Wrap-Up

A March Wrap-Up

I officially haven’t been out of my house for over a month! Oh, what a lovely time this has been.


Life Update

What there is to say? Not much at all, and I hope it stays that way, because the only way I see Big Events happening right now would be if something turned worse. Still, since this is a space in which the only non-bookish things I focus on are nice things, I won’t talk about that and will instead tell you that March was an absolutely amazing month for the flowers on my balcony. My favorite picture I took was this one, because I’m really happy to see that I’m far from the only one who likes the muscari:

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Armenian grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) with bumblebee

Bumblebees are the cutest insects (fuzzy!), but regular bees come here too sometimes – though for some reason I don’t see them as often on my balcony – and I love seeing all of them around.


What I Read

This month, I read 13 books, which is… the most I’ve read in a month this year, I think. Of them:

  • 5 were novels (not counting the 2 I DNFed), of which 1 was a reread
  • 2 were novellas
  • 3 were nonfiction
  • 2 were poetry collections
  • 1 was a short story collection.

Reading-wise, this was a pretty good month, but: the five star curse continues. I still haven’t rated a new novel five stars this whole year. Short stories, novellas, nonfiction, novels I reread? Yes, several. That isn’t happening with novels, for some obscure reason. Also, this month I gave out an unusual number of three stars.

The beginning of March was off to a bad start; I managed to DNF two books before I finally finished something. These two books were ARCs from before I stopped requesting them, so I’m not that surprised – I know I would have weeded out one of them had I tried a chapter of it. ARCs of full novels just aren’t worth it when I can’t even get a taste of what kind of book they’re going to be beforehand.

  • My first DNF was Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: this one put me to sleep. It took 35% of the book to even get through the things mentioned in the synopsis, and as with… pretty much all adult thrillers I tried so far, I hated every single character (well, not the main character, I just didn’t care about her). I don’t know why it seems to be such a core part of adult thrillers to portray all characters in a way that makes the reader wish they would die as soon as possible, because I don’t get it – why would I want to spend 400 pages following the problems of people I hate? I just don’t care. The writing was really good, and for someone who likes this genre, this is probably a very solid-if-slow book with an amazing atmosphere. I’m not that person, and the only thing I found interesting were the details about shark fishing (marine ecology & fisheries management brain was really interested in that, far more than anything in the story). [I also skimmed to the ending and, still, *yawn*].
  • My second DNF was Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen: this time the Try A Chapter test failed me. I liked the beginning; it felt like a fun-if-overwhelmingly-heterosexual story, and it was up until the author introduced a Chinese-Italian side character who was a walking Italian stereotype (emotionally unstable aka the dark side of the “Italians are so passionate” lie, handsy, an accent the others won’t stop mentioning: can we not) and I quit. I also think that I’m… just not going to get much out of this kind of YA contemporary anymore, and that’s one of the reasons I’m (a little reluctantly) moving towards adult contemporary fiction.

40539165._sy475_Then I finally finished (and liked!) a book, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I reviewed it here, and I can say that it was an encouraging introduction to adult contemporary fiction, though so far the main thing that stands out to me about the adult contemporaries and litfict I’ve tried, compared to both YA and adult SFF, is the amount of uncomfortable/bad sex the main characters are having. So many examples of that are found also in Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, the collection I’ve read this month (which I surprisingly didn’t love).

I then made my first attempt at a fantasy audiobook, with mixed results – not only because The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett (review) was mostly an ok book, but also because I hadn’t understood how much not knowing how to write the name of everyone but the main character would have been a pain while writing the review. Luckily I found the names in other reviews, but before that, it mostly went like this:

the audiobook: EIRHAN and FARHOD
my brain: …Airhorn? Heron and Farrhad?

The Winter Duke took me half a month, but The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon took me even longer, and not only because of how long it was; mostly because it was utterly mediocre. It’s now been a few days since I finished it, and I keep coming back to how lazy the plotting was, especially by adult fantasy standards. It’s the kind of book I mostly enjoyed while reading, but that I never wanted to pick back up again – because when I wasn’t reading it, all the things I didn’t like about it came to me more vividly than what I actually liked (as in, it’s a relatively smooth-sailing adventure fantasy with not many surprises but a really nice setting and dragons). I was also reading a physical copy, which was physically uncomfortable. As with The Winter Duke, I had a lot of mixed feelings about it, I hope I’ll be able to post my review here soon.

Uncharacteristically for me, I also read a sequel I was anticipating! Stormsong by C.L. Polk, sequel to one of my favorite books, Witchmark. I really liked it, but not as much as the first book, and I wish it had spent more time developing the romance. Still, I’m really proud of myself for finally reading three new fantasy novels.

I also had another out-of-character moment when I went on a poetry-and-nonfiction reading spree due to the free scribd trial; you can read about those five books here in detail, but to sum up:

  • 41745412I started with Soft Science by Franny Choi, a poetry collection I’ve been wanting to read for a while because of how much I liked the cover, and it was really interesting but also really confusing; probably the kind of thing one should take more time with than I did
  • soft magic. by Upile Chisala was a heartwarming, sweet, straightforward poetry collection that was overall a complete miss for me;
  • I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom was an amazing collection of essays about dysfunctional dynamics in queer communities that I think would be really useful to anyone active on queer book twitter;
  • Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, is exactly what it claims to be, focusing on the how of a different kind of justice than the one we’re accustomed to, focused on healing instead of punishment, and I really liked it as well;
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Walls Kimmerer is a book by a Potawatomi environmental biologist that should be required reading for everyone who wants to talk about ecology and human’s relationship with the environment, because the amount of people who don’t realize are spreading ecofascist rhetoric is concerning.

After that, I decided to read two novellas; reviews of both will be hopefully up soon:

Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo. I was interested in it because it was described as “for fans of JY Neon Yang’s Tensorate” and also some comparisons with Mo Dao Zu Shi characters were made – and I have to say, while I didn’t really see the latter, it did remind me of The Ascent to Godhood and I would definitely recommend it to Tensorate fans; it’s now one of my new favorite novellas. Such a wonderful, quiet book for something about an upheaval of an empire.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho, which I didn’t feel as strongly about – maybe novellas just aren’t the right format for group casts, they almost never work for me (I remember River of Teeth failing for me for that reason) – but it was a fun adventure involving brigands and badass nuns. Zen Cho really nails it when it comes to humor.

32718027The last thing I finished in March was my audiobook reread of The City of Brass, which I started the day I discovered scribd was giving everyone a free trial for which they didn’t ask credit card information (…there was no way I’d ever reread this on ebook, too long, and the audiobook would have been 25€). I keep returning to how easily this wouldn’t have happened: I was ready to give up on the series. And then, I loved it even more the second time around – it helped that I remembered everything about setup and worldbuilding and very little about the plot twists, for some very lucky reason – and now I’m ready to finally continue the series.


How was your reading month?

Wrap-Up

March 2019 Highlights

Welcome back to the Monthly Highlights series, in which I talk about what books I read, what happened this month, and recent bookish news.


What I Read

This month I read 11 novels (of which one was a reread) and 9 short stories (reviewed here). It isn’t a lot, especially if I consider that in 2016-2017 I could effortlessly reach 17, but my life isn’t what it was when I was in high school and since in the last two months I read 4 and 5 novels respectively, this is an improvement.

Books I Loved

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↬ A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is a political science fiction book about a space empire and an ambassador who is trying to understand in which circumstances her predecessor died in that space empire. Also, it’s f/f!

  • this is the kind of novel I know will end up on my “favorites of 2019” list, and I know I will never forget it, and I really hope I’m going to see it in the Nebula and Hugo shortlists
  • this is one of the best examples of political intrigue I’ve ever read. Smart, complex worldbuilding, a world you get invested in, and characters that stand out while hiding a lot. Everything you need, basically.
  • what it said about language, growing up on translated literature, and navigating two cultures when your neighbors are far more powerful that you are meant a lot to me (I explain this better in my review)
  • Complex female characters, both main and side! I loved Mahit Dzmare, a main character who changes history without ever needing a weapon or magic. And the romance? Lovely.
  • And if we’re talking about remarkable, really morally gray female side characters, ezuzuacat Nineteen Azde, “whose gracious presence illuminates the room like the edgeshine of a knife”, could stab me and I’d thank her

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The Fever King by Victoria Lee is a futuristic sci-fantasy novel featuring a main m/m romance and a Colombian Jewish main character.

  • it took over my head for a week and didn’t let go, and I still think about it multiple times a day. I almost ended up rereading it but I don’t have the time!
  • I love reading about training montages, superpowers that don’t remind me of superheroes (this book has technopathy in it and its magic system is based on knowledge and science, how cool is that) and teenagers trying their best to be heroes in a world that is made of difficult decisions
  • Noam and Dara deserve so much better!
  • I just want them to be ok, is that too much to ask
  • this was an unusual read because it’s the only book I know that worked because it was predictable and not despite its predictability, and I loved that a lot
  • we can’t talk about the villain because spoilers, but. Can we talk about the villain? He’s my favorite villain trope and he’s awful and I won’t act like that’s not the main reason this book isn’t leaving my head

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↬ Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan is a gothic Russian- and Polish-inspired YA fantasy novel about a girl who can commune with the gods and a magical war.

  • March was such a good month for villain reads. This one, if some of you don’t know that already, is a villain romance
  • this book was worth reading just because of the aesthetic and didn’t hold itself back in that aspect
  • all the characters were somewhat terrible – even if some were far more terrible than others – and I loved that
  • it was so much fun! Which I feel isn’t that easy to find in YA fantasy anymore, and I love when a book is dark but doesn’t take itself too seriously.
  • the banter! the tension! those dialogues!
  • Cosmic horror, discussions about theology, and heresy for everyone!

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↬ The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley is a military sci-fi novel following a bisexual main character in a world in which corporations own everything.

  • this was such a weird reading experience
  • I was really confused, because time travel does that to me. And this kind of novels about war is not something I enjoy reading, or so I thought for most of the book
  • However. The ending. That ending!!!!
  • This will stay with me for a long time and I think that among all of those books that try to talk about the horrors of war this is one that I feel I can recommend
  • the more I think about it the more I like it and I thought I didn’t like it at all while I was reading it
  • It’s very violent and gory (it wouldn’t be Kameron Hurley without gore?) but you don’t get out of it feeling like you hate existing and that’s something these books always fail at
  • Describing a book like this as hopeful feels weird to me because I still haven’t fully processed the ending but yes, that’s what it is
  • The Stars Are Legion is still my personal favorite – …it did get me into sci-fi – but this is book is just as (if not even more) clever
Other Reads

Some books that I didn’t feel as strongly about but still recommend:

  • The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie: a very interesting if slow-paced novel narrated in second person by a god who lives inside a rock to the main character Eolo, who is a trans man. A lot of great concepts and ideas, and an execution I found flawed. It’s Hamlet-inspired, so you might get more out of it than I did if you are familiar with that story.
  • Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite: mixed media contemporary novel! The eARC formatting gave me a headache and the plot was somewhat messy, but this is worth reading just because of the main character, he voice was amazing. Also, it’s the story about a Haitian-American girl visiting Haiti for the first time and if you liked the “reconnecting with my family and culture” theme of The Astonishing Color of After (I love this kind of stories and I’m always looking for contemporaries set outside the US), you should read this. It will be out on September 5th.
  • Ruse by Cindy Pon: I didn’t love this as much as I loved Want but it’s still a sequel worth reading. It’s set in Shanghai, which I really liked, but, unlike what the cover might make you think, it’s still mostly narrated by Zhou.
  • All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle: a really heavy contemporary fantasy novel about a lesbian who lives in a strict, Catholic Irish family. Like Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, it deals with getting to know more about your family’s history and what may or may not be a family curse, but it’s mostly about the crimes of the Catholic Church. If you agree with the idea that there’s nothing as terrible as a story untold, I really recommend this book, because it talks about historical erasure and the way institutions try to bury the tragedies they caused. Don’t go into this if you’re looking for a strong narrative voice or well-developed characters. It will be out on August 1st.

I also found the first two two stars of the year this month (The Waking Forest and The Nowhere Girls). Disappointing, but it had to happen eventually.


Life Update

My life in March:

  • In botany news, this is the season in which all the Wisteria trees (or, as we call it, “glicine”) in my city are blooming and there are some places that are so beautiful right now. However, a lot of plants bloomed in January/February and right now the weather feels as if it were June (and it has rained twice in a month and a half), which is worrying me.
  • Blooming wisterias means that it’s Carpenter Bee Time. I love my Xylocopa friends. So fuzzy.
  • On a more bookish and biopunk horror note, The Stars Are Legion was translated into Italian! I broke my “only one copy per book” rule because I couldn’t not support something like this.

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I’m not a bookstagrammer and it shows


Some Cover Reveals I Want To Talk About

  • The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco – I am not sure what this is supposed to represent but it’s one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen, so I had to talk about it here. I know nothing about the premise but I usually like Rin Chupeco’s books and this one is queer, so…
  • Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron – this is giving me a “The Library of Fates but darker” impression and I’m so here for this. It does look somewhat unnatural because of the lighting, but I don’t mind that, it’s wonderful.
  • Crier’s War by Nina Varela – f/f fantasy!! And the cover looks amazing. At first I thought it was a boring brown but the amount of details and the perfect lighting changed my mind. I hope the inside is as good.
  • A House of Rage and Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna got a cover! I can’t wait for the book but I actually hate how this looks like. The first cover was great, but this looks like a blurry mess.

Then we have Queen of Nothing by Holly BlackNinth House by Leigh Bardugo, and Queen of the Conquered by Kheryn Callender (technically revealed in April, but I want to talk about it now), which, if they look vaguely similar, it’s exactly because they’re using the same stock photo. Which most  of the book community is finding pretty funny, and I agree, and I’m just going to link you this.


How was March for you?

Wrap-Up

March 2018 Wrap-Up

After a disappointing beginning, I finally started to find some books that could be – and some of them will be – good enough to be considered favorites of 2018. Yes, many of my five stars were rereads, but that doesn’t matter, I finally don’t feel like I’m failing at reading.
I read 14 books:

  • 2 short story collections, of which one was an ARC
  • 3 rereads (two novels and a novelette)
  • 7 new novels, of which 3 were ARCs, one of them DNFed
  • I reread one of these 3 ARCs immediately after finishing it
  • 1 novella (an ARC)

Didn’t Like

Lost Gods by Micah Yongo – ★½, DNF 30%

I wanted to like this African fantasy about assassins, but the writing was terrible (one infodump after another, awkward dialogues, too many PoVs) and the book introduced a deaf character just to kill him off immediately for the main character’s development, because fridging is fun.

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp – ★★½

This is a novel about the horrors of inspiration porn, and while the message was really interesting, the characters and the plot weren’t. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book this monotonous and with so little characterization.

Edit [04/25/2018]: Before I Let Go stayed with me a lot more than I thought I would, in a way that I didn’t realized until weeks later. I still agree with everything I said in my review, but maybe the actual rating is closer to a three than a two.


Could Have Been Better

Not So Stories (edited by) David Thomas Moore – ★★★¼

This anthology is a response to Kipling’s Just So Stories, written by authors of color around the world. I found some stories I loved (How the Tree of Wishes Gained its Carapace of Plastic by Jeannette Ng made tear up, and How the Spider Got Her Legs by Cassandra Khaw was darkly beautiful), but there were also many forgettable/just-not-good ones.

People Like Us by Dana Mele – ★★★½

Predictable, but also very addicting and gay, this is a mystery novel set in a boarding school. I didn’t like how this book dealt with bullying, and there was also a lot of wasted potential and weak characterization, but I loved how messed up everything was and I couldn’t stop reading.

Three Sides of a Heart by Natalie C. Parker – ★★★½

Three-and-a-half stars is actually a very good rating for an anthology; this is one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read, so I almost feel bad for this “could have been better” title, but… it could have been better. There were three stories I loved (Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton, one of my new favorite short stories, Vega by Brenna Yovanoff and Unus, Duo, Tres by Bethany Hagen) but I also rated three stories one star. Overall, this was an interesting, subversive collection, and I recommend it.

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton – ★★★½

I requested an ARC of this retelling of King Lear just because I loved Tessa Gratton’s story in Three Sides of a Heart, and while I loved Before She Was Bloody a lot more than this, I still found what I wanted – beautiful writing, the best worldbuilding (why are all the descriptions so pretty), and well-developed morally gray characters. Sadly, it also had the worst aromantic and asexual representation I’ve read in a while and it’s probably the slowest book I’ve read this year (a tie between this and Too Like the Lightning, maybe). The ending was worth it, though.


Liked

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty – ★★★★½

I started this book thinking it was going to be boring because nearly everyone said so… and it was not. At all. (If you want boring adult SFF, I have written two recommendations in the section before.) Yes, it had some pacing problems, but I loved all the characters and the political situation was a mess and I was totally there for it. Also, this is owvoices muslim historical fantasy set in Egypt and it has the best atmosphere, if you like pretty descriptions and political intrigue you have to read this.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – ★★★★½

I don’t reach for poetry often, but this was so good and I want more. It follows a Dominican-American girl who is struggling with her religious family, and it felt so real – I felt as if Xiomara were a real teenage girl. I flew through it, and it deserves all the hype it got and more.


Loved

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard – ★★★★¾

A Sherlock Holmes retelling set in space in which Holmes is a woman and Watson is a sentient spaceship and a Tea Master. This had the best premise, and the execution was just as good. I loved the friendship between Long Chau and The Shadow’s Child as much as I loved the characters themselves, and now I want more from this universe.

Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee – ★★★★★ (reread)

I just discovered this was nominated for the Hugo Award (Best Novelette), and I’m so happy, it’s probably my favorite novelette ever (and the story that convinced me I needed to read Ninefox Gambit). It follows Jedao on an undercover mission a decade before he became a mass murderer. Some parts of it made me laugh and it’s the fourth or fifth time I read this.

Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee – ★★★★★ (reread)

Reread for Revenant Gun. I love this universe more with every read, because all-queer murder space opera is the best genre. I don’t know what I love the most about this – the math-based magic system? The unusual humor? The backstabbing and surprising loyalty? Jedao? The weird space battles? The aromantic representation? Mikodez and his green onion? Cheris and the servitors? Kujen being dramatic again? I don’t know.

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee – ★★★★★ (read twice this month)

I loved this. There were a lot of Kujen scenes and the more I think about them the more they creep me out (why is he so horrible and disgusting and at the same time I like him a lot?), and the ending was everything I didn’t know I wanted. Hemiola’s PoV was really interesting (who doesn’t want a friendly AI who loves plot-relevant fan edits). Also, Brezan’s storyline! Mikodez being wiser than usual! I’d read more of this, of course, but as an ending this was perfect.


What were your favorite books in March? Have you read any of these?