Well this month was a giant cluster-fuck of clusterfuckery.
So many great things happened, all overshadowed with the passing of the best dog in the whole wide world. Peace was 14 and some months, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected but we just…we thought we had more time, you know? She was doing so well for a 14yo dog, and then a tumor ruptured (we didn’t even know she had cancer—other stuff yes, cancer, no) and we made it to the emergency vet and it was time to say goodbye. I’m doing better than I was, but how can you quantify the impact a dog has in your life? She was my constant companion while we were in DC, she was my comfort when my wife was deployed, and she’s been a friendly presence in the house after I left my job to write full time. Sure we have cats, but Peace was my heart. Now the house is so quiet and empty and even the assclown that is our youngest cat can’t compensate, and now who the fuck is going to eat my baked carrots when I get takeout hibachi?
So, I guess the good stuff?
We rented our house and signed a lease for our new house, checking off two massive things on the to-do list.
I sold two short stories—one literally the day Peace died, and the other a couple days later. This success, after over a year of rejections for my short stories, feels like I somehow made a horrible bargain. It’s bittersweet. Of course, these yeses were followed by a string of rejections so I feel more balanced out now.
I wrote another short story (parody of the Oregon Trail game), bringing this year’s total to five, and started a book that is most definitely not Book 3 of the Satura trilogy, cue my hysterical, procrastinating laughter. I might do a separate writing post in May where I talk about writing, what I’m working on, and whatever else.
I took a (brief) attempt at a social media hiatus that did really well in week 1, and then kinda…petered out after that. However, I was still making conscious decisions in my social media consumption, and tried really, really hard to limit the doomscrolling. Which I why I read 10 books in the first half of the month.
And the second half. Well. We had a death in the family.
I read 18 books in April, including 10 books, 7 audiobooks and one graphic novel.
I continued devouring The Remarried Empress (I. need. the. divorce. episode. now!), and binge-watched Younger when my creative well ran dry. We’ve also been watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which started off rather ehhh but solidified into something resembling a plot and some interesting themes, particularly what it means to represent America and all that implies. I also got my wife into Shadow and Bone (or as she calls it, Shadow Bone which is…not inaccurate) and we’re working our way through that.
I was a little nervous about reading Malinda Lo’s sapphic historical fiction, mainly because Ash was…a real disappointment tbh, but everything about Last Night at the Telegraph Club was calling for me. I was not disappointed. This book had everything. Literally everything. It is perfection, and the odd blips back into time to follow family members through their journey only added to the nuance and depth of the characters instead of making me annoyed. The ending is both sad and hopeful, and just—well. If you’re looking to read more sapphic YA, read this one. It will not disappoint.
Concrete Rose was a book I was both excited for and hesitant about, but I should have trusted Angie Thomas not to steer me wrong from the get-go, because this was brilliant. When I first heard about it, I was like, why the fuck should I want to read a book about Starr’s dad? We already know how he got to where he was. Couple that with my intense annoyance at this book being historical fiction and I entered this one seriously skeptical customer. But it’s brilliant. Read it. Read it. Read it.
The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor was the perfect send-up to 19th century gothic romance and multiverse travel. It’s delightful and a little whacky and I loved each page.
One Last Stop is…just sheer sapphic perfection. I have no words, but my bisexual soul is full and my body is a soggy mess of tears and snot and joy.
Speaking of books that made me feel things, Grown is definitely a book that made me feel the feels and relive some stuff. My stuff is far from what Enchanted experienced (so, so, so far), but lemme tell you younglings: guard yourselves. I’m not saying you need to try to be pure little whatevers because fuck that and find your joy and your pleasure in you and others, but be leery of older men in positions of power (or older men in general) who take an over-interest in you, who call you mature for your age, who have few companions their own age, who do not respect your boundaries and isolate you from your family and friends.
Surprisingly I only read two adult romances this month. I’ve been on such a kick with them that I thought for sure I’d read more, but this was definitely the month for YA reads. The Duke Who Didn’t was my first Courtney Milan romance, and I don’t generally read historical romance (I think The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was one of my first or second ones) because Victorian/Regency era manners don’t wow me (and any and all mention of corsets sends me into an irrational fit of annoyance—I have nothing against them, but when they seem to be the main focus of the story I am out, which is why I tend to avoid steampunk), but this was absolutely fantastic. I fell in love with the entire story, the secondary characters, and the major twist at the end was hilarious and such a wonderful departure from so many of the romance-challenges that occur at 80% of romance novels. How to Find a Princess was just as delightful, with a chaos demon and a sunshine helper meeting up and struggling to move forward. There was so much baggage, and the entire journey on the cargo ship was delightful. Definitely a must-read for Alyssa Cole fans, and I can’t wait for book three, since I have a pretty good idea who is going to be one of the main characters.
Continuing my Vorkosigan saga reread was book 4ish, Borders of Infinity, which is actually three shorter pieces corralled into a framing device of Miles laid up in a hospital bed explaining his over-expenditures to Simon Illyan. I remember not liking these as much as the actual books, but both The Borders of Infinity (one of the novellas) and The Mountains of Mourning hit harder than they had before, while Labyrinth was kinda a big stinking bottle of nope nope nope.
A Master of Djinn was the first full-length novel (and I believe Clark’s debut novel?? He’s written several fabulous novellas and short stories), and the third entry into the Fatma el-Sha’arawi series (read both the short story and the novella before this one or miss crucial details). The world-building was fantastic, the twist was obvious was fun, and there were lots of interesting pieces of commentary on colonialism, anti-colonialism, and what an inclusive future looks like (who is left behind in the Great Progress Forward), plus there is magic and djinn and Fatma gets a female partner. If the pacing didn’t feel as uneven (the book felt a little bloated IMO), this definitely would have been five stars.
Starting off my YA four-star reads, since there so were so damn many I split them into groupings. The first two are summer vacations. I am so happy that publishers are releasing books with messy teens doing messy shit that has little to do with their sexual or gender identities (okay, it does but that’s not the crux of it) and everything to do with the fact that teens are messy, narcissistic little bastards who are learning independence, adulthood, healthy relationships and responsibility, in addition to discovering who they are and and what their values are. Meet Cute Diary was definitely this, in spades. Noah was a messy little shit, and I loved him for it. It’s less meet cute and more oh bb no. There is fantastic representation of a secondary character discovering their gender identity, and a solid look into what makes a healthy relationship…and what does not.
Mare’s War had no similarities other than it took place over a summer vacation, with sisters Octavia and Tali joining their eccentric grandmother Mare on a trip to Alabama for a family reunion. I was less engaged with the present storyline and more enthralled by the past, where Mare tells of her time in the Women’s Army Corps as a Black woman during World War II. That part was fantastic. The present was good, but left a lot to be desired. Heavy trigger warnings in this book, though.
And then we get to the portion of the school dances, and main characters running for king/queen for Reasons.
These were all fantastic books, but I feel I would have enjoyed the better if I had spread them out more instead of read them back-to-back-to-back (technically I listened to You Should See Me in a Crown while reading both of these). So my memories are blurred together.
May the Best Man Win was not quite the madcap prank-war of silliness I had been promised, with that gorgeous and lighthearted cover and the blurb, but more of a somber exploration of gender identity and sexuality, grief, relationships (both romantic, platonic and familial), and navigating various spaces and identities in high school. It was very, very good, but whew boy did Jeremy (cannot read that name without imagining Isla Fisher’s Jer-amy or Jere-bear from Wedding Crashers…also, have you ever met a Jeremy who wasn’t a prick of some sort? I have not) have some intense Napoleon Syndrome going on.
Pumpkin and You Should See Me in a Crown were both delightful, with main characters I adored. I loved Waylon’s voice and everything about him, although he suffered from a bit of blank canvas but everyone adores him or is impressed by him for…reasons? I also really liked Lizzy, who was driven, determined, and slowly realizing that in order to do shit she had to drive her own path forward and be herself.
Off in its own little corner of yeah I have no fucking clue how to review this is Transcendent Kingdom, which was brilliant and sad and just a fascinating slice of life/deep dive into addiction and coping and depression and family dynamics and religion and science and immigration and racism and what it means to be a Strong Black Woman (and how bullshit that term really is). Gifty was a fascinating character, brilliant and naive and wounded and just trying to solve all the problems (at least in how they relate to her family experiences), while floundering in the very real reality of her home situation, with a mother struggling with suicidal depression, a father who went back to Ghana, and the ghost of a talented brother lost to drug overdose (and before that, to addiction). Definite trigger warnings in this one, along with animal experimentation.
As to the three stars. Well. Here go my unpopular opinions.
Project Hail Mary was an annoyance throughout my entire read. I absolutely hated Ryland Grace’s character, particularly his voice and sense of humor and the preponderance of enthusiastic punctuation dominating literally every sentence. He felt like a Dollar General version of Weir’s Mark Whatney, and the way he scienced out of all of his issues doubled down on that initial assessment. I probably would have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t already read The Martian, but then again, I probably would have DNF’d because of the overuse of exclamation points. Grace was basically the human embodiment of a really smart golden retriever, which is fantastic in small doses but an absolute nightmare in a full-length novel.
Lost in the Never Woods was…not gonna lie, a disappointment. I had seen mixed reviews before, but I loved Cemetery Boys (and that this was set in Astoria, Oregon) so much that I put aside my misgivings of all things Peter Pan (I have been burned before) and plowed forward. I don’t regret reading it, but I definitely feel like it went on far too long than it needed to. Very slow, drawn out plot, cookie cutter MC and LI (lots of uses of the term boy to describe him, plus multiple descriptions of him), and some things happening later on in the story where I was like wait, didn’t she already have this revelation or already do this thing with him? and add that to a really unnecessary villain monologue (times two) and my initial joy evaporated. I gave it two stars, but added a star because my nostalgia for my home state is at a high point.
I purchased A History of War and Weapons, 1660 to 1918, from…I think Chamblin’s Bookmine in Jacksonville, Florida?? I dunno. I’ve had it for a while, I bought it for research purposes for a book or two I plan on writing (one that I have written and need to heavily revise, another that is kind of a work in progress).
Anywho, I more or less knew what I was going to get, and I got exactly what I was expecting (with a few perks? but not many). If you take aside from the fact that this theoretically comprehensive history is only 224 pages and focuses primarily on Western land-based warfare (i.e., European and mostly British with some German and American stuff thrown in there for funsies, along with some air stuff), it was a decent overview of weaponry and how those weapons were employed. Lots of gaps, unevenly objective in viewpoint, and while I learned some things I question much of it, mostly because there have been so many advances in military history since 1972 (much of the takeaways here I learned in college, and a lot of those have been thrown into question as military historians explore their fields with more nuance towards well, everything).