The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

“There was no normal. There never had been. ‘Normal’ and ‘natural’ were the biggest lies we’d ever created.”

Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree exploded onto the fantasy world in 2019, a gorgeous queer fantasy filled with castles and dragons and spies. That was the first I’d heard of Shannon, but before Priory came The Bone Season, Shannon’s debut novel and the first in an eventual seven-part series. It’s a wild ride through dystopian London and an alternate version of Oxford, with a glimpse of a world beyond this one.

The series centers on a young Irish woman named Paige Mahoney, who moved to London with her father several years before the action of the novel. Paige is one of the rarest of clairvoyants—a dreamwalker, meaning she can invade the minds of others. This has made her one of the most powerful voyants in London, where anything of the sort is illegal, and it’s put a target on her back.

After she kills two police officers with her mind, Paige is arrested and transported to Oxford, also known as Sheol I, where she’s informed that all of England is truly ruled by a race of immortal beings called the Rephaim. Rephaim enslave humans and keep them to fight against the Emim, another type of being that threaten the Rephaim. Paige is claimed by a Rephite named The Warden, who appears at first to be precisely like the others but is, in fact, a former rebel against the crown. Intrigued by her new master, Paige finds herself mixed up in a plot to save not only herself, but all of the other humans enslaved by the Rephaim—with The Warden’s help.

The Bone Season is exactly the sort of immersive, world-building-rich fantasy I was looking for to cure my winter-induced cabin fever. But as I read, I felt myself editing in my mind. As much as I hate the idea that everything in fantasy books (or any novel) has to be necessary, The Bone Season could have used some pruning.

As much as I hate the idea that everything in fantasy books (or any novel) has to be necessary, The Bone Season could have used some pruning.

Shannon introduces us to a delightful Six of Crows-type cast of criminals in London, then whisks us off to Sheol I and introduces us to a completely different crew. I’ll admit, I couldn’t keep the Sheol I cast straight in my head even a little bit. Carl? Julian? David or Daniel? No idea.

This was made more difficult by the fact that Shannon seems to have found the London crew more interesting as well, judging by the care she takes with their characterization when they pop up throughout the story. I’m looking forward to learning more about this team and watching some heist-type hijinks—The Pale Dreamer, Shannon’s novella set in London, was included with the e-book, and I truly didn’t miss the Rephaim as I read about Paige and her best friend trying to capture a poltergeist. All the same, I suppose that if the whole book was like that, I’d be complaining it was too derivative of Six of Crows, so there’s no winning here.

Another minor excess is in the setting itself. We are introduced to London, which is near-future plus Victoriana—what might be considered a gaslight dystopia, if there is such a thing. Shannon explains this by saying that fashions tend to freeze at the time the Scion, the series’ version of a fascist government, takes power, and so Paige wears waistcoats and trousers and Psyche knots and recognizably Victorian-inspired clothing.

To be clear, I freaking loved this. Historical fiction with elements of fantasy is very hot right now, and I love a dystopia. Somewhere near the end, though, a computer appears, and it was so jarring that I realized that I’d been treating the story as though it were set in the early 1900s, regardless of how often Shannon says it’s in the mid-21st century.  It might have served the story better to simplify this, though Shannon must have had her reasons.

If you’re trying to avoid spoilers, maybe stop reading now—but from the beginning, Paige and the Warden have a romantic tension between them that eventually blossoms. Shannon has a true gift for writing emotionally resonant scenes.

But the “brooding, borderline abusive, insanely old dark-haired man turns out to just be Troubled and Romantic” type (see also: Bardugo’s Darkling, Novik’s Dragon) nearly always feels problematic to me, and the fact that Warden is Paige’s literal owner makes this relationship even more troublesome. Granted, The Bone Season was published in 2011, when the nuances of consent between slave owners and enslaved people were not as widely debated or understood. One cannot give consent if one is owned by the person asking for it, and in 2021, that adds a level of squickiness to this relationship.

But the “brooding, borderline abusive, insanely old dark-haired man turns out to just be Troubled and Romantic” type nearly always feels problematic to me

Given Shannon’s sensitive take on other issues, one imagines she wouldn’t have written this the same way now. Honestly, the romantic part of this relationship feels unnecessary, and a different sort of bond between Paige and Warden might have been more interesting. After all, they save one another’s lives multiple times—what would it look like to have that cord connecting their souls but not have romantic feelings for one another?

There are a lot more loose ends that push up this novel’s page count, but all of that is somewhat typical both of fantasy novels and debuts. Overall, there was enough here to convince me to try The Mime Order, the next book in the series, before setting it aside.

Shannon, Samantha. The Bone Season. Bloomsbury USA, Aug. 20, 2013. 466 pages. (Not an affiliate link.)

January 20, 2022 at 3:48 am Leave a comment

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

“I could never afford to look past survival, especially not for anything as insanely expensive as happiness, and I don’t believe in it anyway.”

Stop me if this sounds familiar: a magic school where teens fight evil while learning how to brew potions, cast spells, fall in love, and make friends. School looms large in teenage and young adult lives, and it only makes sense then that so much of YA fiction would be set there. The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik, the second book in The Scholomance trilogy, continues the story set up in A Deadly Education and brings it to a whole new level while subverting tropes of the form. 

We learn in A Deadly Education that in this version of the world, wizard children are sent to a four-year high school on the outskirts of reality to keep them safe from malicious magical creatures called maleficaria who prey on teens. “Safe,” unfortunately, is a relative term. Outside the school, almost none of these kids would survive–inside the Scholomance, maybe one in seven do. Those who do survive four years face the gauntlet of the graduation hall, where maleficaria gather for one final attack as the students head home. 

The latest graduating class has a huge advantage in the form of Orion Lake, a preternaturally talented hunter of things that go bump in the night. Orion and El Higgens, a budding dark sorceress and our acerbic protagonist, worked in A Deadly Education to clear the graduation hall of “mals” last year and potentially save themselves–so this year will be different. But El refuses to leave a single student behind when they graduate, and so she and Orion must determine how to keep thousands of children alive and see them safely home. 

There are parallels to Harry Potter, but The Scholomance trilogy improves on its predecessor in notable ways.

There are parallels to Harry Potter, but The Scholomance trilogy improves on its predecessor in notable ways. The students form their own alliances and groups, mostly based on city of origin, and the student population is far more diverse (without being racist, as far as I could tell) than that at Hogwarts. Orion has multiple characteristics of a “Chosen One,” as does El, but El goes to great pains to tell us that while both of them are once in a generation talents, and it’s unusual to have two once in a generation talents in one class…that’s all they are. Neither is the greatest wizard ever born. The magic in this world isn’t friendly or cozy, and there isn’t an easy villain who can be conquered. The paradise of Hogwarts is replaced with an eldritch horror of a school that’s really more of a prison filled with monsters, driven by a twisted need to protect its students. 

The Last Graduate suffers a little as the middle book of the series. There’s a good deal of repetition throughout, and it very much felt like a bridge between the first book and an eventual third. In that way, it does feel a lot like senior year–waiting and waiting for your “real” life to begin. The sections about the Scholmance’s structure dragged for me, and I found myself skimming. 

The major development here is the relationship between El and Orion. It’s hard, with a character like El, to find the vulnerability that’s necessary for romance. She’s so determined not to be soft, not to fall in love like her mother did, that when she does finally let her guard down and admit how she feels about Orion, it’s a shock. It’s not unbelievable, somehow–the emotions Novik depicts ring true, and there’s quite a bit of teen yearning. El admits that she’s terrified not so much of dying while saving her fellow students as she is of having to potentially watch Orion be ripped to shreds while she’s doing so.

Orion does get more emotional development in this book, making him more than just a mal-killing automaton.

Orion does get more emotional development in this book, making him more than just a mal-killing automaton, and the scenes where El and Orion fight maleficaria together help sell the way they fit together as a team and as a couple. Perhaps I’m too much of “an Old” to entirely buy that El would go from playful flirting and a sort of flat “effing Orion, always in my way” to being willing to die for him, but this does seem to be the way Teens work in books of this sort.

Anyone paying attention to teen tropes will start to get nervous the moment El describes Orion’s hunting the maleficaria as beautiful and effortless, because we know that’s only a setup for our hearts being ripped out of our chests by the ending. The cliffhanger all but guarantees that I’ll be picking up the next book in the series as soon as it’s published next year. 

Novik, Naomi. The Last Graduate. Del Rey Books, Sept. 28, 2021. 400 pages. (Not an affiliate link.)

January 13, 2022 at 12:15 am Leave a comment

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

“She was of the sun and from the sun. She was not a plaything of this little man.”

TW: Sexual violence

Cover of Damsel by Elana K. Arnold. The cover is black with glowing red-orange letters, decorated with blown-glass flowers, a bird, and an anatomically correct heart.

Sometimes I write something and I think, “Was that too weird? Too dark?” Elana K. Arnold has either never asked herself that question, or she has, and the answer is emphatically no. Her quick-read dragons-and-princess novel, Damsel, is deliciously dark, weird and twisted, steadily growing in creepiness and horror until the tremendously satisfying conclusion. 

The story opens with Prince Emory, who in order to become king must break into a castle and rescue a princess from the dragon there. This whole ordeal is necessary in order for his coronation, and stretches back centuries. His mother was rescued from a dragon by his father; his father’s mother was rescued; and so on and so forth, each rescued princess giving birth to a single son who carries on the tradition. 

Ama, the princess in question, wakes literally in Emory’s arms remembering nothing about how she got there. She’s confused, helpless, feverish, and ill–all of which Emory deals with gently and competently, and she finds herself attracted to him. But it’s not long before the romance takes a turn–they aren’t even back to Emory’s castle when Emory brutally kills a lynx in front of Ama, who is horrified. She insists on adopting the lynx’s orphaned kitten, whom she names Sorrow, and who serves as a stand-in for Ama’s intuition through the rest of the book.  

From here, Damsel takes on a steadily growing sense of horror as Emory demands Ama act almost as though she’s been conquered, rather than rescued. 

From here, Damsel takes on a steadily growing sense of horror as Emory demands Ama act almost as though she’s been conquered, rather than rescued. 

Despite looming large over most of the story, Emory appears very little himself, only popping up when Ama steps out of line. The more interesting relationships are those between Ama and the other women in the castle: Talia, the maid; Fabiana, a kitchen worker Emory’s been sleeping with; and the queen, who has shut herself in a room with a bunch of cats prowling around. 

From them, Ama learns the three ways to be a tamed woman. She can make herself like Talia, who insists she has “no needs” of her own; she can make herself like Fabiana and submit constantly to a man who takes what he wants with no thought to her desire; or she can become the queen, who deals with her slowly simmering rage by surrounding herself with these cats, somehow. Ama is shown over and over again that none of these ways is truly an option for her, while still being the only option. 

She has to become all of these women, a creature with no needs apart from being rescued, a woman who will allow herself to be raped every night until she conceives a son, and a queen content with a domesticated version of the wildcat she truly needs. The stakes are raised when the queen informs Ama that once Ama is crowned, the queen will die–there can only be one. 

Ultimately, Ama realizes that the only way to win this particular game of thrones is not to play.

Ultimately, Ama realizes that the only way to win this particular game of thrones is not to play. Most readers will see the twist coming, but they might not see exactly how Ama will ultimately triumph. When she does, it’s so deeply satisfying that you’ll want to stand up and cheer. 

For centuries, fairytales have been used to teach children, especially girls,  about the world they’re entering. Beauty and the Beast and The Frog Prince are maybe the most relevant here, teaching girls not to judge the worth of a man by his attractiveness, and also preparing them for the idea that men are rapacious and it’s probably best to just give in and pretend your husband is a prince. 

It’s appropriate, then, that Damsel is written for teens. Arnold turns all of these lessons on their heads, letting girls know that when their intuition says to run, they should run. Girls have power, she says, more than they know, and all they have to do is seize it. And when they do, no one can even dream of taming them.

Arnold, Elana K. Damsel. Balazer & Bray, Jan. 28, 2020. 336 pages. (Not an affiliate link.)

January 6, 2022 at 1:54 am Leave a comment

Our Year in Reading: Best of 2021

Welcome to the final part of our annual reading retrospective! Without further ado, the very best of the best in reading from our 2021:

Bookish Accomplishment of the Year

Kate: This one’s going to be a little broad: audiobooks. A friend recommended I try nonfiction audiobooks on 1.5x speed, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world! Blasted through Pushout, Caste and Catch & Kill this way, and am working on a few others right now. It’s literally changed my relationship with nonfiction, which was a major accomplishment. 

Corey: I lurched into 2021 feeling vaguely dissatisfied with the amount of reading I did in 2020. Reading is my favorite activity and yet the easy convenience of picking up my phone to scroll Twitter won out too much in 2020. I’d end my days feeling exhausted and zombified by my phone. No longer! So, in 2021 I literally started carrying books around the house with me, making reading as accessible and convenient as my phone. And it paid off! I am so happy with my reading in 2021! Reading more, even when it was a fluffy book instead of an endless Reddit scroll, made my brain feel just a little less fried after so long living in a pandemic. Huzzah for reading!

Books We Didn’t Get To (here’s looking at you, 2022 reading list!)

Kate: OK, here is where I admit that Corey is a much smarter person than me, and so most of my languishing books were recommendations from her. I just didn’t get to The Age of Wonder, Little, Big or Revolution from Within. On a non-Corey note, I did finally ditch Scoop from my list after starting it and running into an intense amount of casual racism. 

Corey: I’m blushing! In direct opposition to your claims about my intelligence, in 2021 I did the deeply stupid thing I do every year, which is hold onto the books I’m most excited to read in an attempt to “save them” for “the right moment.” So somehow, even though I’m desperately looking forward to it and half a dozen people have told me I’ll love it, Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January remains unread in 2021. I need to move it to the top of the list for 2022!

Book(s) of the Year

Kate: I’m in the uncomfortable and highly fortunate position of having read too many excellent books this year, so I’m going to cheat and say there were two: Bunny by Mona Awad and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. Both of these books made me want to pick them apart, to finish the last page and immediately start again at the beginning. Addie LaRue was completely devastating, and Bunny just came out of nowhere, exploded into my life, and sneakily became a book I think about roughly once a week. It lives in my brain rent-free, as the kids say, and shows no signs of leaving. 

Corey: Dual award from me this year, too! First, I have to give it to Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography. I spent much of 2021 reading this tome and therefore it colored my entire year of reading. In addition to providing endless fascinating historical tidbits, it also made me think critically about what a biography and what nonfiction can look like. It’s a musing, at times infuriating book, but ultimately a very powerful one. 

Secondly, I enjoyed many articles and books this year that reexamined the role work plays in our lives and how it doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) all-consuming. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work is one slightly bro-y, but ultimately insightful book on the subject, followed by many articles by the great Anne Helen Petersen, that I enjoyed on this theme this year. They have absolutely shifted my worldview and made me open my mind to other paths and possibilities. Can’t ask for more than that!

Thanks for joining us for our 2021 reading “year in review”! What were your favorite reads this year? Share in the comments!

December 30, 2021 at 8:25 am Leave a comment

Our 2021 Year in Reading: Intentional & Inclusive

Welcome to Part 4 of our annual reading retrospective! We dedicated time to interrogating and decolonizing our bookshelves in the last few years (and you should too!). Today, we spotlight our favorite reads from this year that feature authors and stories that broadened our worldview in 2021.

Favorite Work by a Black Writer

Corey: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin reminded me that fantasy can be damn good. After basically swearing off fantasy books for their often reductive and aggressively male energy, I was not prepared for Jemisin’s visionary revitalization of an entire genre. 

Kate: Right? Jemisin is so good! I’m going to mention Emma Dabiri’s Twisted here, but see tomorrow’s post for a deeper note, since it’s also my nonfiction pick! Shoutout also to Bryan Washington’s Memorial and Helen Oyeyemi’s Peaces for fiction.

Favorite Work by an AAPI Writer

Kate: Tie between The Chosen and the Beautiful, mentioned above, and Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, a collection of sci-fi short stories. It was lovely and smart and entertaining and thought-provoking, everything sci-fi should be. His work on consciousness and transhumanism especially is just fantastic. There wasn’t a single miss in the whole collection for me.

Corey: Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker has been on my “to be read” list ever since it came out and it was even more fun than I was hoping. On its surface about a young prince who wants to wear pretty dresses, Wang’s beautiful graphic novel is a delightful dive into the importance of representation, inclusion, and found family.

Favorite Work by a Latino Writer

Corey: It feels cliché since I am very late to the Silvia Moreno-Garcia bandwagon, but Mexican Gothic. It was Kate’s Best Book of the Year in 2020, so you better believe I was looking forward to this one. It more than delivered, offering up a combination of legitimately spooky gothic horror and an evisceration of colonialism and patriarchy that somehow never feels heavy-handed on either. Highly recommend, especially for reading around Halloween, which is when I enjoyed it.

Kate: Mexican Gothic is hard to beat, in fairness! Seriously a masterpiece. Sadly, either I only read a few works by Latino writers this year or I didn’t note the ethnicity of the writers, so I’m going to go with Moreno-Garcia as well. Certain Dark Things is her take on vampire myths, which I loved–anything she writes is good, but this was my favorite this year. 

Favorite Work by a Jewish Writer

Corey: Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink was a beautiful meditation on women’s talents and intellect across time. Perfectly evocative of both its time periods (17th-century Jewish London and 21st-century academia), The Weight of Ink was a serious, thoughtful, and moving read.

Kate: Naomi Novik’s The Last Graduate. I want seven damn books in this series. Even if the story was a little bit repetitive (oh wow, the food is still poisoned, there are still monsters), it’s so much fun to see a darker magic school. Dare I say…a more realistic magic school? I also continue to be completely enamored with the way Novik tidily eliminated the need for teachers, lending a Lord of the Flies-type feel to the school.

Favorite LGBTQIA+ Work

Kate: There was so much good here this year! Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall gets a special shout-out for being too-freaking-adorable. If we want something that’s an LGBTQIA+ writer on LGBTQIA+ subject matter, Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby has to be my favorite of the year. Roxane Gay called it “chaotic, well-written, deeply, gorgeously queer, messy, [and] sexy,” which I’m not sure I can improve on. The deep dive into the reasons one might choose to detransition despite gender identity was nuanced, lovely, and heartbreaking.

Corey: Bridget Collins’ The Binding IS SO GOOD. I hardly want to say anything about it since it has numerous twists that hit me like a ton of bricks and I would not deny that feeling to any new reader. Dealing with questions of memory, identity, and class, The Binding is deeply engrossing and paced to perfection.

Tomorrow, we conclude our year in reading with our Best of the Best Edition! What was our favorite book this year?

December 29, 2021 at 8:20 am Leave a comment

Our 2021 Year in Reading: Surprises & Old Favorites

Welcome to Part 3 of our annual reading retrospective! On deck today, it’s the best surprises — and biggest disappointments — of 2021:

The Shock and Awe Award for Most Surprising Read

Corey: Lyndsay Faye strikes again with her wonderful Jane Steele! Turning Jane Eyre on its head, Jane Steele surprised me with its immersive world and addictively gothic plotting. Brew a big pot of tea, make a curry, and set aside a good chunk of time for this one as you won’t want to put it down. 

Kate: Bunny by Mona Awad. It’s the best book on writing I’ve ever read, and it just has so many twisty little layers of horror. Awad is a genius at slowly, slowly unraveling a story’s “ordinary world” until you look up and suddenly you’re in a nightmare (she does this in All’s Well, too). This book was delicious, a little messy, and just so wonderful.

Biggest Disappointment

Kate: Matrix by Lauren Groff. Nothing against Lauren Groff, because this book was beautifully written! It just wasn’t my bag, and after having read Fates and Furies, I had totally different expectations for this story. Also, the blurb on the jacket was so unclear about what the book actually was that it didn’t help. Just wasn’t ready for a highly literary, quietly beautiful examination of life in a woman-only space.

Corey: Weina Dai Randel’s The Last Rose of Shanghai was sent to me anonymously through an Icelandic Book Flood and I was so excited to see it. Taking place during World War II in Shanghai, it tells the story of a Chinese woman who owns her own jazz nightclub and a Jewish refugee new to Shanghai. Knowing absolutely nothing about this chapter of history, I was thrilled to jump in.

Unfortunately, Randel’s characters are flat, inconsistent creatures written limpidly despite the high drama and violence around them. It made me want to read a nonfiction book about the period, where I presumably wouldn’t be held hostage to the group of ridiculous people found here. 

Best Re-read

Kate: The Likeness by Tana French. I re-read this every few years and it’s a delight every time. A combination of The Secret History and maybe The Little Stranger, The Likeness somehow makes its somewhat unbelievable premise believable. Love a story about found families, love a story about friendship gone wrong, love stories about big old houses and students and aEsThEtIc, so this was right up my alley. (To borrow a phrase from a favorite podcast of ours…it’s mostly “characters and vibes” rather than a true mystery.) It might not be the strongest of the Dublin Murder Squad series, but it’s my favorite. 

Corey: I re-read E. Nesbit’s delightful The House of Arden this year and it was exactly as wonderful as I remembered it. The book tells the magical story of two children who meet a white mole with the power to transport them to various points in English history. If I had to pinpoint where my love of English history started, it was probably reading The House of Arden as a child. It was so satisfying to revisit it as an adult and travel into the past with Edred and Elfrida Arden once more.

Tomorrow, we dive into our efforts to read more intentionally, diversely, and inclusively in 2021. Discover your next great read!

December 28, 2021 at 8:08 am Leave a comment

Our 2021 Year in Reading: Genre Reads

Welcome to Part 2 of our annual reading retrospective! Today we’ll be taking a look at our very favorite “genre” reads of 2021:

Best Mystery

Corey: I already gave Lyndsay Faye props for The Whole Art of Detection earlier this week, so I won’t repeat myself here (it’s great!), which means the Best Mystery I read this year has to be Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders. A modern classic of the genre, I’ve been looking forward to his for ages and it did not disappoint. I will also say Robin Stevens Murder Most Unladylike, a mystery for young readers taking place at a fictional English boarding school for girls, was also delightful.

Kate: I read so much (too much?) Tana French this year, including a re-read of most of the Dublin Murder Squad series, and overall this was a mystery-heavy year. While French’s The Likeness never disappoints, no matter how many times I read it, Deanna Raybourn’s An Unexpected Peril was a true delight and a great new chapter in the Veronica Speedwell saga. 

Best Romance

Kate: Somewhere amid the Russian werebears, fake dating, book clubs, and fan fiction-inspired romances was Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. Don’t get me wrong, I love Russian werebears as much as the next girl (possibly more), but as I wrote on Goodreads, “I love a broken, anxious mess of a man…[and] LOVE a smart, driven woman who’s told herself she’s not into love and can’t be loved.” The line “People think anxiety makes you nervous all the time, and it can. But no one ever talks about how it makes you angry,” made me feel so seen I nearly burst into tears. In fact, I think I did.

…also, it was very sexy. 

Corey: Seconded! Hibbert’s Get a Life Chloe Brown was the first straight-romance novel I’ve ever read and I enjoyed her style so much I read this one, too. In terms of not a singularly romance novel, though, The Binding by Bridget Collins and re-reading my perennial favorite Persuasion were two absolutely swoon-worthy romantic reads I loved this year.

“Hey, I didn’t know that!” Award for Best Nonfiction Read

Kate: I loved Emma Dabiri’s Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture, which is also titled Don’t Touch My Hair in the UK. It goes beyond the surface level of braids and locs and puffs and talks about the deep history, mathematics, science and culture behind black hair traditions. While I’d thought I knew a fair bit about black hair (at least enough to know why white girls should think pretty hard about wearing locs), Dabiri showed me I knew literally nothing, and I so enjoyed learning more. 

Corey: Stop whatever you’re doing and go find Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses! I read this beautiful, informative, and deeply heartfelt book early in the year and have basically not stopped peppering my loved ones with fun facts about moss ever since. Gathering Moss changed the way I look at the world around me and deepened my dilettantish love of moss. Don’t fight it: let moss take over your yard, your roof, and your life! Read this book!

Most Fun Read

Kate: The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz. Honestly just a blast, sort of like The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. but less Terry Pratchett and more Charlie Jane Anders. Obviously well-researched and really thoughtfully plotted, but I realized both of those things in retrospect–in the moment, I was just having too much fun reading it. 

Corey: Freya Marske’s A Marvellous Light hit every fun note for me: Edwardian England, magical bureaucracy, mysterious country homes, and a librarian falling quite against his will for a supportive himbo. An extremely fun read and, happily for those who also like this sort of thing, the start of a trilogy.

Next week, we bring you the best surprises and old favorites of our 2021 year in reading!

December 23, 2021 at 8:44 am 1 comment

Our Year in Reading: 2021 Edition

‘Tis the season for Literary Transgressions’ annual year in review! We’ll be presenting our yearly retrospective of recommendations, hesitations, and suggestions in five parts for your viewing pleasure.

First up, reflecting on the good, the bad, and the continued 2021 of it all:

Best Escape to a Non-Plague-Gripped Time or Place

Kate: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo. This book was so gorgeous, a The Great Gatsby retelling that (dare I say it?) improves on the original. I wanted to live in the world of this book for ages. Magic, demon blood, paper cutting, an examination of colonialism and race in the 1920s…brilliant. 

Corey: Madeline Miller’s Circe lived up to its intense hype! Taking The Odyssey’s famous sea-witch as its heroine, this book spans centuries of mythological goings-on and, despite the rampant magical creatives and immortal beings scattered throughout, Miller imbues every inch of the story with vivid life and humanity. Transporting and moving, Circe is escapist reading at its best.

Best Recommendation

Kate: Longbourn by Jo Baker, an excellent recommendation from Corey! Among other things, this book taught me just how tortuous flogging is. Yayyyy. But seriously, I loved the retelling of Pride & Prejudice from the point of view of the servants, especially since most P&P retellings these days seem to be heavy on the “YAAAASSSS QUEEN” of it all and gloss over the socio-economic issues of the time.

Honorable mention to Elana K. Arnold’s Damsel, which was recommended by my local librarian! Librarians rule. 

Corey: Mutual admiration society alert: when Kate recommended The Whole Art of Detection by Lyndsay Faye to me, I will admit a healthy dose of skepticism. Described as “an anthology of Sherlock Holmes pastiche short stories,” Detection’s premise reeks of fan fiction. But I should have had faith in Kate’s good taste and Faye’s impeccable style. Lyndsay Faye is a worthy successor to Conan Doyle and absolutely nails the flavor of the original Holmes stories. This is a tremendously fun read—thanks for recommending, Kate!

Most Satisfying Read

Kate: Actually made it through a lot of books this year that had languished: Pushout, Catch and Kill, Caste, How to Be an Anti-Racist, Toxic Charity, etc. Probably my favorite of the languishers was This Much Country by Kristin Knight Pace, a memoir from a dogsledder that gave me Blair Braverman and Gary Paulsen vibes. It had been on my shelf for a year or two, and it was everything I hoped it would be. 

Corey: Finishing the doorstop that is Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography! Friends gave me this book before my move to London back in 2010 and I have lugged it, unread, hither and yon for ELEVEN YEARS. I have complicated feelings about the book having now finally read it (chief among them: the stream-of-consciousness flow made me want to tear my hair out), but it was deeply satisfying to finally dive into this classic and, ultimately, finish it in 2021. I’m glad I did!

Most Emotional Read

Corey: I have never read something that made cry as much as Bess Kalb’s amazing memoirish Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, an imaginative retelling of her recently-deceased grandmother’s life and times. I could only read it in short bursts before I succumbed to uncontrollable weeping. Kalb captures the deep relationship that can grow between a grandmother and granddaughter so perfectly that I couldn’t help but think about my much-missed Gram on every page. Highly recommend, although perhaps wait on it if you’ve recently lost a loved one.

Kate: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. I sobbed through the last part of this book and I don’t even know why. Schwab does a nice job interweaving the historical fiction with a modern-day story, and she never goes for the easiest route when it comes to resolving the conflicts. I don’t always love books that are quite this emotionally manipulative (DOOMED LOVE), but this one got to me.

What were the best romance, mystery, and nonfiction we enjoyed this year? Stay tuned on Thursday for our favorite genre reads of 2021!

December 21, 2021 at 8:37 am 1 comment

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

It took me a day to read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and three days to process it. A book like this one begs to be ripped apart, to be broken down into its component parts and examined carefully.

Continue Reading February 3, 2021 at 1:56 pm Leave a comment

Our Year in Reading Part 4: Best of the Best Edition

Time for our annual year-end tradition of wrapping up our year of reading and reflecting on the good, the bad, and…well, the 2020 of it all. We’ll be presenting our yearly retrospective in four parts this year.

Continue Reading December 31, 2020 at 7:59 am 1 comment

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