ReadYourTomesAThon

Books can be intimidating, even for the most avid reader—especially when they’re big books. As much as I love the satisfaction that comes with crushing a thick book, actually deciding to pick one up and dive into it in the first place takes a little more effort than I’d like to admit. Sometimes I just don’t have the attention span or the time to dedicate to a larger book; sometimes I’m just outright lazy.

ReadYourTomesAThon has entered the chat.

Created by Ness over at The Wolf and Books, the ReadYourTomesAThon is a year-long readathon meant to tackle your tomes—at your pace. The goal is to read books at five hundred pages or more, year-round. How many or how few, is up to you: as long as you read them, and especially if they’re books you’ve been putting off because of their sheer page count or because they’re backlist TBR books. Though, for those of us that like a little extra challenge, she’s also created a really fun leveling system that gives you a different librarian level for every additional volume of books you read. Kind of like leveling up a DND character… but for reading thick books.

The TBR

For this readathon, I’ve gone through my physical books, making those my priority for my selections. If I happen to read books my partner owns that fit into this challenge, or get through a particularly impressive e-book, I’ll add them to the list.

TitleGenrePage Count
Blood & BeautyHistorical Fiction526
The Poppy War Fantasy527
Star Wars: Lost StarsSpace Opera551
Celtic Myths & LegendsMythology612
Black Leopard, Red WolfFantasy620
DesperationHorror690
The Divine ComedyEpic Poetry693
Imaginary FriendHorror705
Wicked & Son of a WitchFantasy735
The Star Wars TrilogySpace Opera765
The Luminaries?830
The Lord of the Rings TrilogyFantasy1008
Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandFantasy1160
The Vampire Chronicles Horror1269

The three from this list that I think I’m the most invested in getting through this year are The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, and The Vampire Chronicles Trilogy by Anne Rice. I think they’re also the heaviest in terms of themes and events of the books that I own, so that should be fun. (That’s not sarcasm; I’m a glutton for literary punishment.)

For the full run-down on joining and participating in the ReadYourTomesAThon, check out Ness’ blog post announcing the readathon, where she outlines the nitty-gritty of the rules so you can get started. After that, happy reading~

'Thank You For Reading!' in a scribbled typeface with a teal pen graphic beneath.

Fine Point Recs | Cathartic Queer Poetry that made me Cry & Cleansed my Soul

Growing up, I didn’t read a lot of poetry. I latched on to Shel Silverstein when I was young enough that my school libraries were still carrying Where the Sidewalk Ends on the shelves rather than wall-to-wall stacks of reference material. That’s about it, if we don’t count my Nan feeding an early interest in Poe and assigned readings in English making me learn about iambic pentameter (I don’t, mainly because I still don’t know what iambic means, nor why it’s in pentameter.)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had fluctuating opinions on poetry, from being vaguely interested but not committed enough to pull my nose out of novels, to outright confused about the boom in ‘Insta poetry’ and similar styles. Then, last year, I got my hands on an ARC for the poetry collection Sparks of Phoenix by Najwa Zebian. To say that it ignited a healthy interest would be an understatement; I fell in love with that collection and Najwa Zebian’s writing. I fell in love with the deep, simmering catharsis that worked its way through me as I read, leaving me with an experience that felt less like opening old wounds and more like peacefully acknowledging their presence.

I’ve made it a point to seek out more poetry since then. There is something elegant in the way a poet paints words on a page that isn’t captured in a novel, and two collections that I’ve read this year brought up those same feelings of catharsis and feeling seen as Sparks of Phoenix did for me last year.

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The Book Community has a Boundary Issue

Boundaries have been an integral part of society, allowing us to navigate the intricacies of our interactions with each other without going too far. When in person, with people we know or even strangers, the rules of boundaries tends to be clear. What is and is not acceptable to say or do is easily understood, or otherwise communicated.

Online, boundaries are harder to define, mainly because the intricacies that bind in-person interactions while similar to those online, are vastly different than how we communicate with each other and convey information to each other over the internet. There is an inherent level of comfort that comes with online interactions; certain boundaries aren’t even there by nature of how we speak with each other online, making connecting with others sometimes easier than in person.

The downside is, it also makes people comfortable engaging in activities or discussions that would otherwise be in poor form in person.

With (objectively good) efforts to read more diversely and support marginalized authors, the book community has created an unintentional but inevitable problem to an otherwise important goal, and that is sacrificing author privacy and autonomy under the guise of wanting to find diverse literature.

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January Re(ad)cap

January was a busy work month as it usually is (which is part of the reason this wrap-up is coming so late, but we don’t need to get into that.) However, I got in a few stellar reads during the month, including:

Some New Faves

Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across: A heart-tugging, emotional rollercoaster of a poetry collection by artist Mary Lambert. The concept of being seen in a piece of fiction was one that was really strong for me in reading this collection.

The Willies: A strikingly honest examination of queerness and whiteness told through the poetry of Adam Falker, which I was lucky enough to snag as an ARC off of NetGalley.

Adam Bomb: A slow-burn of friends to lovers romance by seasoned romance novelist Kilby Blades that had me turning every page as quickly as I could read.

Interested in these titles? Check out my reviews:
Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across | The Willies | Adam Bomb

A New Classic

The Picture of Dorian Gray: While not my favorite classic thus far, I genuinely loved the lush prose of Oscar Wilde and the decadent descent of Dorian Gray that The Picture of Dorian Gray was. Bonus points for classic queer reads.

Intense Starts

Under the Udala Trees: A historical fiction set during and after the Biafran war in Nigeria, Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta has already stabbed me in the heart at least twice, and I’m only on chapter eight as of writing this wrap-up.

The Water Dancer: Another historical fiction with lilts of magical realism, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nahisi Coates was a read from last month’s January selection for the Pages & Prose Book Club. My not finishing it legitimately stings; the first chapter alone is lushly terrifying; Coates’ writing is phenomenal and I’m excited with February being a slow month for me, because it means I’ll have time to really savor it.

'Thank You For Reading' in scribbled typeface with a teal pen graphic beneath it.

A Dash of Salt | The Illuminae Files

A good series is the fine wine of the book world. With each new entry, it ages boldly, elates the spirit, makes you crave more and more until you’re drunk on the quality of what you’ve read.

I would like to say that the Illuminae Files was that—a perfectly aged wine that hit where it needed to and left sweetness behind in its wake. Unfortunately, what I expected to be a bottle opened only once a century turned out to be something that I could get in a box on the bottom shelf of my local gas station any day of the week.

Continue reading “A Dash of Salt | The Illuminae Files”

Cancelathon Announcement

What is Cancelathon? Why should you care? Well, because if you don’t, you’re canceled.

Not really. We don’t do that here.

Last year, the online book community faced many waves of controversies. Whether it was outrage over ARCs, think pieces about how audiobooks aren’t really books, or the ever growing divide between the young adult and adult book communities, it felt like you couldn’t go a week or even a day without something blowing up on Twitter or ending up the subject of a Guardian article.

Many of these controversies held important points of discussion under the surface. What kind of content should we be willing to allow in young adult literature? What are the accessibility issues tied with the disregard for audiobooks? Who are young adult books really for when we have shit like DickSoapGate happening?

While important, I felt like these discussions were more often than not buried under over-simplifications and ignored for the ease of utilizing cancel culture to solve what are arguably nuanced issues within the book community and publishing industry.

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#DiversifyYourClassics

The notion that all classic literature is out-of-touch stories written by old (or dead) straight, white men, is one I’ve heard with increasing frequency. It’s usually in conjunction with the assertion that modern literature is more diverse and inclusive than classic literature, and therefore classics are no longer necessary or valuable to read.

Admittedly, this was something that I used to believe.

I’ve talked before about my feeling on how prevalent this line of thinking is, and how detrimental I feel it is to the sheer number of diverse classics that actually exist. To condense: diverse classics exist. They are still important, and much of the problem in the lack of knowledge on diverse classics rests in how classics are taught and which ones are taught, not because they simply don’t exist.

I think this is important to understand, because when we erase the existence of diverse classics, of the stories written by and about marginalized people and people outside of the Western experience, we are (even if unintentionally) erasing those voices by asserting they were never speaking in the first place. It is as important as uplifting and reading diverse literature today.

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A Quiet Reflection on Girls of Paper and Fire | Belated #Pride Talk

I think one of the pleasures of reading YA as an adult is being able to see your younger self in a book and know that even if you didn’t get to experience that as a teen, there are teens reading those books now that get to have the experience of seeing themselves in mainstream literature.

Instead of disappearing, she makes me feel reappeared. Reimagined. Her touch shapes me, draws out the boldness that had been hiding in my core.

Girls of Paper and Fire was an apt book to read during Pride month. I’ve been out (on the internet, at least) since 2013. I’ve been out officially to my whole family for a year and some well-earned change. I’ve always, to an extent, understood my attraction to girls and boys, and as my understanding of gender and sexuality clicked into place and expanded, I came to realize that my attractions didn’t rely on specifics from either. I knew this, but before I came out I always just assumed my attractions were just the symptom of being a straight girl that was super comfortable with her sexuality. (Despite several same-sex encounters that should have told me otherwise, but I clung very hard to the idea of being ‘normal’ and ‘normal’ meant that I was straight, no matter how many girl friends I’d kissed or whose hands I liked holding.)

As a kid and teen, I didn’t read books with queer girls. This is not to say that no books with queer girls existed in the late 90’s and early 2000’s; I just wasn’t reading them. There’s no blame to place there; the people buying my books probably didn’t consider that I would be interested, and I was definitely not brave enough as a child to ask, let alone consider they were even a thing to begin with.

Reading about Lei and her budding attractions resonated with me in a way that I didn’t expect. I knew going into the book that this featured a sapphic romance, but it didn’t lessen the connection I made between Lei realizing her interest in Wren was more than admiration. I remember being that girl, the one that was enamored with the way other girls looked, the way they spoke, how fucking mesmerizing they were and how close I wanted to be to them. I remember when it settled in my core that I didn’t just admire other girls, that I didn’t just think other girls were merely pretty because hello I have eyes and girls are just pretty, but that I actually wanted to be with other girls in the same way I wanted to be with boys. I realized almost coldly that I was different and definitely not the ‘normal’ I had been told I should be, and that was terrifying.

She looks so astonishing it’s almost unreal, as though she’d slipped out of a painting perfectly formed, a thing of beauty, of art—of bright, vivid life in this cold, still place.

I don’t know if reading queer lit during this time would have made me feel braver, or would have made me come out earlier. I do think it would have made me see, sooner, that the way I felt about girls was normal, as normal as wanting boys, as normal as loving boys. I think it would have made me see it as acceptable. Natural. I can still feel the sick, overtly horrified anxiety when I sat down with my grandmother and told her not only did I like girls, but I was dating two (polyamory for the win.) I still occasionally feel the fear I did when my father outright asked me if I was dating a girl before I’d intended on coming out to him, because no matter how much you know your parents love you, being queer is enough for some for forget that you exist, to deny that they’ve raised you, to refuse to accept that you are the way that you are because it’s abnormal and wrong.

My father and I, and my grandmother and I, still have the strongest relationship I could ask for out of the people that did the most to raise me. A lot of young queer folk don’t have that; I’m still eternally thankful.

I don’t know if books like this would have made any of that easier. What I do know, is that teens in 2019 are reading this book and seeing themselves, and maybe it’s making things easier for them. Maybe it’s showing them that in the face of uncertainty, and before a world of people that tell them they’re wrong, that they see they’re worthy and deserving of acceptance and love, and that’s enough for this tired, quarter-century queer.

Review | Girls of Paper and Fire

It’s the highest honor they could hope for… and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

I’ve added this to my mental list of books that I wish I had had when I was a teenager and the actual demographic for YA novels, because holy shit.

Where to begin? I think I’ll start with the fact that I loved this book as a slow burn (in terms of both plot and in terms of romance, but we’ll get to that,) heavily focused on character as opposed to plot. When it comes to the kind of subject matter that Girls of Paper and Fire tackles–a very dominating patriarchy, class imbalances, sexual exploitation, abuse, and rape–I think that it’s good that, for a decent chunk of the book, this was less focused on an epic, sweeping fantasy plot, and more on Lei, her experiences with her world, and her discovery of there being more going on in the Hidden Palace than just her duty as a Paper Girl. 

Let’s get into it.

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Review | The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze, the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

If there’s ever a book that combines phenomenal world building, poignant character development and characters, and untouchable commentary that spans systems of oppression, racism, power imbalances, and climate decline, it’s The Fifth Season. N.K. Jeminisin is a veritable powerhouse of a writer. Her prose is as tight and beautiful as her story is mesmerizing.

It’s gritty. It’s dark. But in terms of how well a fantasy can take something that is truly as dark as systematic oppression and slavery and adequately handle its complexities and nuances, that grittiness and darkness is every bit earned and used to its fullest potential. Parts of this book made me put it down, because for as unique and utterly alien the world of the Stillness is, it is so harrowingly real that it’s hard not to react viscerally when reading. This wasn’t to The Fifth Season’s detriment; I think the point was to react, and to react deeply.

Let’s get into it.

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Mid-Year Review

Six months have come and gone, meaning we’re halfway through the year and I’m mildly panicking about being behind on my Goodreads challenge by about six books.

Did I say panicking? I meant I’m definitely on top of and in control of my reading promises.

On the plus side, no matter how behind I am, I’ve read some amazing books so far this year, so grab a snack because this post is long.

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Debut Review | For Blood & Glory by Cassandra A. Hendricks

As one of my anticipated YA reads for the year, For Blood and Glory was a debut that didn’t disappoint.

Let’s get into it.

The Run-Down

Sefira is just trying to bounce back—from a lot. The institutionalization of her mother several years ago,  the recent downward spiral in her mental health that had her adopted family uprooting themselves for her sake. She wants as normal life as possible, without the fear of her mother’s mental illness is the reason for her own, without the consistent hatred of her step-brother who blames her for his father leaving their blended family, and without the looming feeling that something just isn’t right in her world.

When things start getting out of control, when she finds out she’s able to do so much more than an average sixteen-year-old girl should be able to, when she meets a girl that is more like her than she could ever image—Sefira enters the world she always should have been a part of. What she finds there is magic, revelations about the woman who was her mother, and a familial bond that she never expected to have. Life never comes together so easily, however, and as Sefira comes into her new powers amidst being chased by forces from another world, she uncovers a secret that puts the universe into perspective and her and her family’s lives in danger.

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