TBR & Goals

October Try-A-Chapter TBR for the Uncanny & Scary Season!

Hi! Today’s post will be a TBR – one different from what I usually do.
It’s October, and I see October as a chance to explore genres I wouldn’t normally reach for, genres I have a complicated relationship with: horror and thrillers. I tried something of the sort last year and it didn’t pan out very well, but I think I would have been able to tell that those books weren’t actually my thing at all had I bothered to read a preview instead of jumping into them because of recommendations.

So, today, I’m combining the Try A Chapter tag with my TBR: I’ll try out most creepy and mysterious books I’ve marked as interesting on goodreads and choose what to read.

What I’m Trying

These Women by Ivy Pochoda: I first became interested in this purely because of the cover, then it stayed on my mind because it has been described as standing at the intersection between literary fiction and thriller, more a character study than something you’re supposed to “solve”, and maybe that’s more of my thing? Maybe the answer to being chronically disappointed by mystery reveals is to read books in which it’s not at all the point. Let’s try.
The preview: the first chapter is from the point of view of a sex worker, and I think she’s talking to someone in the hospital? I do like how this whole book seems to be about taking a completely different angle from most of the genre and centering the sex worker instead of making her a disposable victim (you don’t even have to have read or watched a lot of mysteries or thrillers to know that it’s a common thing because it is That Common). I think I like it, but I don’t know if it’s something I would reach for outside an “out of my comfort zone” challenge as this one. The writing is very unusual and deliberately choppy.

The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan: this is backlist and a favorite on US trans twitter, and I’m not sure I get what it is exactly, but hearing that is something both semi-autobiographical and with horror elements makes me really interested in it, given that the only other book I’ve read that walked the line between fiction and nonfiction is the masterpiece that was Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. I’m sure this will be completely different – books that can’t be pinned down in one genre tend to be! – but the point is that it sounds like it will be an Experience. Also, there’s very little I like as much as reading about haunted people. The main criticisms I saw of this one were that it’s pretentious (might be a problem depending on execution) and that it wanders a lot (I don’t think I’ll mind).
The preview: one thing I really like about this is that it doesn’t shy away from words like “crazy” and “insane”, deliberately. (If you’ve ever seen “ableist slur” discourse play out, well, you know why I’m saying this.) These are words I mostly avoid to not make others uncomfortable, but the thing is – living as the crazy one is much more than uncomfortable. Apart from that, this is thematically heavy but easily readable despite it not being in any hurry to make a point, possibly the best kind of combination. I still don’t have a clear idea of what this is going to be, but again, that is deliberate. I may never have one. It literally starts with “This is the book it is, which means it may not be the book you expect it to be.”

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power: let’s see if this is just like Wilder Girls, both in the sense that I thought it shouldn’t have been a YA book at all and in the sense that it’s not going to work for me. I hope I’m at least wrong about the second, and as I said once before, I want to see how the concept of “creepy cornfield” is executed. My opinion is that any huge monoculture is inherently creepy and so are a great number of plants if they get tall enough, but I don’t get why corn specifically is The Creepy Field in American culture.
The preview: I still don’t know about the corn, but the writing is breathtaking – even more than in Wilder Girls. The hints of “complicated mother-daughter relationship” are drawing me in already. I don’t know how credible my premise “I’m not into thrillers or horror” sounds now that I haven’t been able to exclude even one book yet, but that’s good news I guess? (Not necessarily, as many of them fail for me in the ending, but at least it won’t be like last year’s picks)

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson: this has one of the most striking covers I’ve ever set my eyes on, and it was the main reason this ended up on my TBR even though mysteries are not my genre at all. However, it’s high time I try something by this author, and the premise of this one sounds interesting – it’s about a Black girl who is accused of a murder she doesn’t remember committing, and I’ve heard its explores themes of misogynoir, abuse, and famous adult men exploiting teenage girls (don’t know the details because I want to avoid spoilers).
The preview: there are content warnings at the beginning, which is very considerate and that I really appreciate. As far as the story goes, it’s already setting up the tension effectively – only a few chapters into the flashback and I would be already worried for the main character even if I didn’t know the outcome. I think it’s going to be told mostly in flashbacks, though I’m not sure yet; I hope we gets more glimpses into the future timeline as well. The very short chapter make it feel like a tense, unputdownable read. If it weren’t for the fact that I don’t actually own this yet I’d be tempted to skim forward. The other thing that is holding me back is that this is going to be a necessarily heavy read – the kind I could only deal with on a day in which I’m not already doing badly, I think.

The Damned by Renée Ahdieh: I just want to go back to the decadent underworld of New Orleans and its secret societies in which the paranormal dwells (and marginalized people are accepted)! I’ve been seeing mostly negative reviews, but that was also true for the first book – slow-burn atmospheric paranormal isn’t for everyone nor is it trendy right now either – so I’m not that worried. Also this is one of my favorite covers to ever exist.
The preview: this is so dramatic, I love it already. I don’t know if I’ll like Bastien’s PoV as much as I liked Celine’s in the first book, but I hope so. Also Odette is there and it’s my obligation as a lesbian to read about her, if not now, at least soon. (I hope she gets a girlfriend…) My main worry at this point is that I won’t be able to remember all the names because the cast of characters only in the Court is neverending, but at least I have my e-copy of The Beautiful to search things in.

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall: a YA horror that apparently also has queer elements that was really hyped for being extremely creepy (at least by YA standards) last fall. It has to do with disappearances, a road that requires a toll, and it’s told in a mixed media format.
The preview: this isn’t bad – at all, at least from what I can tell – but it suffers here because it’s by far the book with the plainest writing on the list so far, and if there’s one thing I don’t like about writing it’s “plain”. Be weirder! I know many people’s idea of good writing is “writing that isn’t intrusive and gets the job done” but I don’t agree at all, I want to sink my teeth in it. I’m interested – the mixed media format is really intriguing – but it’s low priority.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas: since I’m a fool, I’m going to give yet another chance to something that has been marketed as Dark Academia, and not even one that is getting good reviews. (Maybe that means I’ll like it? Who knows.) However: I recently saw Kayla/booksandlala liken its weirdness to some of my favorite weird & underrated books in one of her recent videosThe Gallery of Unfinished Girls, A Room Away from the Wolves, and even A Like in the Dark. I want to know why.
The preview: …the chapters in this one are neverending. Like, the preview ends and we’re not even finished with chapter one. I still think it seems easily readable, or maybe I just think that about everything this evening. I don’t know. The writing isn’t horribly pretentious and no one is quoting Shakespeare at me, which is already a significant improvement from the last time I tried this genre. Also, the feeling of being lost is already coming through and giving me vague A Room Away from the Wolves vibes. (That book is also set in a place named “Catherine House”. How.) I don’t have a definite impression yet but I’m curious.

She’s Too Pretty To Burn by Wendy Heard: queer book twitter made so much noise when the cover of this YA thriller was released, and for good reasons! It looks so fascinating, and as it has been described as “an electric romance that sparks lethal danger”, inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray… of course I want to try it. I have an ARC and I’m going to read it for sure, all this trying a chapter is going to accomplish is deciding whether I want to read it right now.
The first chapter: so, this is compelling enough and something I would have absolutely loved at 16, which is a good sign for a YA book but not necessarily for my current enjoyment – though it’s too soon to say for sure. I will say that I really like the writing and that it’s already setting the tone very well, even though I’m not yet sold on the characters.

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour: haunting stories! I think including this one on this list is more of a stretch, as I’ve heard it’s more “introspective contemporary with magical elements” than anything remotely horror, but it has ghosts in it and I say it counts.
The preview: this is very… muted? Faded? I expected a quiet book from Nina LaCour, and this has again that feeling of isolation and loss, but in a completely different way from We Are Okay. I think it would take me more time than a brief preview to truly get into it, as it’s intentionally removed. I appreciate the already ominous tone. Maybe it’s a little more creepy than I thought? We’ll see.

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford: this is another weird genre-defying novel that has been described as “haunted” and compared to some of my favorite contemporary fantasy books; I have no idea what it is about but given this and the cover I don’t need much more to want to try it. I feel like it’s going to be way more ~literary than I’m used to but let’s see.
The preview: this is… really interesting and weird and the writing is gorgeous. I have no idea where it’s going but that’s both a good thing and something I imagine I’ll also feel after having finished the novel if I actually end up reading it (also not necessarily a bad thing? It depends). For something that is about taking body parts out of people, it isn’t even that gory, and I’m not yet sure about whether that’s a good thing or not.


I’ve been struggling with TBRs lately, so I’m not going to define one clearly; I’m going to give myself space to choose which books I’ll read as the month goes on instead of choosing them all now, which also gives me the chance to check out some that aren’t out yet (queer thriller They Never Learn by Layne Fargo) and even some self-published stuff that looks interesting if I have time.

For now, I will say that my priorities are:

  • Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power, which is the one that impressed me the most with its writing – Rory Power got even better in this aspect since Wilder Girls;
  • Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, because of the possible parallels with some of my favorite books, and because of how difficult to pin down and yet so… effective in setting the mood that beginning was;
  • The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, because the preview was promising and I’ve seen this recommended so many times by now that I can’t just drop it without going further;
  • I also really hope I’ll be able to fit The Damned by Renée Ahdieh in there, I just want to get back in this world.

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

contemporary · Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #8

My eight post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

My last post was about experiencing a story in three different formats; this time, I’m going to talk about my experience with adult mysteries.

My History With This Genre…

…is completely nonexistent. I always start my Out of My Comfort Zone posts talking about history, but this time I can’t, because I had never read an adult mystery set in the real world before. Fantasy mysteries? Sure! The Perfect Assassin, for example, was one, even though not really good in the mystery aspect; same for one of my favorite books of last year, Witchmark by C.L. Polk. But no contemporary/realistic mysteries.

Maybe my own complete lack of interest leading up to this post should have rang a bell and made me understand that the fact that this genre didn’t sound appealing to me at all until I got the idea to read it for a blog post could mean something. Maybe that could have deterred me from trying.

Alas, it did not.

What Happened

I read two books:

  • If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio, a contemporary/historical mystery set at an elite arts college and following a group of obnoxious theater students; I chose this one because it’s hyped, got many good reviews from people who have tastes not too different from mine most of the time, and because I’ve been told it’s m/m and why not read about gays across genres.
  • After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott, a contemporary mystery/thriller story about child abduction in an English small town. I chose this one because it has been getting wonderful reviews from friends and people I follow, and because it has a main f/f romance (of course, it’s not the focus), which does seem particularly uncommon in this genre. Also, it’s more of an “under the radar” book, which means I didn’t go into it with they weight of hype or high expectations.

And now, to what I thought of them.

If We Were Villains

30319086The main thing I have to say is that If We Were Villains kind of is to books what cardboard is to food, and I failed to see the appeal of it on every single level.

I should have DNFed it when I realized – and that happened pretty quickly – that I hated every single character, but I didn’t: you’re not meant to like them, and I wanted to know where the book would go with such a deliberately unlikable cast.
But the problem is, they’re not even unlikable in an interesting way. There are characters I don’t like but am fascinated by, and there are characters I just want to disappear from the page. Here, everyone fell into category two, and I should have listened to my DNF instinct; after all, there’s a difference between my first reaction to a group of characters being “this is awful and messed up, I’m into it” and it being “everyone in this book would greatly benefit from a year or two spent hoeing the earth“. More than messed up – which they were, sure – they were blandly annoying.

Yes, bland. I really didn’t expect that from a book with a skull on the cover and a cast of over-the-top pretentious assholes. Did the main character even have a personality? Did James? What sense does it make to write a character-driven book in which the characters (intentionally?) have only two character traits, one of which is “pretentious”, so that we get “pretentious and promiscuous”, “pretentious and prideful”, “pretentious and frail”, or “pretentious and intoxicated”? This isn’t a play, this is a novel, the characters should have some depth.
And for a book in which a lot of the plot hinges on the main character’s loyalty to [redacted], the book sure managed to not make me feel anything about it. There was a lot of telling, but when it came to actually showing these relationships, the dynamics of this dysfunctional friend group… they felt so empty. I didn’t believe them, and the amount of backstory the characters shared that it’s implied but we’re not even really told about didn’t help either.

While reading this, I kept thinking that there was no way the characters were intentionally that flat, so I can’t help but wonder if this book is meant to be something meta about Shakespeare’s characters or plays. But since I know pretty much nothing about Shakespeare, this didn’t do anything for me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case for many who didn’t grow up immersed in the Anglosphere.

And no, if you don’t have the average Shakespeare knowledge an English speaker is expected to have, I really don’t think this book is worth it. It’s flavorless, and as a mystery, it was obvious enough that I predicted the ending step by step before the murder even happened.
(There were also many smaller things that were in bad taste, like using an eating disorder as a plot device to annoy the main character, but at that point I barely had the energy to care.)

My rating: ★★

After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott

44153328._sy475_This was suspenseful and incredibly compelling, for something in which I guessed who the culprit was the moment he appeared on the page. While the book constantly tries to mislead the reader, the combination of heavy-handed foreshadowing and stereotypical characterization of every single side character didn’t leave much space for the reader to imagine other outcomes. I never suspected anyone else.

Unlike the previous book, this story did keep my attention; like the previous book, it disregarded the idea of complex, realistic characterization to pin every single character in a predictable role. Even the main character isn’t much more than the classic figure of the mystery-solving figure with alcohol problems and a past unresolved tragedy which ends up being tied to the present one; at least, unlike most characters that belong to this archetype, she is a lesbian and ends up in therapy.

I also think that if you’re going to write a multi-PoV novel and the book is not only perfectly understandable but also deeply predictable if the reader outright skips one of the two PoVs, there’s a problem. This is a story about child abduction and child sexual abuse. When I understood that there would be many chapters in the point of view of an abducted child, the choice for me was either skip all of them or DNF the book – I chose to skip/heavily skim, and I didn’t feel like I missed any relevant information. I can see reasoning both for including that kind of content and not doing that, so it’s more complicated than “just don’t include this kind of thing”, but the way it was done here… I’m not sure it was the best choice.

Overall, my impression of this was that it was deeply average. It’s a story about a struggling journalist in a small town with a quirk that has to catch the town’s predator before he strikes again, and while it isn’t a bad novel, it doesn’t do anything unexpected. I’m already forgetting most of the details and it’s only been a few hours.

My rating: ★★½

Will I Read Another Adult Mystery?

I’m always hesitant to judge an entire genre from only two books, but at the moment, I don’t plan to. This genre never appealed to me, and considering that I picked up the books that I thought were more likely to work for me – they’re queer, they got many good reviews, they had an interesting premise – that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

I feel like mysteries – and this is also true for the YA mysteries that don’t get too distracted with the romance – often expect the suspense to carry the reader through the story instead of crafting compelling characters and relationship dynamics. And I mean, on a level it works: I didn’t DNF either of these books, and they didn’t take me that long to read. However, that also means that I start forgetting them the moment I finish them and end up feeling like I wasted my time.

I don’t want to write off an entire genre, of course. I want to be able to find books that work for me, I’m just not really sure where to look for them, and I’m not sure which kinds of adult mysteries/thrillers would be more likely to make it. I don’t know. I want something that will actually give me characters who feel like people and that I won’t start hating from the moment I start reading (…as I said, unlikable is great as long as it doesn’t start to make me question why should I ever want to spend time in that character’s head; I realize this is a harder balance to strike in contemporary) instead of throwing half-baked plot twists at me.

What do you think of this genre/books?

Adult · Book review · Sci-fi

Review: Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang

37534869Zero Sum Game is a sci-fi thriller and the first book in the Russell’s Attic series. It follows Cas Russell, a mercenary whose superpower is based on mathematics.

I think this is the kind of story that would work perfectly as a movie. It’s fast-paced and full of action, fight scenes and unpredictable twists – just the kind of thing I’d like to see on a screen. Someone please adapt this, I need to see it.
As a book, it’s not exactly my kind of thing, but I liked it anyway.

I’m not sure sci-fi thrillers are a genre that appeals to me, but I can’t deny that I was really invested in the characters even when I wasn’t finding the plot interesting. If you like this genre and you’re interested in a story with magical mathematics and a diverse cast, I really recommend this. I decided to read this story because I want to read most books in which the main characters are women who are in some way scientists – and I ended up really liking Cas and the descriptions of her mathematical abilities, but the main reason this book worked for me were the character dynamics.

I loved Cas Russell’s narration. Hotheaded, antisocial, not as rational as she think she is, flawed, one-woman army Cas Russel. I love her. And she’s not too powerful for the story (reading about a character who solves things only with their superpowers would be boring), since the villain’s power ends up being literal mind control.
I also really liked the side characters:

  • Rio was my favorite of the side characters. I never would have thought I would like a character who is basically a really religious psychopath, but he was a really entertaining one.
  • Arthur Tresting is a black PI, probably the most normal person in the group and would ordinarily be the sanest person in the room. Since sane people are easier to manipulate for the villain, that isn’t always true.
  • Checker is the hacker. He collaborates with Arthur, is very good as disappearing, and has a sense of humor that often includes annoying others. I loved the humor in this book (another aspect that, again, would translate really well on a screen). Checker uses a wheelchair.

I loved them individually, but I loved them even more as a group. Powerful people working together against someone who’s worse and reluctant friendships are some of my favorite things to read about.

Another thing I really liked were the questions this book raised about ethics and free will. I would have liked to see more of that.

While I did really like the characters and their interactions, I wasn’t always invested in the plot. I think mind control makes the plot less interesting – when the villain can make everyone act like they want, there’s an excuse for really unwise decisions that isn’t only “because we needed a plot”, but it doesn’t make those decisions any wiser. It doesn’t leave that much space for interesting character growth. Mind control also seems to make for a somewhat unsatisfying ending, but I can’t explain without spoilers.

My rating: ★★★½

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

34499210White Rabbit is a YA contemporary thriller I said I wasn’t going to read in a recent try a chapter tag. I decided to pick it up on a whim anyway – I don’t really know why, maybe it’s the very atmospheric cover I love – and here I am.

The first thing you should know about White Rabbit is that it is going to break your suspension of disbelief, and it will do that many times. If you’re fine with that and want an over-the-top creepy mystery with a really nice second chance m/m romance, this is perfect. If you want realism, look elsewhere.

I think you should also look elsewhere if you want something memorable instead of a fun read that will keep you on the edge of your seat while lacking in depth. My feelings about this book are similar to what I felt about another very gay mystery I read this year (People Like Us by Dana Mele), and sometimes “spooky and fun if a bit trashy” is just what you’re looking for. What I can say for sure is that White Rabbit didn’t stand out for being bad.
My main problems with it were:

• It was too unrealistic. For most of the book, I didn’t care – mysteries are addicting and that helps you forget most of the flaws – but sometimes it was too much
• The writing was mostly fine, until it wasn’t.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that could compete for the Worst Simile Ever Award, but what can you say about a book that gifts you sentences like:

Even the lawn bore the scars of fire, strange loops and lines branded into the earth as if a family of electric eels had been mating on the grass.

I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean and maybe I don’t want to know. But wait, there’s more ugly:

My ex-boyfriend gives me an incredulous look, his soft, kissable lips scrunching up like a cat’s anus.

Yes, kissable. Like a cat’s anus. Great.

That’s not to say the writing was bad – the author actually came up with some very creative insults, which I really appreciated, and the creepy atmosphere was there – but it was just fine for the most part. The problem is, “fine” isn’t memorable, electric eels and cat butts are.

What saved this book for me were the characters. Rufus is a gay teenager who has been bullied and has anger issues because of that; Sebastian is black and is Rufus’ closeted, questioning ex-boyfriend. I really liked seeing their relationship develop, and their backstory, while painful – Sebastian broke Rufus’ heart – was one of my favorite parts of the book.
I don’t know if something changed between the ARC and the version I read, but I didn’t find that backstory biphobic. Apart from the fact that you can’t say there’s a bisexual character cheating when that character is questioning his sexuality and not necessarily bi, but also: the bisexual cheater trope is bad because it frames bi people as inherently unfaithful or, in some cases, sex-crazed. The reason Sebastian got back with his ex-girlfriend is that he’s a terrified, closeted kid in high school. As I saw a very similar thing happen in real life, I’m not ok with framing it as a biphobic trope. Teenagers are going to mess up. Closeted teenagers in a homophobic place will hurt a lot of people to not get hurt themselves. It’s reality and it’s ugly and it’s not just a “harmful stereotype”. (It was the most real part of the book, for me.)

The other characters were completely flat, which didn’t help the already unrealistic plot. If you need to write a story which involves drug use, popular kids who are drug dealers, a teenager going on a murder spree, an adult asking a teenager to investigate said murder spree, and a somewhat exaggerated portrayal of high school cliques, you should have really solid characters. This book didn’t.

About the resolution: I didn’t find it predictable, but everything seemed not to adhere to the laws of logic and reality in this book, so it’s not like I could piece together things.

My rating: ★★¾

[Trigger Warnings for: bullying, especially homophobic bullying, drug use, racism, and of course murder]

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

33158541The Wicker King is a YA psychological thriller.

Why didn’t anyone tell me this book ended with a m/m/f polyamorous relationship?
I would have read it sooner. I mean, it’s polyamory representation in YA without any gross cheating/misunderstanding plotlines…
I don’t consider it a spoiler any more than it would be a spoiler to say that this book is m/m – because it does focus more on that part of the relationship – or about mental illness, and I don’t understand why no one said it explicitly.
Did everyone miss it?
Also! Kink rep (D/s) in YA!

The Wicker King is a story about teenagers who have been let down by the adults in their lives, who don’t know where to look for help, who only have each other.
It’s a story about an unhealthy friendship that turns into a codependent romance, and it’s a story about mental illness – hallucination and pyromania – written in a way that makes the book feel as if there was a genre-bending aspect. Jack’s illness was handled in a way I had never seen before, but it wasn’t romanticized at all, and Jack and August’s codependency wasn’t either. It just was, and you understand why the characters felt that way, but the book didn’t shy away from showing the impact something like that has on people.

The result is… weird.
It’s a weird story that gives you a very weird feeling while you read it. The short chapters, the atmosphere, the darkening pages – this is a contemporary story, but none of it feels grounded. It doesn’t feel real, even though some of the things the characters go through, like the neglect and codependency, are very real things.
I didn’t know how I felt about this while I was reading it, and in a way I still don’t. The short chapters and the mixed media format made the story go by quickly – it’s also a very short book – but they kind of prevented me from ever truly getting into it.
It was like watching a story unfold through opaque glass.

But I was emotionally invested, so I think I liked this? I don’t know. Rating may change because really, I have no idea how to rate this.

Anyway this is a Rina appreciation corner because she’s awesome but no one ever talks about her.

My rating: ★★★★

Adult · Book review

Review: Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly

35427530Armistice is the second book in the spy thriller series The Amberlough Dossier.

Lara Elena Donnelly excels at endings.
Endings are rarely my favorite part of the story, but the first thing Amberlough and its very different sequel Armistice have in common is that I always ended up emotionally compromised.
I wasn’t even loving this book until the last 20%. I really liked it, I love all the characters, but I have to say that the pacing around the middle of the book wasn’t the best, it almost dragged. And then the ending happened, and here I am. It didn’t even need to be as cruel as Amberlough, it was intense anyway.

Armistice is mostly set in Porachis, the tropical country in which Lilian works as a diplomat for the now-fascist Gedda and Aristide is now a film director, and where Cordelia is trying to find allies. As a setting, it was never as developed as the city of Amberlough, but I can say that I loved its atmosphere. Its climate meant that everyone was scheming against fascists in pretty clothes and great weather, and considering that the aesthetic is half the reason I’m reading this series, I really appreciated it.

The other main reason are the characters. I love all of the main ones, even the ones who are terrible. Many of them went through a lot during the first book, and in the second book they have to recover. Their development was really interesting, especially considering what they learned: things usually work better when people don’t hide everything from each other. People solving things with communication! And there’s still scheming! It’s great and I love them all. Especially Cordelia (she changed so much and she’s amazing), but all of them, the new ones as well. It took me a while to get attached to Lillian, but once I did I cared a lot, and I also loved Daoud and Pulan, two characters whose main purpose is, basically, to annoy Aristide (Aristide is petty. Not recommended, but some of those scenes in the second half were hilarious.)
And one last thing I love about all of this – it has many sad moments, many heavy moments, but it never feels like a tragedy. It’s always so alive, and also funny at times.

Now everything seems headed towards a war and I have to wait at least a year for the sequel. At least this ending wasn’t as evil as the first.

My rating: ★★★★¼

Book review

Mini Reviews + Screaming

Today, 3 short reviews and some screaming.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells


For a book where the secondary characters were (deliberately?) really underdeveloped, I loved it a lot.
It’s about a SecUnit (a self-aware security droid) that calls itself “Murderbot” and has gone rogue – it has hacked its governor module to access the combined feed of entertainment channels (it’s a bored rogue bot). Now it can act freely, but that doesn’t mean it will leave the humans in danger.

I loved reading in Murderbot’s PoV. I was afraid it would sound mechanical, but it didn’t – and it was really entertaining. A shy, murderous droid. It works.

I loved how this book avoided the “AI falls in love and discovers they’re more human than they thought” trope – one of the many overused subtropes of “romantic love makes us human/worthy of human rights”, which I hate (I’m looking at you, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and also at you, Defy the Stars). Murderbot is not human. Murderbot doesn’t want to be human. That means it doesn’t necessarily want what the humans want, and that doesn’t mean it’s evil.
Since Murderbot is not exactly what humans expect when they think about machines, there’s a lot of awkwardness between it and the human crew – they do not know how to deal with a machine that looks like a human and almost acts like a human, but it’s definitely not one.

Most side characters are forgettable, but there is a side f/f relationship and this is only a novella.

My rating: ★★★¾

This Darkness Mine by Mindy McGinnis


For a book about delusions and open heart surgery, this was unexpectedly readable.

I read it in less than a day, and yet I can’t say I liked it. It left a bad taste in my mouth, even if I loved the writing, the despicable characters and the weirdness of it all.

First thing first: what was the point? That people who follow the rules can hide darkness within? That being “good” doesn’t mean what the main character thought it meant?
Maybe. But honestly, the main appeal is the messed up main character, and the book basically wants to show you how much this mentally ill girl – the only mentally ill character – is irredeemable and dangerous. This didn’t sit well with me at all.

I actually loved how layered and messed up the main character was, but I couldn’t ignore all the implications and the fact that this book is using a rarely depicted mental illness (delusions) as a plot device, villainizing the main character in the process. Maybe I should just not read psychological thrillers, because I always find the ones who use mental illnesses and (not this time) gender or sexual orientation as plot devices/plot twists. I think it’s gross and it needs to stop.

This is a very unusual, visceral book, and I have to say that the writing was stunning and sharp like that cut on the cover, but it wasn’t enough when the content was troubling me so much.

My rating: ★½

Snow Like Ashes series by Sara Raasch


My main problem with this series is that there’s nothing unique about it. Everything in here has already been done by other popular YA authors, and more often than not they did it better.

Snow Like Ashes (Storm Like Clichés?) has every YA fantasy trope, always played straight:
• love triangle
• best friend in love with the main character
• flat worldbuilding, a kingdom for every season
• laughable political intrigue
• cardboard cutout villain
• some spoiler-y tropes we could have done without because of how cliché they are

I didn’t think the first book was terrible – it had some entertaining scenes – but it’s your typical YA fantasy and nothing more, and the series went downhill.

Ice Like Fire is the only book that has ever made me want to quit reading YA fantasy – and I’ve read some that were all-around terrible, but they never made me feel this way. This one was the definition of mediocrity, and it made me think that maybe I had read too much YA fantasy, that maybe the genre wasn’t for me anymore. It was mostly filler scenes to get to the third book, which was even worse.
Frost Like Night was predictable, so predictable it felt like a YA fantasy finale script. I mean that: it was almost like a list of every single thing that usually happens in a YA fantasy trilogy finale, and everything felt emotionless, even the characters I had liked in the previous books.

Overall rating: ★¾

Now, the Screaming

Some screaming about recently revealed covers, because why not.

Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore: the cover of the next book by one of my top 3 favorite YA authors has been revealed and it’s so beautiful I can’t function. Snow White & Rose Red + Swan Lake retelling? With queer brown girls? And disabled and non-binary main characters? Or, just some more magical realism by Anna-Marie McLemore? I need this.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee: my favorite author has written a middle grade space opera and I don’t even like middle grade but this is probably my most anticipated release of 2019 together with Kings of Scars by Leigh Bardugo. A fox spirit? I’m totally not thinking about Ninefox Gambit‘s Jedao, no, why would anyone ever think that
Also, how many other middle grade sci-fantasy books inspired by Korean mythology exist? Probably none, and why can’t this come out sooner?

Bright We Burn by Kiersten White: I’m actually not that invested in this series (they’re good! They just happen to bore me a lot, so I try not to get too excited for them/overhype myself or I know I will end up hating this last book.) but: a pomegranate? Really? I mean, I agree with the author about this cover being one of the most bloody ones in YA without actually having any blood on it, but there are a lot of meanings associated with this fruit so I’m curious?

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden: This cover is glorious! I didn’t love The Girl in the Tower so I hope this will be the book in which finally Vasya gets some character development. And I don’t want to complain because this is coming out less than a year from the second book, but why is this book about a winter, whose best feature is the wintry atmosphere, being published in August?
@publishers do you hate yourselves?

Have you read any of these? Is there any new cover reveal you really liked?

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

9780803739260_NearlyGone_JKT.inddA Line in the Dark is the first contemporary mystery I’ve ever loved.

It’s a story about unhealthy friendships and relationships between three teenage girls, all three of them queer.

The narrator is Jess Wong. She’s Chinese-American, she has always loved art, and she’s in love with her best friend Angie. This crush is unrequited, and that becomes even more clear when popular, beautiful Margot starts flirting with Angie. But Margot and her rich friends are not good news – under the money and the pretty faces there are many secrets.
Not the ideal situation, but guess what – it gets worse.

I really liked Jess. She struggles to fit in, and she’s not flawless. I love reading about contemporary characters who are flawed and somewhat unreliable narrators. They feel real to me.
All the side characters were memorable. Characters like Margot are fascinating and a bit scary, and Angie surprised me too. Everyone stood out to me.

Mystery/Thriller books with queer characters are not common, and A Line in the Dark is a mystery in which there are more than two lesbians, and none of them dies.

It’s noteworthy that I never had to force myself to read this. I was never bored. And that rarely happens to me with contemporary books.

Half of this book is told in first person and feels like a dark contemporary, the other half is in third person present and it’s a thriller. Surprisingly, this didn’t bother me. Maybe because I knew it was coming, maybe because I was really invested in the story, I don’t know. But I think this PoV shift made sense.

However, I don’t think the execution of the mystery aspect was perfect. The ending was unsatisfying, and it should have been longer. You shouldn’t sacrifice the ending just because you want to shock the reader – that felt messy.

My rating: ★★★★¾

What are your favorite YA thrillers?