Weekly

T10T: Books I’m Intimidated By

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 Books On My TBR I’m Avoiding Reading and Why.


The Priory of the Orange Tree

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  • I’ve liked only one book longer than 600 pages since 2016 – at the time, I had far more patience and time to waste, so I didn’t hate long books as much as I do now. Said long book I liked is also the last book I read, so this isn’t happening anytime soon
  • This is… longer than 800 pages. Why should I do this to myself
  • Because gays and dragons, that’s the real answer
  • And because everyone loves it

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

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  • I’m 90% sure I’m going to hate this, but in a moment of really bad decision-making, Acqua requested an ARC of the sequel last year. And they approved her. Why.
  • Why should I read a fantasy story involving homophobia and the tragedy of being gay when I could, you know, not do that
  • (because you own the book and the sequel, you disaster)
  • (why do I do these things to myself?)

Girl Made of Stars

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  • I did really like some aspects of Ashley Herring Blake’s How to Make a Wish, but unlike many of my goodreads friends, I didn’t love it
  • this should be hard-hitting contemporary about a heavy topic. In theory, that sounds great, but I… usually end up not liking this kind of book (see what happened with The Nowhere Girls and Sadie)
  • but I’m still interested in it, because queer representation and because I do think it’s going to handle this topic well.
  • also I’m shallow and I love the cover

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

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  • When I was still writing on my old Italian blog, this was on my list of “most anticipated books for 2018”
  • Two years later: still haven’t read it, because I’m bad at anthologies, the only ones I read are the ones I get as ARCs
  • There are so many authors in here I loved books from: Aliette de Bodard (one of my favorite authors), Alyssa Wong (favorite short fiction author), Sona Charaipotra, Lori M. Lee, Roshani Chokshi, Cindy Pon…
  • I always want to read it and then never actually read it because I think I’m going to love it and what if I buy it and then I don’t! This makes no sense. I know.

Red, White, and Royal Blue

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  • Romance is a very hit-or-miss genre for me
  • when it comes to popular queer books, I hate when I’m one of the few who don’t like them. It happened with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, probably the most hyped f/f book, and it was all but a good experience
  • I’m not sure real-world royalty anything is a topic that has ever interested me
  • but nearly everyone loves it and it still sounds fun?

The Kingdom of Copper

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  • I have a paperback of this one, and… there’s no way this is a book. This is a brick or a close combat weapon. Not a book.
  • I’d need to reread The City of Brass, which is also all but short
  • Will this ever happen? Who knows. Not me.
  • I want it to happen because I want to know what happens, but I’m just as bad at sequels as I am at long books, so.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

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  • Despite adult sci-fi technically being my favorite genre, I am really good at never reaching for it!
  • Why haven’t I read this f/f book set in space yet? Because it’s… long, I guess?
  • I have no other reason and it doesn’t make sense even to me

Range of Ghosts

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  • backlist [/ˈbæk.lɪst/]: the thing that, on this blog, never gets read
  • also the reviews are all but promising and this sounds kind of boring even to me
  • the same was also true for the author’s most recent book, Ancestral Night, which was amazing, actually
  • also the first chapter was nice and the cover is beautiful

War Girls

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  • Today in Acqua always requests the wrong ARCs: this is about climate change
  • I don’t want to read more about climate change for fun
  • the ecology course was more than enough
  • a normal person’s brain, while requesting an ARC: I liked the author’s previous book and this synopsis appeals to me at this moment, I had this on my TBR already, can’t wait to read it
  • Acqua’s thought process: cover! pretty!!
  • I’m trying my best to not be like that anymore, yes

If We Were Villains

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  • I have absolutely zero experience with this genre, so there is a good chance that I will end up hating this
  • I also don’t care about Shakespeare or any English classic, really
  • but I’m also intrigued and most of my friends love it
  • let’s see how much I regret this in the end?

Have you read any of these?

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Weekly

T10T: Out of My Comfort Zone

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 Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone.

If you want to read more about this topic, I have an ongoing series of posts about reading genres and formats I don’t usually read, Out of My Comfort Zone. Some of the next topics might be either adult thrillers, middle grade contemporary or adult literary fiction. (Let me know which one you’d like me to focus on first!)


The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

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I’ve always avoided historical romance. As someone who usually ends up being bored by both non-historical romance and non-romance historical, combining the two things didn’t seem like a good idea.

However, making things gay also makes things automatically more interesting, apparently, because I loved the romance in this book so much. The writing was perfect, the atmosphere too, and the scientist/artist f/f romance was everything. And while it’s set in 1816, it’s not a story about how hard it is to be gay! It’s fun and it’s happy and it was all it needed to be.


Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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YA fantasy, especially f/f YA fantasy, is perfectly within my comfort zone. Books about girls who are forced to basically be sex slaves definitely are not.

This… wasn’t painless. I said in my review that if you’ve ever been forced to do things that you found humiliating or violating, even though they’re not even remotely similar to (or of the magnitude of) what the main character goes through, this will bring them up in your head, so be careful with it. And it was still worth it for me. It’s a beautiful story about resistance and about a forbidden queer romance born in an unlikely, dark place; the descriptions of this world (which is Malaysian and Chinese-inspired, too) are so beautiful that I wanted to see it, even though it’s the kind of place I would never want to be in.

(It still meant that I ended up DNFing a book that dealt with a similar topic a few days later, Empire of Sand, because I couldn’t do this anymore.)


The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

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This novel had so many things I should hate in it. Senseless slaughter. Realistic-feeling military training. Depressing atmosphere. A world devastated by climate change. War, war, war. Corporations rule the world. Extremely confusing timeline due to continuous time jumps. But if a book has so many things I hate in it and I still end up not hating it and I think about it… if not every day, at least every week months after I read it, it means that it’s great.

This is one of the worst and best things I’ve ever read, at the same time.


Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

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I might have a medium-to-high tolerance for gore in a written format, but I have no tolerance at all when it comes to movies, or, as this graphic novel showed me, to drawings. But it’s so beautiful and queer and angry that it was worth it anyway, even though it’s all but a light read, especially for a graphic novel. This is now one of my favorite series, and I can’t wait for the next installment.


Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

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This is about the rise of fascism in a fictional world.

It is, together with Girls of Paper and Fire, probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever read in my life. I don’t think I would be able to reread it, especially now. And yet… I loved it. I loved it because it is a laugh in the face of overwhelming horror, it’s a reminder that things can still be done and life doesn’t stop there, and it’s for the most part an unambiguously fun book, with intrigue and romance. That doesn’t diminish its message: I actually think that books that try to handle heavy topics without humor forget one of humans’ favorite coping mechanisms, and from a writing standpoint, it works better than endless misery – it never lets you get used to to the pain, so it hurts more when things inevitably fall apart.


Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

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This is a contemporary fantasy story with horror aspects following an abusive and incestuous relationship between two foster siblings, and it’s as unpleasant as YA gets. It’s also a beautiful story about getting out of said toxic relationship, and finding… if not healing, at least a beginning, told from the point of view of a genderqueer person.

It has one of the best character arcs I’ve ever read, but if I said that I actually enjoyed any part of it, I would be lying.


Twisted Romance (edited by) Alex de Campi

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Graphic novels and anthologies aren’t something I reach for that often to begin with, and this one is both – it’s made of short stories both in a traditional format and as short comics. Also, it’s about romance.

The fact that this is specifically about “unusual romance” – both in the sense that many of these stories are paranormal, fantasy or sci-fi, and in the sense that here you’ll find characters that have often been excluded from mainstream romance, from polyamorous women to kinky queer people and asexual men – meant that I ended up loving it. A surprising amount of my problems with the romance genre come from what people think a happy ending should look like (monogamous couple – which, if the main character is a woman in a full-length novel, is almost always heterosexual), which never applied to this.


Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

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I don’t read a lot of middle grade, because my experiences with it in the last few years have mostly been negative. It probably has to do with the fact that the most popular middle grade books of the decade are Rick Riordan’s, and I really don’t like his style – and yes, what is popular does affect what gets published.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel about this at first (it is a RR presents book) but this… this was gorgeous and it reminded me a little of how I felt when I read The Golden Compass. It felt wild and free in ways adult and YA books just don’t, and middle-school-Acqua would have loved this. And it is the casually queer and trans novel middle-school-Acqua needed so much, too.


The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

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Poetry is really hit-or-miss for me, especially when it comes to poetry novels. I loved The Poet X and haven’t had any luck since, but then I found out about this and bought it on a whim. Best decision of the entire month of August! This is a coming-of-age story about a gay biracial black boy as he and finds himself through drag culture and poetry, and while it wasn’t as solid on an individual poem level as The Poet X, it was less shaky in terms of storyline, and just as beautiful.

Sometimes, picking up random things because they sound good actually works?


The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

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I have talked about this book many times on this blog, because it’s one of my all-time favorites and probably the book that has affected my perception of myself more deeply since I started reading (the best portrayal of anxiety I’ve ever read, and from the point of view of a queer girl: the things representation can do). One thing I don’t often say is that before reading this novel, I thought I didn’t like horror.

Horror is still not in my comfort zone, but now I know that I can like it, when it talks about mental illness in a sensitive way and not for shock value.


Have you read any of these? Do you often find favorites outside your comfort zone?

Weekly

My Favorite Tropes

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 Favorite Tropes.

As I couldn’t restrain myself from writing multiple paragraphs for every trope (I really can’t shut up when it comes to favorite anything, can I), this got long – half a top ten tuesday and half ten discussion posts – so I decided to cut it and talk about seven tropes instead of ten. I hope you don’t mind.


Hero/Villain Sexual Tension

My favorite trope.

I usually call it “villain romance“, but as a description it’s slightly misleading, as these situations are often very unromantic and usually don’t end well for at least one of the people involved.

I love this trope because I find it as fascinating as it is horrible, and – when executed well – I end up understanding why the characters feel the way they do, and why they choose to fight each other anyway. It’s twisted and always on the verge of becoming a total disaster if it’s not already, and… it’s just a lot, emotionally.

I like many versions of this trope, but as I like it more the more it gets messy and toxic and unacceptable, my favorite versions do not include anything similar to a redemption arc, as they often end with at least one of the two dead (if the other person in the couple killed them: now that’s what I call perfection).

Also: The queer versions are better, that’s just the truth, I’m actually not that into the “villainous guy/morally gray but still overall good girl” version anymore.

I read my favorite example of this trope in Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee. This book made me think “I can’t believe [villain] did that and I can’t stop laughing but I also want brain bleach and [villain] to drop dead”, which, yes, more of that (the “couple”, and I feel weird even calling it a couple, is m/m). Another example, which is more of an exploration of feelings from loyalty to grief to the awareness of being in love with an objectively despicable person is The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang, a story about the relationship between a courtesan turned revolutionary and the series’ villainess (f/f).
It seems that I love reading about people who are deeply conflicted because of what they feel?

Some other books to keep in mind if you like this trope:

  • The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, adult sci-fi, f/f/f triangle with villain romance;
  • The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard, m/m, adult fantasy, “villain romance” shading to “enemies to lovers” in an arranged marriage;
  • Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear, adult sci-fi, not romantic at all but clear sexual tension between main character and the evil pirate lady (f/f)

Plant Horror

Atmospheric forests are already one of my favorite settings, and to have a straight-up horror forest? That’s perfect: I am studying botany, which means that I have a lot of opinions about trees, and I have a history of dendrophobia, which means that these books always hit close.

My ideal plant horror setting is one in which:

  • the author gives you an idea of which trees there actually are – I don’t need scientific names, something like “white pine”, “beech” or “quaking aspen” is enough; I need to be able to visualize it.
  • the main source of horror are the plants themselves and not something else roaming in the wood, though that’s also welcome.

I still haven’t read a book that fulfills both – Uprooted is one of my favorite plant horror books because the plants are the creepy ones, but it doesn’t tell you which trees there actually are (as far as I remember); Wilder Girls was lovely because it did tell me which trees there were but what was actually creepy were the animals, not the plants; same thing for Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé and Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton. They were still really atmospheric, and what I loved the most about them was the setting.


Haunted People

I’ve never been a fan of stories about haunted places, or stories about possessions, but I love stories about haunted people. If stories about possessions are usually about the evil that is in every person being brought to the surface, and if stories about haunted places are usually about the past coming back to bite people, stories about haunted people are stories about isolation.

They feel a little like a dark version of the imaginary friend, and an obstacle at the same time – hard to have a functional social life in that situation, especially if the “ghost” is a person in their own right, which adds so many complications. You will be isolated, but you will never be lonely. It is at the same time comforting and terrifying, and the effect depends a lot on which side the author decides to lean on more.

And, especially in cases in which the author is taking “haunting as isolating obstacle” as the main angle, this trope is a portrayal of mental illness without directly talking about mental illness. Metaphorical representation has its own place and value, if the author knows what they’re doing: my favorite portrayal of anxiety is in the horror novel The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé, a story about a haunted girl which uses the haunting as a paranormal metaphor for anxiety and avoidant behavior. The fact that the character isn’t cured and is explicitly portrayed as mentally ill makes the representation even more valuable to me. And it works: some things are better when approached indirectly, or they are too emotionally painful to read.

Some other examples of this trope I love: I was having a lot of feelings about the Cheris/Jedao living situation in Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee since I heard what it was about (a woman has to ally with the ghost of a murderous and very likely evil general to win a space siege, and it really does feel like a haunting story with a sci-fi twist). Another story with this trope I loved is Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy by JY Yang (free online!) which takes more the imaginary friend/maladaptive coping mechanism angle than the “evil obstacle” one.


Everyday Ruins

I’m currently rereading The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard, set in a post-apocalyptic version of Paris in which there are fallen angels and Vietnamese dragons, and there’s something both deeply beautiful and sad in seeing people’s everyday life in the ruins, and I love this kind of setting.

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In books, “ruins” are usually something ancient and mysterious and abandoned. But my experience is that ruins are everywhere in various states of decay, from so many different times, and we live here. We build around them, and they’re still somewhat mysterious without even really being dead places.
Authors should find a way to make the mysterious and the ordinary coexist more often. I just think it’s fun – characters who live in places that have a mysterious History but that are not actively hostile to them? That’s great. Why have obviously evil haunted ruins when you could have unpredictable magical palaces that might or might not have an agenda and maybe are kind of falling apart?


Well-Intentioned Extremist

I’m not going to write examples for this one, as this trope is often a plot twist, my favorite kind of plot twist.

I love the dissonance of it. How a character might do something that you could never, ever justify, and the story makes you look at the motivations, and maybe you can’t help but think for a moment that maybe the character had a point, however – the well-intentioned part can’t erase the extremist part. And the extremist part can’t erase that not doing anything would have been worse. There are often no good answers, and if there are they are not simple, and I love this.


Blue-Orange Morality

Kind of an answer to the previous trope: if that’s about a character who is dissonant exactly because we can understand them and kind of wish we didn’t, this is about characters who don’t even understand human ideas of morality. (Or, what I wish fae in YA fantasy were, instead of what we usually get. The blue-orange-nonhuman version is just more interesting than the toxic masculinity because I said so version.)

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I expect aliens – especially aliens who are not usually in contact with humans – to be some version of this trope; I remember that the first portrayal of aliens I ever really liked was the one in the Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie: the things the Presger translator said didn’t make sense to the main characters (and were, often, funny and kind of terrifying), and that was refreshing, because why are aliens always so easy to understand? I still have no idea what the Presger are actually like as a society, but I’m fine with that.


Organic Technology

The weirder it gets, the happier I am. Especially if the author goes for the “it’s so advanced it looks like magic” route, it has so much potential for really unusual body modifications.

Almost everything Kameron Hurley has written is a good example of that; my favorite is the universe of The Stars Are Legion, in which there are parthenogenesis and biological spaceships involved, but many of the worlds seen in Meet Me in the Future were just as interesting for that aspect.

And it’s been a while, so I don’t remember it as vividly as I’d like, but I also remember loving what was done with organic technology in Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. It didn’t make sense, but when you go all the way into not making sense territory, the book might end up being great. Here, it did – I especially loved Borne himself, the creature that couldn’t clearly be described as animal or plant or anything, really.

There is something about taking the shapes of everyday life and reminding you of how much inherently gross parts there are about living that makes all of this really appealing to me. Life is weird.


What do you think of these, and do you have any recommendations?

Weekly

T10T: Cover Change Opinions

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 Cover Redesigns I Loved/Hated.


The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

I don’t love this paperback redesign, but I don’t dislike it either. I prefer the original one because I’m really attached to it and because the color scheme is just better for the story, but the new one represents the content just as well – if it weren’t for the new tagline.
“Is it real or a nightmare” isn’t really meaningful to what the actual conflict is, in my opinion, especially considering that previous editions had “something is waiting to pull her under” and “something is waiting to pull you under” (my copy has this one. and I mean, it’s true), which are much better. Old cover or new cover [do tell me which one you prefer!], if you’re even marginally interested in emotional and introspective queer YA horror, you should try this.


Final Draft by Riley Redgate

I’m sorry. This is one of the most hideous paperback redesigns I’ve ever seen.

I mean, it’s not like the first cover actually tells you anything about the content of the book, but at least it doesn’t look like something you’d throw into the trash, with a cutesy background that doesn’t fit the atmosphere of the novel at all (it’s a story about mental illness, and it’s all but lighthearted.)


The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

This is a really interesting one, especially considering that both are meant to be paperback covers. The original one represents the content of the book really well, with the gloomy atmosphere, the ruined building, the unnatural-looking light of the wings – it’s exactly what this novel is. However, the second cover works better on something small, like a paperback, looks significantly less awkward, and still has a lot of interesting details. I might be biased because that’s the edition I own, but I prefer the second one, even though the first one is beautiful too.


Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Meh. The original cover has a lot of symbolism I really appreciate, because symbolism is… the backbone of this series, honestly, and all of that is lost in the second one. It is pretty, but while from the first one I can see “Russian-inspired fantasy involving magical shadows and something with antlers”, the second one doesn’t tell me anything but the fact that there might be something involving a deer.


Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé

This paperback redesign worked a lot better than the one of The Dark Beneath the Ice. The first cover is eye-catching and detailed and creepy and represents the book’s atmosphere perfectly; the second one is simpler and perfect for a smaller cover while also telling you that we’re talking about plant horror with skulls. Really good.


Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

I’m probably the only person on this planet who liked the old cover with the fake-looking snake. The second one is just boring, which is sadder when you consider how much of a wasted occasion it was – we could have had a cover with Xifeng looking beautiful and dangerous on it, and we got this instead. It’s not bad, it’s… it doesn’t tell me anything about the book apart from “vaguely Asian-inspired” and it’s not in any way memorable.


Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Yawn.

You had a quiet, dark cover that got the wintry atmosphere perfectly while also vaguely hinting at a crown without actually making it a generic YA fantasy cover – and you changed it for a generic YA fantasy cover with a crown on it that does nothing at all and has a bold “only one can be queen” tagline as if this were a competition for the throne story in a Three Dark Crowns style? This is bad.

(Yes, the misleading tagline is in the first one too, but at least it’s not in your face.)


Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

On one hand, the first cover represents the inside of the book better, as it’s literally a scene from it, but the second one is perfect for a paperback (striking, simple design? yes) and I like what they did with that theme in the sequels too. An effective cover change.


The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

This is really interesting, because as you can see from previous examples, the hardcover usually has illustrations/cover models on it, and the paperback has a simpler design meant to work on a smaller cover. Here, the opposite happened, and while I think the second cover is a little wasted on a paperback, I’m glad that it was changed, because the first one tells you nothing about the book and it’s not even that pretty.

Also, I love this trend of YA contemporary covers in pastel blue, pink and purple!


Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (UK Covers)

Just no.


Tell me your opinions about these cover changes!

Weekly

T10T: Recently Added to TBR

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 a freebie, so I decided to talk about the books I recently added to my TBR, and what I expect from them.

I think it would be interesting to go back to this post in a year and see how many of these I have read (and what I thought of them), how many of them I have removed from my TBR, and how many of them are still on my TBR.


1. I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

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I’ve been on the fence about this one for a while. On one hand, it’s an ownvoices non-binary novel, which is rare, especially in the YA age range; on the other hand, I don’t do well with stories involving bigoted parents, so I’m not sure how this will go, or if I will end up changing my mind and not reading it.

2. After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott

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Lesbian adult thriller! It sounds amazing as an idea, but I’m also aware that adult thrillers might not be my thing at all, so while I’m pretty sure that I’m going to try this, I have no idea what to expect. This would be my first adult thriller – unless I decide to read If We Were Villains first.

3. Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

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I have read two books by Adam Silvera so far, and really liked both of them, especially They Both Die at the End, so I’m really looking forward to this – I wonder how his writing style will look in a fantasy novel, and it’s not like ownvoices m/m YA fantasy is that common, too. I hope I love this.

4. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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This is another case of “I have absolutely no idea what to expect”, because my experiences with this author have been opposites, since I loved her short story Do Not Look Back, My Lion (fantasy matriarchal society! gay!) and hated A Witch’s Guide To Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies (I can’t explain exactly why and it’s been months, but the tone of this specific kind of story gets on my nerves). Also, I’ve had mixed experiences with portal fantasy too, so I truly don’t know what to think, but I know I’m going to read it because I have an ARC.

5. The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

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If I don’t love this, I’m going to be very upset. I mean, non-linear, beautifully-written f/f fantasy novel that should make me feel a lot, from an author I already know because of her short fiction… I have a physical copy of this one and I hope I can get to it before the year ends.

6. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

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A Mongolian-inspired fantasy story written by Elizabeth Bear, the author of one of my favorite books of this year! Most reviews of this are mediocre, which isn’t encouraging, but that was also true for Ancestral Night, and look how that one turned out (I don’t think I’ve talked about it on this blog yet? But that book. I’m still not over it.) Also, I liked the excerpt when I read it, and this cover is gorgeous.

7. The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

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I love this cover, I love the idea of a fantasy following a main character who – I think – is two-spirit, and it comes highly recommended by multiple people. I’m not sure it’s my kind of fantasy story and if/when I’ll be in the mood for it (and I’m also somewhat hesitant with – as far as I know – non-ownvoices books about indigenous cultures, but it’s not like I’ve seen anything that says it’s bad), but I did like the excerpt, so I’ll try reading all of it someday.

8. We Were Promised Spotlights by Lindsay Sproul

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I’m not hearing the best things about this but it was free to download on edelweiss and will I ever not give a chance to an f/f book? I hope the inside is better than the cover, because really, that’s… kind of hideous.

9. Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

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I actually really don’t like reading about nuns unless they’re the murderous, basically not-religious kind like in Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister, but this… can you guess what made me add it to my TBR? Well, it’s a gay novella. I never claimed to be unpredictable. I haven’t heard anything about it yet, so I’m not actually sure I will read it, but we’ll see.

10. Call Down the Hawk

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Another one I’m not sure about. The Raven Cycle was a 4-star series for me overall, and I didn’t feel that strongly about any of the boys (Blue was my favorite character, and my favorite aspects of the book were her relationship with her family and the creepy magic), so I don’t know if I want a whole book about Ronan and Adam. At the same time, I’m intrigued, so there’s that.


Have you read or are you anticipating any of these?

Weekly

T10T: But What About the Plants??

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 Settings I’d Like to See More Of (Or At All).

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might already know that I care about atmosphere, and a detailed setting really helps with that. You might also already know that I care a lot about plants – if not, get ready for the inevitable botany-related rants, because today I’m going to talk about what I think is missing from bookish settings, especially fantasy settings.

(Plants. It’s plants. You know me.)

All pictures in this post are mine.


Mountains

specifically, not-snowy mountains

I don’t know what it is about fantasy books, but apparently their mountains and mountain ranges are either non-existent or always snowy, and the landscape goes from “prairie” to “rocks and snow” immediately. And… that’s not how mountains are, at least, not in all the places I’ve been? Also, I get that snowy mountains are cool as an idea, but if your characters live near them, they should probably know that going on a hike there can be really dangerous, and fantasy books almost never reflect that. (There is, generally, very little about mountain life and what people did to adapt there before modern technology in fantasy books.)

Also, there’s a good chance that in the summer the fantasy snowy mountains should actually look like this:

aaa

Which, to me, looks a lot more interesting. Generally, the more there’s plants, the more they’re interesting – ok, I’m studying botany and I’m biased, but the thing about rocks and snow is that there’s usually nothing but rocks and snow and cold, and gazing at the stars at night gets a lot less romantic when your characters are freezing to death. Mountains that aren’t snowy are just so much better as settings, and I wish fantasy reflected that.


Mediterranean shrubland

Do American authors know that the Italian peninsula is a place that existed before and after the Reinassance and also outside of Venice? One wouldn’t think so, from their books.

One thing that really amuses me about Italian-inspired American books is that they’re so obsessed with what they think is the ~Italian atmosphere~ that they will place something you can only find in a very specific place everywhere – like gondole in a fantasy city inspired by Sicily or Florence – but they will never, ever bother to give their settings something that actually feels Mediterranean, because the author only visited the cities (if they’re even ever been here) and didn’t pay any attention to the “macchia mediterranea”, the shrubland biome that is everywhere on our coasts; no, you get generic “woods” or even “plains” instead (which, where? If you’re not writing something inspired by the Po Valley – and why would you, really [sorry, had to] – nothing is ever that flat here).

How does the mediterranean shrubland look like? Here it is:

bbb

I might be biased, because part of this year’s botany course involved learning how to tell apart all the shrubs in there, but to me this is far more interesting that anyone’s 100th fake fantasy version of the soulless tourist trap named Venice.

I’d love to see a book that gets the shrubland’s sounds and smells right, that knows what happens to it when it burns (our shrublands have the stressful habit of burning down every twenty years or so) and what happens to it after it burns. A book that knows that the characters living there don’t just see the place as “shrubs”, because some plants are resources – as food, as spices, as fiber – and some can be dangerous. And this goes also for other kinds of settings: more characters in fantasy should know the place they live in. Their lives depend from that.


Interesting coastal settings

There is, overall, a dearth of coastal settings. My city is basically sandwiched between the sea and not-snowy mountains, so I can’t not notice how both are almost absent in fantasy books. And the Mediterranean shrubland, even though it’s beautiful, is far from the only interesting coastal setting. I know – and really appreciate – that I have read some books that got how beautiful tide pools can be, but there’s more, so much more. I am Italian, so I mostly know of fishing villages (you’d think someone would set a book there seeing how well-known the Cinque Terre are?) based on many different kinds of fishing, but I know there are so many ways a coast can look. It’s the boundary between two worlds, and I want to see it more often.

From the overwhelming homogeneity of fantasy settings, I almost think that authors are most likely to base their settings on things they’ve liked in other fantasy books than on real places. Otherwise, I can’t explain why you never see something like this:

at-snaefellsnes

[plant life! It tells you all things about the setting, like the fact that this picture, unlike the previous two, was definitely not taken in Italy, but in a place with a completely different climate. There are other non-plant hints, but they’re not as clear.]


Detailed Forests

I love a creepy wood just as much as anyone else, but the fact that the author usually doesn’t bother to describe which trees there are in the creepy forest is disappointing. And lazy writing, I’d say, because a beech forest is radically different from a larch forest, which is different from a chestnut wood (which needs far more human maintenance than a beech one) and not only for the trees but for what grows under them, the lighting, and the overall atmosphere.

These two pictures are of a beech forest and of a larch-and-mountain pine (I’d say Pinus cembra and Pinus mugo?) forest. They look really different, in many aspects, and the atmosphere of the hypothetical books set there would be completely different.

Anyway, a shout-out to Wilder Girls by Rory Power and Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé for actually telling me which trees there were in the creepy forests, even though I didn’t love the books themselves.


Pine Forests

(that actually tell me which kind of pines there are)

I could tell you that I love pine forests – and I do, because there’s something about conifers that makes them unlike other trees in many ways – and that I wish more books were set there. However, “pine forest” is an extremely vague descriptor. Look at Pinus hwangshanensis and how different it is from a Pinus pinaster and from a Pinus longaeva. There are more than a hundred species in the genus Pinus. While one can’t exactly throw around binomial nomenclature in a fantasy novel, one could at least attempt to describe the plant/the wood. From now on, every time I see a only vaguely-described “pine forest” that is supposed to be mysterious, I’ll just assume that it’s made completely of Pinus mugo plants out of spite.

Also: I know the English language likes to apply the world “pine” to basically every conifer, like firs, spruces, junipers, cypresses and even araucarias, which makes the “pine forest” description even more useless.

For example, none of these are actually pines:

notpines

[Left to right: a fir (Abies sp.), some spruces (Picea sp.), and an araucaria (Araucaria bidwillii). Not pines, but if someone wrote a fantasy book set in an araucaria forest, I would die of happiness.]

This, instead, is a pine tree – a mountain pine (with a friend):

a-friend


Underwater Settings

Underwater settings are really uncommon. And in a way I get why, because before modern technologies the sea was a complete mystery – and in part still is even now. However, the thing about fantasy is that you can make everything up, and you don’t need to write a mermaid story to write a story that takes place at least in part underwater.

But I’d love if someone did write a story set underwater, especially if there were no coral reefs involved – I get it, they’re beautiful, but if you’re writing something in a setting inspired by Europe, they’re also out of place, and it’s not like the rest of the underwater world isn’t interesting, or all looks the same (it doesn’t). And you don’t even need to go into the abyss to have an interesting setting; I loved that Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant did, but it’s not necessary – there’s something magical even only about how the light looks when you’re underwater.

underwater

Another thing I know from being an underwater photographer: sand, when underwater, is often covered in rainbows. [insert a “the ocean is gay” joke.] You really don’t need coral reefs to make your underwater setting pretty.


Seagrass Meadows

The overly specific underwater setting I’d like to see? Seagrass meadows. I could act like this has to do with the ecological importance of Posidonia oceanica meadows in the Mediterranean sea, or even with the fact that I’ve never even seen them mentioned in fiction (the only book I know that mentions seagrass is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, but there, it’s the name of a character), but the main reason I’d like to see them in a novel is that I think they’re scary.

posidonia

When you’re swimming over them, you can’t see anything of what’s under you. And while the chance of anything dangerous being able to hide in something that, after all, doesn’t reach 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in height is very low, something in my brain is disagreeing.


Kelp forests

I don’t have a picture for this one because they don’t exist in my country and because I’d be far too afraid of them anyway, but I’ve been fascinated with them for so long. They’re algae but they look like trees, and I don’t know if it’s my dendrophobia speaking, but this is the perfect place to set a horror book in. A really aesthetically pleasing horror book, someone who actually has seen a kelp forest in person please write it


Fantasy Cities that Actually Have Plants in Them

Of all the things to complain about, you could say. However, I can think of only one book that actually bothered to describe plant life in a city (a shout-out to The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad for all the gulmohar descriptions).

This doesn’t make sense to me. Many real cities are full of plant life, but fantasy authors seem to think that the only plants that exist are roses, which only grow in beautiful gardens where the main characters can kiss. They don’t see how pretty buildings can get when they’re overgrown with creeping plants, they don’t see the beauty of what can grow over the ruins. Talk me about weeds and unkempt overgrown flowerbeds and what grows in the cracks on the side of the road and I’ll love you.

I walked for a few minutes in my city and took two pictures of the most remarkable plant life I could see. If my city can have them, so can the invented ones in fantasyland.

Schermata da 2019-06-05 13-53-45.png


Interesting Spaceship Design

Finally a part of the post in which Acqua isn’t going to talk about plants!

…joking. As Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee showed me, you can have plants, trees and even koi ponds in your spaceships even when you’re writing military sci-fi. Not only you could, you should.

Apart from the plants: from biological spaceships that are basically an excuse for more gore to more realistic ships in books that actually talk more or less “realistically” about what humans would need to function in space, I really appreciate when it’s clear that the author put some thought into what they were doing, instead of only thinking “yes they vaguely look like the ones in Star Wars”.


TL;DR: Less Generic Settings, More Plants. What do you want to see from SFF settings?

Weekly

T10T: Auto-Buy Authors

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 Auto-Buy Authors.

To not make this simply a list of “favorite authors”, I will only include an author if I’ve read two of their novels/novellas (short stories don’t count).

As I don’t know that many authors I would really describe as “auto-buy”, I wrote a list of five auto-buy authors and five almost auto-buy authors.


Auto-Buy List

Authors I would actually describe as auto-buy.


Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee is the author of my favorite series, Machineries of Empire (Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun), and of some of my favorite short stories as well – both inside the collection Conservation of Shadows (Ghostweight was the best one) and outside of it (The Knights of Chains, the Deuce of Stars). He also wrote Dragon Pearl, a middle grade that was a really fun read.

On my TBR I have his flash fiction collection The Fox Tower and Other Tales. The only thing I’ve read by him that I really didn’t like was The Vela, a serial novel co-written with Rivers Solomon, S.L. Huang and Becky Chambers (which I kind of saw as “a seamless blend of all the weaknesses of the authors involved”).

Things that are common in Lee’s stories that I love:

  • emphasis on worldbuilding, or, there is a very complex, detailed worldbuilding, but you have to piece it together yourself, as there’s usually very little exposition or direct explanation about how things work (this is toned down in his middle grade for obvious reasons)
  • blurred lines between magic and science: from magic systems based on calendars and mathematics to ancestry-erasing guns explained with a little of physics, there’s almost always either magical science or scientific magic, which are tropes that really appeal to me
  • descriptions that rely on the feel and sound of words just as much – and in some cases even more – than on the visual aspect; a feel of an object rather than the shape of it. Helpful if you’re second-language and my kind of synesthetic, not always helpful in other cases (from reviews, it’s very polarizing)

Aliette de Bodard

She’s the author of one of my “underrated favorite” historical fantasy series, Dominion of the Fallen (The House of Shattered Wings, The House of Binding Thorns and the upcoming The House of Sundering Flames) and of the Xuya series, a series of short stories and novellas about a Vietnamese-inspired space society (my favorite being The Tea Master and the Detective). She also wrote my favorite f/f romance, the Beauty and the Beast retelling In the Vanishers’ Palace, and I can’t wait for the new novella in Of Wars, Memories, and Starlight.

I struggled with her books at first, because the worldbuilding in the Xuya series confused me (I started it in a place that assumed I knew a little more about that universe), but I’m so glad I kept trying, as the only one that truly didn’t work for me was On a Red Station, Drifting.

Things that are common in Aliette de Bodard’s stories that I love:

  • wonderful, atmospheric and really unique settings: from a series set in the ruin of Paris following a magical apocalypse to a palace that feels like a very dangerous version of an Escher litograph, her books always have very vivid settings I’d like to spend more reading time in, even though they’re often the kind of horrible place I’d never want to visit.
  • developed female characters in “unusual” roles: Sherlock Holmes retelling in which Holmes is a competent, somewhat cold woman? Women in many positions of power? Or, are you tired of stories about dead mothers in fantasy and want to read stories in which the main character is herself a mother and still has adventures? Queer women of color in SFF? She wrote all of these things.
  • quieter stories: in her books, there’s often a war in the background, or there has been a war, but she never actually follows the war. Her stories are quieter – I think she described Xuya as “domestic space opera” – and more focused on the characters’ lives than on the exploding parts. I love quiet SFF.

Anna-Marie McLemore

If you’re ever looking for quality YA magical realism, she’s the author you’re looking for. She wrote what might be the best standalone YA novel I’ve ever read, When the Moon Was Ours, and other solid novels like Wild Beauty and Blanca & Roja. Her short fiction is also noteworthy and can be found in the anthologies All Out, Color Outside the LinesThe Radical Element and Toil & Trouble.

The only book by her that didn’t work for me is her debut The Weight of Feathers; it had a lot of elements that reminded me of her later books, but was far weaker than them. I don’t recommend starting from it. On my TBR, I have the upcoming Dark and Deepest Red and Meteor, which she’s co-writing with Tehlor Kay Mejia.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • emotional, romantic, quiet-and-yet-hard-hitting stories: her books are usually quiet stories about latinx girls finding love, which at the same time deal directly with colonialism, transphobia and self-acceptance, colorism and misogynistic stereotypes, or toxic masculinity and abuse. Her stories are lovely and pretty and they have a lot to say, with so much heart.
  • stunning writing: no one writes quite like her. Her style is flowery without becoming heavy, it’s atmospheric and beautiful, and the attention to detail she puts into everything (it’s never just a pumpkin. It’s that specific cultivar of pumpkin. And it might also be a metaphor if you think about it) makes it feel even more special.
  • developed family relationships: in far too many YA books, family isn’t as much an important part in teens’ lives as it is in reality. And I get that, but it’s refreshing to read books talking about extended families in which everyone is close and people help each other, or stories in which the mother-son relationship is wholesome and beautiful and relevant to the story, or even stories which explore the dynamic of a toxic family like The Weight of Feathers.

Leigh Bardugo

She’s been one of my favorite, auto-buy authors since I read Shadow and Bone in 2015. That was four years ago. It almost feels longer. She’s still my favorite YA fantasy author, both for her first series and for Six of Crows. She’s also really good at writing short fiction, and I loved both her collection The Language of Thorns and her short story in Summer Days and Summer Nights.

The only thing I’ve read by her which I didn’t like was Wonder Woman: Warbringer, which was overall mediocre, but I don’t like superheroes to begin with. I still have to read King of Scars and I’m really anticipating the upcoming Ninth House.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • clear, easy to read, and yet atmospheric writing: this is something many YA fantasy authors fail at. She has a very readable style which almost feels ordinary, but she writes atmospheric settings better than many YA authors who tend to over-write. Her style is never too dry or too purple.
  • morally gray characters: what she did with the character of the Darkling might sound obvious today, but at the time, it really wasn’t; and years after, he is still considered one of the best morally gray characters of YA. Then she wrote from several morally gray PoVs in Six of Crows, and I can’t wait to see how messed up Ninth House will get.
  • perfect foreshadowing: with my reread of the Shadow and Bone series, something I noticed more and more was how some of her scenes mirrored and called back to each other, and how flawlessly the foreshadowing was woven into the story since book one. Thinking about it, it’s also true for her short stories and the Six of Crows duology, to a degree.

Kameron Hurley

She was my introduction to space opera with her novel The Stars Are Legion, made me like a subgenre of it I always thought I would hate with The Light Brigade, and surprised me multiple times in her short story collection Meet Me in the Future.

Not everything I’ve read by her worked for me – some of her short stories, when read individually, don’t stand out that much, and I don’t love her Bel Dame Apocrypha universe – but I’ve never disliked anything she has written either, which is something, considering that I’m not that much into gore or violence.
I haven’t read her Worldbreaker saga and I’m not sure I want to, but her upcoming novel Losing Gravity is one of my most anticipated releases for the next few years.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • biopunk horror: I’m not that into gore, but I’m absolutely into everything which is weird and biology-related, and from body modifications to people living inside biological cephalopod-spaceships, there’s a lot of that content in her books. It’s so gross. I love it.
  • discussions of gender, gender roles, and gender-related stereotypes: from stories about all-female worlds to stories in which the main character’s gender isn’t stated until the end or stories about matriarchies, worlds in which there are multiple non-binary genders recognized by the society, I can always expect her to do something interesting with this aspect.
  • the way she talks about war and the role of violence in society with her books and especially in her short stories – it’s often distinctly unenjoyable, which it probably should be, but it’s not depressing, and it’s so interesting to read. So many angles, so much ugly.

Almost Auto-Buy

Authors from which I loved multiple books, and I’m likely to love others, but I either haven’t read enough books from them to be completely sure about the “auto-buy” aspect, or I’m really not interested in their old ones.


Nicky Drayden

I have only read two of her novels so far and I will soon read the third, which I hope won’t disappoint either. She’s the author of three standalone SFF novels, The Prey of Gods, Temper and the upcoming Escaping Exodus, out in October (but I got an ARC!). She’s very high on my list of “authors who deserve far more hype than they get”, but at the same time I understand why her novels are very polarizing. (What is not polarizing are their covers. Just look at those.)

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • genre-bending: are these fantasy? sci-fi? Both? Neither? I can’t put them into a box, I can only say that The Prey of Gods is an afrofuturistic apocalyptic sci-fantasy novel in which gods walk side-by-side with AIs and that Temper is an alternate history fantasy novel with steampunk aspects and demonic possession, and that I’m not sure what Escaping Exodus will be.
  • pure weirdness: as you might imagine from the previous point, these books are weird, “WTF did I just read” kind of weird. From flying librarians to dik-dik invasions and religious AI uprisings, there’s… a lot here. I love it.
  • and it’s also great that they don’t take themselves too seriously! The humor is amazing, and Drayden’s books can get dark, but they never fail to make me laugh at some point.

JY Yang

They’re the author of my favorite novella series, the Tensorate (The Black Tides of Heaven, The Red Threads of Fortune, The Descent of Monsters and the upcoming The Ascent to Godhood), and I think they’re also writing a novel at the moment, which… yes, I’d read that for sure.

Not every short story I’ve read by them worked for me, but they wrote some of my favorites, like Waiting on a Bright Moon and Circus Girl, The Hunter and Mirror Boy.

Things that are common in their stories that I love:

  • beautiful descriptions: I love so many things about the Tensorate series, but what made me love right from the first page was the atmosphere. The setting is so vivid, the magic so interesting to read about and… just pretty. There’s something about the way this author writes descriptions that captivates me.
  • they often blur the line between magic and science, and I especially liked how they talked about a conflict between the two in their Tensorate series. I feel like in this sort of stories magic is usually characterized as good, technology as bad, but here they’re really not: they’re tools, and magic has historically been used by the powerful to oppress others.
  • their stories are really queer: Waiting on a Bright Moon is a bittersweet story about lesbians in space, and in the Tensorate, the characters’ concept of gender is different from our society’s, as every child is brought up the same way until they choose a gender. It’s still not flawless, as it’s deeply binarist, but this is explored by the novellas.

Catherynne M. Valente

Saying that she’s an auto-buy author for me would be a stretch, as I’m actually not interested in a lot of her older stories and not sure if I’m ever going to read her middle grade ones. However, if she puts out something new, I will probably read it, since she wrote three of my favorite books – Deathless, Radiance and Space Opera.

A reason I’m not interested in a lot of her older books is that I’ve already tried and disliked some of them – like In the Night Garden or most of the short stories in her collection The Future Is Blue (The Lily and the Horn being the main exception.) Also, some of her older books like Six-Gun Snow White are known to have really problematic representation in them, and I don’t want to read that. On my TBR, I have Palimpsest, which I’m hesitant to try but I’m also really interested in.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • beautiful writing. Some could say that it’s too much, because I won’t lie, it is heavy, but I don’t mind. It’s pretty, and it works, and it’s recognizable – memorable in a way writing often isn’t.
  • the way she talks about the relationship between art and society. Deathless is about the role of stories and what “immortality” might mean, Space Opera is about a musical competition to determine sentience, and Radiance is as much of a decopunk mystery as it is a letter to filmmaking.
  • they’re really interesting to take apart! “What does this even mean” is something I often think while reading her books, which makes them really weird the first time around and even more interesting on reread. I really should reread Space Opera, by the way.

Nina LaCour

After a list of mostly adult SFF authors, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite contemporary authors, Nina LaCour. She wrote one of my favorite contemporaries, We Are Okay, which I’d love to reread this year. I also really liked her light, summer-y f/f romance Everything Leads to You, one of the most well-known (and first) f/f YA contemporaries, and the novel about Pride Month she co-wrote with David Levithan, You Know Me Well.

But the real reason I will always remember her is The End of Love, the short story in the anthology Summer Days and Summer Nights, which was the first thing from the point of view of a girl who liked girls I had ever read (and it was a cute, happy f/f romance). I’m not that interested in her older novels, but if she writes something new, I’ll add it to my TBR instantly.

Things that are common in her stories that I love:

  • atmosphere: one of the main reasons many contemporaries fail to work for me is that American authors usually assume that the reader doesn’t need to read descriptions of how the setting looks like: they already know that. Nina LaCour’s books, however, have always a very vivid atmosphere and never feel like they’re floating in blank space.
  • queer characters: as I said before, she was both my introduction to f/f and one of the first authors to get an unapologetically happy f/f romance traditionally published. Not all her stories have a focus on romance, but all her most recent books have been queer – and if they weren’t happy (We Are Okay is not a happy book), the unhappiness had nothing to do with homophobia.
  • emotional stories on the quiet side: her stories are usually quiet and somewhat slow-paced, and… they give me a lot of feelings. Which is another thing contemporaries often fail at, and hers never have.

P. Djèlí Clark

He is the last on this list not because I don’t love his writing (I do. A lot.) but because so far all I’ve read by him were short stories and only two novellas. Recently, it has been announced that Tor.com will publish at least two more novellas and one novel by him in the next few years, and… I can’t wait. So I had to put him on this list.

He is an author of alt-history novellas and short stories, some set in America (The Black God’s Drums, in New Orleans to be specific, and The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington) and some set in a magical Cairo (A Dead Djinn In Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015).

Things that are common in his stories that I love:

  • vivid atmosphere: as I already said before, this is really important to me, and this is also something that is never missing in Clark’s stories. You can feel the setting as if you were there with the characters, which I will always appreciate.
  • his stories usually blend steampunk with the supernatural: for example, gods and airships in The Black God’s Drums, or djinn and ghosts and tram cars in The Haunting of Tram Car 015.
  • another thing I love about his stories is the diversity, specifically how he portrays diverse cities. It’s sometimes depressing how homogeneous the average fantasy city feels like, and in his stories, many different kinds of people coexist. Not always peacefully, but that’s life, and immensely better than erasure.

Who are your “auto-buy” authors?