Weekly

T10T: Underrated & Underread

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 Freebie: Top Ten Tuesday Turns 10!

I haven’t written one of these lists in a while, but as they’re usually the posts on my blog that get more views, I thought I’d give a shout-out to some really underrated and underread books/stories/nonfiction that I either really like or think are worth your time. Witness how little these recs have to do with each other!


The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

This is a story about Marisol, a lesbian from El Salvador who fled her country for her life with her sister Gabi, and is caught into a “program” where she has to bear a white American girl’s grief to guarantee her and her sister’s safety. In a time in which publishing keeps giving unimaginable amounts of money to white authors writing latinx immigrant stories while ignoring latinx authors’ books on the topic (especially if they’re writing a queer story with sci-fi elements like this one; this is F/F), The Grief Keeper is a book to keep in mind. It’s painful and yet it’s a hopeful story at heart, with commentary on so many topics. [Despite what publishing would have one think, a well-written “issue book” never only actually talks about one issue. They don’t exist in their own separate boxes.]

Twisted Romance, edited by Alex de Campi

This ends up on all my “favorite underrated books” lists because it is! And it’s Pride month, so there’s no best time to shout out one of the most queer anthologies I’ve ever read, and written in a very unusual format as well – short comics and short stories in prose.
Polyamory, multiple queer vampire stories, lesbians, kink, body positivity, discussions on consent, asexual characters, stories about princesses escaping abuse – there’s so much in here about “romance” as a topic, in very little space. And it’s fun!

Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

The first nonfiction recommendation, a book I read back in March and mentioned on this blog only twice since – I don’t like talking about nonfiction. Let’s say, however, that this is a book about justice outside policing and how that may look like, which I think is an especially relevant topic now, but I’ve surprisingly seen this book talked about only outside book twitter circles (most of the nonfiction recs there seem to be books on antiracism or on the whys of police/prison abolition, which are also important).
Beyond Survival is a book about the how of justice outside of police and prisons: drawing on years of lived experiences of activists, it talks about what worked and what didn’t, and strategies employed. If you’re familiar with fiction anthologies, you’ll also know that they are usually a mixed bag, and I find that’s the same with nonfiction – there’ll probably be parts here that will be more or less useful to you, parts that will make you think “this sounds like a bad idea, actually”, and… it’s ok. I just think we should be thinking more about alternatives in general. [If you want to read a more in-depth review by someone who actually knows how to talk about nonfiction, unlike me, here.]

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Back to lighter reads, but not any less great or necessary: This Is What It Feels Like is one of the most nuanced and multifaceted books about recovery I’ve ever read, which in my opinion should be on every list of great YA contemporaries about mental health. It talks about grief, addiction and low self-esteem; it’s a wonderful story about three friends reconnecting because of music, with also a very cute F/F romance. I read it in 2018, at 18, and it kind of changed the way I saw my own journey with mental illness and treatment.

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney

Novellas aren’t usually hyped anyway, but Desdemona and the Deep got very little recognition even considering that. I don’t understand why, not when it’s a very queer, very weird gem, involving fae and goblins – and, more than anything, worker’s rights (yes, these three things have a lot to do with each other. You’ll see.) It’s also written in excessively purple prove and owns it. I love it so much.

I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom

Here again with nonfiction I read during my nonfiction time back in March. If you’ve ever been uneasy with how much of online activism/stuff-that-masquerades-as-activism is driven by righteous anger and desire to punish, this is the book for you. I really think anyone who has ever been in contact with the force that is book twitter could benefit from reading this. Righteous anger is addicting, and because of how social media is built, it does nothing but reward it. [That’s far from the only thing this book talks about – the way it talks about trauma specifically will also be relevant to anyone who has ever found themself in a placed steeped in fandom discourse.]

Always the Harvest by Yoon Ha Lee

A short story by my favorite author, and also my favorite short story I’ve read so far this year. Initially written for the anthology Upgraded, it has been reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine, where it is free to read online. Short stories get very little attention outside of awards in general, and this is even more true for older short stories, so: I loved this queer outcast romance story set in a ever-shifting space city full of well-intentioned body horror so much. It’s… sweet? It will replace your body parts lovingly? It’s the best, strangely-written kind of weird, feat. artistic murder and enough worldbuilding for a novel.

Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn & Claire Roe

This is a queer new adult graphic novel about a bisexual journalism intern trying to solve a mystery and survive her workplace at the same time. It’s messed up and full of queer women, which automatically makes it the best kind of graphic novel, and I don’t even like mysteries (I think this one is technically a noir?). It’s just… the depth of Not Okay this goes to. The sapphic tension. I love this so much and can’t believe how little I hear about it.

Temper by Nicky Drayden

Another commonly featured book in Acqua’s Best Underrated Reads, because it is and because I don’t understand why that is (ok, it’s weird. Really weird. But we like that sometimes, no?); also, I’ve seen several threads Black SFF book recs around in the last month, and when Nicky Drayden is on there, this book never is. [While The Prey of Gods and Escaping Exodus are, and both of them are also very weird and good reads, but I liked Temper so much more.] This is a story set in an AU sci-fantasy South Africa in which everyone is born with a twin, is assigned one out of three genders at birth, as well as marked with the deadly sins that will define them. As it turns out, stuff assigned at birth isn’t necessarily correct. It also has the most unstable magical school I’ve ever read in my life and that was a great time!

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

I’ve never had this much fun with a short story collection, and there’s technically nothing funny about this book – it made me uneasy a lot of the time, actually. It’s just that I remember how much I loved trying to interpret these very weird stories about women, body horror, and metamorphosis. I definitely recommend this to fans of Wilder Girls and Her Body and Other Parties. It’s also very queer, and Stop your women’s ears with wax is one of my favorite short stories I’ve read this year – a sapphic, frenetic, vibrant rising tide of creepy. Don’t dismiss girl bands and their fan so easily, now!


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Weekly

T10T: My Underrated Favorites

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 Loved with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads.

Some of these have… less than 500 ratings. Which is a crime, because all of these were four stars and up and they should get more love and hype. I’m not including ARCs that haven’t been published yet in the actual list, for obvious reasons, but here are some ARCs I liked that are probably going to be under-the-radar:

  • The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown, a quiet f/f contemporary mystery perfect for fans of We Are Okay;
  • The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore, an imaginative and atmospheric desert fantasy following a family of assassins as they try to solve a mystery; it has a mostly-queer cast;
  • Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter, a contemporary story with a horror twist following a codependent relationship between two queer foster siblings and very creepy faeries. Great character development, read it if you like stories about getting out of abusive relationships. (Edit: trigger warnings in the review linked, I recommend reading them before going into the book. I liked this but I wish I had known what I was going into.)

But now, let’s get to the actual list.


Twisted Romance, edited by Alex de Campi

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  • this is: an anthology of short comics and short stories.
  • I rated it 4 stars, but some parts of it stayed with me in ways I didn’t expect.

Every time is the best time to pick up this anthology about unusual romance stories written by a diverse group of authors. Most stories are queer, there is polyamory, there are m/m vampires, there’s kink representation, there are magical lesbians and epic space romances… please read it. It’s so underrated.


This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

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  • this is: a heartfelt contemporary story about three girls, music, and recovery
  • I rated it 4 stars and you really should pick it up if you liked Far From the Tree.

I don’t understand how this book got so little hype and so few people are reading it. I hear many bloggers say that they want ownvoices books that aren’t issue books, and this is a story about music and mending a friendship following three girls, two of which are black (ownvoices rep) and there is an f/f romance! Also, it’s one of the books that portrays what it’s like to be in recovery – from trauma, from a toxic relationship, from alcoholism: all these girls are struggling in different ways – more realistically. And the two romances (f/f and m/f) were so cute.


Darkling by Brooklyn Ray

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  • this is: a new adult m/m paranormal romance with a trans main character
  • I rated it 4.5 stars.

A romance novella I can recommend! If you like witchy books, angry characters, messy and complex friend group dynamic and blood magic, you should read this book. The atmosphere is wonderful, there’s necromancy, and the romance is great too. Also, it’s short, which your goodreads reading challenge (if you have one) will appreciate.


Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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  • this is: a dark urban fantasy story about vampires set in Mexico City
  • I rated it 4 stars.

Do you want to read a story about vampires that is based on Aztec mythology? In Certain Dark Things, one of the two main characters, Atl, is a Tlāhuihpochtli – a descendant of Aztec vampires. She’s also bisexual and one of the best female characters I’ve ever read about. This book completely subverts the usual inexperienced girl/broody vampire dynamic by having a soft boy and a dangerous, mysterious girl as the main characters. I don’t know why I don’t hear more people talk about this book since it’s one of the most interesting urban fantasy novels I’ve ever read – its portrayal of vampires was something I had never seen before.


A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

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  • this is: a lushly written space fantasy retelling of the Mahabharata.
  • I rated it 4.5 stars.

I hate the lost princess trope and this book made me like it, but that’s the magic of good writing, interesting plot, and great atmosphere. Here you’ll find gods, palaces floating among nebulas, deadly but talkative spaceships, and intrigue – yes, this book’s political intrigue is as good as it gets in YA. Also, I found many (spoiler-y) aspects of it really subversive and I really think this series doesn’t get even half of the recognition it deserves.


A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

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  • this is: a Lovecraftian Southern Gothic novella following a black bluesman and the cursed music that won’t let him go
  • I rated it 5 stars.

I’ve been talking about how good and underrated Cassandra Khaw is since before I started this blog, but I always feel like I’m screaming to the void. Which makes sense: if you’re ever in the mood for things about screaming and voids, you should really read Cassandra Khaw’s fiction. Or, do you want to read something about fighting your monsters in which the writing in stunning? Pick up A Song for Quiet.


The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

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  • this is: a YA horror with an f/f romance following what may or may not be a haunting
  • I rated it 5 stars.

This is a delightfully creepy and very gay YA book with a great wintry atmosphere and mental illness representation I loved. No one talks about it, and in a way I get that this would be a very polarizing and not hyped read even if more people read it, because the main reasons this worked for me so much are very personal, but… this has less than 500 ratings on goodreads and it deserves better.


For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

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  • this is: a YA fantasy book about a girl who is able to make shadow puppets through necromancy
  • I rated it 4 stars.

I really don’t get why this isn’t more popular. It’s one of the best fantasy books I read in 2018, and yes, at times it is formulaic, but… so are all 90% of YA fantasy books that get popular? This approaches a lot of topics – like colonization and living with bipolar disorder* – with nuance, and has a really interesting cast of characters I loved. It also has solid worldbuilding (it’s set in a country inspired by Southeast Asia during French colonization), it’s told in a mixed media format (maps! sheet music! plays!) and features the most original portrayal of necromancy I’ve ever seen. This really is a hidden gem.

*I thought that went without saying, but: don’t listen to reviews that say things like “I’m not [x] but I thought that this book, that had ownvoices representation of [x], represented [x] badly”. In this case, [x]= bipolar disorder, but it could be any other marginalization.


Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

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  • this is: a collection of sci-fantasy short stories
  • I rated it 5 stars

Yoon Ha Lee’s other books are reasonably well-known, but his collection of short stories? I’ve never seen anyone talk about it, which is a shame, because this has some of the most gorgeous short fiction I’ve ever read in it (Ghostweight!!), featuring necromancy, books that grow teeth, characters that come to life, fallen space cities, war-kites, deadly origami, and weapons that can erase a person’s ancestry. It deals with themes like colonization, the importance of language and the cost of war, all the stories are beautifully written and worth your time.


What are some great books you never hear anyone talk about?

Weekly

T5W: Underrated Books + Hidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre(s)

Top 5 Wednesday is a goodreads group created by Lainey (gingerreadslainey) and now hosted by Sam (thoughtsontomes). This is T5W Rewind Month, which means I get to choose a topic between all the past ones. I chose Underrated BooksHidden Gems in Your Favorite Genre.

What underrated means for me: I don’t hear enough people talk about it and/or it had less than 1600 ratings on goodreads when I wrote this post.

I also chose to cheat because there’s no way I could only choose five, and what you get is three underrated books from five genres I love.


Weird Contemporary Fiction

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz: This contemporary novel with magical realism aspects follows bisexual Puerto Rican painter Mercedes Moreno. It’s about growing up and the hidden magic of everyday life. It’s the best coming-of-age novel I’ve ever read and was also my favorite YA release of 2017, but unfortunately it received very little hype and it’s the definition of a hidden gem.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda LoHalf quiet slice-of-life and half mystery, this books follows a love triangle between three lesbians, with a Chinese-American main character. It’s a story about the lines between friendship, unrequited love and obsession. I couldn’t put it down because of the flawed, morally gray characters.

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson: Considering how well-loved the other books by this author are, I’m surprised by how little hype The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza got. It’s a contemporary book about choices with a speculative twist, and it  follows a bisexual Cuban magical girl. It’s very weird and more people should read it.


Historical

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages: this is a quiet novella set in San Francisco in 1940. It follows a group of queer women, some of which are magical, and it has a very cute f/f romance. It’s a quick read with a wonderful atmosphere.

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng: This book follows two Victorian missionaries in fairyland, and of course everything goes wrong. I can’t say much without spoilers, but I definitely recommend it if you like seriously messed up faeries, mind games and dark stories.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee: another book set in San Francisco, but in 1906 – and this time there’s no magic, but there’s an earthquake. This book follows Chinese-American Mercy Wong and how the earthquake changed her life. A very underrated YA novel about friendship and the only realistic historical book I’ve ever loved.


Science Fiction

Want by Cindy Pon: If you like the idea of dystopian books but are tired of “America, but slightly uglier” settings, Want is a dystopian book set in Taiwan with really interesting aesthetics (near-future sci-fi technology side-by-side with ancient buildings), themes (this is a story about class privilege) and a great ensemble cast. Also, heist plot!

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard: My favorite novella of the year so far. The Tea Master and the Detective isn’t from Tor.com, so I feel like many people don’t even know it exists – which is a shame, since it’s Vietnamese-inspired space opera and a Sherlock Holmes retelling in space in which Holmes is a woman and Watson is a sentient spaceship.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden: A bizarre sci-fantary novel set in South Africa that feels as if it’s on drugs. There’s implied crab/porpoise drug-induced sex during the first chapter and an invasion of dik-diks. Sometimes it was just too much, but I loved the characters, and it’s also very queer. Try this; you won’t forget it.


High Fantasy

Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett: An underrated fantasy novel set in a kingdom inspired by the Himalayas in which the goal isn’t saving the world, defeating an enemy or winning a game: it’s climbing the highest mountain. If you like slow, atmospheric fantasy stories with many magical creatures, mythology and evil plot twists, try this book.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera: It shouldn’t surprise me that f/f stories get ignored often, but this book is about warrior lesbian princesses who fight demons and are fated lovers, and I don’t understand why no one is reading this. One of the best epic fantasy books I’ve read in the last years.
[While this is inspired by Japanese and Mongolian cultures, I wouldn’t recommend it for that, I’ve heard that aspect isn’t done well at all]

Tensorate series by JY Yang: My favorite novella series at the moment. It’s a sci-fantasy story set in an East and Southeast Asian-inspired world. It deals with themes such as grief, family and the balance between magic and science. I love the worldbuilding because it’s beautiful (the best descriptions and magic system) and trans-inclusive.


Urban Fantasy

Darkling by Brooklyn Ray: another underhyped novella, the beginning of the Port Lewis Witches series; it’s a witch-y m/m romance with a trans main character and an interesting atmosphere. I loved all the characters, and it’s a very quick, light read if you do not mind blood magic.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger: an urban fantasy book that received very little hype, it’s a story about demon-fighting bartenders (with magical drinks!) in Chicago featuring a Chinese-American heroine, and it’s as fun and light as it sounds. Couldn’t put it down.

Paris Adrift by EJ Swift: Time travel in Paris! It has the best atmosphere, of course, and it also gets really political; I had never seen speculative fiction address the rise of neo-fascism before. I didn’t love the beginning, but the problems I had with it weren’t in the second half (which was wonderful) and I loved the depiction of the main character’s panic disorder.


Which of your favorite books deserve more hype? Recommend me some hidden gems.