Quick Take

Real quick, scrolling down my Kindle Cloud:

 

The Girl Who Played Go (4/5)

warning for sexual violence/threats of rape, murder, wartime atrocities

One of my favourite wartime novels, a must read for me, if only out of nostalgia. I had some minor issues with this novel, particularly about the ending, for one, which struck me as overly grimdark; sexual violence was indeed a large component of the Japanese invasion of China, and that shouldn’t be ignored, but I’m honestly not sure what purpose the ending was supposed to have. In particular this idea that death is preferable to rape, which is a common trope in this genre of literature, makes me worried about what this may say to survivors of rape. Overall, the lyrical writing, the plot structure (set up like a game of go, each piece moving slowly towards one another until they are ultimately so entangled it is impossible to separate them), and the dreamlike anonymity of the characters saves this from being just another exploitative war novel about the Second Sino-Japanese War.

There are also some concerns I hold about consent, and the power dynamics at play in the idea of falling in love with one’s coloniser (particularly one that is currently engaged in a violent invasion of your home), but the relationship between the main characters never progresses far enough for that to be an issue that is really deeply investigated.

Spiritwalker Trilogy (5/5)

At some point, this one is up for a reread. Kate Elliot’s wonderful worldbuilding, her accessible writing, and her complex characters (& the complex relationships they are allowed to have) make this far more than another high-concept alt-universe fantasy novel set in historically-inaccurate whitebread Europe. The novel is convincingly diverse and the (quite frankly) wonderful romance and the sense of the scope of swashbuckling adventure made this a truly unforgettable read.

Though the pace was much slower than what I’m used to (I read mostly YA), it never lost my interest, and Elliot does a beautiful job making the extraordinary seem ordinary, which may not seem like so desirable a quality at first, but the world feels more inhabited because of it.

Girl Overboard (2/5)

I mean, it says something both about me and the book that when I was scrolling through my Kindle Cloud I sort of groaned, because I always mean to review this novel but never get around to it a) because I’ve forgotten most of the finer details of the plot b) because my overall impression of the book isn’t that great and c) the combination of those two and the lackluster writing really makes me reluctant to write anything in-depth about it. So, like, draw your own conclusions about if I recommend this novel?

Okay, no, that’s unfair. The book was passable. It was mediocre. It’s a fun read on a snowy day; it doesn’t do anything particularly new, the characters aren’t likeable or unlikeable, and it hits the expected beats, but if you’re looking for something to get over a book slump or just for the sake of having something fun to read, this is the book. One of the things that I liked most about this novel was the presence of an interracial couple where neither of them were white (RIP Scott x Kira), but aside from that, it wasn’t anything super fresh that I think every single person on the planet should read (for that, I recommend: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho).

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Let it Shine

b01d04cpq4-01-lzzzzzzzTitle: Let it Shine
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★☆ || 4.0 stars

warnings for: racialised violence/state violence, racial & ethnic slurs

I admit, I’m not a romance reader. I like romance in my books, but romance books themselves don’t tend to be my cup of tea. So when I came across this book on my Goodreads recommendations list, I made a face like I just bit into a kumquat and discovered it was a lemon, primarily because a) it was pitched as an interracial romance set during the Civil Rights Movement, which has the potential to be either really good or so, so awful and b) I didn’t know who Alyssa Cole was.

Well, now I know who Alyssa Cole is, and I can confirm that this was an absolutely well-done novel. It’s not free of flaws (will get to those later), but from the beginning it set my fears about what this book could have become to ease. There’s no shortage of really difficult content––slurs, racialised state violence, sexism and scrutiny of female behaviour, antiblackness, anti-Semitism––but none of it felt excessive or like it was there for shock value.

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Tithe

tumblr_inline_mv54cvqtu91r4y49lTitle: Tithe
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: ☆ || 4.0 stars

Tithe was and remains one of my favourite books from my childhood, and I still look back on it fondly, though I can’t tell if it’s because of nostalgia, or because Kaye was one of the only explicitly Asian characters in my life back then, or because Rath Roiben Rye was so hunky or what. And I must have been about 10 when I first picked the book up from the library (cos look at that cover, who wouldn’t) and I was going into my rebellious pimply teenager phase, the kind who thought that wearing Converse with a ball gown was So Edgy and thought barbed wire was an aesthetic and thought Jersey was the best place on earth (full disclosure: still a proud Jersey girl). Which is probably why Tithe, which was the very definition of early pre-teen punk indie emo set in New Jersey, still resonates with me today. And why I still go back and reread it. (Also, come on. We’re pretty much culturally conditioned to enjoy romances between spunky, intrepid tough girls and cold, emotionally constipated men who want to love them but can’t because they’re cursed. I can’t help it if Tam Lin’s my favourite story archetype. #excuses)

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The Raven and the Reindeer

ravencoverfinalTitle: The Raven and the Reindeer
Author: T. Kingfisher
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, Fairytale
Rating: ★★ || 5.0 stars

In the wake of a truly awful year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of queer fiction I want to see. I’ve actually been avoiding a lot of them, in part because some of them are written by straight people and I have No Interest, in part because some of it’s Issue Fiction and I have No Interest, and in part because, while so much fiction is escapist, I can never feel particularly safe, as a bi girl, even in fiction. We’re killed off for shock value, for “realism,” for shits and gigs. We’re killed off in real life and then we’re killed off in fiction and it seems like nothing, nothing, is telling us anything but that they don’t think we deserve to live and be happy. People dance around bisexuality like it’s a bad word and sometimes it seems easier to just disappear. To not exist, because no one wants you to exist anyway.

What does this have to do with T. Kingfisher’s new novel? Nothing, maybe. Everything, maybe. It’s a retelling of The Snow Queen with a bi protagonist and it’s everything that might encourage me to read more queer lit. Spoiler: the bi girl doesn’t die. Nor does her lesbian girlfriend.

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Vessel

vesselcover_hiresTitle: Vessel
Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★★ || 4.5

Liyana is raised knowing that she will die. This is a certainty. She is the vessel of the god of the Goat Tribe, Bayla. She has kept her body pure and perfect, avoiding scrapes and injury, trained for years to learn the dance to summon her deity. On the day Liyana is to let go of her soul and go to the Dreaming, so to better make way for her goddess, she is prepared to say goodbye. Yet she doesn’t die. Bayla never comes, and as a result Liyana is cast out to die by her tribe so that they may have the opportunity to try again with another vessel.

But then a figure steps out of a sandstorm: Korbyn, the trickster god, who is one of the few to have found his vessel. He tells Liyana that she has not failed in summoning Bayla, that Bayla and several of the other gods have gone missing, and asks her to accompany him on his quest to reach the other vessels before it’s too late, so that they might find their gods together.

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The Fire’s Stone

338131Title: The Fire’s Stone
Author: Tanya Huff
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rating: ★★★☆☆ || 3.0

I’ve probably mentioned this here before, but I love a good cliché. Likewise, I love a good quest fantasy story when it has good characters and good writing. It doesn’t matter how many times I read about a small group of people travelling to destroy/rescue/find a [thing]; if it is well written, I’m probably going to love it.

And that’s why I was so excited to read The Fire’s Stone. Here we have a quest fantasy story, but!, with an aroace female main character and two other male characters who eventually fall in love (both are bisexual/pansexual – also, most people of Ischia are of color). As an aroace person who is also transmasculine, this book seemed to have Written To Make Ren Happy all over it. I was 100% sure I would love it… except I didn’t. Not even a little bit. There are, of course, many reasons for that.

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