July & August 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

This is going to be long, but then again, I did have to combine two months. For some reason, I took a completely unplanned hiatus in August, unable to even finish the July wrap-up, or read much worth reviewing. My fault for parallel-reading two massive books I guess. There was one week in between when I was sick – regular sick, not the plague – but otherwise, there isn’t really any explanation other than “idk, time just went somewhere, you know how 2020 is” or “I was too busy being a massive Hamilton fan” (more on that later), none of which is really much of an explanation, but there you go.

But, after some reshuffling, I am 12/25 done with the Bingo challenge.

And also, I ordered a shit ton of books.

Posted:

Read:

July

  • By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey: Had a rather annoying first part (a lot of “not like other girls”) that nearly made me quit, but then, after everyone grew up a bit, it got good. Kero is competent, decisive, and you don’t often encounter a protagonist who puts career before everything.
  • Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender (DNF): Picked this up for the sake of a bookclub, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. It felt very repetitive and I was not in the mood for completely unlikable villain protagonists.
  • A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian: Delightful. Liked it a lot more than the first book. The emphasis on trust and consent is wonderful.
  • Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian: Perfect romance novel as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always been a sucker for stories where a character is sick and their love interest takes care of them, and the dynamic is just…ahhh I love it so much. I already reread it once and I think I will do so many more times.
  • Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh: I had high expectations based on my friends’ reviews, but unfortunately, it’s another of those novellas that would have worked better as a novel, with more space to breathe. Oddly paced and not quite enough.
  • Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky: I was a fan of the concept – what happens after the dark lord is gone – but not at all a fan of the execution. The plot was incredibly repetitive.
  • Hamilton’s Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole: A whole lot of fun. I really enjoyed all three novellas, and I’d highly recommend it if you like historical romance that’s a bit different from the norm.

August

After Hamilton, I got a serious case of a time period fixation. Get out, medieval fantasy, it’s 18th-ish century (17th or early 19th also acceptable) or bust. Fantasy set in that era proved surprisingly hard to find, especially since I very much did not want fantasy of manners, but I make do. And there is always historical nonfic (if I don’t post much in September either…well…).

I may have only finished two books, which sounds shamefully little, but with them being about 200k and 400k words respectively, and slow at that, it’s really more like six.

  • Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry: A book set in the 18th century, just as I got obsessed with the time period? Yes please! Plot-wise, it’s pretty much a straight retelling ot the French revolution, except with magic, but that suited me just fine. It was a bit slow at points though.
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: This was what I was busy with for a large chunk of August. Of course because of the musical, what else? At near 400k words, it’s longer than a lot of epic fantasy books, and dry, and massively, annoyingly biased at points, but I still found it surprisingly engaging and easy to read. There are a lot of fun anecdotes (as my friends are all too aware of, since I couldn’t resist a regular “you gotta hear this shit” monologue and I ended up with 15 pages of notes) and reading about all the feuds they had was super entertaining. Go in with a massive pinch of salt and ready to think critically…and bring popcorn.

Books ordered:

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Sometime in the past couple weeks I realised I have only ordered two physical books this year. And since I also got some money, I decided it’s time to fix this.

  • Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman: It’s a western, it has a pretty cover and..honestly that was more or less it. I’d really like to continue with my westerns project.
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (preorder): My most anticipated book of 2020. I have tried and failed to get an ARC, but with how erratic my reading habits have been, that’s probably for the better.
  • Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis: I have wanted to read it for ages, but I especially want to read it now with my…history thing…and all. Found I could get it used, and that was that.
  • Vermilion by Molly Tanzer: Been eyeing it for a while since it looks like it could be western-ish. Another one I was able to get used.
  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger: Asexual MC (I still need something for that Bingo square!), indigenous #ownvoices, and illustrated chapter headers. And the hardcover was cheap.
  • The Ikessar Falcon by K.S. Villoso (preorder): For when I’m feeling up to epic fantasy again.
  • Revolutionary by Alex Myers: It’s set during the American revolution and it’s queer and I could get it used. That was enough for me 😂

…and I’m also thinking of getting Maria Dahvana Headley’s new Beowulf translation and preordering the omnibus of the Ambergris series by Jeff Vandermeer, since two books in there are out of print.

Musicals:

A little unusual of a header, but I figure that since there were a couple months where I listed movies I watched, it’s not too odd. And given how embarrassingly deep down the Hamilton rabbit hole I went, it at least deserves a mention.

I decided to join a Hamilton watchalong on, of all days, July 4th because why not, group watches are fun and I have heard a fuck ton about it and was curious what all the fuss is about. Little did I know I would end up completely, head over heels, love at the first song, wanting to know everything about it obsessed. I was never really into musicals, or rap, or American history, but something about Hamilton just works. It’s catchy as all fuck. It has incredibly dense, complex lyrics with lots of references and connections that are fun to pick apart. There’s humour and tragedy. The choreography with the turntable is fantastic. There’s so much going on you don’t know where to look (me, on the first watch: at the subtitles 😂). From the technical aspect, it’s a masterpiece. I do have my issues with it, namely how it plays into American nationalism and the whole bootstraps bullshit, but honestly, being highly critical doesn’t mean I don’t still absolutely adore it.

Hadestown was my next conquest. I haven’t managed to find a watchable version, but I did listen to all three versions in one day – concept album, Broadway, off-Broadway, in that order – while doing commentary and came to the conclusion that the concept album and the off-Broadway versions are superior and Broadway has a boring Orpheus. While I have listened to it quite a lot since, I haven’t really done a deep dive as with Hamilton, mostly because it isn’t nearly as dense (I also had a Greek mythology phase as a kid already).

After that…I actually haven’t felt the need to check anything else. It was a bit uncertain whether my interest once I finished going through all the song annotations and wanted more would swing towards other musicals or towards history, but then it swung towards history hard. My journey essentially went from song annotations, to tvtropes, to tumblr history blogs, to biographies.

It’s quite possible September will be spent reading a lot of nonfiction, and I honestly don’t know what am I going to do, I can hardly start posting my rambly, super casual, excessive notes on early American history on a SFF blog and I’m still more than a little wary of talking about my latest interest online.

Currently reading:

  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark: I expect to finish it today, it’s a novella and pretty good. Much funnier than I expected.

Books read this year: 35 (+ 9 rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 13/25 (52%)

Review: Hamilton’s Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole

Courtney Milan 🦖 on Twitter: "We have a final cover! TA DA.… "

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I said I was back to SFF, but sorry, this is going to be another historical romance review. I tried to keep it too short to post but it, er, got away from me. By a lot.

So, by now pretty much everyone who knows me is aware that I’ve falled madly in love with a certain rap musical (in fact, I’m having the soundtrack on as I write this). Completely, head over heels, talking about it non-stop obsessed. It took me only a few minutes from learning this book exists to starting it. Initially, I felt a little bit silly since I still haven’t quite internalised that being a huge fan of something is nothing to be ashamed of but like…dude, you went on a “fun historical facts” screenshotting spree at 2 am several days in a row and can barely stop quoting lyrics, reading a themed romance book is hardly the most excessive thing you’ve done.

(It’s also pretty funny that in a weird circlerec, I somehow managed to successfully rec this book back to the very same person who brought it to my attention in the first place. But I digress.)

Continue reading “Review: Hamilton’s Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole”

Review: Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky (After the War #1)

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What happens after the Dark Lord has been defeated?

“For that thing only, for the most selfish of reasons, I regret we killed him. We fought and we hurt and some of us died, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being a hero. I knew I was doing the right thing. I knew I was alive. And now he’s dead and we’re…lost. It’s like the world expected us to die with him, and doesn’t know what to do with us.”

I have been looking for books dealing with consequences of war and upheaval for a long, long time. I find the questions of what happens after the big bad is gone – how do they rebuild, how do they deal with what the war cost them, what has changed, what happens to the heroes and the leftovers of the big bad’s minions now – much more interesting than the standard epic fantasy plot of the events leading up to that. But few books ever touch upon that. Redemption’s Blade seemed perfect for scratching that particular itch.

Continue reading “Review: Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky (After the War #1)”

Review: Seducing the Sedgwicks series by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1-3)

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I know, this is historical romance, not SFF, and that this is supposed to be a SFF blog. But screw it, my blog, my rules, and when I find a perfect book, damn right I’m going to yell about it. It all started when I heard about Two Rogues Make a Right from Sara back in April – I have some extremely specific romance preferences, and when a book satisfies one of them, that’s usually plenty. This one seemed to tick off the whole damn list. Of course I had to. The only issue was that it was the last book of a series, but whatever, the other two can’t be bad – and indeed they were not.

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Mini Novella Reviews: Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders, The Sunken Mall, Silver in the Wood

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Another in the series of mini review posts, this time focused on three novellas I finished recently. Novellas make fantastic palate cleansers, but I find I’m rarely able to write a full length review for books this short, so it makes more sense to group them like this. I couldn’t not review them.

Either way! Onto the books themselves. Coincidentally, m/m relationships seem like a common theme with those three.

Continue reading “Mini Novella Reviews: Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders, The Sunken Mall, Silver in the Wood”

Mini DNF Reviews: The Priory of the Orange Tree, Resistance Reborn, The Infinite Noise, Queen of the Conquered

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Sometimes, it’s just not to be. Sometimes, no matter how much I want to love a book, there comes a point where I can’t force myself to read another page. Not necessarily because it’s a bad book – in this batch, there’s even two I’d give 4/5 for execution – but it happens. I often write shorter reviews of books I DNF’d just so that there’s some note on them on goodreads, but they are too short to be a blogpost on their own, and I haven’t had enough to group them together until now.

Besides, backlog cleaning is never a bad thing.

Continue reading “Mini DNF Reviews: The Priory of the Orange Tree, Resistance Reborn, The Infinite Noise, Queen of the Conquered”

Review: By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey (Valdemar)

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And the Valdemar binge continues. After the disaster that was The Oathbound, I was a little bit wary of continuing that timeline. But I have been assured this book is a lot better and I wanted a standalone, so I decided to give it a try.

As far as reading order goes, it should preferably read at least after Arrows (it takes place shortly after), but it should work without reading anything else first, too.

Continue reading “Review: By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey (Valdemar)”

June 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

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After months and months of barely reading, June has been a great month for reading. I joined a Valdemar (re)readalong, which has been great for getting me out of the slump. They’re short, fun, and nostalgic, and apparently exactly what I needed. I still have trouble motivating myself to review (my drafts have grown by…quite a lot), but I guess I’ll get there eventually.

I also finally reviewed The Breath of the Sun by Isaac R. Fellman, easily one of my favourite books of 2020.

Read:

  • Arrows trilogy by Mercedes Lackey (reread): The first Valdemar series I read. It still largely holds up, apart from the first half of the third book, Arrow’s Fall, which is filled with the most infuriating and pointless kind of miscommunication-filled relationship drama I’ve seen.
  • Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey: Very fun. Most of it is just Skif being a thief in the slums, and I really appreciated having a story that did not center on nobility for once. And thieves that actually steal.
  • The Oathbound by Mercedes Lackey (reread, DNF): This one aged terribly. A lot of infodumping, a needless amount of sexual violence (and it’s not treated well), bad treatment of asexuality, aims for being feminist but really isn’t. Would not recommend.
  • The Infinite Noise (DNF): I thought the cool premise and themes would overpower my deep aversion to high school stories, but it was not to be. Sorry book, it’s not you, it’s me.
  • The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey (reread): Aspects of it have not aged too well (it’s basically bury your gays: the series), but it’s still one of my favourites, still hitting all the right emotional notes.
  • Knox by K. Arsenault Rivera, Brooke Bolander, Gabino Iglesias, and Sunny Moraine (ARC): This was a pleasant surprise. It’s essentially a lovecraftian noir taking place in 1930s Manhattan. Recommended, if you like horror.
  • It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian: A super sweet romance featuring a grumpy dyslexic captain and a total cinnamon roll of a vicar. Like always, too many sex scenes for my liking, but otherwise great.

Currently reading:

  • Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky: Probably finishing this one today, or tomorrow at the lastest. I’ve always looked for stories that take place after the big bad has been defeated and this is a perfect fit. Enjoying it quite a bit so far.
  • Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern: This month’s r/Fantasy Book of the Month. Decided to join in since it’s a nice opportunity to read something I already own. Plus, it counts for Bingo. I was a bit dubious since I DNF’d The Night Circus very early on, but so far it’s very intriguing!

Books read this year: 27 (+ 8 rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 8/25 (32%)

Review: Knox by K. Arsenault Rivera, Brooke Bolander, Gabino Iglesias, and Sunny Moraine (Knox: Season #1)

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ARC received from the publisher (Serial Box) in exchange for an honest review.

I accepted this review request for several different reasons. First, the line-up sounded fantastic. Second, the setting – 1930s Manhattan. Awesome. Third, while I have read a few Lovecraft-inspired books, I have never read a noir before and I wanted to see if I can like one. I knew there was a high likelihood that it would be free of unexamined racism and sexism, which seems to be the issue with most noirs I heard of, and I was absolutely correct. It was great – a little too horror for my taste (which is more me being a wimp than any fault of the writing, really), but great.

(I should probably mention I went for the text version, not audio, so I can’t say anything about the narration.)

Continue reading “Review: Knox by K. Arsenault Rivera, Brooke Bolander, Gabino Iglesias, and Sunny Moraine (Knox: Season #1)”

Review: Breath of the Sun by Isaac R. Fellman

The Breath of the Sun eBook: Rachel Fellman: Amazon.com.au: Kindle ...

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It is thrilling, to be so far up. The very quality of the air is different; it conducts less of the sound of your voice, and its shallowness, its thinness, infects you. It is a small spike in your cold throat. In that narrow air, looking down over the misty land in the last few minutes of sunlight, you hear your own heart like a slow bass drum, and feel the anticipation of a good song beginning, somewhere in your bones, the percussion of the joints and the slur of the blood.

The Breath of the Sun is another confirmation that an instinct that a book will be great is never to be ignored. I have waited over a year to be able to get my hands on the paperback and in the end, it was absolutely worth it.

With its gorgeous prose, unique concept, experimental structure, queerness, and complex relationships, it shot straight to my favourites and I’d even put it on the same level as The Gray House or The Winged Histories. I can’t praise it enough. If you’re looking for literary fantasy that’s unlike any other you’ve read before: that’s the book for you.

Continue reading “Review: Breath of the Sun by Isaac R. Fellman”