My reading this year has been about 65% of what it was in 2021. I thought it was a lot less, because I have read less books in total, but number of books is such a weird way to count «reading» in general. Time would be a great, but difficult way to count, amount of pages is at least better I think? I did start out the year getting my heart broken by a book in the worst possible way, by “The Secret Commonwealth” by Philip Pullman. I was also so excited for“Book of Night” by Holly Black, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. In so many other ways it has been a great year, with some wonderful books.
The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3) by Maureen Johnson was both a book by one of my other favourite authors and one in a series I haven’t pick up in a while. And yet it was great! It was the semi-conclusion I was looking for, Maureen Johnson continues being great at delivering the stories (both in cast of characters, plot and vibes) she sets up.
Brandon Sanderson hasn’t failed me yet either, and the 4th book of the Stormlight Archive “Rhythm of War” was a great, long fantasy book. It’s nice to dive into his expansive worlds, where every aspect seems so well thought out, but there’s a limit to how many Sanderson books I can enjoy in a year before my brain melts.
This summer, where I hoped to increase my reading time, I read most of my way through multiple books only to find out they were just badly written. I think both “Other People’s Clothes” by Calla Henkel, “Boyfriend Material” Alexis Hall and “The Maidens“ by Alex Michaelides fell under that umbrella. I really wanted to like “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, but it wasn’t quite for me.
The most surprising read this year was a book I picked up in swedish, a language I do not speak, but I can with much effort read as I’m norwegian. In english it’s called “If Cats Disappeared from the World” by Genki Kawamura, originally written in japanese.
I also read two other books that didn’t quite fit with the rest; “The Art of Heikala” which is the artist Heikala about her own process and a book filled with her colourful, great work, and the graphic novel “Mooncakes” by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu. Would recommend both!
I listened to “I’m Glad My Mom Died” by Jennette McCurdy, which I almost don’t want to admit because it was such a chilling read in the way that it felt illegally close to reading someone’s journal of abuse. Of course it’s retold with the perspective of a now-adult, still multiple times I had to stop and remind myself that the author herself decided to share this information. It personally made me reframe how I think of child actors, from the best to the worst cases.
I also listened to “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden. And it was enlightening, to the point where it made me dislike his personality more and still appreciate the work he’s done and what he tries to achieve in giving out information.
Physical books I’ve bought:
I bought a lot of interesting books this year, I just didn’t get to them. I’m halfway through both a lovely copy of “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. I think it’s the second time I’ve gotten this far, because it’s such a great, but dense book. And I’ve just finished “Harrow the Ninth” by Tamsyn Muir.
I’ve both bought and read some good poetry; “Look” by Solmaz Sharif and “So Far So Good” by Ursula K. Le Guin (which were the final poems of her life). I started reading “What Is This Thing Called Love” by Kim Addonizio and while I’ve liked and appreciated the pure honesty of other poems of hers, this one became just a bit too gritty for me. Somehow drunkenness in combination with her descriptions of love became too much so I just decided this one wasn’t for me at all.
I also got “Babel by R. F. Kuang” and it will be one of the books I’m most excited to read in 2023.
Kindle books I’ve bought and will hopefully read soon:
“Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom (memoir)
“A Master of Djinn” by P. Djèlí Clark (fantasy, steampunk, queer)
“Hench” by Natalie Zina Walschots (fantasy, queer)
“Friends: Understanding the power of our most impor tant relationships” by Robin Dunbar (nonfiction)
“The Library of the Unwritten” by A. J. Hackwith (fantasy, queer)
I’ve yet to make a list of books to read this year, mostly because some of these books I’ve been wanting to pick up since 2020.
Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir: fantasy book with necromancers in space, the first book was an experience. I tried to read this once, but the writing style is very peculiar compared to the first book, so someone recommended I listened to the audiobook instead.
We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled – Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman: I don’t remember where I saw this book first, I hope it’s as good as the reviews seems to say in that it’s accurate about giving space to the “voices from syria”. It’s always difficult to know before you pick up a book, which is why more so than other books I make sure to read non-fiction on my TBR before sharing it.
Permanent Record by Edward Snowden: I’ve already read half of it some time ago, it’s a memoir in how it showcases a lot of Snowden’s life and what built up to him being a whistleblower for the NSA spying on its own citizens through mass surveillance. I did not expect how much he points out the different government structures and the tools the US government had at their disposal already before 2013. I think the backstory part is less interesting to me than Snowden’s thoughts and reflections, but it’s still bound to be worth listening to.
The only way I get myself to read classics is to buy a nice physical copy and then stare at it for months until I might want to, and then more often than not be very happy I did read it.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf: I’ve already started reading this and stopped, because I needed to pay more attention than I could right then.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: I did read this once, I can’t remember much except it starting my Mary Shelley fascination and loving the writing style, but I got this stylish physical copy so I’m going back to it.
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus: who does not want to read Camus’ philosophy? (But at the same time never feels quite up for the “meditations on suicide”)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: each time I pick up this book I get two chapters in, puts it down for too long, and have to reread at least one chapter. One would think that you could finish a book that way, but yet I never seem to get through it. It is nice when I do read it though.
Fantasy & Other Nonfiction
The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith: I once saw this recommended with the trope of the morally-gray “retired” character who’s pulled back into action. It might be true considering it’s an epic fantasy with a protagonist who is Head Librarian of a library, which is also a neutral space in Hell. It has a pansexual main character, yet I did not get the impression it’s a big part of the story.
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark: I’m really excited to read this urban fantasy set in Cairo in Egypt with djinns which features two brilliant female protagonists who tries to uncover the murder of a secret brotherhood. It has queer romance, thieves and steampunk elements.
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides: a dark academia type of book with both a secret society for women, a therapist who is trying to solve a murder at her old university and a suspicious professor of Greek Tragedy.
The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious #4) by Maureen Johnson: the amateur detective protagonist of the story has moved on from the several deaths on her boarding school into the real world, more specifically called in to investigate unsolved cases in a camp area. Along with her friends of course, who all got into the boarding school because of their various skills.
Book of Night by Holly Black: I’ve just committed myself to read Holly Black’s books until they’re no longer interesting anymore. This one is supposed to be an adult debut with a dark fantasy of “shadowy thieves and secret societies”. I’m just hoping it does not make the same grave mistakes “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo did as it was her first “adult” novel, but turned out to be simply violent for the spectacle.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: a supernatural story set in the 1950s featuring love, enormous wealth, debutante balls and gothic mysteries.
Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett: it’s about a lonely college freshman seduced into joining an exclusive cult, a trip to Italy, trying to escape and a mysterious death.
Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel: the protagonist and her friend is studying abroad in Berlin, looking for vibrant adventures and starts partying, featuring a bit of murder.
The Story of More by Hope Jahren– How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here: The author is a geobiologist researcher who has already proven her ability to communicate science in “Lab Girl”. At first sight it seems like a solution-focused climate change book with a lot of science to explain every step behind it.
Firmament – The Hidden Science of Weather, Climate Change and the Air That Surrounds Us by Simon Clark: Simon Clark is another scientist who has proven he can communicate science well, as someone who has yet to take a atmospheric physics course I’m excited to get a primer on it.
I don’t find there’s that much to say about poetry collections before reading it, even if you know of the poet there’s no certainty they do not bring something totally different this time, but I’m very excited to get to all of them.
At the start of the book I really felt the heaviness of it being the third one, in that it felt both a bit much of the same setup, setting and storyline. But that quickly faded as the plot really picked up speed and Maureen Johnson impressed me by how she managed to tie up everything around the multiple and connected murder mysteries these three books has followed. It takes turns, it brings dramatic scenes while seamlessly switching between the past mysteries and the present ones. There is some less focus on the characters’ personalities than previously, but it feels natural because Stevie is so obsessed with finally figuring everything out and is isolating herself. It’s written in this perfect way of showing how everyone around her at the boarding school is working on their projects and overcoming their griefs, but we only see glimses of what’s around her because Stevie is most of the time too much in her own head to pay attention. Still, for those reasons, it doesn’t have the same bright moments in between the murders as the previous books had.
The lack of David (which is the main romantic lead) for most of the novel was also explained with great care when it all came down to it, which played well into the focus and creating different tensions in Stevie’s life. She and David has hurt each other with playing into the hands of outside forces like David’s far-right politician dad (who aspires to become president). It showed in how cruel they at points are to each other, without removing the chance of redemption, which is a well-balanced feat. Some people seem to hate this romance, but it does feel like their problems is caused by personal differences and past betrayals more so than “hating each other” or lacking chemistry. In general, the characters of these books have always been very good at their thing (which got them into this special boarding school), but not been the most all-round likeable characters, which I’m personally very fine with. When it comes down to it everything in this book has the backdop of power and money, which ties the nearly fantastical stories Stevie is uncovering to a familiar reality.
I realized the next book in the series is the some of the same cast, but a new story and setting, which is exciting!
We’re already a month into the year but here we go –
Firmament by Simon Clark
Releasedate: 27. January 2022
Why I want to read it: The first book by Simon Clark, which is exciting. His explanations of climate change are always great and easy to follow, and I should probably get to reading this soon as motivation before my atmospherical physics and climate change exam this semester :))
This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi
Releasedate: 1. February 2022
Why I want to read it: I usually like Tahereh Mafi’s writing and would love a Persian mythology inspired fantasy story from her. So I hope this isn’t just another generic ya fantasy series, despite the title and cover.
Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel
Releasedate: 1. February 2022
Why I want to read it: It’s an unusual pick for me, but I want the promised thriller showcasing the “dangerous intensity of female friendships”, murder and morally gray characters.
Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore
Releasedate: 8. March 2022
Why I want to read it: I don’t have the best track-record with getting as much into McLemore’s books as I would want to, but both the book’s premises, the magical realism and the writing of them are usually amazing. And I can’t keep away from the promises of “two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake“ in this book either.
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Releasedate: 5. April 2022
Why I want to read it: a heist novel! Featuring a heist I even deem very acceptable; stealing back pieces of art and people’s belongings displayed in Western museums stolen under war and colonialism. More specifically a group of Chinese American college students (one lesbian, one queer) are stealing back Chinese sculptures and pondering the ethics of it.
Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel
Releasedate: 26. April 2022
Why I want to read it: The protagonist Kaikeyi “transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her”, which sounds like a powerful and interesting story. It’s a Ramayana retelling with an asexual protagonist. I’ve seen some reviews disagreeing to such a prominent villain being retold as anything else, but as someone unfamiliar to Hindu stories that’s hard to assess.
Ages ago, nine months to be exact, I made a post of five star book predictions. And the problem with those types of things are that you not only want to read them all, but have time to write reviews, because most of them actually were great.
The Hidden Girl & Other Stories by Ken Liu (my review)
In short I really appreciated and liked this collection of short stories. I had my expectation set high as I like the short story collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by the same author. I don’t think I realized the sci-fi thread through this one, but it was a pleasant surprise. Still, it’s harder to make multiple sci-fi stories I find equally fascinating as shorts, so it became a four out of five star read. Absolutely worth it.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
I really would have loved this book as a middle school (or even younger actually) kid. It’s a queer romance between a Latino trans boy and a gay boy, featuring murder mystery and ghosts. And while I loved all those aspects, the plot was predictable for being young adult. I would say it was the age categorization that made my expectations higher and unfair for me to judge, so no star rating here.
Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel
You ever start reading books during off-time and then realize it’s hard to continue once the semester starts, especially if it is too close to whatever you study? I’m still not done with this book, even though I love it. I will say that halfway through, it’s a five star read. I especially loved the discussion on how math education should be changed, and how Frenkel himself got into mathematics.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong:
This is an emotionally heavy and brilliant book. The writing alone is breath-taking, and made everything come to life in such a way that I needed several breaks while reading it. The book is written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, with a raw honesty. It is centered around his Vietnamese family, living through the war and its consequences, about family, violence and trauma, but also healing, identity and sexuality. The book tries to do much by interweaving storylines through time, and as a consequence it has some slowness and confusion, making it a four out of five star read for me.
I also loved the poetry collection «Night Sky with Exit Wounds» by Vuong. Would absolutely recommend them both.
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe (web comic link): this is a on-going web comic, but I’ve binged all the episodes released so far. I really adored the art style, I was unsure of the Hades-Persephone romance because it’s done so much, but it’s very self-aware and certainly cute. I truly liked how much focus it is on Persephone being a young godess trying to be independent, but learning that it’s okay to take support from others, while everyone shitting on her special treatments. Definitely so much personality to these characters, big and small, which is why it’s getting five stars even though I was bored at certain points.
Give at least one recommendation for each of the prompts below
If you don’t have a recommendation, talk about a book you want to read
Tag your friends
A book about friendship
I always look for books about friendship, but somehow all the recommendations I have is heist related? That’s without including all the YA books with too-young characters having to bond because there’s no adults around, of course. Honestly I prefer found-family or platonic relationships to romantic ones in general in books.
But I think of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt as a story about friendship, as much as it has lonely elements as well. I guess also “The Secret History”. I need more not-gloomy-murder recommendations, is what I’m figuring out.
A translated book
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. For once I’m standing by my first language and choosing a norwegian book. I know this book that’s a mix of children’s and philosophy is really well-known, but it’s kind of strange trying to get if people know of it elsewhere in the world. I grew up with the author’s book, but I really want to reread this and see how (or if) different I would understand it now. It’s philosophy made so accessible, even for someone who is forced to take a university philosophy course right now and hating it.
A diverse romance
I’m so bad at reading pure romance books without stopping half-way through. I just finished Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and while it felt very middle-school and not young adult, it’s the queer romance between a Latino trans boy and a gay boy that I would’ve loved growing up.
A fast-paced book
I rarely remember the pace of a book unless it was horrible one way or another?? I think the sequel A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green had a fast pace in that the set-up of the first book (with strange giant robots that might be alien) needed a lot to tie up and it all managed to happen in this book, through multiple points of view and a group of friends collaborating by working on each of their part of the bigger problem.
A nonfiction (not memoir)
Naty’s Bookshelf mentioned The End of Everything by Katie Mack which I just read and very much agree with her take! It was such an experience reading, written with so much passion about astrophysics and the existential questions. In that way it does have a lot of perspective and personality from Mack and even though I am in university for physics, you don’t need any background to enjoy reading it. She goes briefly through the smaller things you need to follow the theories of how the world will end and what that means.
An underrated memoir
A truly underrated one is “A Woman in the Polar Night” by Christiane Ritter about a german upper-class (or at least comfortable) woman who in 1934 travels to the Arctic to spend a year there. It goes very quickly from “ah, a relaxing, but challenging trip” to “boredom and life & death”. Her writing is stunning as well and really delves into aspects of life that I’ve never had described to me this way, but rings as clear as the snow surrounding her for miles and miles.
A book with fewer than 10.000 ratings on Goodreads
Somehow the first I thought of was (Don’t You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn, which was one of those books that was on my TBR for FIVE LONG YEARS with no idea of what it was about. It had such a powerful story of facing reality and dealing with it or continuing making the easy decision of running from it. As a story it’s also on the line between fantasy, magical realism and dystopia in a way I haven’t seen before, set in a “paradise” where no one ever get sick or seem to die. It’s currently at 2171 ratings.
A book with a LGTBQ+ protagonist
I just bought City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault in physical form as I loved it so much and wanted to reread it before reading the rest of this high fantasy series. It has several asexual characters, including the main character (who is also aromantic) and is written by an asexual and aromantic author. All the characters are queer; bisexual, demi, pan, poly, gender fluid, agender, as well as asexual and aromantic is all represented in an overall badass magical city. Really, this book should be underneath the ‘friends’ recommendation as well as I might have a big weakness for main characters who observes everything all the time as a thief or assassin, but also cares deeply for their friends. And the plot builds so naturally on the personalities and choices made by these characters, and the way their lives intertwines by living in the same city. This book just gave me a lovely, fun and exciting experience reading it with characters I squeal over, but also feel comforted by. Without sacrificing any of the heavyness or high fantasy elements usual to the genre.
A book by a trans or non-binary author
I’ve got so many books I want to read that fits here, so these are on my TBR (and hopefully I can get to them after exams):
Freshwater, Pet or basically any other book by Akwaeke Emezi. I’m really interested in how Freshwater protrays mental illness , identity and the protagonist develops separate selves within her as she moves from Nigeria to America for college. But it all in this magical realism/fantasy type of story. Pet is also magical realism/fantasy for somewhat of a younger audience centered around a black, transgender girl who meets a monster and all the adults around her are in denial of their existence.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo also has a transgender girl main character who deals with being new in high school and everything that comes with. Relationships, mental illness, conflicts around gender – it seems like a really honest book.
A book with more than 500 pages
The longest book I’ve read and enjoyed is apparently now the popular fanfic All The Young Dudes by MsKingBean89 with its 527k words. And while I do recommend it for all its glorious scenarios as the whole fanfic follows the Harry Potter Marauders through Hogwarts and until the end, giving you everything queer J. K. FUcking Rowling would never – don’t start reading it without having the next few days completely free. The platonic relationships and the different twist on Remus’ character and life all wrecked me.
Besides that, it’s The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson which is one of my favourite fantasy books of all time and also 1283 pages long. It’s a struggle of wanting to write reviews for all my fav books, but then also having too much to say about them and never getting to it. It’s just the best, although I always recommend Mistborn by Sanderson if you’re looking for an easier way into his work and not to dive into this epic fantasy chaos of greatness as it has as much of same brilliant elements in an easier to digest format and size.
A short story collection
Both The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu are supreme. Just the paper menagerie collection has stories about “The bookmaking habit of select species”, an AI utopia that you might actually want to live in, hujing; beings who are both fox and human, chinese calligraphy and deadly fear of communism / plain racism, being chinese in america, simulacrums; illusions of people stuck in time, aliens, Guan Yu the chinese god of war visiting America (American Gods vibes from that one, it was awesome). Also immense sacrifices and a few stories that willl make you sob inclung about unit 731 and the biological warfare and experimentation in China during WW2.
A book you want everyone to read
In general, the books that had the most impact on me heavily depends on the situation and context in which I read it. Not to mention my on-going struggle of finding a general recommendations list for people in my real life who ask. Because it’s always so much better to tailor them to their interest and like level of understanding of any given genre. For example the already mentioned A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter I find myself automatically recommending, but I get that it will be a slow-paced and quite boring book if it doesn’t match with the person.
So I think the best answer is the poetry collection BRANCHES and the new release Grocery List Poems (when it comes out in june, I’ve yet to read it) by Rhiannon McGavin! The writing is easy to follow for those who “aren’t (yet) into poetry”, but I also think McGavin always brings really interesting takes and beautiful writing. She started out as a spoken word poet so a lot of her work is on youtube. I’ve followed her for years, but in general I find that among the younger poets those who already stands out in how clearly they follow their own, more unique path is the ones that grows the most. Of course, easiest way to get into poetry is to start out with someone that speaks about things you are interested in, which sounds obvious, but sometimes needs a reminder.
Yesika Salgado (with the collections Corazón, Tesoro and Hermosa) is another great recommendation for a poet to ‘start with’, but also in general really fantastic. I’ve been rereading the poetry collections and wanted to do a short post on them, but it’s taken a while because each is so powerful and filled with messages connected to its theme that I need to like take a breath in between them. I think my favourite is Tesoro as it’s about family, the women in Salgado’s life and survival.
So, I’ve started buying more physical books (in comparison to none) and then I never do book hauls, so here they all are gathered up. Honestly, a few of these books are from a year ago, but too nice-looking to not include.
Astrobiology: a very short introduction by David C. Catling
Kant: a very short introduction by Roger Scruton
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
Robin Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (penguin english library edition)
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (penguin english library edition)
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (penguin english library edition)
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (penguin vintage classics)
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart (bught used, panther granada publishing edition from 1978)
how to: absurd scientific advice for common real-world problems by randall munroe
A Separate Peace by John Knowles (simon and schuester edition)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher`s Stone (scottish edition)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (slytherin edition)
Dune by Frank Herbert (penguin edition)
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
War on Peace by Ronan Farrow
The Iliad by Homer (penguin classics edition)
Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (david fickling edition)
Maya by Josten Gaarder (found for free)
The Library Book Haul (aka books I promised to return a month ago, but have not read yet)
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Story of More by Hope Jahren
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
The City We Became by N. K. Jemish
The Notebook Haul (mostly gifts)
Floral (green) notebook from Paperblank (called poetry in bloom)
Flowers (dark) notebook from Paperchase
Edinburgh illustration notebook by Libby Walker
New book posts:
Other books I’ve been reading:
Currently reading Winter Hours by Mary Oliver (poetry/prose/essays)
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (fantasy, lgbt; lesbian mc)
World Without Fish by (graphic novel, nonfiction, enviromental science) by Mark Kurlansky
Added to TBR:
A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design by Frank Wilczek (science)
Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality by Frank Wilczek (science)
The Queen`s Gambit by Walter Tevis (chess, fiction)
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots (fantasy, superheros, lgbt; bi mc, nonbinary)
The Monster Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade #2) by Seth Dickinson (fantasy, lgbt; lesbian mc)
The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters (contemporary YA, lgbt; m/m)
Tell Me by Kim Addonizio (poetry)
Bound by Claire Schwartz (poetry)
Hours Inside Out by Isabella Presiz (poetry)
Three things on my mind:
About physical books; it’s funny how much taking photos of books is would boost my book posts more than anything. My short review of graffiti by Savannah Brown is a perfect example, it gets too many views each day solely from google image searches. I’m using the library more this year and in general have bought more physical books, so I hope to also take more photos, because I do love that aspect as well. I definitely did a lot when living at home, to the point where we would rarely get good natural light in winter and it annoyed me because book photos were worse, hahha. Physical books are just more expensive and less convenient. You’re talking about the girl who at the age of 10 years old chose to learn books in english instead of the translated norwegian copies because they cost so much. But I do prefer having physical copies of science and poetry books a lot over digital ones, because it’s so much easier to refer to and really sit down and take time with reading the book. I would love to have a copy of all my favourite books on hand in case friends are looking for recommendations, but I just don’t have the money for all the fantasy series that would include, as the student I am.
I started writing a short thing about how I’ve been thinking about gender for a while, as I did put off an imminent gender crisis during the first season of covid-19 lockdown. But then it turned into its own whole thing, and I think it will just be a post on its own because it fits nowhere else. Not that it has any conclusion, it’s more of an on-going discussion with myself.
I’ve listened to & loved the podcast Reply All from Gimlet Media for years. To the point that when company after company was revealed to have racist practices and similiar recently, I actually thought about if these (until now seemingly empathic) white guys behind Gimlet Media would disappoint me to. But instead they’ve hired and otherwise given platform to producers of color with a purpose to cover a more diverse range of topics. And it’s really brought things to my feed that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, I think. A very recent addition to this is a series on the Bon Apetit test kitchenwhich had a “online reckoning” last summer with being exposed for being racist. Told by reporter Sruthi Pinnamaneni, she goes hard in the first episode by calling a huge number of past and current employees over a period of twenty years and highlights the many people of color that has quit already way back because they were devalued in different ways because of the color of their skin and them not coming from the same background or looking the same as every other white person in the kitchen. She does an expert job by pointing out other possible causes for situation as well, many of these people struggled at the time to understand it themselves, but overall it shows a pattern. Especially in comparison to the newest known scandals that made so many very-much-loved-by-the-audience cast members quit. Absolutely worth listening to, I’m sure the next episodes are going to be great as well.
Resistanceis another new podcast by Gimlet Media hosted by Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. all about the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement. The third episode “Shake the Room” was the first I listened to, and the story of how american police targeted protesters months later, and this example of how they showed up at the house of the Warriors in the Garden protestor Derrick Ingram in particular, really shook me to my core in its injustice and the potential and threat of violence.
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!
I read the very popular harry potter marauder’s fanficAll 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.
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.
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.
Genre: young adult fantasy, lgbt; bi morally-gray protagonist, f/f relationships, a lot of queer characters, pirates
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.
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???