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monthly book list

May 2021 Reading Review

Hello, friends! It’s been forever, but I’m currently on a break from grad school before my last two classes (!!) and guess what? It turns out that without a huge time/energy burden, I actually sometimes read books! Wild. 

Also, a brief housekeeping note: I’m planning to take a look at my archives and do some cleanup there. It’s been 15 years since I started By Singing Light (ahaha, wow) and a lot has changed personally & in the world since then. I may also refresh the site design a bit since I haven’t touched it for probably 10ish years. In any case, things may look different around in the next couple of months. 

So, on to the books! 

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (adult science fiction, 2020) has a relatively simple premise: there are many worlds and each of them has a slightly different version of the same people. Some of those people can walk between worlds, thanks to a technological innovation developed by a visionary scientist. But Johnson doesn’t stop there. The inequalities that riddle the world are part of what make this process possible, as the people who walk between worlds are the ones whose counterparts have died, usually young and violently. The system chews people up and spits them out, and the main character of the book exists uneasily betwixt and between the literal and metaphorical worlds. 

The Space Between Worlds is Johnson’s first published novel, and it’s a very solid debut. While I have some slight quibbles (the imagery is sometimes a little on the nose, and the ending seemed rushed), the meat of the story is complex and thoughtful. It’s possible to draw some analogies to current day people and concerns, but the world of the story feels fully realized on its own. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what comes next. 

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson (adult/teen memoir, 2020) popped up on my radar because I’ve been a fan of Stevenson’s work since Nimona was a webcomic. It was interesting, and sometimes sad, to see how Stevenson experienced that moment in her own life. The Fire Never Goes Out is a thoughtful exploration of identity, sexuality, and the pressures of fame at a young age. I’m glad to have read it. 

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell (juvenile fantasy, 2017) is one that I read because it’s still relatively popular at my library and I wanted to be able to do some readers advisory for it. Cowell wrote and illustrated this one and the illustrations are really striking: jagged and dark, with an underlying eeriness. As an adult reader it wasn’t my favorite, but I can see the appeal. It’s also a relatively quick read, making it a good title to hand to reluctant readers or kids who aren’t quite ready for the denser fantasy books. 

Peaces (adult surreal fantasy, 2021) is Helen Oyeyemi’s latest book and it’s quite a wild ride (heheh). Full of Oyeyemi’s typical absolutely bonkers situations, this one follows Otto Shin, embarking on a magical train journey for a not-honeymoon honeymoon with his spouse, Xavier. Also, there’s a hereditary mongoose, and secrets, and the distinct possibility that Otto is constantly lying to everyone around him–including the reader. 

Do you ever read a book and just marvel at the brain that produced it? How, Helen Oyeyemi? What is it like inside your mind?? (Frances Hardinge is also in this category for me.) Personally, Peaces doesn’t rank amongst my favorite Oyeyemi titles (White is For Witching and Mr. Fox) but even a not-quite-favorite Oyeyemi is still very good indeed. 

For whatever reason, I sometimes love Aliette de Bodard’s work and sometimes bounce off of it really hard. Fortunately, Fireheart Tiger (adult fantasy, 2021) was in the love category for me, although it’s slight enough that I was left wanting more. The story unfolds in a really interesting way, weaving backwards and forward across the timeline. The shifting loyalties and relationships mean that the reader is trying to understand the full extent of what’s happening just as Thanh herself does. I also really loved the descriptions of the magic, wild and beautiful and dangerous all at once. 

Micah: The Good Girl by Ashley Woodfolk (YA realistic fiction, 2020) is one that I’m sure I put on hold on a whim after having read one of Woodfolk’s earlier books. I’m glad I did, as Woodfolk weaves together grief, friendship, and first love in a very thoughtful and effective story. Micah is nearing the one year anniversary of her brother’s death, and the way Woodfolk portrays her grief felt very understandable and real. It reminded me a bit of The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney, which I read last month, although that story has a mythic fantasy element to it. However, both deal with the aftermath of losing someone close to you, and what it means to come to terms with that. 

I didn’t realize that this is actually the second in a series, but I suspect they stand alone relatively well and now I’m interested in going back to read the others. 

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bookish posts reviews

#stackingthestories round up

Forestofglory, who I follow on Twitter and generally enjoy a lot, created a short fiction reading challenge for July. I’ve been meaning to get back into SFF short fiction for ages now, and jumped on the challenge as a way of making that leap. I’m very glad I did! I didn’t reach my maybe-lofty goal of 31 short fiction pieces read in July, but it was still very worthwhile and I have a renewed commitment to making sure I read short fiction in the future. Since Twitter is an ephemeral medium, I wanted to collect the short reviews I posted there. The titles with an asterisk before them were personal favorites.

“it me, ur smol” by A. Merc Rustad: I am a bit so-so on this one. It’s a cute idea, and the internet speak read as accurate. As a piece of flash fiction it’s fine, but the gesture towards activism felt hollow in such a short story.

“Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” by Aliette de Bodard: Packs a lot into a setup that initially looks simple (it isn’t). I liked the way the narratives were woven together, but never quite connected with the emotion the way I wanted to. (This is true beyond this piece: stories about grief are tough because how can the reader care about the loss of someone who we only meet in absence?)

* “The Dragon that Flew Out of the Sun” by Aliette de Bodard: Stories, memory, and the complexity of truth. Loved this one. (Also curious to reread “Three Cups of Grief” having now read a story that centered me more in the universe)

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape” by Alix E. Harrow: I like it; it makes me uneasy. Liking – Harrow clearly knows libraries well enough to give it a real flavor. I loved the details of the displays in particular. Uneasy – my instant twitchiness about fictional librarians; I don’t quite believe that stories save us anymore; the kid in the story never felt like a real person in his own right. (Maybe I should say stories in & of themselves? I don’t know. At other points in my life, I would have vehemently disagreed with my current feeling) Added all together, this is a good example of a story that I like individually but which fits into a pattern I find troubling.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt: Feels very of-this-moment in a number of ways; it’s…fine, but overall a little on the nose for my personal taste.

* “She Commands Me & I Obey” (parts 1 &2) by Ann Leckie: Look, I can’t be objective here, because I love Leckie’s writing and I love Breq and it’s so interesting to see Breq from an outsider’s pov–what seems familiar & what doesn’t. This story is pretty gruesome in a lot of ways, but it also feels real? And I appreciate that we see no system is without flaws/imbalances/etc. It’s also neat to get a sense of Breq’s weird charisma in another setting. (My notes for this one just say, “BREQ”)

* “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander: I love everything about this, from the fairy tale structure to the descriptions.

“Owl vs the Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger: I’m struggling with how to evaluate this story because I bounced off of it pretty hard. But I don’t know if I have the cultural tools to evaluate it. I don’t have any big critical arguments against it, it just wasn’t for me at this moment and I’m not sure why.

“Anyway: Angie” by DJ Older: Very horrifying, tense, and atmospheric. I love the way Older uses language to evoke mood and Reza’s emotions in this one. CW: violence & mentions of sexual assault

* “Abandonware” by Genevieve Valentine:  I would say I’m a genuine Genevieve Valentine fangirl, but I hadn’t read this story before. I’m still not quite sure of my reaction but I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it yesterday. There are some REALLY CREEPY elements/moments.

“Werewolf Loves Mermaid” by Heather Lindsley: This is light and funny and sweet, and sometimes that’s what you need.

“The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig: Ahhhh, another creepy one. It’s short but atmospheric, and quite effective.

* “Tomorrow Is Waiting” by Holli Mintzer: Awww, I really liked this one! I like stories about AI, generally speaking, and this was a sweet/interesting take. Does it ever explain anything? nope! am I okay with that? Yep!

* “The Light Brigade” by Kameron Hurley: Confession: this is the first Hurley story I’ve ever actually read and wow! It’s brutal, but also beautiful and more hopeful than I expected?

“The Counsellor Crow” by Karen Lord: I like the way the world unfolds in this story, in a way that is kind of breathtaking, but the ending felt abrupt to me!

“There are Two Pools You May Drink From” by Kerry-Lee Powell: I didn’t particularly like this one, which may be a personal reaction to the way abuse is treated here. Also a repeated use of “Oriental” as a descriptive term? I don’t know, there was just nothing that felt engaging to me or convinced me the characters were real.

“A Dozen Frogs, A Bakery, and a Thing that Didn’t Happen” by Laura Pearlman: AHHHHH this is pretty fun. To be clear, I don’t endorse the solution here. But I don’t *not* endorse either.

“Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell: Eerie and thoughtful; I loved the sense of claustrophobic in-turning of the family. (I mean, loved from a technical pov. It creeped me out a lot as a reader.)

* “Solder and Seam” by Maria Dahvana Headley:  A story that rewards rereading; I wasn’t sure what was happening at first and liked it a lot more once I figured it out. I also appreciate the Patrick O’Brian reference.