Hiyo, long time no update. I’m finally making an effort to consolidate my book blog and book review channel (if you can call it that), meaning what I write here will more or less reflect what I’m planning to discuss in video format if all goes according to plan. I also wanna take my GR reviews and make them more concise and coherent and cross-post them here.
October was perhaps my most active month for reading since I just got back home from school and I’ve had the chance to give into my primal, book-hording nature and procrastinate on… phd apps oops. I had to go to my local library and get a new library card since my old one, which I’ve had since I was in kindergarten, expired. RIP my dalmation sticker card. Yeah, so anyway – I love making lists and organizing what I’ve done, so here we go.
I read 5 novels this month in the following order:
- Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao – 3.5/5 stars | Review
- The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo – 3/5 stars | Review
- The Hunter’s Moon by O. R. Melling – 1/5 stars | Review
- The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin – 4/5 stars| Review
- The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera – DNF, 1/5 stars | Review
- A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir (currently reading)
Favorite: The Killing Moon. This book was almost perfect for a me that has been continously disappointed by YA fantasy. The book’s not YA and being YA doesn’t make smth automatically bad, but my choice in YA books to read is perhaps bad. A society something akin to ancient Egypt + Freudian dream magic = good shit. This had an anticlimactic ending in my opinion and I totally called it about what happened to Una-une. I would have liked stronger character voice, but the Gujareen culture is more on the subdued side which is understandable. I wouldn’t really call the Gatherers asexual but NKJ didn’t describe them like that. It was more like “close to” it, so ahhh alright.
Runner-up: Language of Thorns. I’m not the biggest fan of Bardugo’s works, but I love whoever does her cover designs and book art work. I own a signed copy (it’s in gold sharpie!) because it’s just a beautiful product. Bardugo is always improving with her writing and the way she sets up atmosphere is highlighted in these fairytales. What irked me, and what I suspect what irks me about her works in general although I’m not eloquent enough and cannot convey how I feel completely with words, is that I always feel like (1) there’s always this feeling I’m being told “wink wink look this is clever subversion/not like other girls/embracing of our inner monsters.” Excuse me, I appreciate the effort, but lemme make up my mind.
And (2) I am so used to seeing tropes being or trying to be subverted nowadays that now subversion of a trope is a trope itself. I think the “monstrous” protag teetering on the edge of darkness appears often in LB’s writing. I never liked Alina, so everyone after Alina rubs me the wrong way, I suppose e.g. Kaz, Ulla, even Ayama to a lesser degree (they were disadvantaged but they were all special all along!!!). It isn’t even the darkness itself that bothers me (I love me some darkness), but it’s like I’m seeing the same thing with different decorations similar to every Marvel movie plot after Iron Man. They’re cashing in on the formula still, which ANGERS ME. I’m feeling the same thing here, which is why I feel a similar sort of bitterness. But people eat it up nonetheless just not I.
I loved the Nutcracker story tho 10/5.
Least favorite: # 1 – Hunter’s Moon. So much squandered potential. The author is knowledgable in Irish lore but that all goes to waste with poor pacing and a rushed climax. The characters were flatter than my middle school band. In fact, I’m sure I read this book in middle school. I only reread it because I named one of my characters acter a character in this book and I wanted to see if this book still measured up. I mean, I didn’t like it before, and I still don’t like it now. I learned a bunch of new vocab from this, though.
#2 – Tiger’s Daughter. DNF’d the fuck outta this. I wrote a whole rant on Goodreads HERE. It was boring. Just boring. Barring the cultural insensitivity (there was a lot in the 83 pages I read), the epistolary (told in a series of documents e.g. letters) format of the novel does not work in this book’s favor. Shefali places Shizuka on a pedestal when she ain’t shit and suffers from internalized racism.
Shizuka would benefit from more pages dedicated to her POV but I still don’t like her impulsive ass. I know too much about Shefali’s birthmark but not enough about the demons of their world or how landlocked Japan can retain the name “Keiko” but use Chinese words like “lao” for honorifics when they don’t wanna learn shit from neighboring countries. The only Asian name in the acknowledgements is “Utena” lmao.
Not sure if there are any ppl she thanked who are Asian with non-Asian surnames and I don’t like being presumtuous, so I won’t say she didn’t have any sensitivity reader input, BUT THE EVIDENCE IN THE WRITING SUGGESTS SO. The only thing I can say is 100% true in this book is 8 times 4 is 32. Bye.
The Rest (1)
Lastly, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, which ended up in the middle.
Positives: I admire Dao’s effort for making this book feel so Chinese (and having Penguin sending me an ARC of this aaaaaaa)
Reader: alice you can’t just say chinese that’s so broad
me: stfu i’m chinese i say what i want who are you even
jk, what I mean to say this is how I feel when I watch Nirvana in Fire despite not watching C-drama often, I feel all the Chinese family values coming back to me from childhood the good and the bad. I don’t need to know EVERYTHING about Feng Lu because I have enough contextual knowledge to just go with it. That might not be the case for other readers, but I didn’t have a problem because I can tell Dao DID THE WORK in trying to get the Chinese cultural aspects right.
(1) She had a bunch of people help her out – see her acknowledgements, look at all those Chinese names. (2) She depicts certain things like she has inside knowledge of certain experiences and certain flavor of experiences you’d only know if you experienced it yourself or if someone who has gave you the intimate deets. (Sort of like how the creators of YOI had surprisingly insider deets on ice skating that real life skaters were like omg I KNOW THIS when they watched it) e.g. You gotta be Learned TM to have a chance for a good life, Guma’s Bad Parenting TM + guilt trips
The world is gooood. There’s a bunch of warrior women somewhere in this world, I am waiting for them to come. DON’T MAKE ME WAIT MORE THAN 83 PAGES, JULIE. THAT’S WHAT TIGER’S DAUGHTER DID. I KNOW YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS.
Negatives: There are some oopsies like Guma is used for a maternal aunt instead of paternal aunt and from what I’m told this wasn’t fixed in the final edition. AND HOW UNFILIAL WEI IS. Gtfo Wei.
I don’t like Xifeng as I don’t like Evil Queen origin story retellings. She didn’t seem like she came into her own, but came into what Guma wanted her to be – that is likely intentional and relatable, having a parental figure tryng to mold you into their ideal. My beef is that this girl doesn’t have anything of her own to be. Plus I’m tired of MCs always wanting to be queen but not handling the responsibilities that come with that (adelina, aelin, etc.). Come the fuck on, Xifeng. You at least have an education!!!!!
The characters could be more complex over all. Aside from the emperor, they’re all archetypal historical drama characters I’ve seen done better.
And a minor nitpick: too many iterations of virginal pure lotus blossom descriptions. We know this is fantasy Asia, we don’t need these type of Orientalist descriptions. I know some people help because they probably only seen Asia on a map… but please not like this.