Weekly

T10T: Fall Vibes

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 That Give Off Autumn Vibes.


Fall Covers

These are the books I’ve read that remind me the most of fall because of the cover (and sometimes, also because of the content).

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson: let’s start with what’s probably the most obvious one and kind of the quintessential fall YA fantasy. This is a fae romance between a human and a fae from the autumn court named Rook, so the fall tones of the cover (and the crows) make sense. And it’s just… so nice to look at.

Far From the Tree by Robyn Benway: I remember this one being a beautiful, quiet-but-emotional contemporary novel, which I do like to read during these months, but I don’t remember if the novel actually had anything to do with fall. Anyway, falling leaves! It hardly gets more of an autumn cover than that.

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum: the muted, gray tones, the odd, vaguely ominous yellow drawings, the way everything looks old and faded… yes, this reminds me of fall. It has a nostalgic feel to it and so does this season. (I don’t remember the book having anything to do with fall, though.)

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton: falling leaves (petals?), red like blood; a naked tree. Everything in this book, even its content, reminded me of fall, as fantasy stories that stand on the line between dark fantasy and horror often do.

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig: I love the bright red of this one – this was kind of a cover buy to begin with – and the red/orange/yellow tones here are really autumnal. The book itself doesn’t have anything to do with the season as far as I remember (but you should read it anyway, really).


Fall Content

Books that remind me of fall because of the inside, not their covers.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore: all of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books remind me of fall, but this more than the others, because one of the plotlines (as far as you can call anything in a magical realism book a plotline) involves pumpkins and pumpkin carving and pumpkin patches. It’s magical and one of the most beautiful, autumnal things I’ve ever read.

Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist: this is the season for ghost stories and thrillers! This story is both, and it’s also gay, so it’s perfect.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle: an atmospheric, quiet and cozy magical story with a mystery aspect. All of this screams autumn to me, even though I’m not sure the book actually takes place in that season. It’s set in an Irish small town and has an almost timeless, nostalgic quality to it too.

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh: thinking about historical fiction featuring dangerous paranormal societies makes me think of fall more than any other season, even though this story is technically set in winter. It’s the decadence! Very autumnal if you ask me. It does help that I read it (and loved it) just a few weeks ago.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk: a steampunk-like magical story about witches with a cozy , rainy atmosphere. How could that not be a fall read? It’s also very gay and I can’t wait for its f/f sequel, Stormsong.


Which books/covers remind you of fall?

Weekly

T10T: Last Ten Horror Books I Read

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 Halloween Freebie.

I decided to talk about the ten most recent horror books I’ve read – and what I thought of them, as horror is a very hit-or-miss genre for me. I will include my rating of the book and also a rating of how creepy/spooky/scary/unsettling the book is, with a little specifics about what makes it so. Said rating will vary from 💀 for “mildly spooky” to 💀💀💀 for “scary, really affected me for a while, glad I read it during the day”. (Consider, though, that I don’t read a lot of horror, so what’s really creepy to me might not phase habitual horror readers!)


Other Small Disclaimer:

Yes this went up at 4 AM in my time zone when it was still unfinished, so you might have seen the draft this morning (sorry! I’ve been sick all weekend+monday and forgot that I had a post scheduled.)


The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

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Genre: it stands on the line between dark fantasy and horror.
My rating: ★★★½ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀, it seriously gets dark – it might be that I’m strongly affected by everything involving plagues – but it’s also really short.

This is a novella about horrible immortal men and their even more horrible relationship and goals; villainous gay content is the best content. Also: Monsters! Sorcerers! Plague! The writing is gorgeous and evocative, the atmosphere is thick and everything feels overwhelmingly bleak. After a first half that made me think this one would be a favorite, the second part of the book really disappointed me – it didn’t go far enough and didn’t leave any impact whatsoever if not for how anticlimatic it felt.


House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

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Genre: YA Gothic horror
My rating: ★★¾ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀 – mild, with the exception of one very upsetting scene involving a dead animal and worms.

A horror retelling of Twelve Dancing Princesses set on a island seemed like a really interesting premise! And I have to say, the island descriptions and atmosphere were definitely the best part. Everything else… not so much. I don’t love books that backtrack too many times on what’s real and what’s not when it comes to creepy scenes, and I thought the worldbuilding needed to be a lot stronger than it was for the book to actually pull off what it was trying to do. But my main problem was with the characters, as they flat out didn’t have a personality, and the romance/vague love triangle me feel as if I had picked up something published in 2012. While this was a quick read, it didn’t feel worth it overall.


Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé

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Genre: YA contemporary-set horror
My rating: ★★½ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀 – more uncomfortably sad than creepy; also involves dead animals.

I just didn’t get what this one was trying to do, which was overall a more unsettling experience than reading the book itself, as it didn’t have that much going for it apart from some very stereotyped horror devices like the creepy little girl who is creepy for literally no reason. The more I think about it, the more I also realize that I also disagree with what this book seemed to be saying in the end (did it mean to? That I can’t say), but I won’t go into it because spoilers. The only thing I actually liked about this one was the creepy wood atmosphere, that was written really well.


Wilder Girls by Rory Power

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Genre: YA horror with a (failed, imo) sci-fi twist
My rating: ★★★½ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀 – excellent body horror.

A gorgeously-written and atmospheric horror novel following three girls trapped on an island where a mysterious illness is changing everything. It’s a story that shows a deep anxiety towards change and the lack of agency that can come with it; I liked the subtle point it made about how being a girl can be a horror in itself because of the expectations inherently placed on your body, and how that relates to the body horror in here. Unfortunately, the characters were barely sketched and the story ended up trying to talk about another topic it wasn’t able to tackle properly, and that really isn’t the kind of thing you should shove in your story as a plot twist.


Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

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Genre: YA contemporary with horror aspects
My rating: ★★★★ (full review with TWs at the end)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀 – not so much scary as deeply twisted and dealing with difficult themes. I strongly recommend looking up the trigger warnings.

This book is pretty much as weird and dark as current YA can possibly get, and if one isn’t prepared, it’s an ugly surprise. I wasn’t, not fully – I was familiar with the author, but not with what this story is about, and I wouldn’t wish that on others (despite the fact that I did really like this in the end). This is about an abuse survivor dealing with complex trauma while trying to get out of a codependent incestuous relationship and the evil faerie realm. Yes, it’s a lot, and the horror is deeply tied with the main character’s life circumstances. It’s the best that YA psychological horror has to offer, it’s beautifully (if very unusually) written, and has one of my favorite character arcs. Stories about marginalized people (the main character is queer) who are survivors and are allowed to not be the figure of the perfect victim while being allowed by the story to still find healing will always be important to me.


Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

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Genre: Sci-fi horror
My rating: ★★★★¾ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀💀 – ominous and suspenseful; slowly rising tension to a conclusion involving a lot of gore. It has the creepiest scene I’ve ever read in it.

This sits perfectly at the intersection of two of my favorite horror subgenres: sci-fi horror and ocean-based horror. It’s about man-eating mermaids, and it gets just how creepy the ocean can be. Another thing it gets? Marine biologists and natural scientists*. There’s a mermaid necropsy scene! (This is particularly relevant to me because shark necropsy might be one of the things we’ll have to do this year as students, and the characters’ reactions to the idea in that scene are pretty much ours, too. The realism!) As someone who might maybe end up being a queer woman in this branch of science, it was also really nice to see that one of the many PoV characters, arguably the main one, is a queer woman in science – a bisexual marine biologist who ends up in an f/f relationship during the course of the novel. This book gets a lot of things right, and there are few things as relevant as environmental horror questioning our ideas about human relationships with the environment.

*not always; there’s this flavor of “internet environmental activist who doesn’t know what they’re talking about” to some of the ecology aspects of it, but it could have been so much worse


The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

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Genre: YA paranormal horror
My rating: ★★★★★ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀 – amazing, well-thought-out psychological horror

I have talked before about how stories about haunted people are stories about isolation, and I’ve also talked about how a rarely portrayed aspect of being mentally ill is how isolating it is. And this is a book about the consequences of avoidance and isolation due to mental illness told through a paranormal metaphor (a haunting). Since I’ve been in this kind of situation, it was an oddly comforting story, not scary at all; by others (seeing from reviews) it has been described both as “addictive and terrifying” (from a less personal PoV: it is scary) and “boring” (don’t look for fast-paced horror here).

So, this is my favorite horror book, it has an f/f relationship I love, the main character even ends up on antipsychotics and experiences side effects (why do most YA books either act as if medication will destroy your life or medication is a gift with no drawbacks?). If the next book I’m going to talk about is Annihilation, the one turned into a movie, this one could easily be renamed Self-Annihilation: An Attempt with Consequences, and if that sounds interesting to you, you really should try it.


Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

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Genre: New weird
My rating: ★★★★ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀💀 – on the deeply terrifying idea of the unknown. Really upsetting and bitter.

Its length is between a novel’s and a novella’s, which makes the distant narration work really well. Definitely don’t get into this if you’re the person who liked to get explanations or answers, but otherwise, this is a really good book about ecological horror (I don’t know the author’s thought process but I would be surprised if this wasn’t deeply influenced by climate anxiety). Like Wilder Girls, about the inherent horror of unwanted change, but it takes a completely different angle.


The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco

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Genre: YA paranormal horror
My rating: ★★★¼ (full review)
Creepiness rating: 💀💀½ – pretty much as dark as YA horror goes

A horror book told in the point of view of a vengeful Japanese ghost girl! The first half is set in America and kind of boring/not that creepy, the second half is set in Japan and (by YA standards at least) seriously terrifying. The main character was probably my favorite aspect of this book, and if you want to read about creepy dolls, this is also definitely the book for you.


Persons Non Grata series by Cassandra Khaw

Genre: cosmic horror mashups; the first book is described as “Lovecraftian Noir”, the second as “Lovecraftian Southern Gothic”
My rating: ★★★★½ (first review; second review)
Creepiness rating: 💀 – mostly mild, but watch out for the eye horror and unsettling atmosphere.

These are short novellas playing with a genre I have very little experience with; it probably will carry even more meaning for those who are familiar with Lovecraft’s fiction (and want something that isn’t a racist mess) but I really liked it even with my very limited knowledge. The writing is gorgeous and makes them feel almost like poetry. From monsters hiding inside abusers to eldritch music taking over people, there’s a lot of horrible supernatural in here, and I loved what the stories did with it, especially the way A Song for Quiet ended up being a story about how much a monster grief itself can be, among all the literal monsters.


What are your favorite horror books? Have you read any of these?

Weekly

T10T: Favorite Book Titles

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 Extraordinary Book Titles.

Before getting to the list: The Drowning Summer by Christine Lynn Herman gets a honorable mention because of how ominous it is. I have no idea whether it represents the book well, but I love it.


Muse of Nightmares

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I love this one on so many levels. I have a thing for vaguely ominous titles, but also: the juxtaposition of the figure of the muse (who inspires, classically positive) with nightmares, the idea of the nightmare-bringing magical figure (so many “evil spirits” and similar things in various mythologies were said to bring nightmares, mainly), the idea of that nightmare-bringing figure being… well, if you’ve read the first book, you know who I’m talking about, what kind of person she is. The whole idea is dissonant in all the right ways.


Ancestral Night

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Mysterious and elegant, as something ancient rising from the dark; it feels vast like everything in this book does, in a way things in other books set in space never do. After all, this is about space archaeology (with pirates and ancient alien civilizations), and I think this title is perfect.


This Is How You Lose the Time War

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Is it, though. 😀

I mean, short fiction (novellas and shorter) gets all the best titles, but this is so… intriguing. And odd, honestly. Also, if you’re not a person who gets tired of lyrical writing and if you think my opinion is worth listening to, you should really really read this book. Find out how to lose a time war with us!


Conservation of Shadows

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Oh I love this one so much. There’s no such thing as a conservation of shadows, the back cover tells you straight away, and I wanted to know what that meant the moment I saw it. I thought of beautiful destruction and a rising star as much as I thought of the law of conservation of energy, and since “science words, but make it poetry” seems to be my favorite kind of writing, of course I love this.


The Haunting of Tram Car 015

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This is the best kind of weirdly specific and I love everything about it. Haunted houses? Boring. Haunted castles? Also boring. Cabins? Shacks? Manors? Mansions? Boring. Tram cars? I’m so here for it. What is that even supposed to be like.

And you know what makes it even better? It’s a haunted steampunk aerial tram car. Yes, it was just as amazing as it sounds.


The Gallery of Unfinished Girls

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This sounds like the beginning of a gruesome murder mystery, but no, it’s a coming-of-age story about art and being a teenage girl and how perfection is unattainable in reality, even more so when you’re unfinished as a person because you’re 17 and there’s no way you know what to do with your life or your art right now, and there’s so much confusion on this cover as well. I love this book, I love its title, I wish more people read it.


Master of the House of Darts

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This is the only book on this list I haven’t read (yet? I’m as terrible as backlist as I am at series and this is the final book of a series I haven’t even started that came out in 2016) but I love this title so much. It’s ominous and it has something about the way it sounds that makes me want to know what exactly is this House of Darts immediately.


Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day

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Again, short fiction gets the best titles. This might be the only book I’ve ever read just because of a title? I kept repeating it. Duskordawnordarkorday. After reading it, the title still is the most memorable thing about the novella, which was disappointing, but the way this sounds is everything. The whole dark-light-dark-light thing going on is also a nice touch. The title doesn’t tell you anything about the story, but for once, in a way that actually made sense to me, because it made me want to know more.


Under the Pendulum Sun

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What is going on with that sun. Why is it a pendulum. And, most of all, what is going on with that cover was my whole thought process before I bought it. Instant cover buy, and the title did its part. It’s unusual and weird and intriguing and makes sense for the story, which can’t be said about many titles.


A Song for Quiet

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We love oxymorons just as much as we love evil eldritch music taking over people and summoning Lovecraftian Old Ones in the middle of the night!


What are your favorite titles? Have you read any of these?

TBR & Goals · Weekly

T10T: Books I’d Love To Read This Fall

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 Fall 2019 TBR.

I’m not writing an actual TBR I plan to follow, because I probably won’t have the time to actually do anything as ambitious as following a ten-books TBR this semester (yay university). But here are some books I might read during the next months! Let’s hope I get to them before next fall.


The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

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I know nothing about this book apart from the fact that it’s gay and that the cover looks like a really pretty kelp forest, and that’s enough for me to want to read it. I mean, technically I know that it’s an f/f Twelfth Night retelling, which would be more meaningful to me if I knew what Twelfth Night was apart from something something Shakespeare, or if I had least made the effort to look it up, but going into retellings knowing very little can be a fun experience in itself, so I don’t know if I will.


Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

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I promise that this TBR won’t all be me pointing at various books, telling you that I actually have no idea what they are, and then saying that they look cool and that’s why I’m going to read them – but I also don’t know what this one is. This time, I’ve actually heard it’s better to go into the book not knowing much, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do; it’s Seanan McGuire, creepy time of the year is approaching and from Into the Drowning Deep I know that she clearly knows how to do creepy. (If this isn’t in any way creepy, that cover is seriously bad marketing.)


The Beautiful

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I have an ARC of this YA historical fantasy involving vampires, so of course I hope to read this soon. My previous experiences with Reneé Ahdieh haven’t been the best (The Wrath and the Dawn was fine as a duology overall, but it did have its own problems, and I’ve heard mostly negative things about Flame in the Mist), but I’m here for a new, diverse YA vampire phase.


Reverie by Ryan La Sala

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I’ve been hearing such good things about this queer YA novel – of which I got an ARC, it was read now on netgalley for a day – and I’m really intrigued. It looks like it will be an unforgettable experience (I mean, evil drag queen sorceress. That has to be interesting), I hope I’m right.


Her Royal Highness

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I think that with how this semester is looking so far, I won’t have that much brain-energy to read, so I’m glad that I have some things on my TBR that look both easy to follow and still interesting to me – this is a royalty romance, which I usually wouldn’t read, but f/f, and that’s automatically more interesting to me.

I kind of have a taste for the unnecessarily convoluted and I will admit that, but this fall is not looking like the right time to read worldbuilding-heavy adult sci-fi. I love it and want to read more of it, but I wouldn’t do it justice right now, so this fall might have more contemporaries in it than usual.


The House of Sundering Flames by Aliette de Bodard

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The last book in one of my favorite series! This has been out for months and I still haven’t been able to read it, which is sad, but I really want to. It should have more Emmanuelle, which I’m always here for, and more Thuan, which is amazing.


A Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig

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Will I ever not love stories about necromancers? The more I think about it lately, the more I feel like I seriously underestimated just how much I liked necromancy-related tropes.

Another anticipated sequel! I loved For a Muse of Fire last September and I really want to know what happens next. Also, I need more mixed media fantasy right now, and just look at that cover.


Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon

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Another contemporary f/f romance, this time under 200 pages! The kind of thing that will probably be easy to read and not make me feel like a complete failure while also being, hopefully, cute. I haven’t had the best luck with this author so far, but I hope this one will be different.


The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

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I’ve mostly heard mixed things about this one, but I still want to give it a chance. I think it’s an atmospheric contemporary fantasy story with a mostly bisexual cast and creepy woods, which all sounds really interesting; fall is the right time for this kind of stories, but I’m still going into it with low expectations.

If this one ends up not working for me, I hope that I will at least be able to find some other creepy contemporary-set fantasy, I always love those.


Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

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Am I worried because I haven’t seen the best reviews lately? Yes. But I’m still so intrigued and want to know how a contemporary-set adult Leigh Bardugo novel will look.

(…It can’t be worse than her Wonder Woman novel. I hate superheroes and still thought that was ok. So.)


Have you read or are you anticipating any of these? Also, I didn’t choose all blue and black covers on purpose, but it does look pretty this way.

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?

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?