Tag Archives: stephanie burgis

Favorite books from the beginning of 2017

I’ve been reading a lot more than I’ve been writing here, so I thought I’d do a round up of my favorite books from the first quarter of 2017. These are just books I read in January-March.

middle grade

Ratpunzel by Ursula Vernon: Harriet Hamsterbone continues to basically be the best. Mother Goethel here was genuinely creepy (something I feel Rapunzel retellings often fail to pull off). This series really manages to tackle some big, complicated issues in thoughtful and kid-appropriate ways. So good!

Lumberjanes vol. 5: Band Together: FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX! (someday I will start a Lumberjanes review with something else) (jk, that will never happen) Look, this volume has mermaids, and also lots of confusion about how an underwater mermaid rock band is even possible, and it contains the immortal line, “I don’t want to die confused” so yes.

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis: This book is just so comforting (much like a cup of chocolate). While this might sound like faint praise, it’s really not–comforting things are really necessary, and books that lie at the crossroads of smart and comforting are harder to pull off than they look. It’s a unique take on dragons, and I loved Aventurine and her determination.

YA

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: Okay, I will say upfront that the premise of this book is a bit implausible, BUT please accept it and move on because it is full of LaCour’s most mature, rich writing to date and so many feelings. There’s this feeling that’s common to many young adults of being out of place, of not knowing who you are or how exactly to find out. This book is quiet and specific in its characters and setting and it feels so textured and beautiful.

The Hate U Give by A.C. Thomas: Any praise I have here will be slightly superfluous, but oh this book. I wanted to reread it as soon as I finished. It is so amazing on so many levels, but Starr herself really stood out for me. This is a book about her finding her voice, but at the same time, even on the first page she shines.

The Swan Riders by Erin Bow: To be honest, I delayed reading this one at first because even though I trust Bow, I wasn’t sure how anything could follow The Scorpion Rules. But this one did. It starts small and quiet, but the tension and the implications build until it becomes an incredibly heartbreaking exploration of identity and love and what it means to be a person. I love sequels that dig deeper into the world of the first book, and that’s just what this one does.

Chime by Franny Billingsley: I reread this one at the beginning of the year, and it was just what I needed. Learning to tread new brain paths, learning to love and be loved. Living in the tension between the old and the new. This book is just a LOT in all the best possible ways.

Lucy & Linh by Alice Pung: I realized as I was typing this up that Lucy & Linh (aka Laurinda in its native Australia) has a lot in common thematically with We Are Okay: growing up and moving to a new place, complicated friendships, feeling unsure of yourself and who you are. But Lucy also deals with class and privilege and race, which tie back into the theme of identity and friendship in really interesting ways.

adult

The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley: I’ve discovered that I love good biographies of complex, difficult women, and this one is a great example. “Christine Granville” and her life make for an incredible, infuriating, and achingly sad story.

A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand: While I basically just love all of Laura Florand’s books, this one really hit me in a personal place. It’s a quieter story, more intimate, full of the weight of the past–both family history and historical events. It’s about learning to acknowledge that weight without letting it bind you. And, on a lighter note, I really enjoy the setting and descriptions of the countryside as well.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl: I talked about this one quite a lot already, but I’ve found myself thinking about it regularly ever since I read it. The approach to the story is so inventive and thought-provoking, and the sense of what-might-have-been is both inspiring and heartwrenching.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: Math and magic IN SPACE, and family, and culture, and diplomacy, and explosions, all in one short novella that doesn’t have that frustrating too-short-and-too-long feeling that some novellas do. It just makes me happy whenever I think about it, and I can’t wait to read Home.

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Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

masks and shadowsMasks and Shadows is Stephanie Burgis’s latest book, out this month. She’s a favorite author of mine–I absolutely loved the Kat Stephenson series–and someone I really enjoy on Twitter a well. Masks and Shadows is her first adult novel, and I was very curious to read it and see that switch.

Like the Kat books, this is a historical fantasy. It’s set in 1779, in the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy–another reason I was interested to read this one, since I couldn’t think of many other historical fantasies set in Hungary. The story takes place against a backdrop of a tumultuous political era, with many of the tensions appearing in the microcosm of the Esterhazy court. But it also weaves in the personal stories of Carlo Morelli, a renowned castrato singer, and Charlotte von Steinbeck, a widow and a new arrival to court. And there’s some really creepy magic, which probably didn’t happen. (Right?)

At first I was a bit taken aback because my impression had been that this book was focused on Carlo and Charlotte. As it turns out, there are actually a number of narrators! Once I adjusted my expectations there, I ended up really liking this story. It’s a complex and twisty plot with different threads that all come together at the end. And I did like several of the characters (the ones we’re meant to) quite a bit, especially Charlotte.

One of the things I really appreciated was the way Burgis depicted the society of the time, with its arranged marriages, acknowledged mistresses, and intrigues, while also giving us a character who is both part of that society and who also longs for something different. Both Carlo and Charlotte are, in their own ways, dependent on others, and they have a similar journey to finding a way to each other and to the life they actually want to live.

There’s also a lot of lovely writing about opera here. I happen to be an opera fan, personally, so I’m not sure how this would read to someone less interested in that aspect. Haydn is a minor character, and the whole plot hinges on the performance of one of his operas. Music is also the way that Charlotte and Carlo initially connect, as Charlotte’s talent allows Carlo to see beyond her conventional facade. There’s a clear sense of the love of music, especially opera, and its power, which I really liked.

[this paragraph is maybe slightly spoilery] I found the secret society that is the main magical force and the main antagonist a little less compelling. Although their presence makes sense given the fact that there were secret societies in Europe throughout this period, they never seemed entirely real as a threat to me. However, their magic is quite creepy!

That minor issue aside, I ended up really liking this book and the story it tells. It weaves different threads together in an expert way, but I found the central love story between Charlotte and Carlo, their slow recognition of the other’s worth, remained my favorite part.

Book source: ARC from the author

Book information: 2016, Pyr books; adult historical fantasy

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Recent short fiction reads

When I was in college, I was a pretty big reader of SFF short fiction. That’s where I first encountered authors like Theodora Goss and Catherynne Valente. But at some point, I kind of lost track of the short fiction world. Recently, I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and have found a few stories I’ve really enjoyed. Lady Business’s Short Business project has been very helpful in finding several of these.

To Whatever” by Shaenon Garrity: An epistolary short story, told in the letters of Ethan to whatever lives in the walls of his apartment building. This one was especially fun because I like epistolary stories quite a bit to begin with, because the evolution of the relationship in the story is nicely drawn, and because I thought I knew where the arc of the story was going, and I was wrong! It totally surprised me. Also Willem’s letters were spot-on. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.

Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar: This story builds to a slow crescendo. It starts with the odd but not entirely bizarre recurrence of things appearing in Nadia’s pockets. A lipstick that isn’t hers; a coin; a gun. Nadia’s reaction to this is well done, and the story weaves in questions about friendship, trust, and ultimately the bent of the universe. Its ambiguity is tempered with hope, and I found the ending so beautiful that I cried a little bit.

Clasp Hands” by Stephanie Burgis: I’ve loved Stephanie Burgis’s Kat Stephenson books, and the novella “Courting Magic” that she wrote as part of that. So I thought I would read some of her short fiction as well. I haven’t worked my way through all of her short stories, but so far “Clasp Hands” is my favorite. Genuinely eerie and sad, but also full of the warmth and humor and care of family. Also magic.

The Merger” by Sunil Patel: This story is brand new; a weird mix of totally strange alien entities and a corporate takeover. The full title, “The Merger: A Romantic Comedy of Intergalactic Business Negotiations, Indecipherable Emotions, and Pizza” sums it up pretty well. I really enjoyed the relationship between Paresh and Sita, and their dilemma in trying to figure out how to deal with the BlarbSnarb.

So there you have a few short stories I’ve liked! If you have recommendations, please to send them my way.

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