Favourite Books of 2020

2020; the year of a pandemic, of my health declining (unrelated), of spending more time with family (if you want it or not) and not to forget – thinking you will read more, but ending up scrolling through tiktok for hours instead. Ah, how much I love the dark academia aesthetic when I’m forced to be separated from my beloved reading places / libraries.

Also, you know the feeling when you were going to write reviews of all of these books, but reviews of favourites is definitely the hardest because you want to get them right and then you will be too far into the year – ah maybe just me, but the ones that is reviewed will be linked.

  • Best sci-fi/urban fantasy mix: Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang and the rest of the series! Because of its exceptionally morally gray / villain vibes protagonist and math superpowers.
  • Best non-fiction (and audiobook): Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow for the great coverage of the Weinstein sexual abuse cases as the journalist who first exposed them and going in-depth about the women affected and the way it was covered up by major news oulets like NBC who later turned out had Matt Lauer’s sexual assault allegations of their bloody hands.
  • Best graphic novels / comics: Deadly Class by Remender, Craig, Loughridge for just being the most-fucked up thing I’ve read ever formatted as boarding school teenage villains in training.

  • Best classic: A Separate Peace by John Knowles – is it a classic? It’s very popular and written in 1959, that counts. A coming-of-age novel set right before a war with all of its moral dilemmas, with an exceptional friendship that seems pretty full of gay yearning to me, but it’s not canon.
  • Best sequel & sci-fi: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green which is the sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and the sequel so much lived up to my expectations that I cried. About fame, about aliens, espionage, friends- what more do you need? Queer characters. It’s all there. It’s so well done from the one person who’s got the intersection of experience enough (science, social media, business, all the other things) to make it feel a bit too real.
  • Best poetry: Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong because it’s just amazing. So vivid, so much looking into violence and the family dynamics of being Vietnamese immigrants.

  • Best romance: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston for its fun royal/presidental gay romance. I’ve seen a couple of these stories around, but I think this one with its humor as well as real elements is a good top contender. Cute enemies to lovers trope.
  • Couldn’t get it out of my brain: Wilder Girls by Rory Power for displaying itself as a YA book with some girlpower, but otherwise normal then turning out to be pure horror and abuses of power and fairytale island forest vibes. It stuck around because it has symbolism to girls going through teenage years and puberty, but it was such a good fantasy/sci-fi plot as well. And queer yearning and girls.
  • Most surprising find: A Woman in the Polar Night is exactly what it tells you it is, but I wouldn’t have found it hadn’t I physically stumbled over it. I did not expect reading about a german woman of the 1930s going to the Arctic and then writing a memoir about it to be such a life-changing experience and at the same time describe certain things I’ve been trying to for years so perfectly.

And then I came to the major & sad realization I didn’t read any straight-up excellent high fantasy this year, or really (only) fantasy at all. That’s usually my biggest genre. I had a lot on my TBR, but most of the year something about my mental state was not ready for the commitment of the brilliant extensive world of any Philip Pullman or Brandon Sanderson book, and otherwise I did not have time. 2021 is the time!

Honorary mentions

I read the very popular harry potter marauder’s fanfic All the Young Dudes by MsKingBean89 as the last part of this year was spent thinking too much of Harry Potter again. The fanfic follows the marauder’s through their entire Hogwarts years and then into the uncoming war, getting more queer as they grow up. The writing progresses so much as well, which makes sense thinking about how much time this must have taken to write. I got very much into Harry Potter this year, despite hating Rowling, because a close friend of mine read it for the first time and found a lot of comfort in these characters as the pandemic was messing up everyone’s lives. Warning; It’s 520k words (around 1700 pages?) and I read it in two or three days, it was rough to put it down.

I also discovered the absolutely great horror podcast The Magnus Archives this year and it tells such a extensive story, with all of its great cast of character, creepy creatures and meta-storytelling.

Exciting New Book Releases Autumn 2020 (part two)

I made a weird summer/autumn mix of new releases last time, so I’ll call it a part one.

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

Release date: September 15th 2020

Why I want to read it: Ghosts, a beautiful remote farm, trauma & loneliness. Same author as a lot of other amazing books; like “We Are Okay” and “Everything Leads To You“.

Burning Roses by S. L. Huang

Release date: September 29th 2020

Why I want to read it: A queer girls retelling of Red Riding Hood and the Chinese mythological archer Hou Yi (which I’ve not read about before), along with a few others mixed into this mashup. Same author as the badass Cas Russell series!

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Release date: October 6th 2020

Why I want to read it: The title was what drew me in tbh. Then I realized it was the same author as another book I want to read; “The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle”. Not to forget the synopsis’ promise of: “A murder on the high seas. A detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.”

What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump

Release date: October 15th 2020

Why I want to read it: I first found it because Ocean Vuong is one of many writers in this anthology. I think a lot of poems of empathy & outrage from diverse voices is very much what I need right now.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Release date: October 20th 2020

Why I want to read it: same author as “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”. It promises horror, boarding all-girls school and most importantly sapphic (or lesbian) dark academia

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Release date: October 27th 2020

Why I want to read it: sicilian twin witches, set in 1800s. Murder, vengeance, a sarcastic bad-boy demon princes and dark magic. And I’ve seen people enjoy it so far.

A Court of Silver Flames (ACOTAR #4) by Sarah J. Maas

Release date: October 27th 2020

Why I want to read it: I’ve gotten so far into the series that I want to get through with it, tbh. I’ve mainly given up on still liking this author, it’s like her writing & choices plot and character-wise have declined the last books, probably because of popularity and publishing quicker.

Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett

Release date: November 10th 2020

Why I want to read it: dark academia set in college, lonelines, cults, manipulation and at least one death.

Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive #4) by Brandon Sanderon

Release date: November 17th 2020

Why I want to read it: IT’S THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE, IF IT’S ANY BOOK I EVER HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR IT IS THIS ONE! so excited.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Release date: November 24th 2020

Why I want to read it: It’s a somewhat short story from the Folk of the Air series, so it’s more to complete it than anything else. I’ve always liked Jude better than Cardan since The Cruel Prince.

Ruinsong

Release date: November 24th 2020

Why I want to read it: I’m kind of on the fence for this one, because, while I truly wanted to, I never got into The Seafarer’s Kiss by the same author because personally the writing didn’t fit me. But this one has enemies to lover vibes and promises sapphic (lesbian) characters, not to mention underground rebellion, so I’m willing to give it another try.

 

Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler | Book Review

Pages: 352

Genre: young adult fantasy, lgbt; bi morally-gray protagonist, f/f relationships, a lot of queer characters, pirates

Synopsis

In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service—she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit. 

My thoughts

Rating out of five: two stars

I read the book “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Django Wexler right after this one and I would very much recommend it if you’ve already read & liked this book, because it’s pretty similar in the style of the protagonist’s voice, but I also found them both lacking in the same areas.

The world-building isn’t great, but it truly is interesting as it is pretty much powered by magic, and you get to slowly learn the mechanisms behind the ship and the world as the plot unfolds. It’s obvious the author has experience writing fantasy books and I think it’s more of a choice considering the YA targeting. There is also the constant questioning of which characters to trust and not, while none of them ever claim to truly be ‘the good ones’, there’s just different degrees of selfishness among them. The whole crew of the ship were tributes with magical abilities trapped there forever, meaning Isoka is no longer that special, but at the same time she does seem to have abilities to do things the other never could, so it does feel like there’s some short-cuts taken there.

I don’t care about everyone. Maybe that makes me a monster, but I’ve always known that. o save Tori, to save Meroe, to save my own skin, I’d kill every crew on the ship if I had to. But— There’s more to saving Meroe than just keeping her alive. If I take her with me, and we live when everyone else dies, then she’d never forgive herself. The goodness in her, the part that makes her care, might be snuffed out forever. Then she’d be a monster, too. And I can’t accept that.

– Isoka in Ship of Smoke and Steel

There’s certainly some heart-warming elements to the book as well, they even highlight some of the unreliable narration as there’s a split between how she views herself and her actions; like how Isoka claims that she cares about little other than her sister, but at the same time she’s finding herself saving strangers and wanting other things. Meroe is also an interesting character, having skills that isn’t revealed right away and a good backstory to back them up, but for the most part they’re pretty shallow and stereotypical.

The queer parts (were kind of bad)

I could tell this book is written by a man through the writing of some characters. It’s not as bad as it sometimes can be and there was (thankfully) no explicit scenes, even if it’s obvious when people have sex. There’s a lot of queer characters, so a clap for that I guess. The f/f romance between Isoka & Meroe is nice, their gender has little to do with it in many ways though. It’s a nice touch from the start how Isoka is always thinking about what Meroe might think if she were to kill someone, in a way that social pressure becomes her conscience, not to mention a bit of jealousy.

There’s no book or plot reason Isoka is a girl really in this book at all. I’ll explain – there’s a few extra sentences put in here about both experiencing exchanging sex for favours or power of some sort (which does happen for also the male characters) and being threatened extra for being female, but overall there’s nothing characteristicly making her female. Which I would maybe even have truly liked, weren’t it for the sexist world built up around them and how it never seems to affect Isoka, which is truly weird. Isoka is afraid of certain things, like the fate of her sister, but never for herself. When she’s in a position where she has sex with a guy to get access as part of a plan, she talks herself into how she wants it in a very strange and not empowering way, to be honest.

Being female never holds her back, but the world built up around her should at least bring her to have more thoughts around it, if not feel the consequences directly. For fuck’s sake, she talks about how if she were found to be unwilling to cooperate back in the city, as someone with magical abilities, they would’ve just kidnapped her and bred her. It’s basically mentioned as a one-off comment. There’s also the fact that Isoka is all of a sudden constantly distracted by Meroe & her body, as she’s fighting for her life, in a very fanfic way that does not match her character. Fantasy worlds doesn’t inheritely have to be sexist; either naturally have it affect a female character or just don’t make a sexist world??? They’re very much not a joy to read for your female readers??? At least make a point if you are to create them. The more I think about this, the angrier I get at how it colors this book for me.

I haven’t even mentioned the “beast” of a woman that is a tyrannical leader, somehow to make the woman also evil in this book, without any reason other than pride/humiliation of course as the other leaders gets more complex ones.

For someone truly excited about queer relationships, Jack and Thora (both female) is where it already started to feel sketchy. They’re both kind of one-dimensional characters, which doesn’t help as every time they’re in the room together Jack is all over Thora, who sometimes even reads as if she’s uncomfortable. There’s the fact that Isoka deals with some internalized homophobia in the beginning, before realizing she likes girls as well, that might draw the relationship worse than it is. But it does at times contribute to the feeling that the author wanted to write a good fantasy where the YA parts and the female protagonist, as well as the queer characters, became more of a selling-point than truly a part of the story.

The plot was predictable, but interesting. I went into this book looking for a badass morally-gray protagonist and a cool fantasy world. I finished it being both a bit confused about my feelings around it, a bit excited by the action, very let down about the predictability of plot and lack of explanation about the world. But most of all with the sense that the wrong person wrote the story for all its highlighting of a kickass-female-character & queer cast.

I REPEAT: Fantasy worlds doesn’t inheritely have to be sexist; either naturally have it affect a female character or just don’t make a sexist world???

Witchy Reads for this Autumn (part two)

Here’s part one! It just became a truly too long post.

Books I recommend

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness & the rest of the All Souls Trilogy for the historian protagonist that explores a supernatural world riddled with old artifacts, powerful witches and immortal vampires, featuring time travel and a lot of romance. It’s also got a tv series which is fun, but as these things often do, gives no explanation or coherent plot like the books does. It’s been a while since I read this, and would love to reread it.

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling (full review) for the YA with fun, dramatic moments, a city of witches & their families, covens arguing and lots of lesbian/bi girls.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik (full review) for the fairytale vibes with wizard (more so than witches) who takes a girl from the village every ten years for mystical reasons, a fierce protagonist that never makes it boring as she creates hell for the wizard and great friendships. It’s more so on the fantasy side, but it has a lot of the village, dark forest and fairytale elements that I look for in the books I put on this list.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman should be a book everyone has heard of, but among the angel, demon, antichrist and a coming apocalypse, there’s also the full title “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” and Agne’s many-great granddaughter Anathema (Practical Occultist and Professional Descendant) who really brings out the essence of this book; there’s a lot of chaos, including being hit by a car, but it all plays into this cosmic order in some way.

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo (full review) for the breath-taking illustrations and short stories that is fairytale-inspired. It’s more fantasy than a lot others on this list, but at the same time truly delivers on its promise of “midnight tales and dangerous magic”.

Other Witchy Books on my TBR

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik for its school of magically gifted where failure means certain death and you’re not allowed to leave. Also a grumpy loner of a protagonist who has a powerful dark magic that might be strong enough to beat the system, but not without its risks. The promise of dark avademia, magic and monsters, with a lot of bloodshed & slytherin vibes is truly alluring. BTW: since I wrote this post I’ve seen a lot of questions brought up around if this book has racist elements. Of course, I don’t feel qualified to discuss that further. The author has apologized for one of the things pointed out around using a racist stereotype of dreadlocks being dirty, but if it is as bad of a – well in best case it’s a mishap – as it seems, it truly is strange how it got through the editing process of such a famous author.

Enchantée by Gita Trelease for the Paris 1789 setting, smallpox, a witch going from petty theft to trying to rob Marie Antoinette to support her family.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden for its Russian wilderness winter and arctic fairytale-inspired fantasy where the protagonist has special abilities like her mother, but her new stepmother forbids her from practicing and evil starts to seep in. Some focus on the conflict between christianity and older religions. A lot of trigger warnings!

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas for its gay trans boy that tries to prove himself as a brujo to his family by summoning a ghost, but then is stuck with the school’s former handsome bad-boy as he has unfinished business. If he’s not in love with this ghost by the end of it, I’m screeching.

Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron for the fantasy inspired by West African mythology with a non-magical protagonist born into a family of witchdoctors trying to defeat her powerful sister. Also the love interest is of course of the enemy family. It’s dark and has enough trigger warnings that I’ll give a reminder to search for them before reading it.

Books I disliked, but you might like

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova for the ones who want a powerful latina bi protagonist who don’t want to be a witch (review). She is the most powerful bruja in a long time and also hates magic. Not to mention the responsibility put on her by her family. I didn’t finish the book because I thought the writing was lacking and nothing out of the ordinary, but she’s got an attitude that made me smile. It’s a story about a girl trying to save her family, but in a way that felt very ‘let’s go on an adventure’ and predictable.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore for the trans mc, flowery young adult magical realism, also literary flowery with roses growing from skin (review). It’s another book I didn’t finish, but only because I’ve found out that I don’t match with the authors way of writing (after multiple attempts at other books), which I truly find sad as they use such interesting plots and cast of characters. I mean – the synopsis is so good! And it’s a romance between a Latina girl and Italian-Pakistani trans boy. It focuses on finding yourself, it’s vulnerable and the author is queer, latinx & nonbinary married to a trans man.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina vol. 1 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for the graphic novels lovers (review). I didn’t really like this at all as I felt the charm and interesting aspects to Sabrina the teenage witch was completely removed. Would much rather recommend the tv series, as it’s roughly the same story, but with more fun elements as well as dark ones. It’s definitely a teenage soap tv series, but an interesting one. I want to still read Season of the Witch by Sarah Rees Brennan, which is a Sabrian novel published last year, but I only have hopes for it because I like that author already. It might be that both of these things were published to create more interest around the tv series, which I find disappointing if they all tell the same story.

Honorary Mentions

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is the book series I look back on having read a long time ago, being like “it was good, but basic”, but if you’re looking for a quick read I wouldn’t be above rereading it.

Kiki’s Delivery Service, the ghibli movie, is something I wanted to watch for a long time, but finally did this summer. It’s so perfectly adorable & worth it!!

Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers by Taisia Kitaiskaia is a illustrated book on my TBR, more about the magic of literature than witches, but it’s supposed to draw connection between witches & visionary writers, which I’m just guessing means connection between treatment of visionary women (like writers) who tend towards feminism. If anything I want to own it for the gothic art. “Pick a shelf” has a really good review of this unusual book!

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller | Book Review

Pages: 352

Genre: young adult fantasy, lgbt; gender fluid mc

Synopsis


Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive. 

My thoughts

Rating out of five: three stars (in doubt)

I very much feel like this is the queer & that way better version of Throne of Glass with its deadly auditions to become the Queen’s new assassin. What was a pleasant surprise was how the main character never was very vicious in their thought-process or tried to defend their actions, their reasoning behind taking lives were very business-like and unapologetic. It was a hard life, the would-be assassins knew partly what they were signing up for and people were going to have to die. The problem this brought with it was that Sallot wasn’t a very likeable main character, I always felt like I never got to see their whole reasoning or that it was just very shallow. They were smart enough to make it somewhat reasonable how they got out of deadly attacks, and without the smaller, cute and helpful moments with their servant Maud none of it would’ve worked towards the end. Otherwise the book is very built on cheesy, typical fantasy plotlines. The queer characters makes it better, especially Sallot using he, she and they pronouns based on how they present, but I would only recommend this book as a Throne of Glass alternative. The YA fantasy part of it was very obvious, in a not good way. I’ve since learned it was a debut, and I’m not very surprised as I felt it was half-finished.

The writing was very mediocre, especially I found myself struggling to care about the fight scenes and plotting scenes for traps, which I usually adore, because of the writing. There’s so much potential in the characters, the magic and them being masked, but it just doesn’t end up somewhere. Even though I’m really not a big Sarah J. Maas fan anymore, she does bring a certain fire to the motivations behind the characters, which was lacking here without anything to replace it with other than shallowness. If Sallot had been a true sociopath I would’ve nearly prefered that, as it would’ve brought an interesting element.

I read this book right after finishing “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Sjango Wexler, which was extremely similar as far as the protagonist’s voice went. While that book was lacking in many of the same ways, except it handled the queer aspect a lot worse, that book built parts of a truly interesting world powered by magic. Here there were just no world-building except the knowledge that Sallot knew how their entire country had been destroyed and wanted revenge for it. It should not be a surprise when that’s not enough as a reader. But for anyone disliking this book for its protagonist being nothing special except gender-fluid; fuck off.

Witchy Reads for this Autumn (part one)

Witchy books I recommend and a couple I want to get to, along with a few popular ones I disliked. I’ve tried to keep the most fantasy-heavy books out of this list on purpose, and keep it more in the magical realism realm. Also, if you’ve got any recommendations – especially with queer witches – send them my way!

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw (full review) for a magical realism story about a small-town by the sea cursed by witches, the protagonist moving to the lighthouse on the island and uncovering the mysteries behind the magic.

Circe by Madeline Miller (full review) for the greek mythology fantasy set around a girl alienated because of her witchcraft and the great journey of self-discovery unlike much I’ve seen in other books. She’s truly going through the process of owning her powers and deciding what she wants in life while she’s in exile. Also greek gods & protecting yourself from pirates, of course.

The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (full review) for the peculiar magical realism travelling into the fairytale world while following stories of magic and destinies through generations of witches starting with a girl born with wings.

Witch Child & Sorceress by Celia Rees for the child-friendly witchy book with a historical setting. Actually it was some of the first witchy books I really liked. It’s been a long time since I read them, so I’m not going to vouch for still considering them original enough now, but goodread friends seem to all agree with the child version of me that they’re good. I do think the first book is the best one, told through ‘lost’ journals.

The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney also for the kids, but more scary. It’s about this boy becoming an apprentice, which entails hunting after all kinds of supernatural creatures, including dark witches.As the series continues, we go from a boy getting into a cool, but dangerous job to starting to think about moral questions like ‘are all witches evil?’ as new characters are introduced. Still, this series really manages to incorporate just how terrifying some of the creatures are, becoming lost in the magic. Definitely anti-church in some ways that gives it more negative reviews than it should have. And while it has a lot of supernatural evil, it measures it up against the ‘human’ evil the apprentice & the mentor meet as well in their job. It gives you chills, but also makes you think – at least it did for me as a child.

Other witchy books on my TBR:

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey for its bisexual love interest, magical witchy school and and promise of lots of blood, violence and other questionable things. The protagonist has zero magical skills, but tries to outweigh it by having good detective skills, a drinking problem and when all else fails – a witch sister to help (probably). It’s an urban fantasy/murder mystery standalone, and also contains several f/f relationships.

Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter for the protagonist being a secret witch tired of her patriarchal town’s bullshit, and helping a lesbian shapeshifter during a witchhunt. It’s a novella. I found it trough a list of anti-heroine book recommendations, so excited about finding out the reason for that.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor for the fantasy set in Nigeria where the albino protagonist who recently moved from New York gets bullied, but through finding her magical gifts finds a friend-group and her people. Forming a coven, they start tracking child kidnappers.

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning for the small fishing town, mermaids, princes & a witch mourning a dead friend. It might be somewhat of a Ursula origin story.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn for the King Arthur legends retold with a black girl as the main character. The death of her mother leads her to an early college program where she meets a witch. Well, it’s more of a fantasy so technically there’s this whole race of people called Legendborns that use magic, but they’re descendants of King Arthur & his knights – so in my head they’ll be witches. Also contains lots of queer kids, secret society politics and demons.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson for its rebellious feminist biracial main character who is marked as cursed from birth in a dystopian, puritanical society with major abuse of power. It’s a horror story of a fantasy, with promises of being gothic, dark and bloody, set in a secluded village with witches in the forbidden forest & lots of village politics. It’s also a debut novel from an author that seems truly cool.

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw (same author as The Wicked Deep) for the haunted fairytale-like woods, a boy once lost in a snowstorm with no memories of how and a witch falling in love with him as she tries to uncover his secrets.

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco for its sicilian twin witches – streghe – living among humans in the 1800s trying to avoid persecution, until one of them is murdered. A new release with a story of vengeance, sarcastic bad boy demon princes and dark magic.

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft for a short story collection about witches that I’ve only seen praise about, with a diverse cast of characters. I want to read about all the queer witches.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu for the graphic novel about a Chinese-American teen witch who works at her queer grandmother’s bookshop selling spellbooks and investigating supernatural occurrences. Has a non-binary werewolf main character as well. I can’t wait to get my hands on this, I’m expecting a Kiki’s delivery service type of wholesome vibe, only more demons involved.

Books I disliked, but you might like

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins for the teen drama at a witch & supernatural creatures reform school, complete with ancient secret societies and classmates being attacked. You get what you think you get, if in a very predictable package plot-wise and stereotypical characters (not in a bad way, but in a predictable one). It’s fun, the protagonist self-aware & fast-paced. Good for young teenagers looking for a light read.

Half bad by Sally Green is included on this list only as an excuse to link to my old (like five year old) review ranting about how creepy the writing is. It’s a good example of a book being read and liked by people who doesn’t usually read about witches, just because it’s got enough cliches to be avoided by everyone else. There’s little magic, little back-story or any context clues, a lot of running around, a lot of whining about being half-black half-white* kind of witch making life difficult and a lot of angst and torture for some reason. It has an exciting ending. *Not to be confused with skin-color, the protagonist is white, and also describes the love interest what I considered creepily (and in rhymes), including noting her ‘honey’ skin. 16 year old me thought the racial undertones throughout the whole book was problematic, but I can’t remember enough to conclude anything and don’t want to put myself through reading it again.

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton (full review), same author as Ava Lavender, for its witches living on an island where their magical abilities seem to fade with each generation. My problems came with not being able to know enough to buy into the setting of the island or connect with the cast of characters, I felt they lacked depth.

Graphic Novels: dark fairytale, dystopian & fluffy gay romance | Short Reviews

I’m having a bit of a hard time reading as I’m busy with studying (2nd year physics student) as well as ill at the moment (no worries, thankfully not corona, I’ve been tested twice). So it’s the perfect time to again read as many graphic novels that I could get my hands on! Here’s some of my other graphic novels reviews.

Through the Woods by Emily Carrol

As I begun reading I was sceptical because the illustrations were breath-taking from the start, giving all the dark fairytale vibes, but I didn’t know how much of a substance the plots would have. A few pages in it truly got much better, as the fairytale twists got mysterious, exciting and dark. It’s made up from several different “short stories”, some more red riding hood inspired and some that reminded me some of Coraline and some of the podcast The Magnus Archive. Reading this felt like playing a game where you know every decision is a bad one. I also immediately ordered the author’s other graphic novel «When I arrived at the castle»! 5/5 stars.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina vol. 1

Plus points for being dark, but that’s the only positive in my eyes. I was excited for this as I truly liked the new TV series made from Sabrina the teenage witch. But this graphic novel drains any personality Sabrina is known for out of the character. I get that setting up somewhat the same plot as the TV series does in multiple episodes is difficult in one volume, but it just isn’t done with any charm at all. I won’t be reading the rest of the series as I felt it has little potential. 2/5 stars.

Paper Girls vol. 1 & 2

First impression of volume 1 was that I liked the retro apocalyptic stranger things vibe featuring a teen girl squad. It didn’t really get further into the plot or explanation than unexplained aliens, but it was also a lot to set up. It’s about a group of girls out delivering newspapers when they get caught up in this mystery of disappearing people and frightening strangers hunting after them. 3/5 stars.

Volume 2 had a higher chance of keeping the suspense up without as much of the confusion, which made the time-travel, sci-fi aspects much more enjoyable as well as delving into an interesting cast. Not to forget how monster tardigrades was a thing I didn’t know I needed in my life before now. I yelped out loud from surprise and happiness – I can’t explain it either. It’s just a good mix of chaos & the unexpected. Like the looming, flying ships that came into the picture suddenly. The color scheme is also truly lovely.

If I would criticize something it’s the ‘feminism’ branding push that seems a bit ‘off’, not that I’ve looked further into reasons behind it. It’s a similar feeling that lingers as from the casual homophobia that makes an appearance in volume 1, as if that was something that just belongs with the retro vibes. It was called out by other characters, so I just mentally noted it down as strange for now and makes me second-guess the future dynamic of the friendgroup somewhat. 4/5 stars.

Heartstopper vol. 2 & 3 by Alice Oseman

Review of vol. 1! To sum up I really like the author’s writing in general and that it was a truly cute, important gay coming of age story. And I love the illustration style. And this is true for the second and third volume as well. My only critique is a somewhat big one; a lot doesn’t happen in each volume. It feels like the story told could’ve been cut down in some ways, but at the same time I realize it’s aimed at a younger audience for the most part and I’m so happy it just exists. 3/5 stars for both.

Exciting New Book Releases Summer/Autumn 2020

So I made a exciting book releases for spring and summer and also a short one with queer summer books, but then I forgot all the July book releases, so that’s included in this as well I guess? Mostly fantasy, young adult, queer, sci-fi, but also some poetry and a graphic novel.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

Release date: July 7th

Why I want to read it: I’ve already bought it, I just forgot to add it to my latest list. It’s the sequel to Hank Green’s first amazing novel and here’s a review all trying to explain how much I loved that one.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Release date: July 7th

Why I want to read it: a fairytale vibe story based on Persian mythology about a princess who’s poisonous to the touch. I’m looking forward to demons and a great character development, let’s see this girl own her powers.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Release date: July 7th

Why I want to read it: Loved Wilder Girls by Power, and looking forward to more horror involving young adult-age girls, without it really being YA. And w/ all the sapphic vibes! It’s about a girl trying to find her past & old hometowns, which is pretty vague.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Release date: July 7th

Why I want to read it: Any m/m romance being compared to “Red, white and royal blue” piques my interest, mostly for the enemies-to-lovers trope & slight political setting that hopefully promises. Here we also get fake-dating for publicity.

The Year of the Witchling by Alexis Henderson

Release date: July 21st

Why I want to read it: a promise of feminist fantasy & discovering dark powers. Also witch / church conflict. I mean, I’m always looking for good witch books.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Release date: September 1st

Why I want to read it: a trans guy summons a ghost, which then creates a lot of trouble for the hell of it. Also ownvoices for trans & latinx elements of the book.

To Sleep In a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Release date: September 15th

Why I want to read it: the first sci-fi book by Paolini since his Eragon series – that seems like both a hard thing to write & something I’m very curious about

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Release date: September 15th

Why I want to read it: grieving her dead mother, witnessing a magical attack on campus, a mage by the name of Merlin that tries and fails to vipe her memory, investigating mother’s murder, learning that there exists a group of ‘Legenborn’ magicians that are descendants of King Arthur & magical war – this young main character is getting put through a lot. Also has a bi mc and lesbian and nonbinary characters, secret societies and demons.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

Release date: September 22nd

Why I want to read it: Hyberbole and a half by Allie Brosh is one of my all time favourite humor comics/graphic novels.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Release date: September 29th

Why I want to read it: magical school!! but this time by an author that I truly adore, so hopefully done right or in an interesting way. A YA fantasy where monsters lurks everywhere and frienships are hard to come by as everyone is struggling for survival. And a main character who’s got powerful dark magic.

Sweetdark by Savannah Brown

Release date: October 8th

Why I want to read it: I’ve enjoyed Savannah’s poetry & writing in general for a long time. Pleasure, chaos, apocalyptic vibes, vulnerability – it all sounds very exciting.

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater & Morgan Beem

Release date: October 13th

Why I want to read it: It’s by Stiefvater. But also I’m a sucker for the completely opposite, but inseparable duo. Very interesting to see how the illustrations turns out in this graphical novel as well as just how alive those swamps they discover are.

Some Strange Book Pet Peeves (Fantasy & YA)

I didn’t think I had book pet peeves, like I don’t care if books have dog-ears for the most part, but I’ve certainly collected some related to book plots over a period of time. Here’s that collection and I’m warning you that they are mostly personal, as in I know they’re not the most popular ones out there and people will disagree.

Fictional fandoms. I don’t know why this bother me so much, I think it’s something about there, in best case, being this entire subculture readers either don’t get access to and just have to live with imagining existing or have to wade through what I find to be unecessary amounts of facts for something that isn’t real. A good example of this is “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell, that spun this whole Simon Snow trilogy out of the fantasy series the main character is a part of the fandom of. Had I read the Simon Snow series before Fangirl, I might’ve thought different about it (not that it was published yet), but hence all details included in the book felt like a waste of time in a strange, unlogical way. It’s truly a weird pet peeve, I think, and I totally admit so. But it makes me dislike books I don’t think I normally would. The only exception I can think of is “I was born for this” by Alice Oseman, but I suspect that’s because the fandom there is based around a boyband that is a huge part of the story (and also very recognizable from the ‘real world’) and so the fandom and their culture is also very based in something and understandable without much background info.

Here’s a kind of specific and small one; what the magic is called in a fantasy/magical realism world. Most often I just hate the magic of the world being called something similiar like Magik, but the author/character insisting it’s not the same as magic, like they haven’t just changed the language. I’ve seen so many cases of this. But sure, do that if you’re creating magic with a couple conditions/limits, that’s just smart.

Fairytale retellings that doesn’t either make the story their own OR stay true to the feeling of the original material. Same problem with stories from mythologies. With making it their own, I mean things like a genderbent version, a modernized one or maybe a queer one. Like truly reworking the material, but with clear inspirations. I think my other critera, staying true to the ~vibe~ so to say, has more to do with my next point. But if you retell a fairytale, without changing much of the plot or characters, maybe just setting them in another setting, how are you going to tell a better story than the one honed through mouth-to-mouth retelling for far far longer than you’re working on it? Like what do the author even add, far too often? I’m all for an author daydreaming in this fairytale realm that’s already built up, but then have the basis of the fairytale realm and create your own story in there instead, which would’ve kept the feeling (maybe even keep short format) that brings the magic to the story, and have higher chance of telling a good one. Truth is, I’ve read my fair share of queer fairytale retellings where there’s a good romance, but everything else is boring/predictable still (side-eye at Ash by Malinda Lo). I would’ve just cut them out completely, but as with Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, any Riordan series or Circe by Madeline Miller it might be some of my favourite books as well.

Mythological creatures included in stories completely separated from any of the other parts of the mythology. Just to have a ‘cool’ lesser-known creature, without really taking into consideration what makes it cool or unique. Of course, at worst it could be some type of cultural appropriation, but that’s not really what I’m talking about as a ‘pet peeve’.

Including politics, but not really. As in not actually going into the politics or even spending time thinking about how a political system would work in their fictional world. Typical is (what I would call) YA book with princesses or kids of high-level politicians/diplomats, but I’ve also seen non-YA versions of this. “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuinston did it well in that the author kept its focus on certain topics and didn’t go too heavy into how policies was changed or what their parents did politically, but the limits and system was still set (even if very similiar to present day America) and you saw that in the story. I would’ve still wanted there to be more going into the politics, like I usually do, but it was a choice made rather than an obvious dodge. Like why even write a book around politics if you’re scared to interact with any part of it or do any research??

Death, princesses, assassins | Short Reviews

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I really don’t see the so many impressed (4.36 average on goodsreads) reviewers side on this, because there’s an interesting premise behind this dystopian world, where Scythe’s have to choose who dies because everyone’s immortal. But it’s nothing … new? at the same time?
The ending was great and clever, I guess.
Everything up ’til that point were pretty expected, it all written with a certain coldness that fit the systematic view of death of the story, but also made it somewhat boring to read. And if you want to go philosophical – why not go deeply philosophical instead of just sometimes dropping questions on how this view of death changes this society? and then not going into any real debate?
Overall I’m not that impressed and found it quite boring, while certainly it being a well-composed book. Is this a side-effect of growing up reading Jostein Gaarder’s books? I’m truly curious about the fascination with this book.

The Selection (#1-3) by Kiera Cass

This YA royal series always sounded like something I didn’t want to read, from what I heard of a whiny main character in the competition to become the new princess. But then I was in the mood for something light-hearted and gave it a try. It’s so much more cut-throat than I expected. So fast-paced, but also well written and more and more feminist as it progresses, with the girls finally bonding together. I truly enjoyed seeing this actual reality TV series, much the Hunger Games vibes here, with its cute dresses turn into assassins attacking regularly and then our dear red-haired main character America getting her claws into power and turning the whole thing upside down. It’s any other revolution YA series packaged nicely so that younger girls would pick it up. It’s not perfect, this somewhat luke-warm romance is a huge part of it, but I enjoyed it.

Deadly Class Comics by Rick Remender vol. 1-9

I talked briefly about the TV series adaptation of Deadly Class in this post, and how it looks like dark academia teenage series with its boarding school, found-family trope and ‘assassins training’, then turns into an epic blood bath. Well, let me tell you – this comic series is so filled with blood and horror as it gets so much worse after where the one-season TV series cuts off. Definitely search up trigger warnings before getting into it. But it’s also so awesome. My thought-process reading this was something like;

Oh shit it’s so good!!! How the fuck do you kill people in that many different ways? Is it okay to like this? AHh I quickly sped through that part, I really don’t like seeing eye-balls outside of the body. I have to stop posting on tumblr about this now, people will think I’m crazy. Ok, I like it again now. You can’t really kill of all the characters and then expect us to care about the new ones you introduce with a brief backstory now, can you? Even if they’re interesting enough, fool me once, twice – you know how it goes.

Truly it became really boring around issue six, picked up again for a while and was truly boring when I came to the latest issue nine. But all credit to the creators, it was truly amazing work. Would suggest people to read the first few issues and then try the TV series, but you’re warned.