I’m glad this isn’t a trilogy: Our Dark Duet

Our Dark Duet, the follow up to Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song, is, well, fine? Decent? Not particularly inspiring, except inspiring me to rage about the weird perspective-in-verse. Which I hated. I just. Please spare me. My internal monologue during this book was just I don’t care on repeat.

The plot was fine: people are still terrible and commit acts of violence and monsters still rise up from said acts. Kate and August can’t hide from what they are, but they also can’t become monsters while doing so. Blah blah blah, character growth, minor relationship development, oops someone dies. I really can’t remember if I was this blase about Savage Song, but I don’t think I was. Did turning twenty-seven break my spirit or something?

But, well, I know that Schwab writes for a younger audience under Victoria Schwab and an older audience with V.E. Schwab, and wow I can tell. And clearly have my preference.

 

It’s like the end of an era: Goldenhand, The Old Kingdom series

As someone who LOVED Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series as a youth (seriously, Sabriel was my hero), I’m a bit surprised that I don’t really have that many thoughts about Goldenhand. Maybe it’s because I’m older and this read a bit young, but I just wasn’t as into it. The last thirty pages or so felt, well, rushed, for a book of this length and then it ends a bit abruptly. Also, Lirael isn’t really my favorite, although by the end of this I definitely liked her more! The romance between Lirael and Nicholas was kind of cute and they’re both pretty awkward turtles. They were just never a pairing I had a lot of feelings about. And I guess I’m glad we got a bit of Sabriel and Touchstone, even if they really weren’t the focus.

One thing I really did enjoy, though, was the format of short chapters of alternative perspectives. You don’t get that a lot with newer YA fantasy (or at least, not that I’ve been reading!). It kept the pace moving and the timeline linear, and kind of eased me into liking Lirael more.
Overall, this felt like a good conclusion to the series, for me. Not sure if Nix plans on writing more!

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.

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’m in a rut.

It’s possible that I’m in a terrible cycle. I’ve read so many mediocre books that I need something amazing to shake me up, but all the books I try are still just so-so. Which makes me wonder that I might like that more if I were experiencing them at any point of than now.

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is fine. Solid, even. I might have given it four stars if I read it four books ago, but I didn’t. It wasn’t a revelation, although Savit does have a good grasp on the inner workings of seven year olds. I think he does justice to the confusion of that age, when adults are mostly taken at face value, and the affable acceptance and flexibility and adaptability of the very young. World War II in the very near background was treated with a light touch–light on the horror and Anna’s understanding of what’s going on in the world comes in waves. I didn’t hate this, but I just didn’t love it.

I also didn’t hate At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider but I definitely love myself enough to stop reading it. It wasn’t even the mediocre kind of enjoyable and I’m trying to be better about not slogging my way through texts that are just dull. Or maybe dull isn’t the right word for this, but it fits right now. At Home was just very white woman, very privileged, and boring. She sobs about leaving a small New Zealand town, for Pete’s sake. Come the fuck on. There’s just so little substance–no deep dives into where they’re going, the history, what they’re seeing or eating, just surface notes and relief that they found Italian food in Beijing. Even as Tsh and her family are traveling the world, going to these amazing places and hopefully experiencing amazing things, her experience feels so very myopic. There is very little looking around for the reader and I don’t have time for this.

Amberlough is my next book and I have really high hopes and expectations. Crossing my fingers that the next post here isn’t as unhappy!

I’ve only read two books inspired by Russian folklore and I have a preference.

Today, in pretty much one sitting, I read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. It was fine, a pleasant enough read. The problem is that the whole time I was comparing it to Catherynne Valente’s Deathless and coming up short. I know that’s not fair, but Deathless is more ambitious and the prose is beautiful and, well, now I want to reread that.

But back to Bear and the Nightingale. I did enjoy reading this. In my Goodreads review I posit that it would be nice bath reading, you know, maybe a nice scented candle light, warm water, nothing to do for the foreseeable future, etc. It doesn’t demand too much of the reader, tbh. Actually, what I quite like about this is (and Deathless) is the sort of “well let’s get on with it” vibe that Russian folklore characters have. That stoicism and inner strength and that general sense of fuck you I will survive. I can work with that.

A Cinderella-ish, Jack Frost-ish retelling, Vasilia gets the evil stepmom who isn’t quite evil, just a bit gifted/cursed and overly dependent on religion, while Vasilia herself struggles to retain the old ways because, well, winter is coming and something is waking up and she’s just a bit witchy. There’s country life mentality and fear of the unknown, new and old religions butting heads, lots to enjoy. Also, you know, Vasilia learns the language of horses and I love me horses with attitude. But, it didn’t really leave me gasping. Most of the action feels shoved into the last 30 pages and we don’t get a lot of answers exactly about Vasilia’s mom’s past. Which, I guess, is why this is apparently a series now. Awesome.

Possibly my biggest quibble is that I think the title is . . . misleading? It rolls off the tongue nicely and creates a nice image, but now that I’ve finished the book it seems not quite right. Not to spoil anything, but the “nightingale” part doesn’t come into play until the last section with the real action and honestly is just a supporting character? It’s not a bait and switch or anything but just seems like they went with a title that sounded interesting as opposed to entirely accurate.

The sequel is set to come out in January 2018, so we’ll see how I feel then!

I’m really bad about timely updates.

So I’ve been a bit lax about updating as I finish books. Oops. But, since I last posted, I’ve read five books, so I’m SUPER BEHIND on writing out my thoughts. But [rolls up sleeves] time to get to work.

First, it’s a beautiful day today and I want to go sit outside and tan/give myself skin cancer, but I’m going to get through this first. Although, “get through this” sounds unpleasant, like I don’t enjoy talking about books I’m reading/have read. Which is a hideous lie. I just sometimes worry that my thoughts aren’t, well, very intelligent? Or, rather, very surface level. But sometimes I don’t want to think too deeply about what I’m reading, which is kind of a shame.  So I’ll try to dig a little deeper in my memory to make this worthwhile, although most of these books are back at the library, so I can’t dig through for additional quotes.

First, up: Scattered at Sea by Amy Gerstler. (My Goodreads review here.) I was introduced to Gerstler by a college poetry professor telling me that one of my winter poems reminded her of Gerstler’s “Bear-Boy of Lithuania.” Which I definitely took as a compliment. And then I never checked out any of her writing again. So, that’s not great. But I didn’t love Scattered. I enjoyed pieces of it, the Womanishness section was excellent, and there’s a great line about ball skin (“Fascinated by (but not covetous of) their crepey ball-skin, crenulated like brains, or walnut hulls, or iguana hide on a rich dude’s shoes”), but overall I don’t know that I was in the right place for this collection. It felt very, well, contemporary in a way I wasn’t expecting. But by contemporary I mean casual and brash and lots of youthful exuberance–almost overboard, if that makes sense. The writing was very energetic and full of imagery, but I think it’s one I need to check out again in six months. (But, entirely unrelated to the text: the cover and interior illustrations are GREAT. I want the mermaid ones tattooed on me.)

I think, with a bit more closer reading, I might have some coherent thoughts about form and the interplay of time, how what I’m thinking of as more “modern” poems might engage with our social trends and the evolution of culture. Especially the Womanishness section–I think there’s a lot to unpack there if I had the patience and, really, inclination at this time to do a little heavy thinking. There’s also likely an interesting angle to take with the title and how the poems reflect a sort of “at sea” feeling, a sense of being lost and not put together, of maybe feeling adrift until we can put ourselves back together.  I’m not ready to dig like that, though, so this line of thought will have to wait.

Next: Marie Brennan’s Cold-Forged Flame. (My GR review here.) This novella was a lot of fun and really just perfect for poolside reading. At only 100 pages, I didn’t mind being dropped into a world without any information, same as the protagonist, and left to discover things with her. Really, it hits a lot of notes that are good for me: magic, strong female character capable of defending herself, did I mention magic?, and hints at interesting world-building beyond what we can see. (Guys, there’s an island that is only visible/reachable during certain times and I’m really here for that.) I enjoyed the writing–crisp, evocative, and pace-pushing–and am now eager to read Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series.

Up next: The Creative Spark (Fuentes) and Too Much and Not the Mood (Chew-Bose).