Book lists, Book Memes

Top Five Tuesday | Books that didn’t Live Up to the Hype

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Top Five Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Shanah @ the Bionic Book Worm and this week’s theme is overhyped books. I give in to the hype often, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If lots of people are enjoying something, chances are that you’ll enjoy it too. There’s logic in that kind of behaviour, and it’s the whole reason things become popular in the first place. It doesn’t always work out, though. This is a list of a few of the books that either utterly disappointed me or just left me feeling kind of “meh”.

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the seven deaths of evelyn hardcastle

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle — This was actually the first book I reviewed on this blog. I was so excited to start reading it, I’d heard only good things, and I love a good murder mystery — this one was supposed to blow my socks off, so expectations were through the roof. It turned out to be insufferable; the protagonist was as compelling as a piece of soggy bread, the villain was made entirely out of cardboard, and the helpful side character should just have been named “pointless plot-twist with zero emotional weight, because the reader can’t care about characters they haven’t met yet, and when will authors understand this?” I know it’s a bit of a mouthful, but some parents have weird taste. Ironically, that name would be the least contrived thing about this book.

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simon and the homo sapiens agendaSimon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda — This is an example of a book I liked, but that the hype led me to believe I would love. This is a solidly “ok” read for me. There were parts of it I enjoyed, parts that made me roll my eyes. If not for the movie I would have forgotten most of it. The romance is so odd, I respect that it can work for some people, but I can’t be invested in a relationship when I don’t even know who one of the characters is! Maybe that’s on me, but personally I didn’t care for it, the reveal at least didn’t try to be surprising, which in this case is a relief. Oddly, this worked even worse in the movie in my opinion, with Blue’s voice changing each time Simon thought he knew who he was the character grew even more flimsy and distant. But the romance is only a small part of the book, and as Simon’s coming out journey I think it works, and I liked it well enough. It was a short, fast-paced read, that could do with less pop culture references, other than that I enjoyed myself.

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the martianThe Martian — I read this in preparation for the movie, which I was expecting to love, since I love near-future sci-fi set in space something fierce. I ended up being disappointed by both. I hate the protagonist’s voice. I just hate him. I don’t even remember his name, but he rubbed me the wrong way since the first sentence. Me and books written in first person don’t always see eye to eye, and this book is a glaring example of why. When it works, the protagonist’s voice is either non-intrusive or even welcome, but when you absolutely hate them it’s like nails on a chalkboard and there’s no escape. Reading this book felt like being trapped in space with that guy in every college class who keeps interrupting the professor to add his unasked for opinion, or who disagrees with everything you say, by saying exactly the same thing only phrased a different way. I only kept reading because I hoped he’d die. That’s a thing that sometimes happens with “stranded” narratives, so I was holding out for what was supposed to be a tragic ending but would instead be a balm for my frayed nerves and rampant bloodlust. It never came. And somehow the movie made it even worse. The fact that the movie ended up being nominated for the Oscars with masterpieces like Mad Max, Room, and Carol only adds insult to injury.

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lord of the ringsLord of the Rings — I don’t know what it is but this book felt so generic. I liked the movies well enough, but I wasn’t a huge fan (I usually never like fantasy movies or shows, it’s a genre that works best in book format, for me), and while I appreciate Tolkien’s gigantic contribution to fantasy, I also can’t ignore that he is the father of  “inspired by Europe and set in Europe” fantasy — and that it felt stale by the time I got to him. I can’t really tell myself “but he’s the one who started it all”, and make myself enjoy the book. I also prefer character driven stories to plot driven ones. I prefer it when fantasy spends equal time developing characters as well as the world. Lord of the Rings is all about the plot, though, at least that makes it a fast read, right? No, it’s glacial. Because while Tolkien couldn’t be bothered to flesh out most of his characters beyond what we today consider traditional fantasy archetypes, he sure could describe every corner of the world and all its mechanics. Even when they didn’t matter at all, especially when they didn’t matter at all! Reading classics is tricky, and very hit-or-miss for the most part, so I knew there was a chance I was setting myself up for disappointment. Being right isn’t always great.

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6949905The Hypnotist — I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but Swedish thrillers are super popular in Portugal. You can’t go to any bookstore without finding at least a shelf of nothing but Swedish thrillers. Lars Kepler was a name that kept popping up, often under bestsellers. I decided to start with the first in the Joona Linna series, and boy was I in for a ride. The tone in this is just appalling, it’s written like a grocery list, completely monotone, with dialogue that feels like white-noise, characters that are so paper-thin you can see through them most of the time. Motivations so flimsy and contrived, that you can see the authors picking up their characters winding them up and watching them go do whatever the plot needed them to. To make matters worse, this has the world’s worst plot-twist half-way through, that completely changes the course of the narrative, in a very jarring way, for no good reason besides shock value. People love a teenage serial killer, right? Half of it felt impossible and contrived, unless the Swedish police all become officers by winning some sort of scratch lottery.

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These are just a few examples of books where the hype led me astray, it happens more often than I would like, but not enough to make me stop paying attention to what’s got everyone talking, altogether. I think the most important thing is learning to distinguish between a hyped book you might enjoy from one that just isn’t for you, no matter how much other people might love it. It’s a skill that takes some fine-tuning and years of practice, but that’s half the fun of reading — finding out what kind of reader you are.

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Book lists, Book Memes

Top Five Tuesday | Tropes I Hate + How to Fix Them

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Top Five Tuesday is a weekly meme started by the Bionic Book Worm, this week’s theme is five most hated tropes. But because I realise that criticism is more productive when it’s explained and when it comes with suggestions, I decided to go with that. All of these can actually work in the right context, so I have a few examples of books (and a TV show) that got it right. These are in no particular order, and I dislike them all equally.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

This is all John Green, I know, and I haven’t actually read an Abundance of Katherines, but I’ve heard it’s par for the course with Green’s usual female protagonists. Which are all quirky, unique, “not like other girls”, and will make some bland boy’s life finally exciting. I know, technically, John Green “deconstructs” this trope, by having the female protagonist tell whatever guy has spent an entire book waxing pretentious and overly verbose poetic about her, that she is her own person and doesn’t exist for his own enjoyment. Which is all very good and dandy, except it happens in the last twenty pages of all of his books, which means that I spent an entire book reading about a boy chasing his manic pixie dream girl. And honestly how many times can you “deconstruct” a trope before you just admit that you like writing about manic pixie dream girls?

Now, for a book that actually deconstructs not only this trope, but every trope where a man projects his own wish-fulfilment ideals onto a woman, we have Gone Girl. That is what a good trope deconstruction looks like, that’s a female character with agency, and whose vengeance is almost cosmic. I don’t think all “bad trope” deconstructions need to be done in this way, but notice how Amy didn’t spend the entire book acting like Nick’s perfect little wife and dream woman, only to reveal her true nature in the last twenty pages.

Pop-Culture Overload

This could be all John Green again. I think I have some type of knee-jerk response associated with him, because at the height of his popularity I couldn’t tell anyone I liked reading, without being recommended one of his books, and that must have left some type of psychological scar. Anyway, back to this trope; it just fills me with second-hand embarrassment, something about it is so try-hard, I can’t help thinking of that “How do you do fellow kids” gif. It makes my skin crawl, and there’s the chance the references will be used in the wrong way or be nonsensical. It also dates the book, and I don’t think every book should be timeless, but if a book relies too much on referencing popular slang, and cultural phenomenons typical of the year it was written (imagine reading a book today with a character that won’t shut up about Harambe), it will be virtually unreadable in the next five years or so. It will become an interesting linguistic relic, and an object of sociological study 30 years in the future, though! It’s also lazy, there are plenty of ways to evoke the pop culture movements prevalent in a year or time period without naming every single one of them — the aesthetic and social mores inherent to them are more exciting than the thing itself.

If used sparsely, they can actually be very evocative, if used in an unexpected way they can be downright great. The best example I can come up with is one scene where Elliot, the protagonist of the fantastic show Mr. Robot, is lamenting not having spent more time with his quasi-girlfriend. As Elliot narrates all the things he wishes he had done we see a montage of him and Sheila actually doing these things. At one point he says “I wish we had gone to see those Marvel movies she liked so much”. That was like a punch in the gut to me, because it tells you something about Elliot’s feelings for Sheila. He is extremely depressed, and a staunch anti-capitalist who will never find any enjoyment in watching a Marvel movie, but he wishes he had done it, for Sheila, because her happiness is important to him, because whether he realises it or not, he was in love with her. That’s an amazing use of a pop culture reference — when it tells you something about the character.

Love Triangles

I have yet to meet the person who likes love triangles, I know people who don’t mind them, but hardly anyone who actively seeks them out. They are just so overplayed and overdone, there’s nothing exciting about the dynamic. But credit where credit is due, I have been seeing them less and less, so yay. These also only really happen in YA, they are a very rare sight in Adult fiction regardless of genre, but would probably be even more annoying there.

One way to make the love triangle more exciting, or at least less mind-numbingly boring, is to have the two “competitors” realise their love interest is stringing them along, bond over how hurtful that is, and then fall in love with each other. Another way to do it is to have all the people enter into a mutually loving polyamorous relationship where they’re all in love with each other. I have yet to see a love triangle where everyone is the same gender, so that would be novel at first, but I think it would end up annoying me anyway, unless it ended in one of the scenarios I mentioned.

Bury your Gays

There is obviously nothing to like about this trope. There’s always some sort of intent surrounding the death of these gay characters: either their death is a punishment for their queerness, or a “brave sacrifice” to save the heterosexual characters the author actually cares about. Stephen King just has a particular way of writing gay characters that makes my stomach turn, and I know it’s partly due to the time period the books were written in, but I hate his tone, I hate it. I couldn’t make it past the first few chapters of IT because two gay men are immediately victims of a hate crime, and more egregious, they aren’t even portrayed that sympathetically. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. In Insurgent if I’m not mistaken, a character announces she is gay while in her death throes…which is….really something.

There’s also a lot of confusion surrounding this trope: obviously gay characters shouldn’t have some type of plot-armour by virtue of being gay, the stakes should apply to them the same as to any straight character. But if gay characters die at a disproportionate rate compared to straight ones, then it’s a case of this trope being in play. If you introduce gay characters only with the purpose of killing them not long after, then it’s bury your gays. If your gay characters have achieved happiness only to die right after, it’s also bury your gays. This excludes books like The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, where the point of the book is to highlight how cruel and unfair the things happening to gay characters (and everyone else dehumanised by the system) are, and obviously plenty of awful stuff also happens to straight people, and the heroes try to overcome and face their oppressors which helps it not feel like some sort of misery-porn, and like the cautionary tale it is supposed to be. Ownvoices authors are also exempt from this trope, because they are often trying to convey their own reality, or a reality they fear. Which is why someone should tell Stephen King he is not Chuck Palahniuk.

Happily Married Parents Finale

This one I can actually see a lot of people enjoying, and I understand why. I just personally find it very aggravating, there’s something unpleasantly heteronormative about it.  And my distaste for this kind of ending can all be blamed on Harry Potter, which has probably the worst ending of anything I’ve ever read, let alone something I loved so loyally for so many years (turns out it was foreshadowing things to come from J.K. Rowling). Not everyone needs to be paired off, that doesn’t make any sense. This is especially common in large series, where the author feels like “oh there’s that one character people like, better give them a love interest to show their fans they found happiness”, really? How about they become a cabbage farmer in Iceland, instead? That sounds equally fulfilling to me. Iceland is beautiful I’m sure they’ll be very happy there, good job author. My problem with The Hunger Games is more that I think the ending was tonally wrong, overall this an example of a trilogy I actually enjoyed having tropes I hated.

I don’t have any specific good example, because there are various. Any ending where the entire cast doesn’t end up married to each other and with kids is good in my book. Also, not everyone will be happy, that’s impossible, and also okay from a narrative standpoint. I don’t mind if things are tied-up in a bow at the end of a series. If all the existent romantic relationships are still together and the evil is defeated, but if new ones are invented just to drive home the point of how happy everyone is, then we have a problem.


And those are some of the tropes I hate with a passion. What about you? Do you dislike any of these? Actually enjoy some? Let me know, because I love talking tropes.

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Book reviews, Fantasy, LGBT Books

Book Review | Bloody Rose

bloody rose reviewI don’t know how to describe this book without just gushing meaningless praise, after meaningless praise. It was such an enjoyable, engaging, fun read, with plenty of humour that somehow lulled me into a false sense of security and then ripped my heart out with the ending (it was the good kind of pain).

35052265Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

You know how there are a lot of books that you finish reading and think to yourself: “that would make a great movie”. Bloody Rose would make a perfect RPG, I’m salivating just imagining it. I’ve never actually read a book that reads so much like a game, and I mean that in the best way possible. The band is your traditional party: with spell-casters summoners, rogues, tanks etc. The enemies are “monsters” all different, and with varying degrees of sentience, which leads into the vast array of possible moral choices, do you go for glory or peace? Spectacle or Clemency? The adventure of the wyld or the comfort of home? The book raises all these questions, and the characters even find answers for some of them. But I can’t help being greedy and wishing I could get to play some more in Eames’ wonderful, fascinating, world and its really compelling lore. Ok, I’ll stop.

But to any game devs reading this, please make it happen.

Anyway, back to the story. It’s full of heart and humour for one. Some fantasy takes itself so seriously that it’s honestly a chore to get through, others are so superficial, so devoid of any deeper understanding of the world and its inner workings that it feels like the author wanted the trappings of fantasy but none of the work that comes with it. Bloody Rose offers a completely fleshed-out world, with politics and conflicts that are at once petty and urgent depending on which characters you ask, and where every character, no matter how minor, has their own unique voice, and their own part to play in the plot. Nothing is wasted, every scene is meaningful and hurtles towards a clear-cut objective and most importantly — conflict resolution. Yet this book feels indulgent, with plenty of quiet moments of introspection and camaraderie, where the chaos and urgency peels back and we can take a peek at the tender humanity that ties it all together.

Speaking of which. Tam is a wonderful protagonist, she is so likeable, and while psychologically flawed in the sense that she’s at once extremely insecure and a glory hound (maybe adventure hound is more appropriate, but she does bask and preen a little) I really appreciate that she’s physically flawed as well. You see, she joins the mercenary band Fable as a bard, a role that, unlike in video games and DnD, doesn’t come with any special skills beyond being able to play and write songs. She’s a competent archer and half-way through the books gets some more weapons training, but that’s about it. She tries to help her bandmates, and sometimes she succeeds, and sometimes she accidentally hits them with her arrows. She’s great, they like her anyway.

Tam is also a lesbian, something she tells you within the first chapter. Watching her flirt is adorable and hilarious at the same time, it works out in the end because no woman can resist her wide-eyed earnestness. She develops a romantic relationship with one of her bandmates, and it’s just so good. Their personalities are diametrically opposed, and there’s even a little bit of friction in the beginning, and it’s delightful to see the feelings grow between them. Don’t worry though, this isn’t a romance masquerading as fantasy, the romance is very much a B-plot to the central conflict, and it works well that way.

Every single one of Fable’s members has their own internal conflict and we learn about their motivations as they tie seamlessly into the main plot, just like all good side-quests should. Besides Tam, my favourites were Brune and Cura. Finding out Brune’s backstory was such a memorable part of the book. I loved how being a shaman was such a delicate balancing act between the human and animal side, and how “repression” featured into it. It elevated something that could be “wow cool power” into a deeper analysis of character. Cura literally summoning her demons to fight for her was also poignant in a very understated way.

In a way Rose was the character I felt the most distanced from. Which I wouldn’t say is a bad thing, she is meant to be this larger than life legend, and the figurehead of Fable, her character arc deals with exactly that. Wanting that fame and recognition, and once having it, realising that it strips her of personhood just as much as living under her father’s shadow did. Her relationship with motherhood is very interesting and honest. She loves her daughter, but being a mother isn’t a role she’s sure suits her. She’s a fascinating character, but her at once mythological existence and the narrative acknowledgement of her broken pedestal, makes it hard to see her in the same human light as the other characters. Which I say isn’t a bad thing because I think that was exactly the author’s intention.

Every Rose has its thorns though, and as much as I loved this book, I need to mention how much it annoyed me that it kept evading one conversation I very much wanted it to have. The thing with “monsters” in this universe is that they aren’t all mindless killing machines, they also aren’t controlled by a cosmical evil (a la darkspawn from Dragon Age), some of them are sentient, and a lot of them feel like regular “animals” a lot of the time. What this means is that I started feeling a bit uncomfortable with the carnage, and wondering if the book would ever address this. It did! Kinda. The characters talked about it, they expressed remorse sometimes, in one memorable occasion they tried to resolve things peacefully. But it doesn’t really go anywhere from there. At one point it feels like they will have to come to a really hard moral decision, confront the fact that humanity’s cruelty was responsible for the monster’s desperation and their willingness to join someone who promised them freedom from the humans, but a convenient deus ex machina meant they never had to. The decision was literally taken out of their hands!

Maybe this is a theme that will be dealt with in a sequel, that seems likely. After writing two fantastic books I doubt Eames is the kind of author who thinks referencing something is the same as analysing it. So I’m hopeful this won’t be a dropped plot-point and will be picked up in a later book!

All in all, some fantasy books show you an exciting journey, some take you on an exciting journey. Bloody Rose was the latter. And one I will remember for a very long time.

Rating: ★★★★★
Author: Nicholas Eames
Publisher: Orbit

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Book lists, Book Memes, LGBT Books

Top Five Tuesday + Recs!

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Top Five Tuesday is a Weakly meme hosted by Shanah @ Bionic Bookworm and this week’s theme is favourite tropes. I actually love to talk about tropes since I’m an assiduous reader of TV Tropes and can spend hours browsing the tropes of the media I like, plus, finding new stuff to like based on my favourite tropes. But the tropes over there are a tad too specific at times, so I’m sticking to the broader more well-known tropes. Also, I’ve just realised many of my favourite (specific) tropes are actually more prevalent in video games than books. I’d love to read a book about a glass cannon character as much as I love to play one.

Found Families

I’m pretty sure this is going to be a really common one. There’s just something about a group of characters, all of them battling their own demons, coming together and bonding over their shared struggles, ambitions and ultimately friendship– to form their own little family unit. Willing to kill and die for each other. Proving the old, and often misquoted, saying right: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than water from the womb”

The Raven Cycle — Doesn’t need much introduction. The friendship between the characters is the story, the plot is absolutely secondary to their intricate relationships and devotion to each other. As a big fan of character driven stories I couldn’t love it more.

Bloody Rose — A new favourite but with a band of friends that left a huge mark on me. Just a few pages after meeting them I was already deeply invested in their friendship. The ending broke my heart a little.

Red Sister — I love Nona and all her friends. In the bleak world of Abeth they are the one shining spot. Their genuine friendship and childlike joy in each other’s company is like a balm for the soul. I don’t think I’ve ever read about female friendships I loved this much.

Protective Siblings

As much as I love the families characters make for themselves I also appreciate it when they love the families they were born into — especially their siblings. I’m very close with my brother, and we’ve been best friends since we were children, so I love reading about characters who value their siblings just as much.

The Darkest Part of the Forest — This book is one where the siblings actually have to work through some previous issues and new ones that crop up in order to salvage their relationship. It’s a really worthwhile journey and a big reason why I enjoyed this book so much.

Summer of Salt — I love the relationship between Georgina and Mary. I love that they are such different people but they never mock of belittle one another, and instead are close friends who would go to the ends of the earth for each other.

Dream Thieves — This is really about Ronan and his love for his brother Matthew. It’s ironic considering he and Declan hate each other so much, but Ronan’s immense love for his younger brother, mother, and even his (frankly abusive at times) father just goes to show how Declan is to blame for their strained relationship. I really enjoy how Ronan’s devotion to Matthew pops up all through the series, reminding us that there is nothing he values more than family.

Meant to Be

This is a hard one to describe.  Either the romantic relationship is foretold by prophecy or there are just some elements of it that feel cosmically inevitable in some way. These people aren’t soulmates, or I highly prefer it if the word isn’t used. This is grander than that, almost mythological. The very balance of the world hangs on their relationship, their very lives are dependent on each other. If one dies, so does the other. It’s very dramatic and I’m a sucker for it. There are very few books that do it, but maybe that’s only my perception because this is a trope that I enjoy exclusively with LGBT couples.

The Song of Achilles — These are actual mythological lovers. The nature of Achilles and Patroclus relationship is the stuff of legend. There were fights in ancient Greece over which one of them was the top or the bottom. I think it was Plato that was convinced it was Achilles who bottomed. I love the knowledge that this was a topic of discussion in the symposium and during fancy dinner parties. Their relationship felt appropriately epic, and in keeping with the Greek tradition, tragic.

Fire from Heaven — If it isn’t the story of Alexander the Great and his lover Hephaestion, the man who thought he was Achilles, you’ll never guess who he thought Hephaestion was! This chronicles Alexander’s earlier years before the death of his father. Alexander thought himself a demi-god and so did plenty of other people, he was worshipped in life. in death, but he worshipped only Hephaestion. It’s the second book The Persian Boy, however, that actually drives home the similarities between the two sets of lovers. Since Alexander actually dies of a broken heart, driven mad by grief, shortly after Hephaestion’s death. Uncanny. (Listen, it isn’t a spoiler when it’s about a real person. His wikipedia page will tell you as much)

The Tiger’s Daughter — I’m not finished with this book, I’m not even halfway, but oh boy, do I love the impression I get about Shizuka and Shefali’s relationship. I mean a few pages in there’s talk of a prophecy about their birth, and they are both princesses, and they don’t have that much in common to begin with but they make really big strides to meet each other in the middle, and I’m loving it thus far. Also, they’re both deeply flawed, which I should mention, all the characters in this section are, and  I enjoy it immensely. It’s par for the course with this trope, and one of the reasons’s why I like it so much.

Magical School

This is a really obvious one. There’s a school, people gather there to learn to master whatever magic skills they have.

Nevernight — This doubles as assassin and magic school, although the assassin part takes most of the spotlight, the magic plays a big role though. I especially liked the potions-like class.

Red Sister — Oh man I loved the classes in this, I was actually surprised to learn some people found them boring! They were an absolute highlight for me. I loved Path and Shade most of all.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children — I didn’t loooove this book. But I liked it well enough. The “school” aspect was a big part of it. This is also an example that for me to enjoy this trope there doesn’t need to be a formal school or teaching system as such, but unique individuals, brought together under a single roof, where they have to coexist — and the tensions born from that.

Enemies to Friends (to Lovers)

I love when characters initially hate each other, for whatever reason, and then overcome their biases to work together and become allies, friends, and sometimes more! A really common and popular trope that is nevertheless seldom done right.

Proxy — The friendship that grows between Knox and Syd is just…I read this book ages ago but I’ll never forget about it. The character growth Knox goes trough is astonishing, the sacrifice he makes for Syd is heartbreaking. I think their relationship is a big reason why I wasn’t able to enjoy the sequel as much.

Red Sister — I don’t want to spoil anything. But there’s one character that initially feels like she will be a rival of Nona’s. That doesn’t end up happening, they actually become really close friends (there’s a prophecy involving them — remember how much I love those), and the hints of something more make me hope for a deeper relationship when they’re both older. Just, so good.

Godsgrave — This one actually is an example of friends-to-enemies-to-lovers, and there are not enough words to express how much I love that dynamic. I can’t wait to see more of this relationship in the next book!


And that’s it, those are my absolute favourite tropes. I’m not at all surprised to see some books pop up more than once, it makes sense that the books I like the most would have the biggest collections of tropes I love. I haven’t read Grey Sister yet, but if all goes well the Book of the Ancestor trilogy could be going for the gold and hitting all of my favourite tropes. Do you like any of these tropes? Have any recommendations? I’d love to hear them, especially in the “Meant to Be” section since I’m always looking for books with that kind of epic, word-defying type of love.

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Book reviews, LGBT Books

Book Review | Autoboyography & Summer of Salt

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I’m doing a joint book review because at the end of the day, both of these are YA coming-of age (and coming out) novels, which have nothing in common besides that, but have both left me feeling all warm and cosy inside.

Autoboyography

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“Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.”

This book managed to do something a lot of its peers (contemporary coming out novels) didn’t, which was telling me a story about LGBT youth, that I, as a gay person, saw a lot of my own thoughts and feelings in. I’m pretty sure that as a teenager I actually said a lot of the same things Tanner did, and shared, and still do, many of his feelings towards religion. It’s so hard to capture that, and a lot of straight people never quite get it, the instinctive flinch that goes through any gay person when someone says they’re religious. To this day my first thought is, “how to end this social interaction as fast as possible and get out of here” when that happens. I’m lucky to have been raised by pretty agnostic parents, in a house completely devoid of religion. You’d think that would make me a lot less prone to experience extreme dread at the mention of any and all religions, but the only thing it did was show me that religion provides the people who hate me and my brothers and sisters convenient and socially acceptable arguments to keep hating us.

I think there are no people braver than LGBT people who voluntarily associate with organised religion, their sheer mental and emotional fortitude is astounding. That will never be me, however. Some wounds never heal. For this wound to have any hope of closing all the religions of the world would need to acknowledge the harm they’ve done to the LGBT community, and that’s something I never see happening. So I’ll keep my safety distance.

Sebastian, is one of those innocent people deeply harmed by religion. He was raised Mormon, and it’s honestly heartbreaking to read about his beliefs, because they are so sincere and beautiful, but as the story progresses we learn the love his religion professes is completely conditional — and so does Sebastian, eventually. More harrowing, is learning that his family’s love is just as conditional. That if he can’t be a perfect Mormon man he can’t be their son either. Coincidentally, that’s where some of my only criticism of this book shows up. I think the author fumbled the ending. Mild spoilers ahead: We know things aren’t completely resolved between Sebastian and his family, but not to what degree. We learn that he is no longer participating in one aspect of the Mormon religion, but we don’t know if he still considers himself Mormon, if he has found a way to be both gay and Mormon. I would have liked to see both these issues addressed clearly, but I can also see plenty of people being more forgiving of this open-ended aspect, considering the relationship side of things got a clear resolution.

Speaking of the relationship — I loved it. In so many YA books I love both characters, but I’m completely uninvested in the relationship, or the book completely fails to make the relationship interesting (see: Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda — Am I supposed to care about Simon’s relationship with a guy whose identity I don’t even know? A relationship that only exists through e-mails???). Not here, the dynamic between Tanner and Sebastian was gripping from their first interaction, and the stakes were very real from the beginning. There were a lot of factors working against them, and it all worked very well to build tension, without ever falling into the cloying clutches of melodrama. The way Tanner’s very tolerant family was against him having a relationship with a Mormon boy, for his own protection, was very interesting, but also very believable. It’s common knowledge that extremely religious parents only want their children to interact with other equally religious kids, but it’s often ignored that non-religious parents aren’t that keen on their kids drinking any sort of religious kool-aid either. I know my mother wasn’t. It’s an interesting discussion, and while not overt the book makes the subtle argument that both sides are wrong.

All I can say is that I loved this book, some passages made me truly emotional, it’s a story that I’ll probably remember for a long time, and one of those books I desperately wish I had when I was younger. I appreciate the message that sexual orientation is a part of  the self and a building block of identity in a way that can’t be removed and put in a box. And the very sound argument that if a god exists their ability to love probably transcends the man-made social limitations of religion.

Rating: ★★★★★
Author: Christina Lauren
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summer of Salt

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Georgina Fernweh waits with growing impatience for the tingle of magic in her fingers—magic that has been passed down through every woman in her family. Her twin sister, Mary, already shows an ability to defy gravity. But with their eighteenth birthday looming at the end of this summer, Georgina fears her gift will never come.

An island where strange things happen . . .

No one on the island of By-the-Sea would ever call the Fernwehs what they really are, but if you need the odd bit of help—say, a sleeping aid concocted by moonlight—they are the ones to ask.

No one questions the weather, as moody and erratic as a summer storm.

No one questions the (allegedly) three-hundred-year-old bird who comes to roost on the island every year.

A summer that will become legend . . .

When tragedy strikes, what made the Fernweh women special suddenly casts them in suspicion. Over the course of her last summer on the island—a summer of storms, of love, of salt—Georgina will learn the truth about magic, in all its many forms.

Speaking of books that made me emotional. I swear if I hadn’t read these two weeks apart I’d think I was just going through a sensitive phase or something, because they both left me feeling tender in some long forgotten place. Which I suspect is the part of me that didn’t have any of these books when I was in middle school or high school and instead had to read adult books (often tragic) to get any sort of LGBT rep. Unlike Autoboyography, Summer of Salt isn’t a straight up romance. It’s a magical realism novel about family, friendship and a girl’s relationship to the whimsical island she grew up in, and that she loves, and how that can be suffocating.

The atmosphere of this book is delightful, I wish By-the-Sea was a real place I could visit, because I could almost smell it, it was so vivid, and not because things were overly described, but because Leno is so good at evoking the mood and feeling of the setting. The weather played a big part in the book, and you could feel the way it affected the characters, which was not only apt considering the plot, but helped bring By-the-Sea to life without having to name every rock. I also liked how many of the characters were characterised by the spaces they inhabited, either by seamlessly fitting in or by standing out. The feeling of whimsy and wonder was sustained through pretty much the first half of the book, at which point things slowly start to unravel. And quaint, beautiful By-the-Sea starts fraying at the edges.

I really enjoyed how the island reflected the mental state of the characters. This is a small, close-knit community where everybody knows each other, and while that can be comforting — Georgina is an out lesbian and no one on her little island bats an eyelash — it can become claustrophobic, as soon as the people who’ve known you all your life turn their back on you. This book did a really good job of making this island the kind of place you’d love to visit but would think twice about moving to. It’s so outwardly charming and picturesque, but places like that can be eerie in a way that is hard to describe, Leno managed it. It isn’t that By-the-Sea hides some awful corruption, or inhabitants that are all twisted an evil, it’s a place like many others, where people judge their neighbours too harshly, but at the end of the day they are reasonable people who actively want justice to prevail. It’s just that this sort of picture-perfect, just odd enough to be exciting, type of place can lure you in and never let go. And there’s a whole lot of world out there, especially for an 18-year-old girl.

The family dynamics in this book were phenomenal. Georgina’s relationship with her sister was beautiful and heartwarming, her devotion and unwavering belief in Mary’s innocence was wonderful, and her determination to save and avenge her brought some of the most intense and heartfelt moments in the whole novel. Their mother could at times feel a little distanced from their daughter’s lives, especially considering what happens to Mary in the second half of the book — but this is somewhat mitigated by the magical realism aspect of the story.

I was deeply invested in the romance for the first half of the book, at which point it gets put in the back burner and then develops a lot faster than what I would have liked. That’s why I say this book is not a romance, a romance exists, and it’s adorable, but by no means the linchpin of the book. I still loved to see Georgina’s and this girl’s relationship develop, and how Gerogina’s awkwardness and often clumsy interpretation of social cues only made her more endearing. It was sweet, I would have liked it to be explored more, but the book is ultimately about the relationship between the sisters and the island where they live, and I appreciated that aspect a lot too.

The awful thing that happens to Mary is predictable, but I don’t think it’s meant to be a mystery to the reader, only to Georgina, and the people of her little island who would never consider for a moment something like that could happen in their little community.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, there are some slight plot-contrivances, and one character’s constant tiredness that is never explained properly, as well as a few other instances where conflict isn’t totally resolved, but overall those didn’t detract from my enjoyment. This is a book about the strength of the bonds between siblings, between friends, and the ways tragedy doesn’t break us. Maybe things got resolved (in the legal front, at least) a little too cleanly, but I won’t fault a book for imagining a reality better than our own.

Rating: ★★★★
Author: Katrina Leno
Publisher: Harper Teen

Book lists, LGBT Books, Top 10

Book Tag | OMG That Song!

book tag

I was tagged to this by the amazing, and often hilarious, Krystin @ Here’s the Fucking Twist to do the Omg that Song! tag, in which you are supposed to answer the prompts with both a song and book. This tag was originally created by The Book Nut.

This was a really fun tag to do, but it sort of ran away from me, and I ended up writing a lot more than I initially thought I would. I tag anyone who feels like doing this, because I feel like I haven’t had this blog long enough to know what tags the people I follow have and haven’t done, and perhaps more importantly, how long ago. So, consider yourself tagged if this seems like something you’d like to do.


MY JAM

A SONG YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU’VE HEARD IT

Nights by Frank Ocean is a song and a mood all in one, so it’s impossible to get sick of. Blond is one of my favourite albums of all time, and one of the best albums ever made. I believe that wholeheartedly. This song makes me wish I actually had a driver’s license or a car so I could drive around at night listening to it. None of those things is going to happen, so I must settle for listening to it on the bus and day-dream, which is almost as good.

AND A BOOK THAT YOU’LL NEVER GET SICK OF

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This is a hard one, because the obvious answer is Harry Potter. I’ve re-read the whole series multiple times, and I feel the same wave of warm nostalgia every time. But for this one I think I’m going to go with The Persian Boy by Mary Renault. A book from a trilogy I started reading when I was 15 and that has never left me. It tells the story of Bagoas (a real historical figure) an eunuch and former member of King Darius of Persia’s harem, and one of Alexander the Great’s lovers. This chronicles the last years of Alexander’s life (for those who don’t know Alexander died at age 32), but this is the second book on Renault’s Alexander trilogy. Alexander is one of my favourite historical figures, Ancient Greece is one of my favourite historical settings, and Bagoas is one of my favourite characters. He is very much a tragic character, both for the hard life he’s lived, and because Alexander’s greatest love was Hephaestion, not him. He fell in love with a man whose love for his long-time companion is legendary, and it was both heartbreaking and beautiful to read about. There is one scene where he holds up a bust of Hephestion, begs the statue to release its hold on Alexander, and attempts to break it. Alexander catches him doing it, silently stops him, and then Bagoas watches him as he touches the bust lovingly — I don’t think I’ll ever forget that scene, and the beautiful haunting way it was written.


Throwback

A SONG THAT REMINDS YOU OF THE CRINGIEST TIME IN YOUR LIFE

In high-school I was a huge emo/scene girl. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth. I went all out, I had the raccoon tails, colourful highlights, even an half pink half black fringe. I was a mess and a half. Looking back, I feel more fondness than shame, because those years helped me figure out a lot about myself, and I did have loads of fun, met cool people, did very adventurous things — as all teens are supposed to — and didn’t hurt myself or anyone else. So all in all, terrible fashion choices aside, it wasn’t so bad. I can’t talk about those years without mentioning the band that started it all. Tokio Hotel, a German emo-pop-rock band that took Europe by storm. I think I actually got into them when I was still in middle school, but they definitely kicked the emo/scene thing into high gear. This song was my favourite of theirs.

AND A BOOK YOU READ THAT YOU WOULDN’T LIKE NOW

26582Staying on brand with the high school years, I’m going to talk about The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice. I read it at the height of the Twilight craze, because I wasn’t impressed by Twilight, and what did you do when you weren’t impressed by Stephanie Meyer’s straight nonsense? You read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Whose vampires were more the sort to pretentiously ponder mortality and lounge dramatically on fancy furniture than to shine bright like a diamond, also gay. And before Fifty Shades of Grey was even a glimmer on E.L. James eye, Anne Rice got you covered too. The Sleeping Beauty trilogy featured a fantasy BDSM world with a bisexual society, where if I’m remembering correctly, in order to be proper “citizens” nobles had to undergo a period as sexual submissives. I read this when I was 16, and when I say this was explicit, I mean explicit. There is almost no plot to this, it’s pure erotica. That wasn’t the problem however. I’m pretty sure there was no proper BDSM etiquette, consent was either absent or murky, and the people involved in this world just accepted their roles because it was the way things were. As a 16-year-old I’m pretty sure I wrote all of this off as “pretend”, and didn’t really consider any real-life implications. It didn’t leave any lasting impressions, nor can I say it informed the way I thought healthy sexual relationships should be, thankfully — its only saving grace is that perhaps the fantasy setting lends itself to this kind of intellectual distancing. I’m fairly certain I would hate it today, regardless.


Replay

A RECENT SONG THAT YOU HAVE ON REPEAT

This one is really easy. Brockhampton‘s latest album, Iridescence, just came out and I’ve been listening to it on repeat. They’re one of my favourite bands, sorry boyband, I just love all of their music. The Saturation trilogy has probably some of my favourite music of all time. Iridescence tops it. I don’t think there’s anything I like more musically than experimental rap, and this album is basically just that. The sound is unique without being so abrasive it becomes unlistenable (a hard juggling act with most experimental or genre-bending music), the lyrics, as always are engaging, and thought provoking, candid and painfully honest at times. But the stand-out is the sound. I read for the words, but I listen to music for the sound. The lyrics should compliment the melody, the message is secondary, a welcome secondary addition, but ultimately secondary in my eyes. In Iridescence the lyrics are part of the melody, something that was missing at times in the previous albuns. I love the whole album, but my most repeated track is without doubt Fabric.

AND A RECENT FAVOURITE BOOK

35052265I’ve been beyond lucky with my fantasy reads lately. I’ve already waxed poetry about Read Sister on here before, so I’m going to talk about Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames instead, which I just finished. The tone couldn’t be more different from Red Sister’s but I loved it just as much. What it does have in common with it is the strong theme of friendship, and a squad that makes me smile just thinking about them. I won’t talk too much about it because I still plan on writing a review, but yeah, a great read all around.

 

 


Gets Me

A SONG THAT IS LITERALLY ME

I like music more for the feelings it evokes than for its message. Like I said before, what really matters to me is the melody. But I really like Hayley Kiyoko as an artist, and obviously I really identify with her and her songs in general. It’s great to have music out there that reflects you and your experiences. I think my absolute favourite is Cliff’s Edge. I love the melancholic, yet slightly irreverent tune in the song, and the lyrics, “Cliff’s edge, where I belong” and “I wanna feel like sea breeze” really resonate with me for some reason.

AND A BOOK THAT IS ME IN BOOK FORM

I haven’t found one yet! I don’t think it’s a bad thing, though. I’ve definitely found books whose characters I strongly identify with, and which have all the ingredients that make a book great in my eyes, but I haven’t found one that is a perfect distillation of me as a person. Maybe I never will, I don’t think I’ll mind if I never do. I guess I’ll have to keep reading and find out.


Wut

A WEIRD SONG THAT YOU LIKE ANYWAYS

Fy Faen by Hkeem and Temur. This isn’t really a weird song. But it was playing on the radio everywhere when I went to Oslo last year. It got stuck in my head, and I started singing along in Norwegian, which is 100% a language I can’t speak. I guess this just goes to show how little I care about lyrics because I’ve listened to this song multiple times and still have no idea what it says, I just like the sound of it. I just know that fy faen means “bloody hell”, “damn it”, or at least something that evokes that feeling.

AND A UNIQUE BOOK THAT STUCK OUT TO YOU FOR SOME REASON

110896Again it’s not really that this is an unique book, but Dancer by Colum McCann is a semi-biographical novel about the life of Russian Ballet Dancer Rudolf Nureyev, which isn’t usually the kind of thing I read. I didn’t have that much of an interest in ballet, and previous to reading this book, which I picked up from my highschool library, I had no idea who Nureyev was. I ended up loving this book, and it stuck with me all these years. It also made me interested in ballet enough to talk my parents into taking me and my brother to watch a performance. We went to see the Nutcracker, it was amazing, ballet is amazing.


Let’s Go

PICK YOUR BEST PUMP UP SONG

This one has to be I ain’t got time by Tyler, the Creator, from the amazing album Flower Boy. It’s funny, most of the album is really mellow and introspective but the two bangers it has go so hard. It slaps my dudes, it just slaps. This song just makes me feel like I need to hurry up whatever I’m doing. I literally wrote an essay while listening to it on repeat.

AND A BOOK THAT INSPIRES YOU

135836This is a hard one. I’ve read many books that inspire me, for very different reasons. I’d like to be a fantasy writer one day, so there are books that inspire me because they are such a great example of the genre, or because I love the writing so much. But I think I’m going to choose Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh because of the way it uses language to evoke the characters mood and mental state in such a clear and stark way. It’s written in the Scottish dialect which makes for a challenge read, and the topics it deals with are absolutely harrowing, the characters are at times despicable, and yet it’s an amazing book that shows that even the most unpleasant stories deserve to be told. It would be an inspiring book because of Welsh’s sheer talent alone, but it also inspire me because I hope to someday write something this original, unapologetic, and transformative.


Chill

YOUR BEST CHILL OR RELAXING SONG

This has to be another Frank Ocean. His songs are just the best for introspection and relaxing. And this one has the literal lyrics “Eyes low, chin heavy, shoegazer”. It’s just so mellow and sweet. And, I believe, dedicated to Frank’s boyfriend, which makes it all the sweeter.

AND A BOOK YOU’D CURL UP WITH ON A RAINY DAY

74270I’m gonna pick any of the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling for this one. It’s an old-fashioned fantasy series, the plot is nothing out of this world, there’s some court intrigue, there’s an elf-like people with a long life-span, wizards and their place of study, magic, an ancient evil, etc etc. That’s is exactly why I like it, it’s a comfortable read with lovable characters I love returning to, a charming city that I can picture perfectly, in a world that feels alive and inviting. All those characteristics make it the perfect book to curl up with on a lazy day, rainy or otherwise.

 


Addicting

A GUILTY PLEASURE SONG

I don’t really have guilty pleasure songs. I love all the songs I do unashamedly, and the ones I don’t listen to anymore I simply grew out of/got tired of. But Lipgloss by Charli XCX is so dirty, that when I listen to it in public I always feel slightly paranoid that someone can listen through my headphones, and I have to control myself not to sing-along, which is something I do a lot. Make no mistake though, I love this song. And there’s definitely a time and place to sing along to it.

AND A LIGHT, TRASHY READ YOU CAN’T HELP BUT LOVE

43814I don’t know if I would call it light, but anything with vampires feels trashy to me. And since these books were my twilight, I definitely think of them that way. I don’t know if I would read them again, and I didn’t read the whole series, because it’s huge, and at some point witches are introduced to the story which only increases the trashy factor — but I definitely have good memories associated with them. Especially with The Vampire Lestat, since Lestat was my favourite character. I just loved how dramatic, and over-the-top he was. Also, fun fact, I absolutely hate Tom Cruise as an actor, I think his only good role is Lestat. Coincidentally,  it was also the only time I ever found him good-looking.


Nostalgia

A THROWBACK SONG YOU LOOK BACK ON FONDLY

This is a song I loved when I was about 11 years old, and still love to this day. I like everything about it, the melody is fun and pop-y, the video has lots of pretty girls dancing and having fun. Eleven-year-old me didn’t understand why I was so fascinated by the video. Every time it came on on MTV I’d watch enraptured, but it’s one of those things that just makes perfect sense in retrospect. All of my friends knew this was my song, when it was on the school radio they would literally scream “your song!” and we’d all sing it together. I have great memories associated with it, and I always listen to it when I want to reminisce about my childhood.

AND A BOOK YOU READ AND LOVED WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG

489732I’m still not going to talk about Harry Potter, even though this would be the perfect place to do it. But it’s just so common place, almost everyone in the world has read Harry Potter — there’s no point in reiterating its influence. So I’m going to talk about the book I read when I was about 13 that made sure Harry Potter remained the only YA book I read for a long time, because I immediately graduated to adult books. In fact I think I’m reading all the YA today that I didn’t when I was an actual teenager. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde remains to this day one of my favourite books. It made me fall in love with Gothic literature, and quickly out of it when I realised no one could do it like Wilde. It’s the reason I hate Victorian settings, because no one captures the corrupting influence of Victorian London like Wilde does. It wasn’t beautiful, it wasn’t magical. It was disgusting and monstrous. It is said that the Londoners only learnt to appreciate the smog when Wilde said it was beautiful. But Wilde had a talent to find the beauty in the things that kill us. This book made me fall in love with an entire genre, and then broke my heart when I realised nothing could ever compare.

I don’t know if anyone is still reading at this point, but I salute you, your patience is infinite and deserves some type of award. I hope you had fun reading, and let me know if you like any of these songs or have read any of these books!

Book lists, LGBT Books, Top 10

Top 10 Tuesday: Fall TBR

top ten

This my first time doing this tag, which was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week is: Books On My Fall 2018 TBR.

Fantasy Fall Feelings

The Tiger’s Daughter — I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while. This is set in an Asian inspired fantasy world and there’s a f/f relationship, that’s all I needed to hear honestly. I love reading fantasy that pulls inspiration from anywhere other than Europe so this a welcome change. I’ve also recently received the ARC for the sequel, The Phoenix Empress, and I’ll probably read that one right after the Tiger’s Daughter because there’s nothing better than reading multiple books of a series in a row.

The Bone Witch — I’ve heard good things about this book, plus it involves necromancy, so really no way to go wrong there. I think there’s a f/f relationship, but it’s between secondary characters if I’m not mistaken. That always tampers my excitement a little, but I’m still really looking forward to this book.

And I Darken — I’m really late to this one. I think this series is actually over now, which means it’s the perfect time for me to pick it up, because if I love it when all the books are already out. I’m fascinated by the idea of Vlad the Impaler as a woman. I don’t actually know if this is fantasy, it might just be alternate history, but it has some definite fantasy vibes. I’m really excited to read it regardless.

Girls made of Snow and Glass — This is a fairytale retelling of Snow White, from what I understand. There’s also a f/f romance. I’m curious about this one, but a bit apprehensive too, because a few reviews mention it reads more like middle grade, which isn’t something I usually read but I’m still curious enough to give it a shot.

Grey Sister — This one needs no introductions. I loved Red Sister I can’t wait to read more in this universe. That’s all.

Witchmark — I’m really curious about this one, I think I’ve heard it described as gaslamp fantasy somewhere, which is something I can’t say I’ve ever read before. In any case there’s magic, a m/m romance, and a vaguely post WWI feel. Good enough for me.

Fall Releases

Girls of Paper and Fire — I’m so so excited for this one. This is another fantasy book set in an Asian inspired world. It also has a f/f relationship but it seems this one is going to be darker than the usual YA fantasy book. The premise sounds fascinating from the goodreads summary, and I can honestly say this is my most anticipated book of the fall.

What if it’s Us — Everyone’s already heard about this one. I haven’t always loved the other books I’ve read by these two authors, but I’m still curious to see what they come up with together.

Sawkill Girls — This seems to be at once fantasy and mystery and I’m really curious to read it. I’ve read some great reviews and that made me add this book to my tbr when previously it wasn’t even on my radar. I think there’s LGBT characters on this one too!

Fall Mood

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Beartown — This is a book about a small town obsessed with hockey and the lengths they’re willing to go to protect the sport and players they think are going to save them from obscurity. I looove hockey, absolutely love it, and I can’t think of anything more fall and cosy than a book about hockey, and a possible mystery (?) I don’t know too much about this one, and I want to keep it that way. But listen, I expect lots of hockey talk, and games, and epic goals and saves. I need that. I’m begging.

And that’s my top 10 TBR for fall. I have no idea how many of these I’ll have read by the time winter comes around, or even how well I’ll stick to it, but here’s to hoping. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, and what you thought of them, or if any of them are part of your fall tbr as well!

Book reviews, Horror, Lgbt Characters, Thriller

Book Review | Into the Drowning Deep

into the drowning deep

by Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) — This book did not work for me as a horror book, while atmospheric it simply wasn’t scary enough. That being said, it did work as a sci-fi/fantasy thriller about the kind of mermaids Disney would frown at (for more reasons than one!)

“Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.”

This had a strong environmentalist message for the first half. There was talk of the consequences of climate change, and as it was set in the near future, 2022, things were (even) worse. That really worked for me, I deeply enjoyed the environmental panic as a backdrop for a siren fuelled carnage, it was poetic in a way, righteous almost, and if the book had gone down that road I would have loved it — especially considering the Melusine and its scientists were being funded by a shady and trashy cable network. However, it kind of vanished a little over the second half, where there were scientists actively encouraging the extermination of the sirens. I realise they were eating them, but that seems like an overreaction. Hear me out: they really should have left when the first person died and they had definite proof sirens were real, and instead stayed because they were greedy and wanted to be famous. How’s the siren’s fault they were idiots? What species deserves to disappear because of human stupidity?

I’m maybe blowing it out of proportion it was really two people who were okay with the knowledge the american army would (potentially) nuke the sirens, and destroy entire ecosystems. But man, did reading that piss me off. Most of the characters really only wanted to survive. And there were a lot of characters in this book, it made sense there would be, but this was written in third person omniscient (hurray for third, sad kazoo for omniscient my least favourite pov) and the head-hoping was a bit much at times. It wasn’t badly done, it just felt like knowing that specific character’s thoughts at that point didn’t add anything to the story. That being said I appreciated that many characters weren’t likeable, I mean, there was the couple of hunters who were purposefully written to be despicable (and they were), but others fell into more morally grey areas. Dr. Toth (and what an unfortunate name) and her husband for example. I sympathised with them at times, but by the end of the book I was sure I didn’t like either of them.

There’s a tiny bit of romance in this, believe it or not, between Victoria and Olivia. I went into this book knowing that and was kind of curious to know if it would make sense considering the setting, but it does. They weren’t really throwing down love declarations, it was just a case of two girls who’d lost someone trying to comfort each other and it worked. It helped that they were both adorable and really likeable. Olivia is on the autistic spectrum and she makes a really interesting observation about the tendency of parents of autistic children to infantilise them, and never see them as fully rounded humans who will one day have partners and careers. There were little musings like that sprinkled throughout the book, a few memorable ones from the deaf twin sisters Heather and Holly and their translator and hearing sister Hallie (I want to kill someone because of these names, the cute factor isn’t worth my headache, I wish authors would realise how dumb it is to have characters with such similar names).

Language played a big role in this book, and I loved the use to ASL to attempt to communicate with the sirens. Paired with the casual observations the twins made about their deafness and how it was so natural and comfortable for them and they were only ever made to feel different when confronted with people who could hear and the odd ways they reacted to them. There was one weird scene were a character isn’t aware that there isn’t a single Sign Language and in fact every country has their own, sometimes more than one. That broke my suspension of disbelief, I find it hard to believe that anyone isn’t aware of that.

There was a lot of scientific talk in this book, finding the sirens was above all a scientific endeavour and I loved that aspect of it. I loved every part where the characters tried to figure out how the sirens “worked”, how they could have evolved. It was all written in very simple layman terms, which I’m sure many people will be glad for, and it makes total sense considering the sci-fi element is secondary to the horror/thriller (this book compares well to the likes of Jurassic Park, the movies at least). I wished Grant would have gone full academic on the science, because it was by far my favourite part of this book. I could have read an entire encyclopaedia about these sirens. They were really fascinating, everything about them was. By the end of the book they were, collectively, my second favourite character.

The ending felt a bit abrupt, and the least said about the “reveal” about the siren’s social hierarchy the better. I expected something a lot more interesting than what we got, I’ll just say that.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, it did as all thrillers are supposed to and made it very hard for me to put it down. I read it in two days, and was at no point bored with the story. I feel a little disappointed because I feel this could have been great, a few tweaks here and there and this would have been a solid four, hell maybe even a five. There was really a lot to like here, and I actually recommend this book wholeheartedly, I think most people will get something out of it: be it for the science-y bits, the thrilling bits, or even the horror if they are luckier than me.

Rating: ★★★½
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit

Book reviews, Fantasy, LGBT Books

Book Review | Godsgrave

godsgrave

by Jay Kristoff — This book actually fixed the few minor complaints I had with Nevernight but then went around and introduced a few new ones. It’s still an incredible book that I had a lot of fun with, and I can’t wait for Darkdown, but it’s still that half star shy of perfection.

“Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo, or avenging her familia. And after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it’s announced that Scaeva and Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end them. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.”

As you can see from the graphic (I can’t stick to a single style, I apologise), this book is all about gladiator fights — the more over the top the better. Unfortunately I really don’t care about them. I loved the tv show Spartacus, but it had enough blood and sand to last me a lifetime. It’s just a setting I have no interesting in revisiting. Speaking of setting, the Roman Empire influences are a lot more explicit in this book than in the previous one. Inescapably present, really. Mia spends most of the book training to be a gladiator, so it’s sort of hard to miss. And that’s it for complaints!

Despite my initial trepidation I still managed to enjoy some of the fights, and I did care about their outcome, the stakes were high enough to keep my attention. One fight in particular was actually pretty exciting, probably because it was against a monster and not people. The highlight were Mia’s fellow gladiators, though. In the previous book I complained that some side-characters felt a little underdeveloped, there’s no such thing here. All of them had clear personalities and voices, and even motivations that went against Mia’s plans. With the exception of Furian, (who fell a little flat for me, and annoyed me to no end), all the characters introduced in Godsgrave were welcome additions, and in a few cases sad departures when they met their grisly end. Sid in particular was a delight, he starts out as sort of a slimeball, but he redeems himself and becomes one of the most endearing characters in the whole book pretty fast.

The romance! I loved, loved it. Unlike Mia’s previous romance with he-who-shall-remain-nameless (because it’s a spoiler) where I felt like the relationship made them worse characters, as in: less interesting, boring to read about, and their romantic moments were overall dull. Mia’s relationship with this girl was completely different. I liked how they worked together, how they became a strong unit moving towards a common goal. I liked how they became better people together. I really hope to see their relationship develop even more in the next book, because I just love their dynamic and think it shows a lot of promise.

The ending was somewhat predictable, not nearly as shocking as Nevernight’s. That isn’t a bad thing, though. It felt predictable in that it unfolded in a way that was supported by previous events in the book, nothing felt like it was coming out of the blue for the sake of being another plot twist. There was one thing I definitely didn’t see coming. I don’t usually like it when characters come back from the dead, and it doesn’t look like the Nevernight series is going to make me change my tune– that’s all I’ll say about it. Eldritch abominations are cool, though.

The characters making a comeback were all welcome sights. And while I was expecting to keep closer tabs on the Red Church this book did a good job of making me happy to see the back of them. It also addressed the matter of slavery, which was sort of glossed over in Nevernight, but plays a huge role in Godsgrave. There’s a scene in the end that is particularly satisfying, when some people get a great comeuppance, and one gets away far too lightly. I hope that proves a mistake Mia grows to regret in the next book. I love consequences. Which is an ironic thing to say considering my second favourite character keeps getting away with murder. But I’m allowed my biases. Which Jay Kristoff seems to share.

Godsgrave is a great sequel,  one that lives up to its predecessor. Expands on some world-building, patches some holes, and opens new ones, just to keep things exciting. It’s not without its flaws but that doesn’t make it any less charming and fun. The change of scenery, so to speak, could give some readers pause, but I can also see it being a highlight for others. Either way, another great book in a series I can’t wait to read more of.

Rating: ★★★★½
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

Book reviews, Fantasy, Lgbt Characters

Book Review | Red Sister

red sister review

by Mark Lawrence — I loved this book. There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t enjoy about it. The characters were a delight, from the lovable to the despicable, they were all unique and their voices unmistakable. The world was fascinating, and so gripping that I swear I could hear the Corridor wind whistling in my ears, rustling my hair. I didn’t want to leave, and I put off finishing this book for a long time — for me that’s the highest form of praise. The books I speed by are entertaining, and fun, but the ones I take my time with are truly special.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…”

Nona is a fantastic protagonist, you just want to peel all the layers that make up her personality and get to the heart of her. She’s as outwardly cold as the frozen world of Abeth, beaten down by the harsh weather and an even harsher life, but that outward layer is like a warm cloak that protects her from the elements – and her rage is hot and incandescent, a glorious thing to watch – that hides the lonely 11 year-old girl who is so desperate for companionship, for friendship, that she won’t think twice about laying down her life for a friend. She might be a nun in training, learning under the blessing of the Ancestor, but friendship is Nona’s religion, and loyalty her prayer. I felt her struggles keenly, I wanted her to succeed at all costs, even as she was hot-headed and impulsive, risking her life but always mindful of the dangers to her friends’.

I loved Nona, she is the perfect protagonist, in my opinion. But the title of most fascinating character definitely goes to Abbess Glass who is everything J.K. Rowling wishes Albus Dumbledore was – I’m at once compelled to trust her, trust that her student’s well-being is a priority to her, but I’m also suspicious of her motivations. She is a master manipulator, and she uses everything and everyone to her advantage, to protect the convent and its students, sure, but you’re always left wondering how far is she willing to go, and is there even a limit if the end result is the greater good? Her voice is at once maternal and ruthless, it’s such a hard line to walk but Mark Lawrence does it beautifully.

This is grimdark fantasy, and while the students are 10-12 years-old they don’t sound like it. They live in an extremely unforgiving planet, with only the warmth of the “focus moon” to melt a thin corridor of liveable land around Abeth’s equator. The harsh realities of life don’t leave much room for carefree childhoods, but some of the natural innocence of children still shines through in some moments — few and far between, but that only makes them more poignant. That being said, the Convent of Sweet Mercy is still a comforting space, in the way all magical schools should be, even with danger lurking in every corner. The classes and the magic system were a highlight for me, even as many of the powers Nona, and a few others display, are still unpredictable. Walking the Path especially was very engrossing, and very easy to visualise, which speaks well of Mark Lawrence’s wonderful writing.

The only real complain I have about this book is that while Mark Lawrence is amazing at writing women, really from the despicable to the sweet they are all fascinating, he isn’t nearly as good at writing men. The few men that show up in Red Sister are rather one dimensional, and while one antagonist is appropriately menacing, that’s all there is to him. The other male antagonist, and Nona’s nemesis…I don’t think I remember a word he said. I sincerely hope that if there’s going to be any romance in future books (besides the side romance between two adult nuns at the Convent) it remains between the female cast, because the men in this world aren’t at all memorable. And again it speaks volumes about how great this book is, that it didn’t detract in the least from my enjoyment.

I still haven’t managed to talk about how beautiful the prose in this book is. Red Sister has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve read in grimdark fantasy. It’s lyrical without being purple. Some turns of phrase were so stunning that they stayed with me long after I’d read them. There really isn’t enough I can say to express how delightful this was to read. If the grimdark label doesn’t give you pause (and trigger warnings for violence/abuse against children) do yourself a favour and pick up this book.

Rating: ★★★★★
Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher:  Ace