I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m kind of on a roll with reading so far in 2021!
March was a fantastic reading month for me. I managed to finish 2 fairly long fantasy books (450+ pages), read 2 books from the Women’s Prize longlist, found a great new author who writes romance in several different genres, read a book that’s been on my shelves for at least 5+ years, and finished a book that will definitely be making my favorites of the year list. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!
Total books read: 9
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (5 stars) – I haven’t been gravitating as much towards epic fantasy in the past few years the way that I used to, but Black Sun reminded me of everything I loved about the genre. The worldbuilding is intricate and extremely well-crafted; the setting is inspired by the civilizations of the pre-Columbian Americas but is completely unique. We’re following four main characters in shifting perspectives who seem to be set on a collision course centered around the upcoming eclipse and Winter Solstice in Tova, the city that’s the religious center of loosely allied lands in what seems to be a tenuous peace. I was equally interested in the storylines of Xiala, a ship captain with magical singing powers who is ferrying a mysterious young man who thinks he’ll find his destiny in Tova, and the Sun Priest of Tova, who is fighting conspiracies and popular opinion shifting against her that seems to be centered around the mysterious Carrion Crow people. Compelling is a word that gets thrown around a lot to describe books, but it’s very apt in this case. The pacing is extremely well done, with no slow moments, with the multiple perspectives contributing to this. I loved this one and already can’t wait for the sequel.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (4.25 stars) – This book is a thoughtful, introspective work that delves into conflicts between science and religion, but is also the very personal story of a young neuroscientist mourning the loss of her brother to a heroin overdose and trying to help her mother manage her severe depression. The timeline constantly shifts between adult Gifty as a PhD candidate researching the causes of addiction and attempting to find a cure for the same and her childhood growing up in a very religious household, where we learn why Gifty is drawn to the research she is doing and how her family has shaped her present. It’s beautifully written and a very worthwhile read; the audiobook is narrated by Bahni Turpin, my favorite narrator, and is extremely well done. It’s clear why this was nominated for the Women’s Prize, and it seems like a strong contender to win.
Fables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras (4 stars) – I’m not going to lie, I was drawn to Fables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras because of its gorgeous cover, and once I heard that it was a Gothic romance I was completely on board. Penelope is reluctantly returning home to Pan Island for her father’s funeral and quickly finds herself enmeshed in the island’s mythology and legends that she’d thought she’d escaped. She also finds herself catching the eye of River, the mysterious heir to the family that’s the legendary rival of hers–a family rumored to be cursed. I loved the mystery and supernatural elements that are essential to this book; there was the perfect amount of twists and suspense enmeshed with the romance. It ends up feeling like a modern, fantastical Gothic romance that’s very grounded in its sense of place. More than anything, this was just a joy to read; I enjoyed myself throughout, and never doubted that the author would take the story where it needed to go. The writing style is more spare and may not work well for every reader, but I loved it enough to immediately purchase another Claire Contreras book after I finished this one. Fantasy romance and/or PNR readers should definitely check this one out.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (4 stars) – This was the fourth longlisted nominee for the Women’s Prize that I’ve picked up. I found it funny and incisive, although its title belies a very introspective and uneventful tale. Ava is a young Irish woman who moves to Hong Kong to teach English and in search of something new, and she’s drawn to two different people while there: Julian, a British banker, and Edith, a lawyer with roots in Hong Kong. I particularly enjoyed the book’s exploration of women’s rights in Ireland and its discussions about bisexuality. I did feel that it reads like a debut novel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–it’s very much coming-of-age and self-exploration-focused. Its quiet nature means it may not be for everyone, but I quite enjoyed the read and will be looking for what Dolan does next.
And Again by Jessica Chiarella (4 stars) – a novel with a science fiction-inspired premise but an entirely character-driven narrative. It’s set in the approximate present or very-near future, with the caveat that the U.N. has made an exception to the ban on human cloning, for medical purposes only. We meet the four people involved in the first phase of the clinical trial that clones a terminally ill patient, rapidly ages the clone to the patient’s age, and then transfers a part of the patient’s brain into the cloned body, so that the patient awakens in a new, healthy body, but ostensibly can retain their memories and personality. We see the emotional fallout, both positive and negative, from the perspectives of Connie, a former soap star determined to return to the acting world; David, a Republican congressman whose constituents would be furious if they knew he was part of a treatment involving human cloning; Hannah, an artist who felt like she was losing her sense of self even before the transfer; and Linda, a fan of Connie’s soap who struggles to feel like a part of her family. At the beginning, I was favoring certain characters’ chapters over others, but before long I was equally invested in all four stories. I really enjoyed delving into their interactions in group therapy and their transfers’ ramifications on their lives; the only part of the book I wasn’t a huge fan of was the ending.
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (4 stars) – I think I set myself up with impossible expectations for Harrow the Ninth, since Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth has become one of my all-time favorite SFF novels and is a book I find myself thinking about frequently. It’s not that I didn’t like Harrow, it’s just that, for me, I didn’t love it nearly as much as Gideon. I really struggled with its pacing and repetitiveness; I thought that the book could have accomplished the same things more concisely and with more impact. That being said, I’m very excited with where things left off heading into the third book, Alecto the Ninth, which is set to come out in 2022.
Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle (4 stars) – Doyle uses historical and true crime examples as well as digressions into horror and fiction to talk about the portrayal of women as monsters, and how this at times can either challenge or reinforce the structure of patriarchy. If you enjoyed her previous book Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, Dead Blondes acts as a solid follow-up to her combination of sociological discussion intermingled with pop culture and feminist history. Of the two, I probably preferred Trainwreck, but I thought that this book provided a lot of interesting discussion and analysis.
The Simple Wild by K. A. Tucker (3 stars) – This book was frustrating to me because I thought it was well-written and I loved the atmospheric Alaska setting, but I absolutely HATED the love interest and the romance storyline as a whole (which isn’t great, since it’s technically a contemporary romance). It’s never good when you finish a romance book and think, hm, that would have been a really great book if the romance part didn’t exist. I just don’t get the appeal of a love interest who treats the protagonist in a demeaning and frankly misogynistic manner for the entire book, lies to her, steals from her, etc. It was honestly pretty disgusting, but the quality of the writing really saved this one from a much lower rating from me. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it, though.
Across the Green-Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire (3 stars) – Unfortunately, this was by far my least favorite book in the Wayward Children series so far. It felt uneventful and incomplete, with the characters lacking the depth explored in previous books’ protagonists. I’ve overall loved this portal fantasy YA series featuring doors that lead children to other worlds somehow perfect and challenging for them, and sometimes rejecting them to unite at a school for those who have been to other worlds, and I plan to continue with it, but this entry was very much a miss for me.