Has spooky season ended?
However, it does look like I’m transitioning from a semi-themed spooktober (my first time theming a month around ~spooky~ books) and heading straight into epic fantasy (my November TBR posts tomorrow).
This was a decent month, although I wrote very, very little, did absolutely no prep for NaNoWriMo, and continued to basically fart around with my life (I did edit Otterkin a little). On the plus side, I sold my ninth short story of the year?! And another short story, “Tell the Crows I’m Home” released this month with Metaphorosis. So I feel a little bit like a “real” author, although none of my stories sold to pro magazines (although all of the markets that bought them are really good semi-pro and token ones).
Bookwise, I read 21 books, for 15 books and 6 audiobooks, a total of 6,586 pages. I also read two novellas that didn’t meet my 150 page threshold (I do go down 10-20 pages sometimes but both were pretty short), which I included in my mini wrap-up.
On to the books!
I’m honestly surprised I read so many 5-star reads this month—mostly because I feel like the three- and two-stars soured my mood a little and made me feel less happy and overly critical of everything else I read.
However, I am super duper excited to say that The Inheritance of Orquidéa Divina and The Secret Lives of Church Ladies lived up to the hype! They were both absolutely stunning, with two completely different but equally gorgeous writing styles that just had me falling in love with each word. I listened to the audiobooks for both of them, and the narrators were just incredible. Zoraida Cordóva is not a new author to me, but this is my absolute favorite book of hers (and I love the others but fuuuuuuuck adult fantasy is her niche), whereas Deesah Philyaw is a new to me author and someone who’s work I’ll be on the lookout for!
Lesbians and royalty…is there anything else that needs to be said here?
I really, really enjoyed Jenny Frame’s A Royal Romance, featuring a butch lesbian Queen of England (swoon) and the anti-royal but professional charity worker who falls in love with her (this is charity work stories done right, by the way). And I adored the pared down (lol kinda) prose of Alix E. Harrow’s multiverse Sleeping Beauty retelling, which crammed quite a bit into not very many pages (which, if you’ve read her previous works you’d find that statement improbable but I’m telling you she did it).
These last two were five star reads I did not expect to love! I’ve checked out And Then There Were None several times—in both audio and book form—and never read them (I stopped listening to the audio after ten minutes because I was confused as hell), and also because I was a little scarred by my first Christie novel, which I read in high school (for fun) and hated. However, And Then There Were None was delightful and twisty and stabby as fuck.
First Sister was a book I’ve also been debating on reading (although not for as long as And Then There Were None), and I’m really pleased that I ended up picking it up! It has similar feels to Red Rising, but without the misogynistic undertones—and also many similarities to Handmaid’s Tale, but without being transphobic and white as fuck. Anywho, it’s very queer, and I really recommend it and am eagerly waiting for my library (any of them) to get the sequel—and yes, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t request the ARC for either the first book or the sequel, because then I wouldn’t be stuck waiting (okay I’d be stuck waiting but in a different way).
Yup, I read both of these books this month—nearly back to back, too. They have a lot of similarities: a fascination with 80s and 90s slasher movies (final girls, weird killers, mystery), groups of final girls who start “randomly” dying, and twists and turns that nearly gave me whiplash.
However, they were different enough (despite similar title and cover) that I enjoyed them without feeling like Hendrix cribbed too horribly on Sager’s idea. And I liked The Final Girl Support Group better of the two, and I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying, mainly because it was more exciting, better written and took on the nature of the horror tropes better, IMO (and because he figured out what the fuck the main character did her in spare time whereas he just kinda shrugged his shoulders and went stay at home momssssssssss? with the previous one).
I finally read If We Were Villains, and despite my initial reluctance to read about precocious artsy children doing precocious artsy things, this did not annoy me (once I got past the stilted beginning). I even started to enjoy the speaking through Shakespearean quotes, and now I’ve been feeling the urge to actually pick up one of my copies of the plays and read through them (I did rewatch Ian McKellen’s brilliant reimagining of Richard III, which if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it).
At Night All Blood is Black and Nothing but Blackened Teeth delve into body horror, mutilation, mental illness (in different ways), friendship, and colonialism—and despite these similarities, they have very little in common! I think I liked Blood a little better, as the writing style had a really riveting oratory repetitiveness that was very lulling despite the macabre nature of its narrator. But Teeth was good too, although it was too short and I wanted more backstory on the characters.
I gave Terciel and Elinor four stars more for nostalgia than anything. Plot-wise it was meh (if you read Sabriel, you know what happens), but I adored the world-building and anything Old Kingdom (but I wanted more!!). Rae Carson’s Any Sign of Life was a departure from her previous trilogies, but more in line with her adult short story about zombies (this book did not have zombies). I really enjoyed it, and recommend it for fans of The Last 8 by Laura Pohl (I like this better, as it was more believable-ish in terms of the teenagers’ abilities). And Eat Your Heart Out was a fantastic shout out to
Last Tang Standing won me over because (1) that cover is gorgeous and (2) millennial burnout. Also, I’m a sucker for Singapore, and this had delicious descriptions of food that had my mouth drooling just a little…although the Tang aspect of the story really didn’t feature into the main storyline all that much. The main character is…a lot (and has a lot of bad hot takes), but there’re reasons for that, and I enjoyed the diary-style entries.
To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot of In the Watchful City beyond the fact that it’s a collection of short stories with an interesting framing device that pairs Minority Report with shapeshifting, queer characters. It’s very good, very creative, and well worth the read (or the listen—the audiobook is great!).
The Anti-Quest was a fun take on the quest trope—and a take that was more more enjoyable than the other story tackling on the same storyline, and I believe that was because The Anti-Quest did not take itself seriously at all and rolled with all the weird things that happened with a sense of humor that Elder Race did not have. It made no attempt to be Serious Science Fiction, and for that I was happy (even though the ending was too rushed and well-wrapped).
And Dark Archives was the exact sort of nonfiction one should read during spooktober—human skin book bindings! Granted, the book is both more and less macabre than you’d expect, since while Rosenbloom does not shy from the gory details, she does bring humanity and compassion to the subject with regards to the objects and the people they once were.
These all failed to hit, and I’m disappointed because I had high hopes for all of them!
I have five-star loved both of Margaret Rogerson’s previous books, but Vespertine just felt…lacking. I saw what she was doing, I enjoyed the main character, I loved the revenant, but the storyline was weak (motives? what motives?) and the worldbuilding was ambitious but ultimately didn’t hold my attention.
I like a lot of fluff with my romance, but I also want some plot too, and The Ex Hex was all fluff and aesthetic and instalust followed with a rushed twenty-pages of oh shit I have to wrap this thing up soon. It was…well. I’ve read better. Likewise with Elder Race, which was clearly trying to do something groundbreaking and fantastic with the sorcerer in the tower/quest trope and…yet felt like something from the 80s or early 90s. It did have some cool takes on linguistics and lore and mental illness, but the storyline was overall really boring and bland, mostly because I got the sense the author thought he was doing something that had never been done before with this trope and…it’s been done.
The Death of Jane Lawrence was my biggest disappointment, because I LOVED The Luminous Dead and was jonesing for a creepy take on Gothic romance, complete with spooky house, doctors, and fucked up romance magic shit. And…okay yeah there is all of that, and I really was enjoying the first 50% of it (and I liked Jane herself), but then it just hit a curve and kept going straight…down the hill. Into a ditch. Where it exploded in a muddled, eggy mess.
As for The Other Prince—look, I adore royal romance. I love it. And this was actually a pretty decent romance with solid chemistry (albeit conventions not rooted in reality with regards to royal protocol…not that I would know or anything but still), however, it had a heavy dose of a Swimfan element (that was brushed aside and not really addressed) and a heaping amount of white saviorism. Unlike A Royal Romance, where Bea is a charity organizer focusing on hospices within the British Isles, this book focuses directly on helping the children of Africa get a quality education and healthcare. Yes. Africa as country (it does split to Kenya and there is the briefest of mentions of colonialism but poised in a very weird way), complete with cringeworthy shots of White people posing with Black children in photo-ops (as the royal family actually does…and it’s still peak cringe). And the assisting partnerships mentioned are global ones, not local organizations already doing the work (the communities are mentioned but only as receivers not partners in change). Then the entire charity plot gets dropped down the lost-plothole once the two link up, and its donezers after that.