May 2018 Wrap-Up

Didn’t I just do one of these posts last week? I swear, time is going by faster and faster. Early to mid-May was a whirlwind of mental health issues and emergency hospital visits, so I’m kind of surprised that I still managed to squeeze in 11 books. So let’s dive right in:

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Shirewode (The Wode 2) by J Tullos Hennig: (9.0/10)
If you saw the new Robin Hood movie poster and thought, “So it’s exactly same as the dozens of other Robin Hood adaptations except Robin gets to wear a machine-stitched hood?” then boy, do I have a series for you. With The Wode books, Hennig weaves Welsh mythology into the classic tale and reimagines Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne as lovers and Maid Marian as Robin’s sister–and all three entwined by magic and fate. The worldbuilding is intricate, the language is gorgeous (though some of the Welsh slangs flew over my head), and the characters are achingly flawed. It’s the best Robin Hood retelling I’ve encountered and I’m definitely going to need to do a full review on it sometime in the near future.

The first two books also feature a “friends to lovers to enemies to lovers” arc and I can’t believe this isn’t a more common trope, because holy hell, it is a beauty of an emotional rollercoaster.

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle 2) by Maggie Stiefvater: (8.5/10)
This was a great sequel to a book that I thought was interesting but still lacking something. Ronan is fascinating and I adore stories that explore dreams, so this one was just made for me. Review here.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: (8.5/10)
Worth all the hype. Explores the atrocities of war and the dangers of vengeance without blinking an eye. I had some issues with the pacing and prose, but those are very much just new-author problems. Review here.

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Armistice (Amberlough Dossier 2) by Lara Elena Donnelly: (8.0/10)
A slower-paced sequel to Amberlough that was, at times, a little too slow, but the excellent character work makes it worthwhile in the end. Review here.

The Enchanted Chest by Jean-François Chabas: (6.0/10)
A weird little graphic novel that doesn’t seem to know who its intended audience is. The subject matter is a bit to mature for children, but the story is too hand-holdy for adults.

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum: (9.0/10)
A beautiful genre bender that explores mental health and codependency in microfiction-multimedia format. Review here.

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A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White:
A fun space opera featuring a bisexual car racer (who’s also a WoC) and a mouthy veteran-turned-treasure-hunter. It’s not without problems, but I had a great time with it overall. Review to come!

The Prince of Mirrors by Alan Robert Clark: (4.0/10)
This was supposed to be a character-driven historical fiction set in Victorian England, but I found said characters uninteresting and their relationships flat. I did appreciate the exploration of mental health and LGBTQIPA+ issues through a 19th century lens.  

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno: (5.0/10)
I’d expected a lot of great things from this book but was left severely disappointed. At least the cover’s pretty. Review here.

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The Rig by Roger Levy:
This is a very ambitious story that’s reminiscent of Black Mirror, with the cynicism dialed down a couple of notches. It juggles many complex subjects, and while I can’t say that it’s a complete success, I have to give props to the author for trying. Review to come.

The Curse of the Wendigo (The Monstrumologist 2) by Rick Yancey:
A reread–or a re-listen, rather–of one of my favourite series of all time. Though I’ve read and listened to the first and third book many, many times, it’s been years since I’d picked up the second one, so I decided to listen to the audiobook. Not as good as the third, but still very, very good, and the narrator does a pitch-perfect job.

 

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DISCUSSIONS

Then and Now: “Strong Female Characters”

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY

T5W: Favourite Non-Written Novels
T5W: Favourite SFF Covers
T5W: Intimidating Books on My TBR

DIVERSITY SPOTLIGHT THURSDAY

DST: Historical Fantasy
DST: Portal Fantasy

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And that’s it! Tell me how your month went and if you’ve read any books that you think should go immediately into my TBR!

 

Review: The Poppy War – Beautiful and Terrible in Equal Measure

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Title: The Poppy War
Author: R.F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: May 1st, 2018
Genre(s): Historical, Fantasy
Page Count: 544 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.5/10

 

 

 

Was she now a goddess or a monster?
Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.

Before we get into the review, I would like to put out a Massive Trigger Warning: Much of this story is directly pulled from Chinese culture and history–specifically, the brutality and the mindset of the Sino-Japanese war. Chapter 21 (Part 3) features stark accounts of mass mutilation (of men, women, children, and infants), rape (one of the hardest I’ve ever had to read through), forced prostitution, and animal violence. If you’re sensitive to such subjects, for the sake of your mental health, please, please skip or skim this chapter. Beyond that, there’s genocide, human experimentation, drug use and addiction, and other senseless violence associated with war.

Also, a note to the misguided reviewers calling this book anti-Japanese propaganda: I’ve seen and experienced anti-Japanese propaganda when I was living in Korea, and this is far from it. So kindly go sell that elsewhere.
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The Poppy War is obviously a very different story for Chinese readers (my reading buddy can attest to that). Though I’m acquainted with some of the culture through osmosis from my friends, and due to my own culture’s closeness with China, most of the references slipped by me. That isn’t to say you can’t understand or enjoy the book if you’re not of Chinese heritage; it just means that there are a few deeper layers to the story that you probably won’t be able to access.

The comparisons made to Name of the Wind are fully justified in the first half of the book. Throughout her years at Sinegard Academy Rin meets new friends, makes an enemy with powerful social connections, butts heads with a teacher who hates her, and steals books from the restricted section of the library (which always seems to a staple for fantasy school fiction). Plus, she’s taken under the wing of a teacher who reminds me a lot of Elodin from The Kingkiller Chronicle–mercurial, eccentric, and prone to assign unorthodox tasks as lessons (at least he never tells her to jump off a roof). It’s fun, lighthearted stuff, but there’s always an undercurrent of violence and unease running through it, which eventually erupts in the second half.

Rin is a fantastic protagonist–even at her worst, you can’t not fall in love with her. She’s the ultimate underdog and she scrabbles hard–so fucking hard–to get what she wants. Her determination to succeed at the academy leads to hilarious, intense, and disturbing sequences of events. Moreover, she actually sounds and acts like a teenager, which you don’t often find in adult fantasy–she sasses, she’s brash, and she makes a ton of mistakes. Her struggles will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever had to work twice as hard, twice as much, to obtain the same things that some people are just granted from birth.

The side characters are also interesting and varied in personality–Altan especially. The development of his relationship with Rin is probably my favourite part of the book. It starts off as an adoration, at least on Rin’s part, and companionship. Then it becomes this toxic echo chamber of anger and hatred and vengeance. It’s fascinating, terrible, and heartbreaking stuff, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

What I also love about this book is that it presents two enemies. One is obvious from the start: Mugen Federation, the small island nation to the east of Nikara. They’ve been imbibed with the drug that is nationalism and the belief that it’s their destiny to expand their borders and subsume Nikara.

I know many people didn’t like the second half part of the book, and for obvious reasons–it’s gruesome stuff. And I didn’t think I’d particularly like it either, but while I got little enjoyment out of it, I did find it to be the best part of the book. Because this is where our characters face hard truths and harder choices. This is the where Rebecca Kuang stares you in the eye and tells you that this story isn’t military fantasy–it’s real-life culture and history and the brutality of warfare infused with magic. It’s also where the second enemy rears its head: hatred and vengeance. I don’t want to go into detail because it’s something you need to experience for yourself, but the way Kuang slowly reveals how Mugen isn’t the enemy you should most be afraid of is rather quite masterful.

There are a few issues with the book that nagged at me. Uneven pacing is evident at the latter end of Part 1 and start of Part 2. As with many school-based stories, the lesson scenes tend to drag on, and there’s a lull in the transition from Rin-the-schoolgirl to Rin-the-soldier. My biggest pet peeve is Kuang’s tendency to hold the readers’ hand. She would describe a particular scene or a situation and then have Rin explain what it means. You can clearly tell from the dead bodies littering the ground that war is hell, so it’s unnecessary for Rin to literally spell it out in the next paragraph.

Despite its flaws, however, this is a fantastic debut. The Poppy War not only paints a stark portrait of imperialism, war, and destiny versus choice, it asks the question of what you do in the face of senseless evil. Do you meet atrocities with atrocities? And at what cost? What happens when one day you look in the mirror and see that you’ve become the very thing you’re fighting against?

Kuang leaves you with no easy answers and I don’t expect any in the near future.

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Thank you to Edelweiss and Harper Voyager for providing a review copy.

And thank you to Alice for the buddy read! Go check out her review here.

Most Anticipated Scifi & Fantasy: May – July 2018

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I’m back! The good news is that the anxiety has subsided with the help of good books, sun, and my decision to start drawing art again. The not-so-good news is that the anxiety has morphed into abdominal issues, a light fever, and the possibility of an ulcer or appendicitis. Which is…fun. So I need to be monitoring that for the next few days. Meanwhile, I’ve really missed writing blog posts! So here’s one that I probably should have posted a week ago.

For those who haven’t seen my first Most Anticipated posts, I decided to split my lists into genre and months because if I were to fit them all into one giant post you’d be scrolling down this blog for days. This one covers Scifi and Fantasy releases from May to July.

MAY

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The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (May 1st)
I’m reading through this right now and it’s very good. The hype is well-deserved.

The Rig by Roger Levy (May 8th)
I already sampled the first couple of chapters and it’s as wonderfully strange as I’d hoped it would be. I can see why Ladie Tidhar was asked to blurb it–it’s very reminiscent of Central Station.

Armistice (Amberlough Dossier 2) by Lara Elena Donnelly
(May 15th)

The sequel to Donnelly’s dazzling art deco debut, Amberlough, which featured strippers, smugglers, spies, fascism, and a whole lot of heat. Here’s to hoping Armistice isn’t quite as heart-shattering as the first. I’m not opposed to some shattering, but the glue that’s holding together the pieces of my heart from the last shatter still hasn’t fully dried yet. So be gentle, Lara. Please.

JUNE

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 The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence 1) by K.D. Edwards (May 8th)
I already read and adored this, so here the “most anticipated” equates more to “I can’t wait to get my hands on multiple physical copies so I can annotate the hell out of them. And snuggle them. And have candlelight dinners with them.”

Ravencry (Raven’s Mark 2) by Ed McDonald (June 14th – UK; August 21st – NA)
I loved the Noir-feel of Ed McDonald’s grimdark debut, Blackwing, and the world he created manages to be bleak and wondrous at the same time. Suffice to say, I’m very much looking forward to seeing where the story goes from there.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk (June 19th)
A historical fantasy set in Edwardian England with exploration of queer relationships against a World War I backdrop. I mean…what more incentives do you need?

 

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The Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (June 26th)
A Native American urban fantasy. Enough said.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White (June 26th)
A Borderlands-esque world and a plot that features treasure hunting and two women on the run from space cops? And an f/f romance to boot? Hell yes.

JULY (AKA Hello-Bankruptcy Month)

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Empire of Silence (The Sun Eater 1) by Christopher Ruocchio (July 3rd)

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (July 10th)

Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson & Kevin Hearne (July 17th)

 

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One of Us by Craig DiLouie (July 17th)
Claire North calls this book “The Girl with All the Gifts meets To Kill a Mockingbird.” Well, sign me up.

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins (July 17th)

This is a graphic novel based on the McElroy brothers’ The Adventure Zone podcast and I am super stoked to see these beloved characters and their shenanigans in illustrated form. For those who are unaware of the podcast, I highly, HIGHLY recommend you go check it out. Even if you don’t know who the McElroys are. Even if you don’t know a single thing about D&D or RPGs. These guys have created an unforgettable journey chock full of silliness and poignancy, and their characters will stay with you for a long, long time.

Annex (The Violet Wars 1) by Rich Larson (July 24th)

 

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Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras with Mary Kirby (July 31st)

Does this count? This is a book that exists in the world of the Dragon Age games, written by one of its characters Varric Tethras and thus written by Mary Kirby, who is Varric’s writer. Very meta. Despite what the title might suggest (Varric has a tendency to assign risqué titles to his crime/adventure books and serious titles to his romance books), this is a crime story featuring the city guardsmen of Kirkwall. Dragon Age is my favourite game series of all time and I’m super excited to add this to my collection of DA swag.

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May To-Read Pile & Mini Break (Health Update)

Boy, this week has not been a fun one. At all. To be vague, something has happened (or, rather, not happened), and while it very much could mean nothing, my brain has been working in overdrive to churn out the worst possible scenarios. And the looming possibility that I unwittingly did something terribly wrong has been knifing away at my heart and siphoning off energy like nothing else. So I’ve been oscillating between getting too little sleep and too much sleep–and feeling exhausted regardless of which–with panic attacks in between. And it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t have the willpower or focus to write anything substantial for the blog (which is why I ended up skipping Top 5 Wednesday and Diversity Spotlight Thursday).

Anxiety is a fucking bitch, guys.

So I’m going to step away for a week so to try to figure things out. A part of me thinks that taking any kind of break or hiatus is going to make my content obsolete and my audience vanish–which I know is a common fear for most content creators–but, really, I don’t see much choice. I do apologize for the comments that I haven’t gotten to yet and for not being very active on some of your blogs this week.

On a cheerier note, I did get a May TBR list ready before this week, so we can still go through those today! I also have a half-completed Most-Anticipated list in the draft, so I might just end up posting that sometime early next week.

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The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang:
I’ll be starting a buddy read of this tomorrow with Alice from Arisutocrat and I’m pretty excited. The story apparently descends into brutal, bloody stuff in the second half, so I’m not sure if it’s a right thing to dive into in my current state, but we’ll see. I’ll kick myself later if I have too.

Armistice (The Amberlough Dossier 2) by Lara Elena Donnelly:
Last year, Donnelly’s debut Amberlough took my heart in its beautiful art deco hands and crushed it to smithereens. The first book was unapologetically, gloriously queer and explored the creeping emergence of fascism–making it very, very topical–and I expect the good things to continue in the sequel.

 

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Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Native American urban fantasy is not something you see everyday and I’ve been looking forward to digging my fingers into this debut for a while now.

The Rig by Roger Levy
When I first read the blurb for this book months ago, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I mean, just listen to this:

On a desert planet, two boys meet, sparking a friendship that will change human society forever.
On the windswept world of Bleak, a string of murders lead a writer to a story with unbelievable ramifications.
One man survives the vicious attacks, but is left with a morbid fascination with death; the perfect candidate for the perilous job of working on a rig.

Welcome to the System. Here the concept of a god has been abandoned, and a new faith pervades: AfterLife, a social media platform that allows subscribers a chance at resurrection, based on the votes of other users.

So many Lives, forever interlinked, and one structure at the centre of it all: the rig.

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A Lite Too Bright by Samuel Miller
I didn’t know this book even existed until several days ago when I saw it among the deals of the week on Chapters Indigo, but I couldn’t not preorder it. It’s a road-trip story in which a teenage boy embarks on a quest to uncover truths about his grandfather who had been a very famous writer. In other words, it’s right up my alley. I fell in love with the premise and the cover and hopefully the content will be as equally wonderful.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
This books has a similar premise to The Hate U Give and from what I’ve heard, it’s just as much of a gutpuncher. Give me all the books, contemporary or otherwise, that tackle matters of societal injustice and brim with righteous anger.

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I’ll definitely be checking out other books this month, but these are the definite ones.

I hope the rest of your week is much, much better than mine. See you all on the flip side.

 

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: High Fantasy

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme I first found on Aurora Libralis. It’s hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks and the idea is that each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

It’s just such a great way to introduce new diverse books to other readers and to keep challenging yourself to read broadly. I’ll start with general topics and maybe choose more specific ones once I get settled in.

 

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The Thousand Names (The Shadow Campaigns 1) by Django Wexler

Django Wexler’s flintlock series should honestly be the benchmark for modern adult epic fantasy in terms of LGBTQ representation. In the first book, we start out with a single lesbian protagonist. As the series progress, this number grows and grows, and by the fifth and final book, we have not one, not two, not three, but nine major side characters (plus one lesbian protagonist) who are queer. Not only that, it’s chock full of thrilling action, political intrigue, and just plain fun.

A-book-on-my-tbrThe Cloud Roads (Books of the Raksura 1) by Martha Wells

This series has been on my TBR forever and I’m determined to get through the first three books this year, at the very least. The books are set in a fantastical, alien society where matriarchy is the rule and bisexuality and polyamory are the norm. It also features one of my favourite tropes: found family. I loved all of Martha Well’s other books so I’m sure this one will be no exception.

a-book-releasing-soonThe Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
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I’ve been hearing very interesting things about this book. A story inspired by Chinese history, it features asian characters and a plot that apparently moves from The Name of the Wind to the abject brutality of Schindler’s List. I can’t wait to check it out.

Releases May 1st, 2018