2020 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge: Conclusion and Thoughts

Like every year since the beginning of the challenge, I aimed for the full card in 2020 as well. It seemed easy enough, no real curveballs in terms of squares. Then  I entered the Great Big Reading Slump of 2020, stopped reading SFF for months, and whether I’d manage to complete it suddenly seemed much less certain.

But, in the end, I did it, and I was very surprised to learn that despite all my troubles, I finished earlier than last year – March 7th compared to March 12th.

Continue reading “2020 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge: Conclusion and Thoughts”

March 2021 Monthly Wrap-Up

With March, I feel like things have finally more or less returned back to the pre-2020 normal. Some health issues (hopefully managed by now) aside, I’ve been feeling better and, as a consequence, reading a lot more.

And of course, I managed to finish Bingo! Even slightly earlier than last year at that! Wrap-up post to come soon.

Finished:

  • The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan: I really needed this book for Bingo, but I can’t avoid the fact that it was not right for me at the time, mostly due to the fact that I’m sick to deat of historical SFF always using England as a base. Please. Enough.
  • Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis: Being as into the 18th century as I am of course I was all over this. Plus: historically accurate masked ball crossdressing! (Also: not set in England.)
  • A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar: The Winged Histories is one of my all-time favourites and this was a disappointment in comparison, focused on prose to the detriment of everything else, which works in something experimental, but not a fairly clasically structured novel.
  • Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley (ARC): Very chill, very strange sci-fi slice of life with a dash of horror. Despite the latter, precisely my thing.
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (reread): I really really needed a comfort read and besides, I got the ARC of The Witness for the Dead (!!!) so it felt especially appropriate. Either way I devoured it in about two sittings. Perfect as always.
  • The Unbroken by C.L. Clark (ARC): One of my most anticipated books of the year. While I found it to be a good book, especially in how it deals with colonialism (and the coloniser is based on France for once!) and how messy the relationship between the two MCs was, I found it too intense to enjoy.

Currently reading:

  • Liberty or Death by Peter McPhee: I want to learn about the French revolution and this seemed like a good place to start – true, it’s dry and dense and slow going, but very informative.
  • No SFF, just in case, because the new Bingo will be out soon and I’d hate to accidentally read a perfect book for it.

Books read in 2021: 13 (+ 1 rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 25/25 (100%) 🥳🥳🥳

January & February 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

January was just as miserable as any of the previous months but I think I can say that with February, I’m officially fully back from my hiatus! What changed is mostly that I got meds and they seem to be working – things are a lot easier and after months, I feel more like myself again. In the last week of February especially, I managed to read as much or more as I did in an average month pre-slump, which I’m really happy with.

January:

  • Candide by Voltaire: Went for it mostly out of curiosity. I have mixed feelings – on one hand, it’s the first classic I didn’t hate, the pacing is great, it’s short, it’s hilariously petty (more so the more context you know), and appropriate for the times. On the other, there is about as much blatant racism as you’d expect, which is to say, a lot. Which often left me stuck between cringing at that and laughing at, for example, the open complaints about printers and publishers.

February:

  • The first part of the memoirs of Wilhelmine of Prussia, which happened pretty much on a whim. They came up in conversation, I went to look them up online, and accidentally the whole thing within a couple hours. I know they are not considered too reliable, but the mentions of horrific abuse are too frequent to ignore.
  • Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey: Finally, a story with a western flavour where I found nothing to complain about. Felt like the right book at the right time. Loved how queer it was, too.
  • The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain: Very fun. Loved the chaos the djinn caused.
  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger: Good enough, very well done ace and Native American rep, but it read too young for my taste. It’s almost bordering on middle grade and that’s just not my thing.
  • Heart of Stone by Johannes T. Evans: From how this book is described, I thought it would be perfect for me, but then it just…wasn’t. I found it to be more than a bit of a slog. When I’m reading romance, I want the protagonists to kiss WAY before the very very end.
  • Burning Roses by S.L. Huang (ARC): Tries to do far too many things at the same time for a short little novella. Retellings of several different fairytales, mixing eastern and western influences, present and flashbacks, two protagonists’ stories…it didn’t really work for me.
  • The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky (ARC): This was, well, perfection. I haven’t ever seen a story told in this particular way before and I’ve always been a sucker for literary and experimental. Could hardly be a better fit for me.

Currently reading:

  • The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan: One of my last Bingo books. A bit slow going, but I’m only about a quarter in. I hope it picks up the pace soon!

Books read in 2021: 8 (+ 0 rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 22/25 (88%)

2020 Wrap-Up: Statistics & Top Books

This is a follow-up to my 2020 End of the Year Wrap-Up, which focuses more on what happened – now come the stats and recommendations.

I think we can all agree 2020 was a strange, strange year. I said in the 2019 Wrap-Up that the year was the best one for reading so far, had high hopes for the next year, and then…2020 actually happened. I ended up reading and reviewing far fewer books than before and was in a slump more often than not.

Regardless, this is the first time I managed to get the stats out before February, so that’s something!

Continue reading “2020 Wrap-Up: Statistics & Top Books”

September to December 2020 End of the Year Wrap-Up

I tried.

I really really tried. But in the end, the hiatus ended up being three months long and I’d consider it still ongoing.

It’s been clear for a while that I’ve been struggling with reviewing and posting. I’ve been in and out of reading slumps periodically this year, unable to focus even on the most anticipated of ARCs, but this one was the worst so far. A depressive episode did me in completely: I wasn’t able to read anything, didn’t mod, my online activity dropped to near zero. I couldn’t bring myself to feel excited about much, and even the nonfic I did feel like reading, I read very very slowly and got easily distracted by starting another book instead of finishing the current one. Where I once averaged about 6 books a month, I’m now lucky if I can finish three and you can see that it’s mostly novellas, romance, and nonfiction.

Additionally, what has started as wanting to research historical inaccuracies in a musical (and I wouldn’t at all consider myself a fan anymore) has developed into a full-blown obsession with the 18th century – first the American revolution, currently the strange love/hate relationship between Frederick the Great and Voltaire (drama goldmine, that, so much drama), eventually I plan to look into the French revolution as well, it’s quite broad. I thought it was a phase back in August, I kept thinking it was a phase for nearly half a year, but I finally had to admit to myself that it looks like it’s here to stay and adjusted my book buying habits accordingly. It brings joy and it made me rediscover how fun research and learning things for their own sake can be. I even started learning French!

I’m not sure what this will mean for this blog – I don’t plan to stop reading and reviewing fantasy books and I don’t review nonfic (occasional exception aside), but it will probably take quite some time before I’m able to juggle both. 

September:

  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark (mini review): Pretty good, with very vivid worldbuilding and much funnier than I expected
  • …and the new Beowulf translation by Maria Dahvana Headley: I struggled because epic poetry is simply not for me – I find it extremely difficult to pay attention to every word of a text. No fault of the translation, really, at least I could finish it. Anything more archaic and I could not have.

October:

  • Finished nothing.

November:

  • Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma (mini review): A delightfully bureaucratic romance novella. I have never read contemp but this was lovely! Highly recommended.
  • Slippery Creatures by K.J. Charles (mini review): Post-WWI romance with spies. Needed a faster read, this delivered.
  • The Threefold Tie by Aster Glenn Gray (mini review): Another historical romance novella, about trying to make a MMF relationship work. Very, very sweet.

December:

  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (mini review): Excellent. I usually have issues with pacing in novellas but this was perfect, the structure of each chapter really worked in its favour.
  • Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford: A long review that could have easily been even longer. This was just so much joy. Do you like drama? Do you enjoy reading about people being completely ridiculous? Then you should absolutely read this. Yes, it’s nonfiction, and I had to pause reading several times to laugh, facepalm, or go “you wouldn’t believe what these people got up to, omg.” And even though there are a few bits that raised an eyebrow, it aged well for a book very nearly as old as The Lord of the Rings(!).
  • Frederick the Great by Nancy Mitford: I consider it to be more or less a companion book to Voltaire in Love, they have to be read together. This is more of a classic biography, covering a whole life, slightly more serious, but still plenty entertaining. I am moving to more serious books, but Mitford makes an excellent intro.

I have periods where I feel sufficiently better to write the occasional post and read a little more. But posting will continue to be sporadic, depending on how I feel and what I manage to read.

A post about general 2020 reading statistics to follow shortly.

Books read in 2020: 44 (+ 9? rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 16/25 (60%)

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:

2020-july-august-orders

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%)

June 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

2020 june.jpg
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%)

May 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

2020 mayMay has been another mediocre reading month. I’m never going to say I’ve broken out of a slump again, because sure enough, here it goes again. Hopefully June will be better!

Read:

  • The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison (ARC): Not a fan. Basically Sherlock Holmes with magic. Not nearly as groundbreaking as it promised and a slog besides. Also, if you expect it to be queer? Yeah, you’ll be disappointed too.
  • The Bone Ships by R.J. Barker: Read shockingly fast, even though I wasn’t in the mood for it. Highly recommended if you’re looking for naval fantasy and characters slowly becoming competent.
  • The Breath of the Sun by Isaac R. Fellman: This instantly shot up to my all-time favourite books, right on the level of The Gray House and The Winged Histories. A very unique, very queer, quiet fantasy book about mountain climbing, faith, and complex relationships. I hope I can have a review ready soon!
  • Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murder by Aliette de Bodard (ARC): I admit I haven’t read the Dominion of the Fallen series yet, but this novella was a delight. Thuan and Asmodeus have a fantastic dynamic.
  • The Sunken Mall by K.D. Edwards: A must read for anyone who enjoyed The Last Sun. Had pretty much everything I loved about the main series, from snark to heartwarming moments. And it’s free!
  • Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse (DNF 52%): Really wanted to like it and there’s nothing really wrong with it, but in the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Not about the plot, not about the characters.

Currently reading:

  • Knox by K. Arsenault Rivera, Brooke Bolander, Gabino Iglesias, and Sunny Moraine (ARC): Accepted the request because I have never read a noir before and this one seemed like it’d lack the casual sexism. So far, it’s pretty good!
  • Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather: The only novella in this month’s Tor free bundle I haven’t read yet. Nuns and biological spaceships!

Books read this year: 24 (+ 1 rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 8/25 (32%)

April 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

2020 april.png

After the reading drought that lasted from mid-November to the end of March, April was a breath of fresh air. I’m nowhere near my old three-reviews-a-week form yet, but I can at least safely say I’m out of the slump.

The start of April also means the end of the 2019 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge (wrap-up here) and the start of the 2020 one (first impressions here). And I have to say I adore the new card and I’m delighted to participate again.

I also reviewed The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg, which I technically finished last month. Highly recommended.

Read:

  • Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover (mini review): I don’t usually go for books with a lot of action (and this one had ridiculous amounts) but 1) Star Wars and 2) the prose was surprisingly amazing. Can’t wait to get to his Revenge of the Sith novelization.
  • Mirror: The Mountain by Emma Ríos and Hwei Lim (mini review): Nice art, subpar story. I had no idea what’s going on and not in a good way.
  • Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian (mini review): One of my new favourite historical (post-WWII) romance books. Spy and veteran doctor solve a murder together and fall in love. It’s so sweet and gentle and I appreciated the low heat level.
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (ARC): Beautiful. A story of prejudice and how even the most timid bureaucrat can find courage and change things. Plus adorable magical children. Plus gay. It was fluffy and delightful and I adored it.
  • On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (mini review): Read it in webcomic form. Adorable, queer sci-fi with pretty art. Wasn’t too into it at the start, but it grew on me a lot.
  • Mindtouch by M.C.A. Hogarth: Fluffy, chill, slice of life story about a space elf and a space furry studying to become therapists and their friendship. Some problematic worldbuilding which makes it hard to recommend, but I devoured it.
  • The Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming: Book One: Theory by Sienna Tristen: Still struggling to review it. Essentially a story of how Ronoah, who suffers from severe anxiety, is dragged along on a journey by a mysterious and enigmatic trickster, the weird things they see, the people they meet, and character growth. Kind of like Tess of the Road. It felt intensely personal and I’ve never seen a book portray the destructive nature of anxiety so well.
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (reread): Reread for a bookclub. Good to know the ending still gives me feels.

Short stories:

Decided to get rid of the short story Bingo square asap this year. So here’s some micro reviews. Links lead to the stories themselves – they are all freely available online.

Currently reading:

I might have gone a liiiittle crazy this month.

  • Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse: Didn’t really have a choice since a long-awaited hold came in. Not very far in, not sure if I like a tie-in that expands on a movie, but it reads fast and it’s written fairly well. Let’s see where it ends up.
  • The Breath of the Sun by Isaac R. Fellman: Mountain climbing, religion, and complicated relationships. Beautiful. And yes, it’s fantasy!
  • The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison (ARC): Basically Sherlock fanfic? Where Sherlock is an angel and John is a [redacted for spoilers]. Very fun, though how it’s Sherlock Holmes except not is seriously fucking with my head.
  • The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite: Still on pause.
  • Daughter from the Dark by Sergey & Marina Dyachenko: Also still on pause.

Books read this year: 19 (+ 1 rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 5/25 (20%)

2019 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge: Conclusion and Thoughts

So. The end of March also means the conclusion of my favourite reading challenge, my sixth in a row. Unlike in 2018, I decided to try for only one card. The reason for that was twofold: first, doing a double two years in a row burned me out. I wanted to have the freedom to read random shit again, and not worry about how every book I read could fit on the damn cards. But also, the new card was difficult. Cyberpunk? LitRPG? Tie-In? Afrofuturism? Local author?! I doubted whether I could cobble together one card, much less two.

In the end, I finished on March 12th, with more than enough time to spare 😄

Continue reading “2019 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge: Conclusion and Thoughts”