I’ve never heard of a “voidwitch” before, but you have my attention.

Corey J. White’s novella, Killing Gravity, may not win any prizes for consistent internal logic or seamless pacing, but it does have voidwitches, which are basically River Song on steroids. And, let me tell you, I am so into that. Like, ten thousand percent into that. (TBF the cover blurb does say that fans of Firefly will enjoy this. I–for the most part–do enjoy Firefly and I didn’t hate this.)

Sure, I don’t understand why the big bad company only tried to use it’s subliminal programming lines once or twice on Mariam Xi. Sure, I definitely don’t get all the science and am pretty sure you can’t actually throw giant-ass spaceships around with your mind without some sort of external space issues (migraines and nose bleeds aside). But goddamn if this wasn’t a lot of action and fun packed into 176 pages, with a female protagonist struggling to keep her shit together.

 

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I’ve decided I like myself too much to keep reading what I’m not enjoying.

When I first read about You’re the Only One I Can Tell by Deborah Tannen, I was hella excited. I LOVE reading about women friendships and the unique role they can play in women’s lives. As someone with a bestie from college that I still talk to every goddamn day (and see several times a year) and a group of friends that tries to get together every year for a girls’ trip, I was so ready to love this and read about women empowering and supporting each other through communication and friendship.

Instead, what I got was really boring? And vague? And just really surface level in terms of exploring these relationships. Granted, some of this loosely resonated with me (appreciating same/similar experiences in friends, the interruptions that are not interruptions, talking about problems that don’t need immediate solutions presented), but for the most . . . snooze. I don’t know what exactly I expected to get out of it, but I did expect something less formulaic and cold.

I think the broad idea to take away from this is: don’t let shit fester; communicate with your friends if something is bothering you. Which, frankly, is not fucking limited to women communicating with other women. And also not a message that needs close to 300 pages to get across.

OK, well, I cried for this book.

I picked We Are Okay by Nina LaCour for my pool read yesterday because it was on the shorter side, but I wasn’t really expecting the emotional weight of it. This was such a beautiful, quiet book about grief and sadness. More emotion driven than plot driven, this feel light, effortless, even as Marin is drowning. I don’t want to give away any emotional reveals, but this book is so much more than the grief of losing a family member.

And can I gush about the book design for a moment? The cover is GORGEOUS. The  printed endsheets are a campus scene and are stunning. The title page art is also perfect. I just, this is such a beautiful book, both text and design.

I was really expecting to cry during this one.

When Paul Kalanitihi’s When Breath Becomes Air came out last year, it got a lot of attention. A young neurosurgeon (with a background in literature and apparently a strong poetic writing style) diagnosed with advanced cancer writing his memoir? It promised to be a new voice, a new look at death and life from the perspective of a man who’s been walking that line his whole career and considering what constitutes a life his whole life.

And I guess that’s not wrong, it was also just proclaimed to have beautiful prose and to be a tearjerker. But I didn’t quite get that. To me, this was just solidly fine. I know I went in with pretty high expectations after hearing everyone gush about the prose,  but, well, it felt more clinical/scientific than truly narrative or personal.

This was still a moving story, death and families left behind always are, but from all the reviews I really expected a bit more tears. The only section, though, that tugged a bit harder on my heart was his wife’s epilogue.

 

Y’all this wasn’t great either.

I didn’t really love The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, so picking up the sequel wasn’t high on my list. But then I read so many mediocre books by white people that I wanted to get back on the diverse reading train. And, well, The Rose & The Dagger seemed light enough to not feel daunting, even at 400+ pages. But, well, I ended up giving it two stars on Goodreads, which seems a bit cruel, but apparently that stands for “this was OK,” and that is really how I feel about this book.

TBH I don’t really remember the first book all that well. I had to check out a recap on bookseriesrecaps.com and even then I was like, Ugh. I never really connected with the characters or felt super invested in ANY of the relationships. And the characterization felt all over the place. Shahrzad felt even more volatile? Unstable? Aggressively suspicious and angry? I don’t know. Just, she had a lot of emotions that were frequently too hair trigger to be enjoyable, bearable, or really believable. Rahim shows up just to give Irsa some page time and then, well, <spoiler>dies</spoiler>, so that seems pretty useless. He was barely there long enough for me to care about, which just is sloppy. Jalal is barely in it, which might actually be a crime.

Really, for how long this book is, the plot was hideously rushed in places. Tension is introduced and resolved within pages. Nothing seems to last. Like, remember that curse? That Khalid has been suffering under? And we go through all this shit because of some curse? And how does that get resolved? By stabbing a book in a scene that lasts, what, three pages? AND THEN IS NEVER ADDRESSED AGAIN? Yeah, OK. And apparently all the citizens of Rey are cool now that Khalid isn’t going around killing his wives. The epilogue just jumps over all the trust (and city!) rebuilding that had to happen and gives us a happy ending that is barely more palatable than the Harry Potter series epilogue.

I was kind of impressed that Ahdieh decided to kill Khalid, and then two paragraphs later she undoes all that good will by having Jahandar FINALLY see the light and “redeem” himself by using all the ~~dark magicks~~ to trade his life so Khalid can live. (Cue aggressive eye-rolling.)

I’m glad I finished this series, but this isn’t going on my reread shelf.

I’ll take “Pretentious and Privileged” for 600, Alex

Well, this was another misstep. A memoir in the form of a graphic novel, Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke leaves a lot to be desired. The illustrations were fine, but as with At Home in the World, I wonder if the author is aware of how pretentious and privileged she comes across. This is not the deep look at grief and ruins that I’d hoped for; it’s very surface level with a deeply rooted sense of entitlement, as she flees to Italy to avoid her adult life. As she flees to Iceland to put off moving to Kentucky (gasp) of all places. As she interviews former residents of nowadays ghost towns and doesn’t know how to feel when she comes away without anything good, something she can sink her teeth into and give permanence. These are things only us white people can get away with. Radtke nudges up against some interesting thoughts on ruins and their purpose and implied meaning in our society, in our history, but honestly that isn’t enough to save this for me.

 

Knock on wood, but I think I’m out of this rut.

The trick to getting a lot of reading done is this: work from home and have no dependents or social life. Such is how I read all 400 pages of Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly in less than twenty-four hours. I read in the morning. I read on my lunch break. I pretty much sat on my couch all evening and then my bed all night reading. And, at 12:01 AM, I finished.

Let me be honest: if I weren’t coming off a streak of uninteresting books, I likely would have spaced this out more. Taken a few more days with it. Under different circumstances, this isn’t a book that would grab me by my throat and straight-up compel me to keep reading in a mad frenzy. But due to the sheer novelty of finally enjoying a book again, I didn’t want it to stop. So, well, I didn’t.

This is a really solid book, though. Strong writing, even pacing, and interesting premise of spies and fascism and cabarets and two men in love who quite simply are terrible at communicating with each other until it’s too damn late. All things I don’t hate. Astride is delightful and knows his worth and what he can do with his face and his body (and my god HIS HAIR) and his mind, and sure he may be a smuggler in love with a government spy but he’s damn well still going to do what he pleases. And Cryil, quiet Cyril, who’s had some tough breaks and is finally settling in with his new lot in life and his not-spoken-of love of Astride until things get shaken up again and he’s desperately trying to stay afloat and save his skin and Astride’s, all on his own, of course. These two idiots. I’m into them.

The ending of this book aches, but it felt right. Kind of a spoiler, here, but obviously they couldn’t have a happy ending. They’re both too used to hiding things and working around the other without revealing their plans and secrets. But, I think this is the first time in recent memory that I’m not mad at a standalone book turning into a series. Because I want these two fools to find each other in their mad world. I want them to carve out some space of quiet happiness for themselves, like they had for a while in Astride’s flat. Only this time, they’ll only tell each other small lies.

I do want to touch briefly on the women characters, of which there are some! Just mostly in side roles, although starting with Part Two Cordelia gets a lot more to do, thankfully. She’s smart, ambitious, and willing to blow shit up when necessary. And while she operates without all the information (“for her own safety” according to Cyril and Astride, OFC), she doesn’t relinquish her agency and when people around her start getting hurt, she doesn’t back down. I hope we see her in the next book!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go be sad about this for some time.