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

30256109

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

18041972

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

Ash

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

26626118

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

36341204

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

EveryHeartaDoorway

…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

24763621

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

30320053

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

35297380

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

36629026

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?

Advertisements
lists

Least Favorite Books of 2018

Let me be negative for a moment. It’s time for the worst book of 2018, according to Acqua!

I said that I wanted to get better at DNFing as a goal for 2018, and I can say that I did. I don’t have enough completed books I didn’t like to write this list! So I’m going to talk about completed books and some DNFs that I truly disliked (so, not the ones that were just not my kind of thing). Which means that maybe I would have liked some of these more had I finished reading, and while I doubt that, those mini reviews only cover the parts I actually read.

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


#15: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

32620332

Maybe I would have liked this more had I not been spoiled for every single detail and had I not seen all the Meaningful Quotes repeated to the point of nausea, so much that they lost all their meaning when I actually saw them. I’m not sure, though, because I also deeply not care about Hollywood, American history, or realistic adult fiction, don’t like time jumps, and didn’t want to read something with this amount of (realistic, challenged) homophobia. And Celia St. James got on my nerves in every scene she appeared.
I probably shouldn’t have even read this because I kind of knew I wasn’t going to care about it much, but everyone was loving it and sometimes I like trusting people. To this day, I still haven’t seen a bad review.

#14: Radio Silence

25322449

Another case of me really not getting the hype. My main problems with this were the generic setting/complete lack of atmosphere and how this book was desperately trying to be relatable. It reminded me of Rowell’s Fangirl in that aspect, another book I didn’t like for similar reasons. Also, this book seemed to believe that Frances was so socially awkward, when in reality… she didn’t seem to be, not much? Some scenes did give me an unpleasant amount of secondhand embarrassment, but that wasn’t necessarily because of Frances or tied to a social interaction.

#13: Nice Try, Jane Sinner

33413915

This book follows a girl with depression who ends up in a reality show, and while I loved the main character’s narration, it never made up for the boring plot and underwhelming second half. It’s one of those novel that start out well but don’t deliver, it’s monotonous, and I just wanted it to end. This probably had to do with the fact that all main characters but Jane were as interesting as cardboard cutouts.

#12: The Poppy War

35068705

I don’t get it.
Ok, the first half of this was fun if not that well-paced. The second half? Dragged, spoiled itself multiple times and then tried to act like its developments were plot twists, was monotonous both in plot and in tone, relied on the violence to be interesting, and that wasn’t even worth it to me – I was just left with a sense of unease, wondering why I did this to myself. And because people are great, some decided to tell me that since I don’t like this book, it must mean that I don’t understand how war is actually like, which of course made me like this book so much more.

#11: The Unbinding of Mary Reade

32295460

This f/f story about historical pirates sounded great; the result wasn’t. There was barely any adventure, which I think pirate stories should have; the romance was weak at best; the story was so full of queerphobic violence that I didn’t want to read it anymore (there were naked gender reveal scenes of crossdressing characters, character executed for being queer, casual homophobia…) Also, the writing just wasn’t that great.

#10: Web of Frost

37913374

This was just a case of me thoroughly disliking Lindsay Smith’s writing style and finding the character development both forced (in the case of the main character) and lacking (for the side characters). Also, no atmosphere, which is really a shame since this could have been an interesting wintry read. But at least I liked the magic system?

#9: Song of Blood and Stone

36347830

This book simply had no idea of what it was doing. And I don’t mean what I said just because of the writing, which was at times atrocious (this really does describes consensual sex as “the invasion of the heroine’s body”. What is your love interest, a bacterium?). I mean that because this book tried to be both a cute, tropey romance with all the clichés royalty romances are made of, a high fantasy story about mythology and discrimination, and a gritty dieselpunk story about war involving graphic sexual assault. It was like three different books put together and the mood and tone were a mess.

Also, I know it’s not the book’s fault, but my review of this was the one that got plagiarized and that was not a fun time.

#8: The Sisters of the Winter Wood [DNF]

37854049

I don’t think I’ve ever disliked the writing of a book so much. I couldn’t continue even though I was interested in the story and liked the atmosphere. The writing prevented me from getting into the story, from getting to know the characters, from going anywhere. Also, The Sisters of the Winter Wood contains the least poetic poetry ever written. Many reviewers say that modern poets who became famous on social media can’t write poetry, but they wouldn’t complain about Rupi Kaur had they read this.

#7: Obsidio

24909347

I described this book as a “twice-reheated soup” in my goodreads review and I don’t have much to add to that. I’ve already seen all the beats and twists this book has in the first two, the format isn’t that interesting anymore, the two new characters barely had any personality… So much here happens just for shock value, but as they were things I had already seen before, they just felt cheap.

#6: Sky in the Deep [DNF]

34726469

This was… the definition of generic.
Not only it had no atmosphere and worldbuilding, it was also boring. Books that start with several chapters of non-stop, very dull action before you manage to get invested in the characters and then have no action whatsoever for the following fifty pages are not a good idea. What about the other way around?

#5: Rosewater [DNF]

38362809

This book is about a very peculiar “alien invasion” set in Nigeria from the point of view of a mediocre, self-serving misogynist who the narrative acknowledges as a mediocre, self-serving misogynist. Sadly, this book never made me understand why ever should I want to read about a mediocre, self-serving misogynist. Lampshading that your main character is the worst does not make him any more compelling! Anyway, if I’m 30% into a book and I know more about various female characters’ breasts than I do about the plot, I’m probably not going to continue.

#4: That Inevitable Victorian Thing [DNF]

25528808

And this is what happens when you don’t pay attention to your worldbuilding.
This was such a white North American attempt at inclusivity. It failed because it didn’t understand how discrimination, culture and assimilation worked. Which meant that the worldbuilding didn’t make sense. And it’s supposedly a book set in Canada about a less terrible version of colonialism… in which there isn’t one Native character in the first 40% of the book (which is the part I read). I just. Who thought this was a good idea.
Also, this book had some very weird priorities. Why have detailed discussions about theology in your world when the premise itself doesn’t make sense?

#3: Creatures of Will and Temper [DNF]

33503519

I love how the reviews of this book neglected to mention that the main relationship in this book is between a seventeen-year-old girl and a woman in her late thirties. This was so creepy to read, especially since I’m just slightly older than the protagonist, and I’m not sure it was meant to be creepy (I want to think it was, but the reviews seem to hint that they end up together and… I hope not, why would I ever want to read that?)

#2: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now

35750311

This book made me discover that I really can’t read books about religious abuse and forced religion, because of eleven years of bad memories. I would have loved to discover that with a book that didn’t downplay their consequences and kind of excuse those things. Also, there’s an autistic character here who exists just to be abused.

#1: This Darkness Mine

30249925

The most disturbing thing about this book is that it exists. The more I read, the more I realized that it had no point, or, its point was to make the reader gawk at this girl with delusions who is completely evil. You’re supposed to be entertained by how crazy!! she is. What about no.
I’ll be honest – this book has better writing that most of the books on this list, Mindy McGinnis knows how to write (that’s the main reason I didn’t DNF) but I won’t place this higher anyway.


Which were your least favorite books of 2018?

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

33540347

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

36875431

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

17913917

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

26837046

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

366865471

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

35064104

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

38118138

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

36572967

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.

Vanishers_Cover5

…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.

33294200

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

ASongforQuiet

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

9780399175411_OutrunTheMoon_BOM.indd

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

32075671

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

WickedLikeaWildfire

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

Borne

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

15791085

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

TheRavenBoys

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

9361589

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

16429619

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

31447601

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

TheHundredThousandKingdoms

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

TheBoneWitch

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

10194157

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

18710209

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

NinefoxGambit

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”?