This year really won’t give me a break. In June, I’d post an all-queer pride TBR, but this year I’d be surprised if I finished even one book.
In June, I will have to be out of my house for at least a week for university reasons, which will be incredibly draining, and for the rest of the month it’s Exam Season Yet Again. Yay! Let’s limit ourselves to a general update.
Where Are We Now
Botanically, we’re right in the middle of broom season. The mountains all around Genoa are lit up by the bright yellow of the ginestra di spagna (Spartium junceum) and by the burnt golden-yellow of the ginestra spinosa (Calicotome spinosa).
Reading-wise, I completed two books in May, The Fever King and The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee, the first of which was a reread. I had been wanting to reread this book about a magical pandemic for a while, but in 2020 I just couldn’t; now that I’m vaccinated (was lucky, no side effects) there really wasn’t any excuse anymore, so I went back to it. And… I don’t know, I was just kind of disappointed both by my reread of The Fever King and by its sequel. It’s a good series, especially when compared with most YA dystopians, but neither book managed to make me feel as strongly as The Fever King did when I first read it. The first felt somewhat rushed, the second went much further but forgot pieces of itself along the way.
The Electric Heir went a lot further than I thought it would, and it was right to do so. Sometimes, YA books tend to hold back while portraying abuse, for many understandable reasons – but The Electric Heir is the demonstration that something doesn’t need to shy away or become exceedingly graphic to explain itself fully. It’s raw, it’s messy, it’s honest, it’s painful; it doesn’t relish in its portrayal of pain. I appreciated all of this more than I could put into words, and yet, something was missing for me.
I fell in love with the first book in this series. I couldn’t think about anything else for weeks. While rereading it, I realized that I somewhat glossed over certain aspects – the choppy writing, the hollow side characters, how empty this world feels – that shone through in the second book as the story progressed and grew, becoming if anything thinner instead of more fleshed out.
Did this book live up to my expectations, then? More than I ever thought it could; not in the way I was certain it would. I loved it, it disappointed me; I read it in less than a day, I wish it had stayed with me for longer.
Plans for the future
Just “read something“, it won’t really matter what it is as far as I have something to talk about here. I can say that while on my Grishaverse high I’ve bought The Severed Moon journal and I really enjoy writing in it, but that’s not something one can really review; my hope is that this returning interest in the Grishaverse will convince me to finally read King of Scars.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t yet, there are two main reasons: I’m a perfectionist who wants to reread everything else first, and, second, reading it would mean acknowledging the ending of Ruin and Rising, which made just as much narrative and emotional sense as it made me mad. I was fifteen and it still does and it should have no right to! Someday I will be over it. Maybe.
What are your plans for June? Have you read any of these books?
And so am I! Mostly. I wouldn’t say I’m back exactly, but the blog is back online for the time being.
I decided I was going to be mostly offline back November for my own sanity. Predictably, at least in hindsight, I ended up liking how that felt. After a while, I also found another time-occupying thing to do online that has nothing to do with books or social media (and requires me to write in Italian: my English got worse); then, with exams and everything, I kind of lost contact with the English booksphere. But while I don’t miss certain aspects of this place – the overwhelming American nature of it, and everything that concerns “book twitter” as an entity more than the people themselves – I do miss talking about books with people.
(Yes this was up yesterday for a few hours, yes that was a mistake)
What Does This Mean?
I’m around again: though not even nearly as often, and I hope my relationship with this place will be different. You can read most of what was going wrong in this post I wrote last fall; I don’t want to feel like that again.
A smaller TBR: I’m deleting most YA books I know I won’t pick up anytime soon, those I expect I’d give around 3.5 stars; I don’t have the time to try things I know I won’t love. My goodreads TBR is currently around 110 and I hope to get it under 100… somehow (I don’t think that will happen)
Broom season just begun!
I’m not sure which broom this one is exactly (bad: I definitely should!) but it’s the only broom in bloom™ in the shrubland right now. The ginestra spinosa/spiny broom (Calicotome spinosa) and the ginestra di Spagna/Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) aren’t quite there yet, which only means we will have different but very similar species of brooms in bloom™ for a few months. Does that have anything to do with books? No and I don’t care, they’re pretty.
What about books?
This should, after all, be a book blog…!
I haven’t read much. I’ve been listening to the same book since the end of last year, Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone; as far as reading-through-words-on-a-screen, I haven’t been doing any of it for the sake of my eyesight. I’m liking this absurd space opera, even though I find it way too easy to follow – when it comes to adult sci-fi, I want my brain to hurt, otherwise it’s just not good worldbuilding to me.
A brief list of my thoughts so far:
I appreciate the gay. a lot.
there’s such a thing as too much action & this book really isn’t afraid of being too much
sometimes it feels like superhero fiction and that’s not really my thing
it would give the judgemental bores who made “mary sue checklists*” a stroke and that’s good, I approve
I’m around halfway through and my #1 wish for the story is “get weirder”
not that it isn’t weird at all, but you know, there’s Room for Improvement
*I don’t know how much of a common experience it is, but when I found those “how not to write a mary sue” advice posts at 15 I took them very seriously, when 90% of what they said is fuffa (Italian; means something between crap and empty and vapid and right now I can’t find the right English word).
However, I have read some short fiction (of course I have, whose blog do you think you’re reading, etc) and the two most memorable stories were:
I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You by Karin Tidbeck(Strange Horizons, 2013): I tried it because I was curious about the author’s translated novel, Amatka, given that I’ve been wanting to know more about non-English fiction lately. It follows a woman who is undergoing psychiatric treatment and is asked to try the “latest experimental therapy”, the Sadgoat: she is literally assigned a goat to care for, and it even seems to work… but something else might be going on. This is the kind of story that I recommend to other fans of weird, ambiguous short fiction that is more about a feeling than about the underlying mechanisms of something. It wouldn’t satisfy the kind of reader who is always looking for definite answers, but if you’ve ever had to deal with psychiatrists’ tendencies to… obfuscate, and the feeling that gives you – this is perfect. It’s also a really interesting twist on the concept of scapegoat, and I’ll be thinking about it for a while.
Then there’s Seven Night for Dying by Tessa Gratton (in Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite by Zoraida Córdova e Natalie C. Parker). I have no interest in the whole anthology but the editors were so kind to put Gratton’s story at the beginning so I could read all of it on google play without buying the book. Anyway. This was everything I’ve ever wanted from a YA vampire story. It’s bold, it feels like it shouldn’t be happening but you want it to, and I can feel why the main character is drawn to the vampires. The concept might not even be that original, the vampire lore is what we’re used to, but that doesn’t matter at all: it’s written so well that it just comes alive, and its structure – short snippets that are just slightly ambiguous at times – makes it a quick but memorable read with a strong atmosphere and forbidden feel to it. Also, reading about a girl who is given a choice when choices are all but a given in these stories – not when it comes to teenage girls and the dangerous allure of “turning” – has its own meaning. I wish I could get more, but it’s perfect as it is.
A Short List of Interesting Stuff
Two non-fiction posts I didn’t necessarily agree with on all points but that I did find really interesting to read:
The Trouble With Easy Criticism by Ritesh Babu: I don’t know anything about most of the things this post references, as it’s about a completely different sphere of media, but I do feel like my ideas and trashed posts about projection and today’s reviewing culture + the ones about not liking some of my old reviews were going for something like this, partly, but not fully – there are some parts of this I don’t really feel. It’s Complicated and that’s why I remember this post.
As I said, I didn’t keep up with anything. Please tell me about the best books you’ve read in the last ~5 months, or tell me about your best posts, or anything like that – I want to know!
Also: December was such a weird time for me that I didn’t even think about it, but: my “best of 2020” post never went up, would you be interested in reading it even though it’s April and there’s nothing on there you can’t guess? Let me know; as far as the rest, I hope my next post here won’t be as late as this one has been.
What is today’s post? I don’t know either, and in any case, categories are overrated.
Rules? On my blog?
In theory, this started out as a Liebster Award post, which has its own rules, but you know what? I don’t feel like coming up with facts about myself or questions to tag other people for, but I do feel like writing something and this is what you get.
The good news is, a review of Over the Woodward Wall should be here this week, because yes, I finally started something again after taking another unintentional break during September’s exam season. However, there won’t be a specific wrap-up post coming this month, because I read exactly two novellas and nothing else. No, the wrap-up will be right here because no one can stop me.
September was mostly a month of me using every opportunity to get out of the house as often as possible, because getting some practice in existing outside is a good idea when you had to spend the first months of the year leaning into your agoraphobia due to pandemic reasons. Also, I’m still making friends with the cats, and the outside in itself is a really beautiful place sometimes:
After exam season ended, (online) lessons have started again, so I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do this in the next months. Another unrelated things that has changed is that I’m learning how to cook fish more by myself now! I’m now the designated fish buyer and cleaner in the house (can do both completely on my own), because that’s what a marine ecology course is good for, and the shark dissection we did in class back in January means that certain things don’t faze me much anymore.
As far as books, I read two novellas, Yellow Jessamine by Caitlin Starling and Over the Woodward Wall by Seanan McGuire. Of the first, I already have a review up, and I mostly thought it was fine but not that memorable – maybe I didn’t understand it fully – but I did appreciate how messed up it was. About the second one, I was again not sure of what it was trying to achieve or what it was even trying to be target audience-wise, but finding the parallels between it and Middlegame was a fun experience.
Water, I guess? That’s pretty much all I drink, and sparkling water doesn’t bother me – which on the US-dominated internet seems to be an unpopular opinion. At least, I’ve seen a lot of people talk about it as if it were Water From Hell, when to me it’s perfectly fine; I just won’t seek it out deliberately. (Well, we also make banana + cocoa smoothies after dinner sometimes here, but that’s more of a dessert than a drink. Now that would be a nightmare if carbonated.)
How has the pandemic affected your coping skills?
There would be a lot to say, but I don’t feel like writing it down. Something relevant to this blog is that I find it more difficult to get into books, which was one of the reasons I had to put down Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston earlier this week even though I was liking it – I’m finding it difficult to read adult SFF at all. I hope that changes soon.
Do you have a library card? And do you use it?
No. Local libraries’ concept of a “fantasy section” is made up of three beaten up copies of an Italian fantasy series from around 2005, the entirety of Twilight, and either an old edition of The Lord of the Rings or a random A Song of Ice and Fire novel (probably not the first one, you won’t be that lucky). It’s not very useful.
What are the top five books you’ve read so far in 2020?
I don’t feel like ranking them, so I’m going to say them in the order I read them: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (I don’t think I’ve ever annotated a book this much), The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (the way this was written just Gets Me), The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders (unforgettable, rightly monstrous), the short storyAlways the Harvest by Yoon Ha Lee (well-intentioned body horror… best romance), and Night Shine by Tessa Gratton (also unforgettable and rightly monstrous, because I have a type). Only two of them are novels, because I don’t want to spoil the whole “favorite novel of the year” post! That’s my favorite post to write.
What are the five books you cannot stop recommending to people?
I think I’ve recommended Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothersby Alyssa Wong to all people asking me about queer short fiction over the years and I stand by it – it’s about murderous Asian vampire-like creatures in a messed up F/F/F love triangle and it’s one of the most memorable short stories I’ve ever read.
Other than that, I can’t really think of anything I’ve recommended to many people? I know several people have read Ninefox Gambitby Yoon Ha Lee and Never-Contented Thingsby Sarah Porter because of me, but I wasn’t actively recommending these books to them – it’s just that I talked about both a lot on my blog. Also, I convinced people IRL to read Ancillary Justiceby Ann Leckie (and back when I was in high school, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and Deathlessby Catherynne M. Valente), and not much else…
Do you write? If so, what’s your current work in progress?
No. But I’d like to – I have a work in progress which will most definitely never get written. So far, it exists as a prologue (I think they’re nice actually) and a piece of a first chapter. As for what it is about: what happens when the quintessential magical YA heroine, after completing the quintessential girl power YA novel arc (minus the romance) and defeating evil, decides that she and her devout following have to create an all-girl utopia in the woods? Yes, this is about cults. (And religious trauma, and reactionary conformist thought masquerading as “feminism”, but let’s not get too into that yet.)
The YA-heroine-type character isn’t the PoV character, that would be boring, and I wouldn’t describe this idea as YA – they’re already older and I didn’t make it up with teens as a main audience in mind. I love this story and where it goes, but I don’t think that of my English, so I don’t know if I’ll ever actually finish even a first draft.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled? Was it for yourself or someone else?
Sometimes I look up unusual or even straight up cursed-sounding food combinations to see if there’s anyone who has ever actually tried that, or if it isn’t even as unusual or cursed-sounding of a combination as it actually seems to me. One of my favorites can be translated as (I look them up in Italian) “clam profiterole“. I didn’t find a result for that, but I did find recipes by looking up the variant “clam chowder cream puffs“, so!
The clam cream puffs from the recipe I found weren’t meant to be sweets, but my idea of “clam profiterole”, or to be an Italian, “bignè alle vongole”, was absolutely meant to be a sweet pastry – what if you bit into a regular cream puff and there was a whole clam inside the cream? Without the shell, because of course I’m not a monster 🙂
What is your favorite fall (or spring) activity?
Last year it was impulse-buying cacti, the year before it was [depressive episode static noise], who knows what this year will bring?
What is your most paranormal experience?
There’s no experience that stands out. However, being surrounded by [phobia trigger] can do really weird things to my perception of reality. I wouldn’t call it paranormal but it sure feels like it.
Besides reading/blogging, what are your hobbies?
Before the pandemic it was “underwater photography” – by which I mean snorkeling with a waterproof camera near underwater rocks; I can’t scuba dive, but there’s a surprising amount of interesting stuff one can find near the surface, including morays. This year, I haven’t been able to go to the beach at all. Now, it’s… Pokémon Go. Which is fun but also makes me sad because real fish were better.
Which Chris is the best Chris?
The actors? I don’t know anything about their personalities or what they do, because I… watch approximately one movie a year and usually don’t even know the names of the actors in it. One of the many ways I live under a rock! As far as looks, I don’t find them interesting.
How was this month for you? Have you read any of these books?Do you also have an Overly Specific Role if you live together with other people? And, most importantly, would you eat the clam profiterole?
Here I am, back to monthly wrap-ups! At least I read enough this month to make an individual post.
After two exam months, August was a much-needed empty one. For the first two weeks, I was in the Rhaetian Alps; the rest of the month was pretty much like July minus the studying. By which I mean, my project involving becoming friends with all the city’s cats continued. I know many by now, several of which meow at me in recognition, but I finally have a Best Friend! She calls and follows me when she sees me, and she also tried to jump on my knees while I was crouching to pet her (startling me. sorry cat. The second picture is her right after that happened, by the way):
People who say cats love you just because you feed them are wrong! I don’t feed any of them and we’re still friends. And, as far as the Rhaetian Alps time went, it wouldn’t be Acqua’s blog without plant pictures:
maybe an unusually pink Astro alpino (alpine daisy, Aster alpinus)
Euphrasia, also known as eyebright: I had never seen so many of them in flower, the meadow looked like something that had just been touched by fairies.
What I Read
This month I read seven things, one short story and six novels, and DNFed a seventh. The short story was The Mysterious Study of Doctor Sex by Tamsyn Muir, following Camilla and Palamedes from Gideon the Ninth; it was fun but a little underwhelming and I don’t have much to say about it, so let’s get to the novels:
At the beginning of this month, my brain was still fried from exams, by which I mean it took me almost a week to finish a book I was already halfway through, and I was even liking it! I ended up giving The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood 4.5 stars. I’m used to predicting when the most intense parts of the book will happen basing myself on how far into it I am, as most books follow a very predictable structure. This one doesn’t, it even has a time jump of several years when you’re 30% in, which was both really interesting and horrible for my attention span. It was a very weird time and I recommend it especially if you like to read adult fantasy about unhinged immortal beings. (review)
Then I started Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles. I’ve already talked about it several times by now, but this book would have benefited from more editing and just… more substance. It did have some of the most memorably-written descriptions I’ve found this year, though, so if you’re a really atmosphere-driven reader who just wants to Imagine the Pretty, you’re going to have fun with this! I gave it 3 stars. (review; discussion of the atmosphere)
As I said I would in my August TBR, I tried The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson and determined that this is a story I’d love to read while I’m not witnessing the global rise of fascism. One could say that these books are more relevant than ever, and I agree, but I need to keep my energy for mentally dealing with this sort of thing for when I read actual, non-fictional news. If you’re someone who can’t get anxiety attacks from media, I do recommend trying this out because I do think it’s doing a lot. I wouldn’t have felt this way otherwise. Another book that ended up not working for me is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, because I don’t get along with books that clearly think action scenes for the sake of action are interesting. I got through this book in two days because I skimmed most of them, I was so bored – I gave it 2 stars. At this point, I’m not sure I want to reach for Black Sun at all later this year, because everything I’ve tried by this author hasn’t worked for me.
All the while, I was listening to the audiobook of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, a West African-inspired YA fantasy that ended up restoring my interest and trust in this genre. For a long time, the best thing I could say about the YA fantasy I was reading was “I would have loved this at 16, I’m glad it exists”, but yes, there are stories that I can still love now, and this is one of them. From the world full of magical creatures, mysterious deities and unraveling legends to the very real, deliberate focus on mental healthand xenophobia – it’s beautiful, compelling, and well-crafted. I gave it 4.75 stars; it’s one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve read in a while.
Then I read the weirdest contemporary I’ve ever found, The Pursuit of Miss Heartbreak Hotel by Moe Bonneau. It’s an F/F coming-of-age story that deals with mental illness (mainly OCD) and a relative’s terminal illness. The writing happens to be very strange. Everyone speaks in the same, unexplained slang; the word choices go from “unusual” to “outright baffling”; and the writing has a rhythm to it that makes it feel like poetry. It has no author note. I’m not surprised this got many bad reviews, but personally I really liked it and I have theories on why this was the way it was – and in a novel about finding the courage to be yourself, I appreciated the unapologetic weirdness. I gave it 4 stars.
The last book I read was Night Shine by Tessa Gratton, my favorite of the month (maybe favorite of the year? too soon to tell). This is a subversivequeer YA fantasy about identity, choice, and the damaging, restrictive nature of binaries. The writing is beautiful and dreamlike, and so is the way it talks about learning who you are and the nature of identity and gender. Of course, my favorite aspect was the romance between the main character and the Sorceress, because villainesses are hot in a gay way. When I hear about someone named The Sorceress Who Eats Girls, the main thing I also want to know is whether she’s single. I gave this 5 stars.
As you can see, this was an unusual month – one in which I found not one but two YA fantasy books I loved (…it’s been so long), and I’m even currently reading a third that may also fit that, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko. After two years of either avoiding or being disappointed by this genre (and sometimes by its adult counterpart as well), it’s so refreshing. I mean, I’m aware that I would have loved something with the concept of Night Shine even more if it had been an adult book, because it would have been allowed to be just a little darker and subtler and that would have been perfect, but you know what? It’s great the way it is already. Please ignore the unfortunate cover and read it.
Have you read or want to read any of these?How was August for you?
Hi! I’m officially back! Exams have ended. My will to read hasn’t yet returned completely, but that’s hopefully temporary. As I read very little in July, it didn’t make sense to me to write two different posts, so you get them together.
This has been a difficult yet largely uneventful two months for me (if you don’t count exams), because for most of June and the first half of July I didn’t have the time to do anything but study. I’m exhausted on several levels at once, which is a significant part of why I’m not reading and in general was less on the internet than I used to.
In June I went back to a place I hadn’t been to in years and that has always been important to me in a way I can’t really explain; let’s just say that I understand why in my region’s tradition it was considered a sacred mountain since pre-Roman times. This is Acqua’s blog, so you get plant pictures:
The eerie beauty of the forest covering the mountain can’t be really captured in a photo, but I tried; it’s a faggeta (beech forest – Fagus sylvatica); the second picture is the most common flower on the mountaintop at that moment, Cerastium sp.
In July, I… studied. And when I wasn’t studying, I just wanted to be outside. As I have nothing to actually do outside, I ended up spending way too much time playing Pokémon GO – which, by the way, is a much better experience when the whole city isn’t also trying to do the same (as it was the last time I used it seriously, back in August 2016). Given that “architectural barrier” is the second nature of my region, this also means I’m getting a lot of exercise done.
“Welcome to Liguria! We hope you like stairs :)”
the fact that a fantasy novel named City of Stairs exists but is not about or set in my city is just incorrect;
this is a picture of “Salita di Santa Brigida”, which, when translated literally, would be Ascent of Saint Bridget or Rise ofSaint Bridget. It’s obvious to any Italian person that there is an enormous mismatch in tone between the name and its translation, which is… both really interesting and not unique to this toponym. It may have some influence on Americans’ weird and frankly baffling fascination with Italians’ relationship with Catholicism? That, and the extremely ~cool~ way they portray it in their novels. [Yes, this is yet again about the mess that was Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente.] To give non-Italian speakers an idea, a less literal translation that would take the tone into account would be Saint Bridget Hill.
Salita Santa Brigida – of which the picture doesn’t show even half of – leads to another Salita and then eventually to a castle built in the 19th century. Emphasis on eventually. In only two weeks, during which I didn’t always end up around there to catch Pokémon (given the heat, it is a… commitment?), I met at least three different groups of tourists saying that the castle possibly can’t be that far, right? Oh, I wish. I mean, technically it isn’t far, you’re just going to feel every single step.
[There is an elevator-train hybrid you can use to avoid all of this. Given the current situation and strict rules about enclosed spaces, most choose not to.]
What I Read
Combining the two months, I read 12 books:
3 memoirs, of which one was a manga
4 fantasy graphic novels, of which 3 were rereads
1 collection of flash fiction.
I also read only one short story, so I will talk about it in this post instead of doing a separate “short fiction time” for these months.
The only two novels I read were audiobooks of YA contemporaries, which in itself tells you a lot about my current attention span and mental state. They were both pretty good, but objectively on completely different levels regarding quality.
I’ve already posted reviews of both, so I will link them for more details, but Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is one of the best YA contemporaries I’ve ever read. Everything about it felt so real and alive in a way books in this genre don’t often achieve, and it was such a celebration of trans Black teens. Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen was also a solid read with a message that is important to me – about the narratives we tell ourselves about who we are vs. who we actually are deep down vs. how others can perceive us – but I can say that since the only other YA contemporary I read in months was Felix Ever After, its flaws stood out starkly – especially the comparatively weaker characterization and absent sense of atmosphere. I gave Felix Ever After4.75 stars (review) and Late to the Party3.75 stars (review).
I said before that 2020 is turning out to be nonfiction year for me, and these two months were no different; I read three memoirs in completely different genres.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson is a memoir about being Black and queer in America written specifically to also be accessible to a younger audience, but I’d recommend this to people of all ages; it’s a powerful read and it made me cry several times. I highlighted almost half of it and gave it 5 stars (review).
About the other two, I haven’t yet posted a review on my blog and don’t know if I will; they’re the kind of books I don’t really know how to talk about. Don’t let the cover of Freshwater mislead you; it may say “a novel” but Akwaeke Emezi has said it’s mostly based on their own experiences and called it an Ọgbanje memoir. And it was… such a non-binary book, and I don’t mean it only in the sense of gender. It’s a book whose very existence questions the binaries and categories built in western society, and that of course includes gender, but also our concept of what does and does not make a mental illness, or the way we see spirituality’s relationship with “reality”. It’s a necessary reminder not to try to divide the world into easily digestible, neatly-labeled boxes; doing so flattens the complexity of the world and overwrites real people’s experiences. I initially gave it four stars, but as I keep thinking about it nearly every day, I moved the rating to 5 stars.
My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata happens to be the first manga I’ve ever read, so it was an interesting experience. This is also the book I have more trouble talking about, because it was such a personal memoir about sexuality and parental expectations that it almost feels wrong to give my opinion on it. What I can say is that other queer people dealing with loneliness, mental illness, and the consequences of a strict upbringing might find something useful in the author’s journey, as long as they remember it’s a real person’s lived experience with intimate topics and not a how-to guide or a portrayal of all lonely lesbians. I gave it 4 stars.
In June Monstress Vol. 4: The Chosenby Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda was published in Italy, and I reread the whole series. My main recommendation for Monstress is to reread the previous installments every time a new one comes out; things even start to make sense after a while! I love this series even when it doesn’t seem to, because to me something “making sense” is secondary (if it doesn’t, I’ll try again later). After all, I’m mostly here for two things: the art and the gay villainess nature of it all. I’m still not over how much one of the plotlines here is starting to mirror the horrible lesbian arranged marriage in The Stars Are Legion. I gave it 5 stars.
Onto the short fiction: I read a lot less of it than I did in the rest of the year, and most of it wasn’t great or as great as I expected it to be, but I still appreciated a lot of it.
The two novellas I read were Finna by Nino Cipri (review), a portal fantasy set in a IKEA-like store, which was interesting pretty much only for the anti-capitalistic themes and the queer representation but wasn’t outstanding as a story in itself, and The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson (review), a gorgeously-written if very heavy non-linear story about a sci-fantasy world and gay love, but with a heartbreaking twist. I gave both of them 3 stars.
Over the course of these two months I also read the flash fiction collection The Candlevine Gardener and Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee. I love his writing and really liked this collection as well, but not as much as I loved The Fox Tower’s and Other Tales last year – I missed the stories about foxes, mostly; they’re the funniest and most memorable (and also, this time there was no poetry). I gave it 4 stars and still really appreciated how this collection included multiple disabled, queer (including non-binary) and polyamorous characters.
One of the last things I read in July was Seanan McGuire’s short story Juice Like Wounds, set in the same world as In an Absent Dream – it’s described as a “sidequest” of it. If you haven’t read the book, I don’t know how much sense it’s going to make, but if you have, it’s Mockery’s story, and it hurt. I did wonder who Mockery was during In An Absent Dream, because her story was oddly danced around and never really told, but I also understood that not everything can fit in a novella. And now I understand – this did deserve its own story, its own space as a sidequest. Apart from how much I loved being back with Lundy and Moon, reading about the Goblin Market is such an interesting experience, because one thing I’m sure of is that it would be the wrong world for me (…a world in which people treat each other “fairly” – whose definition of fairness do you even use – because of magically enforced rules? No thank you.) but the characters in the world treat said not fitting in as a moral failing – is it? …Now I want a whole story about the villain. There’s always more to tell! (…Is the pomegranate grove in any way tied to Nancy’s world?)
Have you read or want to read any of these?By the way, I know I missed a lot, so if you have any posts you’d like me to see, link them below!
As with all months this year so far, May 2020 was a weird one, but in Italy things don’t seem to be going downhill anymore – at least, not in the way they were for a good part of last month. About the American side of this liminal space: if you’re here, you’re likely on the internet enough to already be informed and I hope you’re already doing what’s in your power to help, but if not, there’s a comprehensive list of things you can do on this Black Lives Matter carrd.
I’m finally not stuck at home anymore! And because our botany course requires us to build an herbarium (yes, the ones with the dried plants), I ended up spending a lot of time outside to photograph/identify/sometimes harvest said plants.
My favorite place I found this month plant-wise was Monte di Traso, on which I took these, probably my favorite pictures of the month:
Yes, if you’re wondering, picture #1 is how European orchids look like; there’s the misconception around here that orchids only grow in warmer, more humid countries, but that’s not true at all – ours are just smaller and look different from what we usually think orchids are like (and not so different after all; if you look at the individual flowers in the inflorescence, they look like the miniature version of the ones here you’d find in a flower shop). Picture #2 is a plant in the Lamiaceae family.
Also, of all things, building an herbary is surprisingly awkward, and you may experience:
people who pass by asking you if you’ve lost something because you’re staring intensely at the weeds to determine whether that’s an Oxalis stricta but to the general public that’s just weird
took a sample of mysterious plant #1 to identify it at home, turns out it’s both:
poisonous, being a lesser-known type of nightshade (not Atropa belladonna)
full of aphids and tiny tiny worms, which is just wonderful for the peace of mind of your family
There are people who think studying plants is boring. Oh, I wish.
In better plant news, for the first time in my life one of my cacti bloomed! It’s likely a Gymnocalycium (unsure of the species, cacti aren’t part of the botany course here) and I love it a lot.
May as a Reading Month
In May, I read 8 books:
5 new novels, one of them written in verse
1 graphic novel
You can also see the short stories I read and reviewed here.
This month was unremarkable both in quality and quantity. While I liked pretty much everything I read, the five star curse has returned – I didn’t rate any of those eight books more than four stars (I gave so many ratings in the four star range). How I even managed to read five 5-star novels in April is beyond me. May was also Wyrd and Wonder month, but as it’s typical for me, I ended up reading very little fantasy. I did end up writing a post for the event, though, On Rules and Magic Systems.
What I Read
I started this month listening to the audiobook of The Never-Tilting World by Rin Chupeco (review). Like all of Rin Chupeco’s books so far, I really liked the idea of it, but had more complicated feelings on the execution – there was a lot of missed potential, and I felt as if this book had been mostly put together as a list of tropes that are thought to sell well, more than something that made sense. I can tell you that the Frozen meets Mad Max comp is accurate, but it… doesn’t come together very well. It was still a very fun time and I really liked the F/F goddess-falling-into-evil/bodyguard romance; I gave it 3.5 stars.
After that, I buddy-read Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang with Silvia (my review; her review), and it was an interesting if somewhat draining experience – there are very few books that actually need to be 600 pages and this is not one of them! It’s also Very Serious Sci-fi with Political, Economical and Social Commentary™, so it’s not a light read. I think it’s worth reading, because there are certain things that American SFF inevitably doesn’t do, and reading outside said viewpoint is a good idea (this is translated from Chinese by SFF author Ken Liu). We both gave this book 4 stars. [This was also an audiobook.]
This month really was the audiobook month, because after reading an ebook of Exit Strategy(of which I wasn’t a fan; 2 stars) I jumped right into Network Effect by Martha Wells, which I finished in less than two days due to my conjunctivitis (can’t procrastinate on reading if your eyes hurt too much to do anything but listen to an audiobook!) and it ended up surprising me a lot – I liked it far more than I expected after that novella and gave it 3.75 stars. The friendship (yes, Murderbot, friendship) between ART and Murderbot really is what makes these books work for me; the ones in which ART is absent just aren’t as interesting. [review]
I didn’t read any more audiobooks after that (three is enough, thank you, and my eyes finally started acting normally again) and Sapphicathon started! So, here’s what I ended up reading for the readathon, which you can compare to my TBR:
I ended up not getting to A Line in the Dark, which makes me sad, but it suddenly got summer-like here and that’s such a winter book, so I’m not annoyed with myself (yes, certain books are better if read in the right season, at least for me). I liked Tillie Walden’s memoir Spinning more than I expected (liked but didn’t love On a Sunbeam by this author) and I definitely want to read more memoirs in the future, especially in graphic format. I rated it 4 stars.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo was at the same time good and disappointing. I can’t even really explain what about it didn’t work for me when Acevedo’s previous novels were both favorites, apart from “I don’t really get along with dual PoV poetry”, which seems universal across all the novels in verse I’ve tried. I gave it 3.5 stars, really appreciated the established F/F couple, and would still recommend it because I don’t think there was anything objectively wrong with it.
As far as Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente goes… well, this is at the same time my favorite book of the year in my heart and one of the most infuriating things I’ve ever read on another level – because of the incredibly ignorant and stereotypical portrayal of the Italian PoV character (and of all the non-American PoV characters, probably, but I can’t say it for sure myself, not being part of those cultures). I’ll get more into it in my review; for now I’ll just say that I’m really conflicted about this and wish I weren’t, because this was just my kind of weird, very queer and very polyamorous novel. As a rating, I landed on 3.5 stars, but nothing quite feels right for this book.
The last thing I finished this month was Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard, a short standalone novella set in the Dominion of the Fallen universe following Thuan and Asmodeus. I’m glad to have seen even more of the Dragon Kingdom in the Seine and this was so all-around gay it was delightful; I gave it 3.5 stars. At the end of May I also started An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green and The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee, but DNFed both for no reason other that “just not for me” (so I didn’t write a review for either). I’m trying to get better at leaving books I know are not going to work for me early enough that I have nothing to say about them.
This was the first post I completely wrote with the block editor! It wasn’t that bad after all. How was May for you? Have you read or want to read any of these?
To give you an idea of how confused I am and how much we are a joke to time itself, I first wrote “May Wrap-Up” and stared at the title of this post for a full ten seconds with the vague awareness that maybe something was off, just a little.
A Brief Life Update
April was exactly like March! Which means it was exactly like the second half of February, which means I haven’t been out of my house in more than two months. Well, there were some different flowers on my balcony, I guess, the prettiest one being this Anemone:
April as a Reading Month
In April, I read 9 books:
5 new novels, of which one I DNFed halfway through;
2 novellas, of which one was a reread
1 graphic novel
I also ended up reading 14 short stories (yes, this was one of those months) but I will talk about them in my next short fiction wrap-up and not here.
In terms of quantity, this month was average. In terms of quality, I went from not reading a five star novel for three months to finding five in just a month, so I think I can’t complain. I don’t write ratings in wrap-ups anymore, but I’m going to mark those with a 🐉.
What I Read
It didn’t start out too well: my first two reads were the Hungry Hearts anthology, that reminded me of how easily lack of cohesion can make an anthology fail (review to come soon), and Crier’s War by Nina Varela, which I DNFed halfway through (not for me).
I then finally read a sequel right after having reread the first book (yay), and read 🐉 The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty astonishingly quickly given how long books over 500 pages take me these days. I loved every moment of it, and wow, is fantasy amazing when the author knows how to build interesting and terribly tense interpersonal relationships along with a fascinating world.
Then I read an ARC of 🐉 Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee, a steampunk novel with folktale-like elements set in a country inspired by Korea under Japanese occupation. It’s easier to follow than Lee’s usual, and the portrayal of what it’s like to be an artist in a colonized country made it stand out (also, it was interesting to see Lee write from the PoV of someone who isn’t a genius, this time). You get all this with a non-binary main character, their pacifist mecha dragon best friend, and a female duelist the main character really shouldn’t be into, but is anyway. I could call this both “delightful and fun” and “bittersweet with some horrifying undertones”, and that’s always the best combination.
Then the Hugo Finalists were announced, and I decided to read some of them for a post I’m putting together with my opinions about this year’s line-up. The first of them was Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher, a cute but forgettable middle grade read about a boy who is a not-so-good mage and his armadillo familiar. I was luckier with my attempt at reading all the nominees in the Best Novel category, where I had only two books to get to:
🐉 The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders wasn’t even on my TBR, but I ended up falling in love with it, which I would have never predicted – I didn’t like anything I tried by Anders before and this didn’t even have that many good reviews from people I follow! I thought it was an incredibly smart book, a story about the downfall of societies and what might work to save humanity on a hostile, tidally locked planet. At its heart is a toxic relationship between two women involving unrequited love and the differences brought by privileged upbringing. The writing and worldbuilding are wonderful, too. My review of this one is neverending because there’s so much to say and couldn’t bring myself to cut any of it out.
I finally stopped procrastinating on what was my most anticipated novel for the second half of last year, 🐉 Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and while I loved it deeply, it’s true that having expectations that high is never good (I wanted this to be an all-time favorite! As of now, it’s not). Still, it’s a really great read and just the kind of queer sci-fantasy mashup I love – with a mystery aspect thrown in the mix as well, because this book knows that you never have too many genres (or dated memes, or bones).
I also ended up reading a graphic novel, Eat and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo & Lilian Klepakowsky, told from the PoV of a woman with an eating disorder as she finds a magical chocolate bar that makes her relive some of the moments in her past that defined the negative relationship she has with herself and her body. It gets how much small, seemingly insignificant moments can have a impact on you as an adult; it explores the long-term effects of bullying (books that do this are so rare!) and growing up in a casually fatphobic household. The art was great and everything was easy to follow despite the frequent flashbacks. Also, I loved the cat! More comics need to have cats in them.
Then I decided to reread Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Sometimes I get this feelings about books I read a few years ago – in this case, long enough that I was still a minor – that tells me that I might not have understood them. I had liked Binti back in 2017, but hadn’t thought about it often since. In 2019, it got translated in my country, and I had bought a copy of the trilogy because I like to support translations of diverse SFF, and since then I’ve had that feeling, maybe this book is better than I remembered. I don’t feel like that often, but when I do I’m usually right, and this time I was too. I feel like I got what this wanted to say so much more and I’m glad I reread it as an adult.
I broke my ARC ban twice this month! For my two most anticipated releases of the year, which I read immediately after getting (my ARC ban exists to avoid accumulation of ARCs aka reading stress), so I’m not too annoyed at myself. The second ARC I got was 🐉 Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, a fairytale-like fantasy novel set in a country inspired by ancient Persia and Zoroastrian beliefs. I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s the kind of book I think one should go into without knowing too much, but it was gorgeous and sapphic and maybe I even liked it more than Girls Made of Snow and Glass. Such an interesting twist on the “girl deadly to the touch” premise.
May is Wyrd and Wonder month! Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy; if you haven’t heard of it yet, here’s the announcement post.
As I don’t write TBRs anymore, I thought I’d talk about what I’m planning for May here. I don’t know if I’ll actually be reading more fantasy than usual, as I’ve learned – after trying to make monthly TBRs work for all of last year – that I can’t accurately predict what I’ll want to read, but I know that:
on May 6th, my review of Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust (out on July 7th) will be up;
on May 11th, a post I’m really excited about, On Rules and Magic Systems, will be up (…with footnotes!) That one was really fun to write, and I hope you’ll find it fun to read as well.
From May 18th to May 25th SapphicAThon will also be running – my attempt at a weekly TBR will be up sometimes later this month (yes, a weekly TBR sounds more manageable) and I might take Wyrd and Wonder and SapphicAThon as an opportunity to read more F/F fantasy.
May is also the time of both the Tome Topple Readathon (May 9th-22nd) and the Asian Readathon, and while I don’t know if I plan to participate in either (as far as making an actual TBR and following challenges) but that might just be the encouragement I need to read the 600-page tome Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang. Problem is, it wouldn’t count for either SapphicAThon or Wyrd and Wonder, being not sapphic sci-fi. We’ll see.
Have you read any of these? How was April for you? Will you participate in Wyrd and Wonder and/or SapphicAThon?
I officially haven’t been out of my house for over a month! Oh, what a lovely time this has been.
What there is to say? Not much at all, and I hope it stays that way, because the only way I see Big Events happening right now would be if something turned worse. Still, since this is a space in which the only non-bookish things I focus on are nice things, I won’t talk about that and will instead tell you that March was an absolutely amazing month for the flowers on my balcony. My favorite picture I took was this one, because I’m really happy to see that I’m far from the only one who likes the muscari:
Armenian grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) with bumblebee
Bumblebees are the cutest insects (fuzzy!), but regular bees come here too sometimes – though for some reason I don’t see them as often on my balcony – and I love seeing all of them around.
What I Read
This month, I read 13 books, which is… the most I’ve read in a month this year, I think. Of them:
5 were novels (not counting the 2 I DNFed), of which 1 was a reread
2 were novellas
3 were nonfiction
2 were poetry collections
1 was a short story collection.
Reading-wise, this was a pretty good month, but: the five star curse continues. I still haven’t rated a new novel five stars this whole year. Short stories, novellas, nonfiction, novels I reread? Yes, several. That isn’t happening with novels, for some obscure reason. Also, this month I gave out an unusual number of three stars.
The beginning of March was off to a bad start; I managed to DNF two books before I finally finished something. These two books were ARCs from before I stopped requesting them, so I’m not that surprised – I know I would have weeded out one of them had I tried a chapter of it. ARCs of full novels just aren’t worth it when I can’t even get a taste of what kind of book they’re going to be beforehand.
My first DNF was Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: this one put me to sleep. It took 35% of the book to even get through the things mentioned in the synopsis, and as with… pretty much all adult thrillers I tried so far, I hated every single character (well, not the main character, I just didn’t care about her). I don’t know why it seems to be such a core part of adult thrillers to portray all characters in a way that makes the reader wish they would die as soon as possible, because I don’t get it – why would I want to spend 400 pages following the problems of people I hate? I just don’t care. The writing was really good, and for someone who likes this genre, this is probably a very solid-if-slow book with an amazing atmosphere. I’m not that person, and the only thing I found interesting were the details about shark fishing (marine ecology & fisheries management brain was really interested in that, far more than anything in the story). [I also skimmed to the ending and, still, *yawn*].
My second DNF was Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen: this time the Try A Chapter test failed me. I liked the beginning; it felt like a fun-if-overwhelmingly-heterosexual story, and it was up until the author introduced a Chinese-Italian side character who was a walking Italian stereotype (emotionally unstable aka the dark side of the “Italians are so passionate” lie, handsy, an accent the others won’t stop mentioning: can we not) and I quit. I also think that I’m… just not going to get much out of this kind of YA contemporary anymore, and that’s one of the reasons I’m (a little reluctantly) moving towards adult contemporary fiction.
Then I finally finished (and liked!) a book, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. I reviewed it here, and I can say that it was an encouraging introduction to adult contemporary fiction, though so far the main thing that stands out to me about the adult contemporaries and litfict I’ve tried, compared to both YA and adult SFF, is the amount of uncomfortable/bad sex the main characters are having. So many examples of that are found also in Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, the collection I’ve read this month (which I surprisingly didn’t love).
I then made my first attempt at a fantasy audiobook, with mixed results – not only because The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett (review) was mostly an ok book, but also because I hadn’t understood how much not knowing how to write the name of everyone but the main character would have been a pain while writing the review. Luckily I found the names in other reviews, but before that, it mostly went like this:
the audiobook: EIRHAN and FARHOD my brain: …Airhorn? Heron and Farrhad?
The Winter Duke took me half a month, but The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon took me even longer, and not only because of how long it was; mostly because it was utterly mediocre. It’s now been a few days since I finished it, and I keep coming back to how lazy the plotting was, especially by adult fantasy standards. It’s the kind of book I mostly enjoyed while reading, but that I never wanted to pick back up again – because when I wasn’t reading it, all the things I didn’t like about it came to me more vividly than what I actually liked (as in, it’s a relatively smooth-sailing adventure fantasy with not many surprises but a really nice setting and dragons). I was also reading a physical copy, which was physically uncomfortable. As with The Winter Duke, I had a lot of mixed feelings about it, I hope I’ll be able to post my review here soon.
Uncharacteristically for me, I also read a sequel I was anticipating! Stormsong by C.L. Polk, sequel to one of my favorite books, Witchmark. I really liked it, but not as much as the first book, and I wish it had spent more time developing the romance. Still, I’m really proud of myself for finally reading three new fantasy novels.
I also had another out-of-character moment when I went on a poetry-and-nonfiction reading spree due to the free scribd trial; you can read about those five books here in detail, but to sum up:
I started with Soft Science by Franny Choi, a poetry collection I’ve been wanting to read for a while because of how much I liked the cover, and it was really interesting but also really confusing; probably the kind of thing one should take more time with than I did
soft magic. by Upile Chisala was a heartwarming, sweet, straightforward poetry collection that was overall a complete miss for me;
I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom was an amazing collection of essays about dysfunctional dynamics in queer communities that I think would be really useful to anyone active on queer book twitter;
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, is exactly what it claims to be, focusing on the how of a different kind of justice than the one we’re accustomed to, focused on healing instead of punishment, and I really liked it as well;
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Walls Kimmerer is a book by a Potawatomi environmental biologist that should be required reading for everyone who wants to talk about ecology and human’s relationship with the environment, because the amount of people who don’t realize are spreading ecofascist rhetoric is concerning.
After that, I decided to read two novellas; reviews of both will be hopefully up soon:
↬ Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo. I was interested in it because it was described as “for fans of JY Neon Yang’s Tensorate” and also some comparisons with Mo Dao Zu Shi characters were made – and I have to say, while I didn’t really see the latter, it did remind me of The Ascent to Godhood and I would definitely recommend it to Tensorate fans; it’s now one of my new favorite novellas. Such a wonderful, quiet book for something about an upheaval of an empire. ↬ The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho, which I didn’t feel as strongly about – maybe novellas just aren’t the right format for group casts, they almost never work for me (I remember River of Teeth failing for me for that reason) – but it was a fun adventure involving brigands and badass nuns. Zen Cho really nails it when it comes to humor.
The last thing I finished in March was my audiobook reread of The City of Brass, which I started the day I discovered scribd was giving everyone a free trial for which they didn’t ask credit card information (…there was no way I’d ever reread this on ebook, too long, and the audiobook would have been 25€). I keep returning to how easily this wouldn’t have happened: I was ready to give up on the series. And then, I loved it even more the second time around – it helped that I remembered everything about setup and worldbuilding and very little about the plot twists, for some very lucky reason – and now I’m ready to finally continue the series.
February has been a really odd month for me, both in term of reading and in real life. Not necessarily in the best way, but we do what we can.
How Life Is Going
Going from having to worry about exams – which I passed, everything is fine, even the marine botany nightmare – to worrying because half of this country is going through a partial quarantine because of an epidemic has not been a fun time.
Still, because here I like to focus on the nice things: February has been a great month for the plants on my balcony.
First row: yellow Crocus, wild tulip (some species of Tulipa)
second row: martinette daffodil, Armenian grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)
I think all of them have been early – the only flowers that haven’t opened yet are the anemone and one of the varieties of daffodil – and I was really glad to see that the grape hyacinth has been really appreciated by local bees.
How Reading Is Going
I ended up reading ten books, which isn’t bad all things considered; what bothers me is that so far this year I haven’t rated any novel five stars (novellas, nonfiction, short stories? Yes. Just no new favorite novels). For the first half of the month, I was still in exam hell, so I didn’t have as much time to read – which is why my reading was mostly audiobooks I read while cooking.
There were exception to this, like the artbook by Loputyn (Italian artist Jessica Cioffi) which I read on my balcony. It was perfect for that kind of atmosphere, and I’m always glad to find Italian books with some sapphic content. (This book is also bilingual – there’s very little text but it’s both in Italian and English – so it’s accessible to English speakers as well!)
As far as the audiobooks, I got through Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (review) and You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno (review); I really liked both more than I expected to, and I’m finally convinced I can listen to audiobooks as long as there’s a good narrator.
I also spent a lot of time trying to get through The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar, a non-linear tangle of beautiful writing that seemed to be doing its best to cause problems to the reader on purpose (review). I ended up loving most of it, but adult SFF authors in an experimental mood scare me. (To give you some frame of reference, this book makes This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone feel linear.)
Then I finally got out of exam hell and had the time to read a lot more. I reread Witchmark by C.L. Polk, and loved it just as much as I did the first time around (here’s my review), finished How Long ’til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin and other miscellaneous short stories (reviews of all of them should be up next week; I read some new favorites and some great disappointments), and found out that sometimes memoirs are amazing enough for me to consider them favorites with In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (review). I definitely want to get to Her Body and Other Parties soon now.
Since I ended up reading a lot of books in the last week of February (…I was forced to stay home, nothing to do), some of this month’s reviews aren’t up on here yet.
The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, which I read as an audiobook. I kind of regret that because the narrator wasn’t the right one for this story at all – everyone sounded like a middle-aged woman, when the main character and most of her friends are 16 – but I still really liked this. It deals with mental health in a way I haven’t seen often in YA contemporaries and it had a really original plotline as well.
Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney, the weird and very queer fae novella of my dreams, with a writing style that I can only see as “hallucinatory rococo” because of how weird and excessive it was (the story itself is mainly inspired by the second industrial revolution and related social issues, though). One of the most original takes on parallel universes and portal fantasy; an overall hidden gem.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon (collaborating with the group clipping.), a story about merpeople descending from enslaved pregnant African women who were thrown overboard, dealing with inherited trauma and healing. I wanted more from the underwater world (I am that person, always) but overall I really liked it. It’s so short and yet it has so much to say.
How was February for you? Have you read any of these?
Hi! I temporarily decided to not write wrap-ups in the last two months of 2019 – I wasn’t reading much anyway – and here they come back, just a little different from before.
How Reading Is Going
I’m still not reading much anyway! It’s exam hell time, that hasn’t changed and won’t change at least for a few weeks either. At the moment, I’m getting most of my reading done through audiobooks, which I would have never thought possible, but then in January of last year I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to cook either, and that’s when I listen to audiobooks. Can’t feel guilty about reading if I wouldn’t be studying anyway! Somehow, doing two things at the same time helps me focus on both.
I also spent a significant part of the month trying to get through two non-audiobook tomes I struggled with: House of Sundering Flames and Tiān Guān Cì Fú. I won’t be posting a full review of either on this blog – I don’t feel like it’s needed – but I will talk about them a little on here.
It’s really sad when the finale of a series is disappointing, but the more I go on, the more I find that – especially when it comes to fantasy – it’s unusual for me to not end up deeply disappointed by sequels. In House of Sundering Flames, the problems were a combination of inflated length (…if a final book is over 500 pages when the rest of the trilogy was far shorter, one has to start worrying), lack of subtlety in the delivery of the message (this book feels really strongly about a lot of things and is not afraid to sacrifice anything as long as it gets to preach at you) and it being more action-focused than the rest of the series (action scenes have never been this author’s strength). I still don’t think it’s a bad book, and for a more in-depth discussion of the themes, I will point you to my goodreads review, as we need more fantasy that interrogates power structures as this one does. I just don’t think it succeeded in the delivery.
I had the opposite experience with Tiān Guān Cì Fú, and with that I mean that for the first time in a long while, I found a story in which my interest grew as it continued instead of declining. To give you some context, this is a Chinese fantasy novel that puts the “epic” in “epic fantasy”, and with that I mean that it has incredibly high stakes as the story progresses and it’s longer than 1500 pages. I did struggle with the length and feel like some parts of it were unnecessary – yes, I skimmed – but on a mental level, it still felt a lot shorter than House of Sundering Flames, which doesn’t get to 600 pages. Its bright sense of humor, the intricacies in the relationships, the sheer scope of this kind of story, the amount of foreshadowing – I’m in awe, even though there were times in which I just wanted it to be over. To know a little more, I have a goodreads review of this one too.
How Life Is Going
Apart from books and exams, I’m now mostly doing ok. This was a really weird month for me – after all, it’s the month in which the lessons of my marine ecology class ended, and it hardly gets weirder than having to witness a very detailed and very enthusiastic shark dissection (I guess they really had to end the class in the most memorable way possible).
It kind of went like this: [CW: animal death, decomposition, all that]
“It’s a mackerel!”, the prof cheerily proclaims, as if announcing a newborn’s assigned gender, while taking out the half-digested fish corpse from inside the stomach of the rotting shark carcass. “Look at what it ate!”
Just another day as a natural sciences student! I will spare you the pictures. The good news is that I’ll never be grossed out again while cleaning fish in the kitchen, it’s… a great way to build up tolerance? I’m still disgusted by some of the things I saw.
In significantly less gross news, January has been warmer than it should have been. Sad, yes, but at least you get flowers!
A dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata hybrid) and hyacinths!
No, it’s not normal for them to bloom in January, and probably the rest of my balcony will be done with blooming by the end of February when that should happen in April. However, pretty pictures? And there’ll probably be even more in the February Wrap-Up.
What to Expect from February
Maybe! Maybe I’ll be so busy I won’t be able to do anything.
I won’t be doing TBRs, but that doesn’t mean I have no plans! They’re just not chained to netgalley anymore, which is so freeing. Some things I already know I want to do in February are:
↬ I’ll complete my audiobook reread of the Wayward Children series.
So far, this is all I’ve been (re)reading on audiobook, which is easier to me than reading a completely new book – I don’t have to wonder about the spelling of any name if I’ve already read them. And it’s going really well! This fairytale-like series works a lot better when it’s told to the reader instead of read. It made me reevaluate Down Among the Sticks and Bones, confirmed that Come Tumbling Down was a great addition, and strengthened my love for Every Heart a Doorway (review upcoming!). I have already listened to In an Absent Dream through audiobooks in May, so I don’t feel the need to do that again, but I really want to get to Beneath the Sugar Sky. At the moment, I consider it my least favorite in the series; I want to know whether that will change.
↬ A new series of posts involving short fiction will begin this month
I don’t want to say too much yet because everything will be in an upcoming post, but expect my short-story-reviewing self to be back soon! A small and mostly secret-post-unrelated spoiler is that in February, among other things, I’ll be for sure reading How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin, but that won’t be the only short stories to be reviewed on here if everything goes according to plan.
↬ Hopefully, a review of Machina?
I’ve started the Serial Box original Machina by Fran Wilde, Malka Older, Curtis C. Chen & Martha Wells and I’m currently following the first episode both on audio and on text. Serial Box was kind enough to reach out and ask me if I wanted to review it, so here I am. [Yes, ARC I don’t request don’t count towards my ban, as that almost never happens.]
How was January for you? Do you have any plans for February? Have you read any of these?