Review: Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

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I knew I have to read this immediately as soon as I saw the blurb. Historical fantasy set in 1779 Habsburg empire, featuring alchemy, a castrato, a widow, and a Prussian spy? At a time where I’m explicitly interested in the 18th century? (My current focuses might be France and Prussia, but I’ll take what I can get.) Yes. Yes please.

And this time, I was not disappointed. It was so much my catnip.

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Review: Heart of Stone by Johannes T. Evans

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That, I believe, is the heart of man. Not declarations, not speeches, no, but the softest word spoken in the softest whisper, to one’s companion after a night of revelry has dwindled down to the tender dawn that follows it.

This book should have been everything I ever wanted. 18th century gentle, slow burn gay romance involving a vampire and his secretary, with autism and ADHD rep, it seemed as if it could hardly be more up my alley if it tried. And it’s always a bitter disappointment when a book that seems perfect for you…isn’t.

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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!

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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%)

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.)

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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.

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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.

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April 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

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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%)

Mini Reviews: Shatterpoint, Proper English, Hither Page, Mirror: The Mountain, On a Sunbeam

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Time for another backlog cleaning!

While my goal is to review everything I read, I don’t always quite succeed. I finished Shatterpoint in early April, and thought it deserved to be talked about, but a full review just wouldn’t come. I also don’t write full reviews of graphic novels or non-SFF, but I encountered two historical romance books so good I thouth they were at least worth a mention, SFF-themed blor or no.

So there it is, an odd mix of a Star Wars tie-in, two romance books, and two graphic novels.

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