I can’t say I’m 100% refreshed, but I’m glad I took time off the blog (and Instagram)…and I ended up taking a bit of time off writing, too. I did some editing and some writing, but not a whole lot, and ended up reading a bunch of things and submitting some shorts I had written. I did get a very nice rejection letter on something, and that was really fantastic.
I have exciting writing news, but I need to wait until the reveal in the middle/end of the month. However, I am so thrilled and honored by this news, and humbled to be a part of such amazing company.
I read 20 books, to include 11 books, 8 audiobooks and one graphic novel, for 7,000 (yes, exactly 7,000) pages.
All of my five-star books were fantastic, and for different reasons! And, weirdly enough, I knew they would be five-star reads within the first couple pages.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess was everything I wanted in an epic fantasy: a coming of age story, a slow-burn romance, an intriguing love triangle, and a series of trials and tribulations. It was the writing I loved, along with Xingxin’s stunning voice. In a book as epic as this, I need a thrilling lead, and Xingxin was definitely that. Not a book for everyone, but definitely a book for me.
I read Crumbs on Webtoons and absolutely adored it, so imagine my elation when I found out that it is not only getting published but also on NetGalley. When the publisher approved my ARC, I couldn’t wait until the month before pub to read it—I dove into this thing so fast and it was just as good. The gentle romance, the queer rep, the love, the heart, the feeling of growing up and figuring out what you want while avoiding burnout and a work/life balance, of having incredible and rare talent that is not the talent you actually want, and of being not-quite-good enough. Oh, this book.
I seriously don’t know how Emily Henry does it. How she writes books that are about books, that are so meta and instead of being cringey and in-your-face it’s actually…fun, witty and insightful? I loved that she took the character archetype of Frigid Bitch City Girlfriend and gave this poor girl a story and a happily ever after, and I loved Nora, and I really liked Charlie, and all of the secondary characters sparkled (although many were not as developed as I would have liked). However, it was a five-star read and I was crying throughout the last 50% for…I dunno. I was emotional and feeling my feelings, okay.
The Night Watchman received the Pulitzer Prize last year, and for good reason. It is fantastic. It’s definitely not an easy read (or listen in this case), but tells a (fictionalized) story based on true events. One of the things I enjoy about historical fiction, particularly historical fiction that wraps magical realism into it, is that even though something didn’t happen that exact same way didn’t mean that it is not real or true. The emotions and feelings and results are the same, even if the telling has been tweaked for a sort of allegorical storytelling (see: The Underground Railroad). I also love her writing style and how she folded out the story itself.
I continued my Vorkosigan reread this month with the next two installments in the series: Diplomatic Immunity and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. Both are books I have only read once, and both reads improved greatly in the second reading. I actually enjoyed the political machinations of Miles’ honeymoon-that-wasn’t, and while I wish Ekaterin had a bigger role in the book, I enjoyed this insight into the next step of Miles’ life. And I really, really liked Ivan’s POV, both as a counterpoint to Miles and also to see why Ivan was the way he was, although whether that was by design or unconscious defense I’m not quite sure.
I participated in a readathon this month with my book club, and binge-read a ton of romance novels, since I had several May ARCs that are romance and also because they tend to read fast.
I enjoyed Weather Girl, but it didn’t hit as hard as The Ex Talk, although I did adore and appreciate the commentary on holiday parties that are actually exclusively Christmas parties and how non-Christians can be made to felt during the “holiday” season.
I also liked Chef’s Kiss by TJ Alexander. It was a fantastic grumpy/sunshine and order/chaos romance, and the queer rep was fantastic. I loved, loved, loved it.
By the Book started off really rough (the writing felt more…juvenile that Guillory’s normal work), but in the end I was engaged, entranced and enchanted.
I’m lumping The Underground Railroad and Siren Queen together because they are both alternate histories, although they go in separate directions. The Underground Railroad is more steampunky (?), in that the Underground Railroad is actually a literal underground railroad, and while Whitehead plays fast and loose with timelines and events, the story he tells is very, very real. I really enjoyed the backstories to each character, and the way he chose to tell the story. It was good.
Siren Queen was a bit harder to read because of Vo’s dense writing style, where every word is filled with meanings that must be teased and toyed with (or perhaps that’s just me overthinking it), but it’s the queer retelling of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as told by a lesbian Chinese actress on her way to the top. There is magic and murder and it’s such a dark and deadly world. So good.
Queen of the Tiles was a really good take on the locked room murder mystery—where the murder happened a year ago and the locked room is a Scrabble tournament and the detective is a teenage girl with a faulty memory (she has trauma-based amnesia from seeing her friend die in front of her), and it’s really, really good. So many anagrams that made me feel both smarter and dumber by the end of the book.
I wasn’t as bowled over by The Witness for the Dead as I was by The Goblin Emperor, but I did enjoy this quiet book about Thara Celehar, an obscure and semi-disgraced Witness for the Dead who solved an imperial murder mystery and then went to take a posting in Amalo afterwards. I liked the aspects of it, although I wanted Celehar to find joy and love and stop beating himself up for a past he could not have controlled and for the homophobic mindsets of the people around him. The murder-mysteries were good, though, although damn the language used is dense as hell. I will be reading on to the second book, mainly since I requested the ARC from NetGalley before reading this one.
Okay, don’t murder me but: in my opinion, The Song of Achilles was overrated. For years, I have been seeing this book on the must-read, best-ever lists for the emotions it wrings out of the reader, for the beautiful writing and the way Miller brings Greek mythology to life. And, I can see it (the retelling is brilliant), but while there were glimpses of beautiful writing I found it kinda bland, and Patroclus was basically Bella Swan, and Achilles…well, we didn’t really get any read on his character besides the fact that the soles of his feet were cute, he was a little rich brat and he was literally golden.
I debated requesting Black Tide from NetGalley because I don’t often read horror, but I did because it’s set in Oregon and I thought it was written by not-a-cis-dude. Anywho. It started off strong and creepy and weird, and lost me when the gravely injured and dehydrated leads were doing a we’re-gonna-die fuck in their car while the aliens are roaming around them, the tide is rushing around the car and the dog is literally dying in the backseat behind them.
Forties Fashion was an insightful look into WWII fashion, particularly in Western Europe, the US and a bit of Canada. It briefly mentions fashion in New Zealand and Japan (so brief, so tantalizing!), but swings back to focus on the fashion of occupied France, as Paris is the center of the Fashion world (there is also a lot of focus on the fashion of Germany). I I didn’t mind the Paris-focus, but I did want there to be more pictures and more street fashion than haut couture—although there is quite a bit of talk and contextualization of the rationing systems by countries and also how ordinary people (and fashion icons) coped with the inability to buy or replace clothing.
There was nothing wrong with these three books. They were all enjoyable, but not really stand-outs. I’d thought Reputation was a sapphic romance based on its summary (it is not, although the main character might be bi), and it was okay but the friends were all really awful. Duke, Actually was good for the first 80% but then got ridiculous and ruined a lot of the character development (side note: hated the narrator did Max’s voice, loved the way she did Dani’s). A Deadly Inside Scoop was a fun cozy mystery that was charming, and while the characters were a bit cookie-cutter I didn’t mind it. What I did mind was the epilogue, where the author spelled out the mystery for me like I was five.
And then there are some romances where I actually don’t mind the writing, the setting, or the romance itself, but I do mind the bone-headed decisions the leads make. Particularly the adrenaline-junkie heroine, who takes her inexperienced crew up a deadly mountain with little training, then nearly gets herself and her guide/love interest killed doing really, really dumb shit. I don’t mind adrenaline junkies and love seeing women getting the role, and I don’t care if people put other people in danger for stupid reasons because it’s fiction, but I really get annoyed when everyone else in the story treats the adrenaline junkie as a hero or a good decision maker when…all evidence points to the contrary. River Lane (really, that’s her name) was truly writing checks her body couldn’t cash…if you replace body with friends/love interests. Anywho, not for me, but it’s a pretty popular series and I can see why. The writing and tension and slow-burn romance were great.