So as I explained in my post on the Hugo nominated novellas, I’ve signed up for the Worldcon supporter membership, which gives you access to the “voter packet”, in which most authors and publishers kindly provide their nominated works for you to review! Not free, but a very cheap price for the year’s favourites.
So I’ve decided to do my best to read as much of it as possible to vote fairly (since you do, also, get to vote) and put the reviews out there. It feels like that’s the least I can do for authors who provide their stuff for free (membership money goes towards organizing Worldcon and the Hugos, not to the authors).
I’m currently reading my way through the Novel and Astounding nominations (and doubting I’ll make it through them all before the 19th) but I thought I’d take a short break and go through the short stories! These are all free to read somewhere online, I’ll put the link down there as well.
So…. I read a lot in October, and even tweeted quite a bit about it, but I didn’t blog much. One reason is that writing a blog post requires some energy, and having some time to just sit down and write without much interruption, so your thoughts make some sense. But October has been a high-chronic issues, low- energy month, so while reading was fine, writing about it in more than 280 character bursts was harder. This is also why this recap is less detailed than some.
Still, in the middle of all that, I’m pretty happy with myself for what I achieved. I set out my objectives in this post, if you want to have a look back.
I read 12 books and DNF’d another 3 (2 of them classics, and 1 that I’d owned as an ebook forever but found pretty ableist and shitty upon trying the audiobook). I did read/DNF the whole pile of books I’d planned to read in my original OcTBRGoals, too!
Among the books I read, 3 were audios (1 I had in paper but the audio was just easier for me at the time), 2 ebooks (ARCs) and the rest were paper books, which allowed me to unload some of my books. I did not hate any of them, but I didn’t love many either, so a full bag went to a local charity.
Highlights of the month:
Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno Garcia: a Mexico-based, 1920 new-adult novel which I really enjoyed despite my very limited knowledge of the country and that era.
A Dowry of Blood, by S.T. Gibson (full review): a auite emotional, polyamorous and queer story about Dracula’s brides (spouses?), abusive relationships, and emancipation.
Armed in her Fashion, by Kate Heartfield (full review to come): Bosch meets Chaucer meets feminism in a quest to get these two women’s inheritance back from the chatelaine of hell. It was fun!
Paladin’s Grace, by T. Kingfisher. I’m becoming such a fan of Ursula Vernon (and if you don’t follow her on twitter yet, you should, she’s a riot!). It’s fantasy romance with a great heart and a sense of humour.
In the same vein, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, also by T. Kingfisher: YA/MG novel about a young wizard who controls… bread. All kinds of breads, but only breads! and who has to try and save her city from medieval-type fascists.
No Man of Woman Born, by Ana Mardoll. Fairy tale collection about trans and nonbinary heroes and gendered prophecies. Probably my favourite short story collection that I read this year.
For November, I don’t have any big plans. I’ve upped my storygraph goals and it’s annoying me that I’m no longer 10+ books ahead, so I’m trying to get some advance again there.
Other than that, I’ve a library book to hand back in like, last week (bless the lack of fines in Irish libraries!), a few recent ARCs, and I do want to read some of the Hugo nominated novels and Lodestar YA ones before voting closes on November 19th. You can see my opinions on the nominated novellas here. I’m not sure I’ll get through them all but I will do my best!
I hope you all had lots of candy for Halloween (I sure did!) and have a great November!
This book was part of my OcTBRChallenge reading list, for one very shameful reason: I got the ARC for it like 2 years ago, before I even HAD a blog, when I was still using tumblr and basically only had the vaguest idea of how NetGalley worked. I downloaded it and then… completely forgot about it! … and then since I’ve been using Netgalley again, the more time passed the more ashamed I was and the least I felt like reading it because of that. (You’re supposed to read ARCs in a timely manner and this is the complete opposite of timely). I’m now mad at myself for waiting this long, because it was a super enjoyable read!
Destiny sees what others don’t.
A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny.
From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
I rarely enjoy every story in a collection – I actually tend to find short story collections difficult to rate/review because they’re often unequal. Not so here! Every story is a twist on the gendered prophecy (“no man born of woman can harm Macbeth” type thing) with trans, genderqueer and nonbinary characters who find themselves confronting various evils.
I especially loved the Sleeping Beauty retelling, “Early to Rise”, with a bi-gender (?) character who bargains their way out of their own curse. It was a great twist, and not what I expected even within this specific brand of stories.
King’s Favour, about an evil witch-queen who kills every magic practitioner in her kingdom to avoid being killed by them, was also a highlight for me, in both the concept and the execution of it/the ending.
But really, every one of the short stories was great in its own way, and the last one, Wish-Giver, was so heart-warming, and such a nice way to conclude the collection.
The writing style also had that fairy tale quality to it that worked great with the topic, and I flew through this book in only a few short hours. Definitely recommend, and I’m angry at myself for waiting so long to read it!
I requested this book as an ARC back when this blog was fairly new – and I was fairly new to Netgalley… so I then did not download it in time, it got archived, and I couldn’t access it anymore. But the concept – brides of Dracula, but make it queer(er), kept intriguing me, so I figured what the hell, and bought it for myself a while back – I just had to know!
A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.
Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets.
With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Oh my goodness, why did I wait so long to read this??? (I was embarrassed over the whole ARC thing, that is why). But, nevermind that! this book fucking delivers! I had Expectations, not gonna lie, but they were met and exceeded!
It’s a second person story, basically with Constanta recounting her story to her husband (Dracula). So I wasn’t sure I’d get into it? I’m usually weirded out by 2nd person, but I think the fact that it was very clear who it was addressed to, made it more like reading an epistolary novel, than something addressed to “me”. So it actually worked remarkably well.
It’s very much about love – between the different “brides” but also twisted, controlling love, from and for the vampire himself (he’s never named I think, but there are hints that he is really the same Dracula as Bram Stoker’s). For me this was mainly a beautifully written story about escaping controlling, abusive lovers and getting back control of your life. With added queerness and polyamory (of the non-toxic kind also).
The basic plot is (and you’ll know from the start because the heroine comes out and says it on like page 2) “here’s how much of a fucking abusive asshole you were, and here’s why I killed you” and let me tell ya, I am here for queer revenge plots on abusive men. SO HERE! I’m also here for cheating relationships where the women end up with each other and get their revenge on the man eventually.
You can feel the conflicting feelings of Constanta and her fellow “brides” for the man they love, but who’s also hurting them. I’ve had my fair share of psychological abuse, and I work with victims of coercive control, so it truly hit home for me. And I don’t have the words to express how gorgeously written it is!
After a thread from Seanan McGuire earlier this year, I decided to get myself a supporting membership for Worldcon. It’s in DC this year so it’s safe to say I’m not going, I likely wouldn’t even go if there weren’t a pandemic on – but the supporting membership gives you votes in the Hugos (for a much much lower price than an attendance membership/ticket) and that means the voter packet.
The voter packet is all the works the authors and publishers agree to give you access to, for free, so that you have a chance to read them and vote fairly. This year, since Worldcon is in mid-December, there’s still some time to vote, and I’ve been working my way through the nominated works. This month I’ve focused first on reading all the novellas, since I heard a lot of good things about most of them.
I honestly don’t have a marked preference at this point, so I’m not telling you which I think is best, just sharing some thoughts! They’re in the nomination page order.
Come Tumbling Down, by Seanan McGuire
This one’s a bit different from the other nominations, because it’s #5 in a series. It’s also MG/YA (I’m honestly not fully sure what I’d classify it as) while the others are pretty adult. I’ve enjoyed the series so far, but it’s hard to judge it on its own merits. It comes after book 3 in chronological order, with 4 being a standalone. But this one is very much part of the series and I had to look up the plot of the previous ones to have a refresher… It’s strongly focused on identity, who makes us who we are, can you be a “good” monster, etc. I found it really good but it’s so different from the others that I find it hard to compare.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo
I quite enjoyed this book when I read it back in… March? It’s one of two in this list (with Upright Women Wanted) that I’d read before its nomination, and I even wrote a full review for it back then (alongside the second in the duology). I still think the second book was much stronger, and it was also eligible. But sometimes things happen during nominations, who knows. I’d have preferred to see the second book, but it’s still a very strong contender. It’s very… soft? allegorical? those aren’t quite the right words but it’s full of symbolism and stories within stories.
Finna, by Nino Cipri
Last year around spooky season I read Horrorstor, which is a story set in an alternate-Ikea where eldrich things happen. This is a similar concept, but queerer, more adventure than horror (although with its fair dose of horrifying things too), and with the same level of “corporations and capitalism suck your soul” commentary. I really enjoyed it! Worth also noting one of the main characters is trans/nonbinary, and so is the writer. I still find it rare enough to see nonbinary rep, it’s good to see them represented in the ballot also (Empress of Salt and Fortune also has a nonbinary MC, though idk how Nghi Vo identifies).
Ring Shout, by P. Djéli Clark
I’ve enjoyed everything I read of P. Djéli Clark so far (both Dead Djinn universe novellas, and… I think a short story somewhere?) but I was hesitant to read this one for a while because the KKK isn’t exactly a light subject, and I didn’t know if I was ready to read more about that (a privilege I know!) even in a fantasy universe. This novella, however, is an absolute delight. Black people – especially Black women, queer Black women at that – just taking back the narrative and kicking KKK ass, with magic and eldritch horrors… I did not expect it to be funny, or joyful, but it really is! Again, not a topic I’d have thought I’d enjoy reading about but I was proven wrong!
Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi
Now, that’s a name that’s been all over SFF in the last couple years, I feel like. And I’d been wanting to read this ever since it came out, without quite knowing what it was about. It turns out to be a bit too much real-life for my liking, and I struggled to finish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely fantasy, but it deals mainly with (systemic) racism, police brutality, and the prison industry… which weren’t themes I was really ready to take on at that point in time. You know, I know about it, I’m outraged by it, but I do read for escapism mainly, while this is more a political novella, without the utter joy that there was in Ring Shout. There’s nothing bad about it, it’s actually really good, it just is not for me.
Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey
So this is one of the books I received round Christmas last year, and I absolutely loved it (but also I’m biased towards paper books so it helps). I wrote a full review back in January, but the gist of it is Western, Queer, Librarian women. It’s one of the strongest books on this list, for me. Like Ring Shout, it takes a bleak subject – here a military, totalitarian, anti-queer and anti-women regime over the US (worse than the past 5 years, I mean) and does something joyful with it.
Honestly my vote is split on this one, they’re all very strong, although I do have my favourites – and I think most of them are doing something important one way or another. It’s a good thing the ballot lets you put a #2, #3, etc. but even then it’ll be tough to choose.
I’ve been following Stephanie for ages on twitter and I keep telling myself I need to read her books – especially the regency ones. So when she tweeted about available ARCs for this one, I jumped on the opportunity. I mean, a Regency book, referencing Austen, but with DRAGONS? Sign me the F up!
Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope. And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.
However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind…and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.
A frothy Regency rom-com full of pet dragons and magical misadventures, Scales and Sensibility is a full-length novel and the first in a new series of standalone romantic comedies.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
As usual: I got this advanced copy for free through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.
This was a short and sweet romance novel. Now, I don’t talk about it a lot but I’ve a healthy obsession for Jane Austen’s books. I may or may not own even some obscure adaptations. I’ve watched the 1995 miniseries (you know the one!) way too many times. So you give me a regency romance clearly inspired by the Lady, and I have to get it. And fantasy is also the main genre that I read. Mix the two and I’m one happy reader indeed.
I do have certain expectations when I open a regency novel, but Burgis met and exceeded them all. I like even my historical male love interests to be respectful and not sexist: check. I like my characters witty, and some amount of social commentary: check and check. I like historical accuracy to some extent, and even if dragons make that point kinda moot, I enjoyed the fact that she had small details like, oh, chamberpots hidden behind the scenes for ladies to relieve themselves during parties, to cite only my favourite. It was witty, and fun, and full of horrible people for us and the heroine to make fun of.
The whole concept gave me quite a bit of secondhand embarrassment, to be quite honest. Elinor’s dragon puts her in some embarrassing situations, or she walks right into them. But it was the kind that I was able to laugh at, and not be too embarrassed to continue reading. I also saw the “plot twist” at the end coming, but in a satisfying way. Let us say I was reminded of certain characters in Mansfield Park…
The romance itself was very sweet. It was pretty quick, but I’m a person who crushes easily so I can appreciate that in a good story, and it worked with the fast pace of the novel overall. Besides, I really rooted for the two of them in general, against all the awful people around.
Honourable mention goes to Mrs Hathergill, without spoilers I can honestly say I want to be her when I grow up!
Anyways, I could not stop from about halfway through to the end, and I kicked my feet in excitement at the ending, like a little child with a present, so that should tell you how much I liked it. I want more stories like this, fun and light, but with that backdrop of social commentary that makes regency novels so great. And dragons!
I thought it was out tomorrow/Wednesday until I got an email saying it’s out today? i don’t understand time. Anyways you can order/preorder it below:
I’m writing this early because I don’t expect to be finishing anything else before the end of the month, I’ve started Ancestral Night but I won’t have time to finish. Overall I read what I was hoping to read, and I’m pretty happy overall.
I DNF’d the Expanse (which had been on my “read this month” list for 2+ months) for multiple counts of misogyny and a case of “not interesting enough for me to bear through these boring, offensive points of view”. Other than that I enjoyed all that I read.
I’ve read 10 books in total, bringing my yearly read list to 89.
I’ve apparently read 2719 pages if we trust Storygraph on that count. I think some books did not have a page count there
It’s an average month for me
I read 3 audios, 6 ebooks and 1 paper book (and DNF’d 1 paper book too). That’s the most ebooks I’ve read since, like, last October (for reasons explained below)
I did read all the Hugo-nominated novellas as I’d planned, and I’ll tell you about them in another post, but here are the other books I read. I’ll tell you more about my October plans after!
I can’t remember what made me pick out this specific ARC, I think generally curiosity and the cover being nice. It did take me a while to get to it, for various reason, but once I started I read it in about 2-3 days!
One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.
As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.
At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?
The world will soon find out.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
It’s a weird one because I THOUGHT I knew what to expect from that blurb, but really I didn’t. Our narrator, Cal, is both omniscient AND an actual character in the novel, with his own story and traumatic past. He’s moving back to St Thomas (in the US Virgin Islands) and dealing with the death of his brother. But he also follows Laina, Ridley, Dragon, Rebecca,… throughout their own stories, as an invisible presence. That was one of the parts that I found most intriguing.
Now this is one of those books that I’d heard good things about back at Dublin2019, and never got around to it. I did love another Heartfield short story, in a Shakespeare anthology some years ago, and I also own her novel, Armed in her Fashion (still on my TBR) so I had an idea that I’d enjoy it, but never got around to it. I found the audiobooks on Scribd back in late August, and listened to the two of them in a row.
A disillusioned major, a highwaywoman, and a war raging across time.
It’s 1788 and Alice Payne is the notorious highway robber, the Holy Ghost. Aided by her trusty automaton, Laverna, the Holy Ghost is feared by all who own a heavy purse.
It’s 1889 and Major Prudence Zuniga is once again attempting to change history―to save history―but seventy attempts later she’s still no closer to her goal.
It’s 2016 and . . . well, the less said about 2016 the better!
But in 2020 the Farmers and the Guides are locked in battle; time is their battleground, and the world is their prize. Only something new can change the course of the war. Or someone new.
Little did they know, but they’ve all been waiting until Alice Payne arrives.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
It’s a fun adventure series, maybe a bit short for the scale of what it’s trying to do. I especially felt like it was missing something in-between the two novellas.
The audiobooks were great, I quite enjoyed the narrator, and at the same time I felt like I’d have needed a paper copy to be able to leaf back through it and piece things together more easily. Time travel usually wrecks my brain and it turns out when you can’t double check what just happened to help you keep track, it’s even harder. But the narration was well worth it.
What can I say, I also enjoyed the characters, all three main one – Prudence, Alice, and Jane. The dynamics between Alice and Jane are… strange at times, at the limit of toxic, and I’m not sure if that was intentional or not. I found it a lot more enjoyable in the second book, where they’re more respectful of each other, and both have a lot more agency/ Jane can be a lot more active and so feels less frustrated by it. With the usual disclaimer that as a white woman I’m not the best placed to judge this aspect, I did find that the choice of two Black women as the leads, especially in times like the late 1780s, and in places like England and America, gave more depth to the story and was well handled.
And highway women robbing rapey and abusive men to get back at them? sign me the eff up!
I did have some… plot related issues with the time travel, like I think at times it did not fully respect the own conventions/rules that were set (e.g. characters remembering things they would have normally forgotten, that kind of thing) and I feel that maybe a longer format would’ve been easier to manage. But as much as I like scifi shenanigans, I still read mostly for the characters, and I was not disappointed in that respect.
I know I promised a review of this in my last wrap up, I did mean to post it quickly but time got away from me this week. Anyways… This was one of my favourite reads this year. I rarely do “one more chapter and then…” at 2am like I did when I was 12, because I have a job in the morning and I’m always tired, but this was one of THOSE books that I had to force myself to put down.
This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire — or die trying.
When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.
Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.
When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.
Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
This book was devastating, and I loved it. I had to ask a friend if any of the good ones died, before I could make myself finish it. That’s how terrified I was. (Spoilers: there are no dead gays in this book. go ahead and enjoy it!)
The universe this is set in is absolutely awful, with a tyrant at the head of the galaxy, and everyone being mind controlled or brainwashed into thinking everything is ok. Those characters have… a lot of trauma.
And at the same time, it was a joyous read, a comfort read almost. To see, as they call it, a space Mad Max: Fury Road, where a bunch of women of different backgrounds and with different (all traumatic) pasts (and one man) fight for something better. It gives hope, in a way.
The authors made me care for all the characters so, so much. They’re relatable, they’re deeply wounded, and I wanted to give them all a hug. Every single one of them. It’s very hard to pick a favourite. They’re just all so, so well written, flaws and all. And I do love a book with mainly women.
I found especially on point the way their guilt at their actions still affected them, even though they had no choice (or very little choice) in the matter. There would be a lot more to say about war, and trauma, and tyranny, and I don’t think I’m capable of saying it in a coherent way, but the book certainly makes its point come across clearly. Just… *waves hands* go read it? you won’t regret it.
Hi, I’m Aurélie. I spend most of my time reading books and talking about it on the internet, or procrastinating. When I’m not with my head in a book, I can be found working a sales job to feed my two cats, or studying psychology. I’m based in Ireland, and I love travelling (when it’s safe to do so). I also offer proofreading services, check my Services page to learn more!