses villanous actions or portrays them as good, the one that’s problematic is the book, not the character. It’s always about the framing. So this isn’t a list of problematic faves – I don’t have those – but it’s a list of my favorite morally gray characters, the ones who fall on the darker end of the spectrum.


Nahadoth from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

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If you want to try a fantasy book with a not-exactly-villain/heroine romance and a diverse cast, try this one. It’s great. I haven’t read Jemisin’s new series, which is far more hyped and loved, but I almost never see anyone talk about this one? I loved it. I mean, Nahadoth is basically a genderfluid god of chaos.


Tea of the Embers from The Bone Witch

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Tea was the main reason I liked this book. She’s a bone witch, a witch that can raise monsters (the daeva) and also the dead. She currently lives on a beach full of bones and she always wear beautiful clothes. I love her.


The Darkling from Shadow and Bone

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The Darkling is the character that showed me I loved characters with an evil side. I’ve read this trilogy in 2015 and it’s still one of my favorite YA series.


Bette Abney from Tiny Pretty Things

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A mean girl, but not your stereotypical mean girl, Bette Abney is one of the three narrators of the Tiny Pretty Things series. She has one of the most interesting character arcs I’ve ever read, especially in the second book, Shiny Broken Pieces. If you want a book about messed-up teenagers (backstabbing ballerinas, but the adults are worse!) with a diverse cast that is not terribly stereotypical (I’m looking at you, The Thousandth Floor) read this duology.


Shuos Jedao from Ninefox Gambit

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I could have made a list only with characters from this book – they are all terrible, I love them – but I’m going to talk about him today. Jedao was one of the best generals in the history of the Heptarchate, up until his last battle, at Hellspin Fortress. There he destroyed two armies, one of them his own, for apparently no reason. He’s currently preserved as a many-eyed ghost – he’s too good at tactics to be killed, but it would be too dangerous to free him. He’s a chatty manipulative bastard and I didn’t expect to like him so much.


What are your favorite villainous characters? What do you think of “problematic faves”?

Weekly

T5W: Non-Horror Books that Scared You

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This week’s topic is  Non-horror Books that Scared You.

This can be entire books you found frightening or just specific scenes from those books, but discuss books that weren’t technically supposed to scare you, but did.

I don’t think I ever read a scary book that wasn’t supposed to scare the reader (or be somewhat creepy) so this is a list of creepy books that were supposed to be creepy but aren’t horror.


The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz

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The Gallery of Unfinished Girls isn’t a scary book, but some of its scenes were at the very least unsettling. Time lapses, memory loss, pictures disappearing – all the scenes set in the Estate had that feeling of not-quite-real that creeped me out a bit.


Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

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I read this more than a year and a half ago, but I remember that Wink Poppy Midnight was a twisted little book. I don’t think I understood everything that was happening, but the writing was stunning and I loved the (creepy) atmosphere.


The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

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The Stars Are Legion is known mostly for its premise (lesbians in space!) but not everyone knows how many weird and intentionally gross descriptions/themes there are in it. And believe me, it’s better to be aware of what this is before reading it. In this book there are in-depth descriptions of entrails, body horror, and people who give birth to objects. It’s disturbing at times.


I Built This City For You by Cassandra Khaw

This is one of my favorite short stories, and probably the weirdest I’ve ever read. It’s about a woman who turns into a city because her ex-girlfriend doesn’t love her anymore. Unlike other books by Cassandra Khaw, it’s not exactly horror, but it does have creepy aspects. And the writing. Every time I think about this story I want to read it out loud. And it’s free!

Hello.
Is this your city?
No, no. We understand. It is not a city yet. It is merely embryonic. Conceptual. An idea to which your bones are laced, the sinews that tether the tendons of your dreams. It is only a city in waiting, a city mid-birth, a city breathless, inexorable.


Blue Lily Lily Blue by Maggie Stefvater

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The Raven Cycle as a whole has its creepy aspects – it feels so close and so removed from reality at the same time. But nothing in the series was as creepy as the tapestry scene from Blue Lily Lily Blue, at least for me. Or the mirror magic. Also the mirror magic.


What are your favorite creepy non-horror books? Have you ever been scared by a book that wasn’t supposed to be scary?