Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

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San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where mystery, science, and art intersect.

*****

Review:

Why yes, I did buy this book purely for its beautiful beautiful cover (I actually put down a copy of Foundryside to buy this one instead.) Passing Strange crossed my radar when I saw the cover on the nominee list for the Nebulas two years ago, which told me it was probably hella gay and very little else. Buying the book, I still didn’t know much other than that the main characters were probably lesbians and boy was I right.

Through this novella, we follow the lives of three queer women navigating their way through 1940s San Francisco. There’s Helen, a Chinese lawyer/club dancer, Haskel,  semi-famous painter known for her pulp fiction covers, and Emily, a newcomer who’s introduced to the two through mutual acquaintances.  Through certain circumstances, Haskel and Emily start seeing each other early on and much of this book is a slice of life following of their interactions.

Characters aside, what really makes this book unique is the setting. 1940s San Francisco has its aesthetic and charm (see: the cover), which is explored quite well as we follow the characters. However, it also has its downsides: the racism and Orientalism that was occurring nationwide, but especially San Francisco due to the number of Asian immigrants, as well as the abysmal treatment of queer women during the time. The book does not shy away from those topics and while some terms used may be triggering to readers today, I found it extremely powerful that Passing Strange, not only addressed those topics, but showed how women of the era thrived despite their oppressors.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. Not only do we get a fantastic depiction of the lives of three queer women in 1940s San Francisco, we also learn about the darker side of that era and how these women were able to thrive nonetheless.


/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • Slice of Life Fantasy (hard mode)
  • SFF Novella
  • #OwnVoices

Publication Date: 24 January 2017
Publisher: Tor.com
Format: paperback
Pages: 131
Word Count: ~113,000
ISBN: 0765389517

Anticipated July 2019 Releases

July coming in with yet another strong month of publications. I feel like I’m never going to make one of these posts where I’ll only have one or two books.


The Heart of Hell – Wayne Barlowe – 2 July 2019

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I have a certain fondness for evil protagonists, demons especially, that I really don’t get to read enough of in traditionally published fiction. I’m not sure if this book is a sequel (it’s not marked so on Goodreads but the author has an earlier book that mentions one of the characters in this summary), but either way that’s an extra book added to my TBR!

Sargatanas has Ascended and the doomed, anguished souls have found themselves emancipated. Hell has changed…hasn’t it? The demons, wardens of the souls, are free of their inmates…

And the damned, liberated from their terrible torments, twisted and bent but thankful that they are no longer forced to be in proximity to their fearsome jailors, rejoice. But something is stirring under the surface of Hell’s ceaseless carnage…and into this terrible landscape come three entities:

Lilith, the former First Consort to Beelzebub and her Sisters of Sargatanas trying to find a way to save Hannibal…again;

Boudica, a brick no more, forever in search of her lost daughters;

Adramalik, the former Grand Master of the Priory of the Fly reduced to serving a new lord, Ai Apaec, and seeking his destiny as Prince of Hell. (more)


Spin the Dawn – Elizabeth Lim – 9 July 2019

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I’ve seen sooo much for this book through Twitter and NetGalley and I’m so excited to read it! Project Runway mixed with an East Asian setting? Amazing. Truly amazing. I was devastated when I didn’t get a NG ARC, but now that gives me the excuse to buy the book for its gorgeous gorgeous cover.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined. (more)


This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone – 16 July 2019

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I think half the bloggers I know have been raving about this book, and it sounds like the wonderfully weird mathy unique SciFi that I think I would love. I’ve got a copy of it arriving in the mail and I can’t wait to get to it.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more.

Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right? (more)


The Wolf’s Call – Anthony Ryan – 23 July 2019

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Blood Song was one of the reasons I got hooked on the fantasy genre, way back in 8th grade. I was pretty disappointed with how the rather infamous rest of the series turned out, but I’m always down for more Vaelin and several of the early reviews look promising.

PEACE NEVER LASTS

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. Yet he cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Now whispers have come from across the sea of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat. (more)


Shatter the Sky – Rebecca Kim Wells – 30 July 2019

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Lesbians. Dragons. Political drama. Yes please and thank you! I’ve got an ARC of this one sitting on my Kindle and you can bet the moment I saw this on NetGalley I smashed the request button.

Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground… (more)

The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

38581969Publication Date: 13 August 2019
Publisher: Text Publishing
Format: eBookc, ARC
Pages: ~24,000
Word Count: ~21,000
ISBN: 1925603741

Summary:

Lottie collects dead creatures and lovingly cares for them, hoping to preserve them, to save them from disintegration. Her father understands—Lottie has a scientific mind, he thinks. Her aunt wants it to stop, and she goes to cruel lengths to make sure it does.

And her mother? Lottie’s mother died long ago. And Lottie is searching for a way to be close to her.

The Art of Taxidermy is a heartbreaking verse novel exploring love and death, grief and beauty, and the ways we try to make sense of it all.

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

This is one of the few non-SFF novels that will appear on this blog, but like the main character, I have a fascination with death and so when a title like The Art of Taxidermy appeared on NetGalley, I knew I just had to read it. What I did not expect was that this novel is actually a collection of poetry that together make-up one complete story: a story about a girl who experiences death too early in her life and finds herself inexplicably drawn to dead animals at a young age, much to the chagrin of her aunt. The book itself is a quick read, but it packs quite an emotional punch that I was not expecting to hit on a flight at 2AM. The cast of characters around Charlotte, our young taxidermist-to-be, become quite well fleshed-out and very realistic. Primarily, this book deals with grief, and how different people handle it, and how they let it change their behavior. I won’t spoil anything, but this ending is happily ever after. Overall, I rate this book a 4/5.

The True Queen by Zen Cho

32671617Publication Date: 12 March 2019
Publisher: Ace Books
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 384
Word Count: ~104,000
ISBN: 0425283410

Summary: 

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

 

***

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

DNF@25

This is a weird one for me, because I didn’t really dislike it. The main characters, Muna and her sister Sakti were quite compelling main characters and the overall worldbuilding, the combination of Malaysian and English cultures, was quite interesting. There’s a lot to like in this book. However, for some reason, I kept finding myself straying whenever I tried to read it, and after the fifth time trying to pick it up, I had to call it quits. I think a large part of it had to do with the writing style, namely the Regency-style prose. I adore Regency-era settings, but I’ve learned through high school English classes that I can’t stand that era’s writing style, and there was just a little too much of that in here. Perhaps in the future, I’ll try to give this another go.

2019-2020 Bingo Squares:

  • SFF featuring an ocean setting
  • SFF published in 2019
  • #OwnVoices

T5W – Rainy Day Reads

T5W is a weekly book meme created by Lainey from Gingereadslainey and hosted by Sam from Thought On Tomes with a different bookish topic each week. You can check out the GoodReads group here. The group is currently on a summer hiatus, so I’ll be picking out topics I think are fun for these three months.

Topic: Rainy Day Reads – Short, fun reads for when I want to lift my mood and turn my brain off on a rainy day

The Last Sun by KD Edwards

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This was a recent read that I just simply COULD NOT put down. The plot was thoroughly rompy, the worldbuilding was creative, and the characters, especially Rune and Brand, were extremely fun to read. It’s been a while since a book has grabbed me so much and I foresee many re-reads in the future.

Read More »

T5W – Emerald Covers

T5W is a weekly book meme created by Lainey from Gingereadslainey and hosted by Sam from Thought On Tomes with a different bookish topic each week. You can check out the GoodReads group here. The group is currently on a summer hiatus, so I’ll be picking out topics I think are fun for these three months.

Topic: Emerald Covers – May’s birthstone is emerald so talk about those emerald covers. Not just green. EMERALD.

A quick perusal of my Goodreads tells me that I’ve read ZERO books with emerald covers. And very very few with green covers at that. So I’m afraid this will be a very short post of emerald covers I find pretty but haven’t read and only may or may not read

May 2019 Wrap-Up

I used to do my monthly wrap-ups on my BookTube channel. However, with my move to my internship, I haven’t been able to figure out a schedule to film without disturbing my roommates, so I’m going to put this one on my blog for now and hopefully figure out a regular schedule for my BookTube in the coming weeks.


Read

I had a pretty solid set of books this month, 4s and 5s across the board. I also managed to knock out several ARCs off my TBR so I can get back to the rest of the TBR faster.

The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare, Wesley Chu – (4/5)

  • A fun romp for those looking for more Malec content. Also not a bad starting point for the Shadowhunters universe

Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee – (5/5)review to come

  • Fantastic for fans of the Ninefox Gambit series ft even more Jedao & Cheris content and setup for a possible new series!?

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett – (4/5) review to come

  • A solid YA debut based on the Russian Night Witches featuring female friendships and not saving the world for once

The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot – (4/5) – review to come

  • Didn’t realize this was a verse novel going in, but I actually quite enjoyed the somewhat subdued atmosphere, fitting for a book about death

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto – (4/5)

  • PHEONIX MOUNTS Y’ALL!! I’ve actually never read a book that featured pheonixes so prominently and man I did not know what I was missing. Some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen out of a YA fantasy novel in recent years.

The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, SL Huang, Rivers Solomon – (5/5)review to come

  • This was an awesome serial audiobook experience that handled the idea of different levels of extremities that occur on one side of a problem extremely well. Even the “villains” were pretty sympathetic and the main characters were great

To Read

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence
Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence

  • I don’t believe in monthly TBRs for the most part, but I really do need to get to these books so I’m making this section for once

Written Reviews

My one-review-per-Friday policy means if I get a really good month of reading in, it’ll be a while before some of my reviews go live (see the read section, almost all of those have already been written/scheduled already). It also means that the reviews of books I’ve read in previous months end up getting posted in a later month.


Other Posts

Reviews aren’t the only things I write! This month especially, I think I had some really good non-review, non-T5W posts.

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

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Publication Date: 2 April 2019
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Word Count: ~100,000
ISBN: 0316417270

Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army. They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness. Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.

We Rule the Night is a powerful story about sacrifice, complicated friendships, and survival despite impossible odds.

****

Review:

Book three of my finals-what-finals reading binge, We Rule the Night was a solid YA novel about military sexism, overcoming disabilities, and female friendships. It features two of the most realistic female YA characters I’ve read in a while, as well as some fantasic character development when said two characters are forced to put their differences aside to prove their positions in the military. The book pulls clears inspiration from the Russian Night Witches, an extremely successful squadron of all female squadron of bomber pilots from WWII, which just made me love it all the more.

We Rule The Night centers about two girls, Revna Roshena and Linne Zolonov, whose lives could not be more different yet find themselves in an experimental group of female bomber pilots. Revna is a “second class” citizen who works long hours in a military factory manufacturing war machines for the Union. She’s a Good Union Girl who tries her hardest to support her family after her father’s treason stripped them of “Protector of the Union” status (aka normal citizenship) and despite her confinement to a wheelchair due to an accident that cost her both legs. Linne is a “not like other girls” and starts the book having been caught for disguising herself as a boy to enlist in the army to fight the Elda. She’s a practical realist who hates the facts that the other girls in this experimental regiment refuse to behave like soldiers (and dare I say a little edgy). Her father is also one of the commanding generals of the military.

When the two meet, saying they don’t hit it off well would be an understatement. Linne doesn’t think Revna belongs in their regiment because her disability will slow them down and hold them back. Revna dislikes everything Linne represents (privilege due to her family’s high status and the contrast between her image and everything the propaganda posters have taught her) and also because she’s kind of an ass to the other girls. There’s a strong difference in perspective for the two girls, and given their experiences, they’re both extremely justified. What I loved was that there’s never just one magical moment where the two suddenly realize the other is right. They bicker and they argue and they constantly try to prove the other wrong, yet they acknowledge that they work extremely well together.

What I also loved about this book was the scope. This isn’t a mission-to-save-the-world kind of book. In fact, the actions of the book’s climax are barely significant in the grand scheme of the war the Union is fighting. Yet, it’s so satisfying because of the personal victories the characters win for themselves and for each other. It also acts as a fantastic set-up for potential future books in the series (*crossing fingers*) as a first show for the girls to spread their wings and prove to their male counterparts that yes, they do belong in this war.

I am hoping that in future books, the history of the Union and Elda are explained a little more. Currently, we know as much as the characters know, which is basically propaganda and that the Union isn’t doing all that well. There’s a whole underlayer to the war and motivation that’s barely been touched on and it’s all stuff that I think would be really fascinating to read.

Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. I thoroughly enjoyed both the female friendships and the ever-changing relationship between Revna and Linne as they (slowly) learn to work together. I did find myself agreeing with Linne more often, but I could definitely see Revna’s side. I’m fascinated by the worldbuilding and I can’t wait to read more.

Bingo Squares: Character with a disability (hard mode), 2019 Publication (hard mode), Title with 4+ Words,

/r/Fantasy 2018-2019 Bingo Squares:

  • Character with a disability (Hard mode)
  • 2019 Publication (hard mode)
  • Title with 4+ words

T5W – Bookish Things I’ve Changed My Mind About

T5W is a weekly book meme created by Lainey from Gingereadslainey and hosted by Sam from Thought On Tomes with a different bookish topic each week. You can check out the GoodReads group here. The group is currently on a summer hiatus, so I’ll be picking out topics I think are fun for these three months.

Topic: Bookish Things I’ve Changed My Mind About

Bookmarks

Bookmarks are something to change your mind over, but I actually used to hate using bookmarks. When I was young (read elementary-high school), I was somehow able to just memorize the page number I was on, and as such, I thought bookmarks were for losers. As a 20-something, I have no idea how my younger self did it, and I need a bookmark to keep my place. Plus, a lot of them are super pretty.

Read More »

Anticipated June 2019 Releases

Summer comes on the tail of BookExpo/BookCon and I’m convinced some of the best releases come in the upcoming months. June is certainly solid for me, with several books I’ve received ARCs for but also several that I’m eagerly awaiting publication!


Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey – 4 June 2019

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I read an excerpt of this one a while ago and for some reason, murder mystery in a magic school setting never occurred to me as a possibility. The prologue was thoroughly creepy (chattery sentient books observing a murder) and I’m interested in the rest.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.


Empress of Forever – Max Gladstone – 18 June 2019

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Just reading the summary makes this book seem absolutely wild. I’ve admittedly never read a Max Gladstone book, but I have several blogger friends who will rave about him and this seems like a good place to start.

A wildly successful innovator to rival Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, Vivian Liao is prone to radical thinking, quick decision-making, and reckless action. On the eve of her greatest achievement, she’s trying to outrun those who are trying to steal her success.

In the chilly darkness of a Boston server farm, Viv sets her ultimate plan into motion. A terrifying instant later, Vivian Liao is catapulted through space and time to a far future where she confronts a destiny stranger and more deadly than she could ever imagine.

The end of time is ruled by an ancient, powerful Empress who blesses or blasts entire planets with a single thought. Rebellion is literally impossible to consider–until Vivian arrives. Trapped between the Pride, a ravening horde of sentient machines, and a fanatical sect of warrior monks who call themselves the Mirrorfaith, Viv must rally a strange group of allies to confront the Empress and find a way back to the world and life she left behind.


Soul of the Sword – Julie Kagawa – 25 June 2019

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This is the sequel to Shadow of the Fox (check out my review here) which I have raved about so much because that book was just so fun to read. The first book was a historical anime in book form and I just cannot wait to start reading the second. I’ve gotten it on NetGalley so I’m really hoping to get to it before June.

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.

Now he has broken free.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. (more)


Hexarchate Stories – Yoon Ha Lee – 25 June 2019

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For fans of the Ninefox Gambit series, this collection is a must read. I was lucky enough to read this book early from NetGalley and it does a fantastic job filling in the gaps and fleshing out the characters. Highly recommended to fans of the Ninefox Gambit series!

The essential short story collection set in the universe of Ninefox Gambit.

An ex-Kel art thief has to save the world from a galaxy-shattering prototype weapon…

A general outnumbered eight-to-one must outsmart his opponent…

A renegade returns from seclusion to bury an old comrade… (more)


Wicked Fox – Kat Cho – 25 June 2019

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Admittedly, Wicked Fox isn’t my usual reading fare, but as usual, I’m a sucker of As/AsAm fantasy and the excerpt I read looked pretty good. Also, thanks to Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox books, I’ve found myself gravitating to anything with ninetailed foxes and guess what this book’s main character is. Finally, this cover is incredibly pretty.

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process. (more)