Top Ten Tuesday – 27th November

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 27th November is…Platonic relationships in booksI love when platonic relationships are given a true focus in books, so this is a great topic for me!

  1. Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler – this YA contemporary about two best friends trying to make decisions about colleges is truly wonderful. Adler treats their friendship with such respect and really lets it shine
  2. The Rachel Peng series by KB Spangler – this series is full of platonic relationships, and is really all about found family. Go, read them all, now!
  3. The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas – there’s an unexpected friendship that becomes hugely important to this story, and I loved it. It really grounded the main character’s story, and took things in a direction I wasn’t expecting
  4. Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – there’s a great friendship in this book between one of the main characters and her ex-boyfriend, and it’s lovely to see people staying friends with their exes
  5. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – at the core of this book is the relationships that develop between the three main characters, and I just love it
  6. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers – I can’t say too much about the platonic relationships in this book without spoiling things, or spoiling the previous book in the series, but it’s truly a book all about friendship
  7. The Winnowing Flame series by Jen Williams – there are a lot of characters in this series, and a lot of complex relationships, but they’re all brilliantly developed by Williams, and I can’t wait to see what will happen to them in the final book in the series
  8. The Seven Shores series by Melissa Brayden – although these are romance novels, the heart of the series is the friendship between the four main characters, and I love how it ties the whole series together
  9. Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman – there’s a gorgeous friendship in this book between the main character and the older man who lives next door to her aunt. That kind of intergenerational friendship is sorely lacking in fiction, and it’s a hugely important part of this lovely book
  10. Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian – there’s a platonic relationship in this book that I sense is going to become even more important in the second book and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that goes

I could definitely have put more books on this list, but these are some of the first ones that came to mind!

What are your favourite bookish platonic relationships? If you’ve got a Top Ten Tuesday this week, pop the link in a comment and I’ll check it out!

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Top Ten Tuesday – 20th November 2018

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 20th November is…Thanksgiving/thankful freebie, and I’m just going to pick ten books that I’m thankful for!

  1. The Rachel Peng series by KB Spangler – you all must be tired of hearing me go on about these books! But I love them, and I’m thankful for their mix of science, thriller, friendship, and queer romance
  2. Final Draft by Riley Redgate – I only read this book this year, but I’m thankful for a main character who made me feel incredibly seen
  3. Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge – this book had been on my TBR for ages, and I’m thankful for its incredible plot, and how brilliantly it lived up to my expectations
  4. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily R Danforth – I finally have my own copy of this amazing book, and I’m thankful that it’s come to the forefront again with its brilliant adaptation
  5. The Secret Place by Tana French – another book that I recommend all the time! I’m thankful for its incredible representation of the friendships of teenage girls, and the strange isolation of all girls’ schools
  6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – I read this book only a few weeks ago, but I’m thankful for its incredible writing, and a story that’s just so relevant in our current time
  7. The Court of Fives series by Kate Elliott – the audiobooks of this series are great, and I’m thankful for the thoughtful entertainment they gave me while I was travelling
  8. The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas – another one that I keep recommending, and I’m thankful for the lessons it’s taught me about pacing and plotting
  9. When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson – another old favourite, I’m thankful for a main character who really speaks to me, and for a family that makes me both sad and thankful for my own, tiny family
  10. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers – I spent roughly the last fifty pages of this book crying, and I’m so grateful for that, and for the way this book talks about friendship and humanity and what it means to be alive

I’m thankful for all these books, for various reasons, but they’re all books that have brought something lovely into my life and really stuck with me.

Have you read any of them? What books have made you thankful? And if you’ve got a Top Ten post this week, pop the link in a comment below and I’ll check it out.

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Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Let's Talk About Love

I borrowed the ebook of Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann from the library. Let’s Talk about Love is a contemporary queer YA novel, published by Swoon Reads, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, and was released in the UK in January 2018

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Alice had her whole summer planned. Non-stop all-you-can-eat buffets while marathoning her favorite TV shows (best friends totally included) with the smallest dash of adulting–working at the library to pay her share of the rent. The only thing missing from her perfect plan? Her girlfriend (who ended things when Alice confessed she’s asexual). Alice is done with dating–no thank you, do not pass go, stick a fork in her, done.

But then Alice meets Takumi and she can’t stop thinking about him or the rom com-grade romance feels she did not ask for (uncertainty, butterflies, and swoons, oh my!).

When her blissful summer takes an unexpected turn, and Takumi becomes her knight with a shiny library employee badge (close enough), Alice has to decide if she’s willing to risk their friendship for a love that might not be reciprocated—or understood.

Let’s Talk About Love is another of the books I came to in my reading of books with asexual main characters. It came out only earlier this year, and although it didn’t quite work for me, I think it has a lot of things going for it.

We follow Alice, the main character, through a summer between college years. Her hyper-successful family are pushing her to make a decision about her major, and she’s living with her best friends whilst working at the library to earn some money. It works very well as a setting for a book, providing a discrete period in which to experience Alice’s life, as she’s on the brink of so many changes.

The main settings for the book are Alice’s flat, where she lives with her best friends, the library, and then Takumi’s flat. I particularly loved the library and Alice’s colleagues there, and the different perspectives they brought to her life. It was also entertaining to see her try to balance work with friends, her growing relationship with Takumi, and her education. I think this felt very realistic, and especially with Alice’s desire to be more independent than she had done previously.

As a main character, Alice is bright and bubbly, constantly looking for the positives in things and to forgive those who’ve upset her. It’s refreshing to have such an overwhelmingly positive character centre-stage in a YA novel, and even more so to see her examine that desire to please, and see how it might be affecting her life in less positive ways. The book also portrays the important message that therapy can be a great tool for people, and it’s great to see Alice explore some of the things she’s struggled with with her new therapist, and learn how to open up.

I think Alice’s asexuality is dealt with well in the book. Alice herself is not uncomfortable with it, but she’s hugely uncomfortable with the idea of talking to anyone else about it, with few exceptions. Even when she does talk about it, she talks around the word itself, which I think will be familiar to many queer people who’ve struggled to get the words out, even though they may be comfortable with those words themselves. I also appreciated the way she questioned herself, when her experiences gave her new information that she then had to fit into her existing perception of herself. And with Alice being alloromantic, it’s lovely to see how a romantic relationship can develop without any sexual component.

Race is also an important part of the book. From the microaggressions Alice experiences, to the expectations her parents have for her based on the idea that because she’s black, she has to be twice as good to get the half the recognition of her white peers, this book deals with many of the day to day realities of being a person of colour in the US, or at least that’s how it reads to me, as a white person not from the US. And with Takumi being Japanese, we get some of his experiences as well, as well as a super positive portrayal of an interracial relationship.

The last thing to talk about is the relationships in the book. For me, the development of the relationship between Alice and Takumi didn’t quite work, at least at the start. They seemed to go very quickly from ‘Alice is too awkward and can’t talk to Takumi properly’ to spending all their time together, and I didn’t really understand how that transition happened. However, I think that in terms of portrayed a developing relationship between an asexual person and an allosexual person, Kann did a good job: it’s not all sunshine and roses, but there’s none of the amisia that characterised Alice’s relationship with her ex-girlfriend, just a learning process that needs to be undertaken from both sides.

The friendship between Alice, Feenie, and Ryan is the other cornerstone of the book, and I think this is one of the book’s strongest parts. It’s uncomfortable, for sure, particularly as the friendship fractures over the course of the story and you wonder if it can be mended, but it feels very real. It also touches on a lot of issues which will be familiar to people who’ve been through those transitional years, when you finish college/high school and have to reconfigure your friendships to fit into the new world you now inhabit.

I think this book represents an important step forward in ace rep in fiction, particularly in YA fiction. Even though I personally didn’t love the book, I still think Let’s Talk About Love is a good book, and could be particularly important for young people figuring out their own sexuality and seeing asexuality represented in a positive way, and very particularly for young queer people of colour. Overall, although this book wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a cute romance novel with an ace heroine, and hope that it’s only the first in long line of books which put ace-spec characters front and centre, and treat them with respect.

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Top Ten Tuesday – 13th November 2018

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 13th November is…bookish items/merchandise I’d like to ownI’m not really one for merch, trying to cut down on the amount of stuff I own, so I’m picking a random topic of my own, which is audiobooks I’d recommend.

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams, read by the author – this was our family listening material on holiday when I was a kid, and I refuse to listen to any other version, even though these versions are weirdly hard to get hold of
  2. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, read by Cherise Boothe – I listened to this a few months back and it was just incredible. The narration was outstanding, adding to an already amazing book
  3. The Court of Fives series by Kate Elliott, read by Georgia Dolenz – I loved this YA fantasy series, and having it read to me was an absolute joy
  4. The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas, read by Phoebe Strole – I only listened to this the other month, and it just brilliant. NARRATOR did a great job with both SISTERS, and really ramped up the tension as the book’s climax approached
  5. Final Draft by Riley Redgate, read by Mariand Torres – another recent listen, this book absolutely destroyed me, and having the audiobook meant that I reached dramatic moments at really inappropriate times
  6. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, read by the author – seventeen hours of fascinating, depressing political commentary that brought me close to tears on a surprising number of occasions
  7. Spectacles by Sue Perkins, read by the author – I love Sue Perkins, and her autobiography was a hilarious listen which definitely benefited from Perkins’ skill with accents
  8. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, read by the author – this is a great non-fiction listen, as Vowell travels to the sites of three presidential assassinations and takes the listener through a in-depth tour of them, and the politics of the time
  9. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, read by the author – another celeb autobiography, I laughed my way through this hysterical book, and particularly enjoyed hearing about Kendrick’s experiences breaking into the industry
  10. We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union, read by the author – a final celeb autobiography (because I love them!), Union’s book is great, with some harrowing moments and a lot of intensity

I love a good audiobook, and these are some that I’ve listened to and really enjoyed.

Have you listened to any of these? And are there any others that you would recommend? If you’ve got a top ten list this week, pop the link in a comment and I’ll check it out!

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Rise Up! by Chris Bone

Rise Up

I received a free e-ARC of Rise Up: Broadway and American Society from Angels in America to Hamilton by Chris Jones from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my views. Rise Up! is a non-fiction book, due to be published by Methuen Drama, an imprint of Bloomsbury, in the UK on 15th November 2018.

Synopsis

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Penned by one of America’s best-known daily theatre critics and organized chronologically, this lively and readable book tells the story of Broadway’s renaissance from the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, via the disaster that was Spiderman: Turn off the Dark through the unparalleled financial, artistic and political success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. It is the story of the embrace of risk and substance. In so doing, Chris Jones makes the point that the theatre thrived by finally figuring out how to embrace the bold statement and insert itself into the national conversation – only to find out in 2016 that a hefty sector of the American public had not been listening to what it had to say.

Chris Jones was in the theatres when and where it mattered. He takes readers from the moment when Tony Kushner’s angel crashed (quite literally) through the ceiling of prejudice and religious intolerance to the triumph of Hamilton, with the coda of the Broadway cast addressing a new Republican vice-president from the stage. That complex performance – at once indicative of the theatre’s new clout and its inability to fully change American society for the better – is the final scene of the book.

Review

I’m someone who loves the theatre, but isn’t all that knowledgeable about it. So a book about some of Broadway’s recent history, since Angels in America, seemed right up my street. It should be noted that this book is not, nor does it purport to be, a comprehensive history of the American theatre or Broadway. It focuses specifically on those recent plays which have, in some way, incorporated something new within then, and impacted both Broadway, and the wider theatrical world.

The book is structured in chronological order, from Angels in America in to Hamilton. Each chapter focuses on one (or occasionally two) play(s), and Jones discusses the history and development of the playwright, those who influenced them, those who followed them, and why this specific play had the impact that it did. For someone who doesn’t always know the backstories behind the plays she sees, it was so interesting to learn more about the writers, producers, and original casts. I also feel like I understand a bit more about the economics of Broadway itself and what ‘success’ actually means, which is in some ways pretty clear cut (financial success), and in other ways much more nebulous (a lasting legacy, starting a conversation which outlasts the play itself).

All the plays discussed are those which have tried something new – an unusual topic, new technologies – whether that’s worked out for them or not. Some have brought significant events to wider audiences, some have fused different cultures and traditions, and others have tried to bring the drama and elaborate effects of the screen to the theatre (we’re all looking at you there, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark). There were a couple of that I particularly enjoyed reading about, and all plays that I’ve been lucky enough to see myself. Angels in America and Rent, which both focus on the AIDS epidemic but in different times and from very different perspectives, and both of which I saw last year. And then Wicked, which was my personal entrance into musical fandom, but the genesis of which I knew little about. All of the book is fascinating, but for me, my personal experience really enhanced these chapters.

Jones’s writing is great, bringing a light touch to what could potentially be a fairly dense read. The book is full of information, but it’s presented in a way that makes it incredibly readable. Added to which is the fact that, for many of the plays being discussed, the behind the scenes stories are as fascinating as the plays themselves. With his long involvement with the theatre, Jones is able to pepper this book with anecdotes, and with the kind of detail that only comes from deeply, truly knowing a subject.

Summary

I found this book absolutely fascinating, bringing together topics that I love – theatre and social history/commentary – in an incredibly informative and readable book. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys the theatre, and particularly anyone with an interest in how forms of entertainment both influence and are influenced by the circumstances in which they are created and performed.

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Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Empress of All Seasons

I received a free e-ARC of Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean from NetGalley in return for review consideration; receipt of a free copy has not affected my opinion or the contents of this review. Empress of All Seasons is a YA fantasy novel, due to be published by Gollancz, an imprint of Orion, in the UK on 8th November 2018.

Below is the Goodreads synopsis of the book:

Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy. 

Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.

Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy.

Empress of All Seasons is another book I was seeing all over my Twitter feed, so I knew I had to request it when it appeared on Netgalley. But for a few reasons, I found it to be kind of a strange read in the end.

In the book, we follow the main character, Mari, as well as Prince Taro and Akira, the Son of Nightmares. All three have very distinctive voices and by switching between them, Jean is able to give the reader different perspectives on Honoku, the vastly different experiences of the yōkai and the humans, and the uncertain, unsettled situation within the empire.

The setting and sense of place is brilliant, particularly in the seasonal rooms Mari is trying to survive to win the prince’s hand. I felt that the palace and surrounding city were very vividly described, and I could really picture where all the action was taking place. The story also felt very connected to the world in which it took place, both influencing and being influenced by the landscape in way I enjoyed, and which made me hugely appreciative of all the work that must have gone in to the worldbuilding.

I thought the book was beautifully written. Jean has a lovely way with descriptive language, but it never feels like the prose is overwhelming the plot. Japanese folklore is incorporated very skilfully into the book, and there are enough explanations for those, like me, who are unfamiliar with some of the words or the history, without it feeling bogged down with exposition.

However, I did have some issues as the book approached its end. Although I understood and appreciated the message Jean was trying to convey (and indeed, it is explicitly stated right at the end of the book), I didn’t feel like the story itself bore out that message. It often felt that characters were saying or indicating a belief in one thing, but not following through on that belief with their actions. It meant that, for me, I felt that the book lacked depth and, in the end, felt like a fairly shallow, well-meaning exploration of an idea, rather than a cohesive narrative with a strong central message. I also felt that the pacing didn’t quite work for me, as there was a lot of build up, and then a short, action-packed climax, followed by a very brief tying up of loose ends. I would have liked to see the last section slowed down a lot, so I could really enjoy the experience.

The book also includes an example of the Bury Your Gays trope, and in a way that I found particularly frustrating, as the sexuality of the character(s) in question wasn’t mentioned until one had already been killed off. To me, that made it feel like diversity for diversity’s sake, and I would actually have vastly preferred if their sexuality had just not been mentioned at all, as it made no impact on the plot.

Overall, though I enjoyed the experience of reading this book because of the gorgeous writing and vivid settings, I found the storyline underwhelming, and the end of the book quite frustrating. I would definitely be interested in reading more of Jean’s books in the future, but I would be hesitant about recommending this particular book.

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Top Ten Tuesday – 6th November 2018

I’m doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, which is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and the theme for 6th November is…backlist books I want to readI mean this, is probably 75% of my TBR, so I’m going to try and pick some things I haven’t talked about before:

  1. The Children of Men by PD James – I’ve not even seen the movie of this (which is apparently also great), but I should probably move this up the list
  2. Little Girls in Pretty Boxes by Joan Ryan – this is a non-fiction book about the ways that competitive gymnasts and figure skaters are treated by their coaches and by their sports in general. Spoiler alert, it’s not good
  3. Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott – dystopian future with queer characters, what more could I want?!
  4. Empathy by Sarah Schulman – a lesbian classic, I don’t know if this one has aged super well, but I’m definitely intrigued
  5. The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner – this YA series got added to my list after someone else’s recommendation post, so I’d like to get to it soon
  6. Grass by Sheri S Tepper – this book’s even sitting on my bookshelf! I’ve read some of Tepper’s other books and enjoyed them, so I would definitely like to read this
  7. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – this one’s mostly on the list because I’ve heard such good things about one of Hartman’s other books in the series, so I need to read this one first!
  8. All Systems Red by Martha Wells – basically, the whole of the Murderbot series is something I really, really want to read
  9. Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney – I’ve read one of Heaney’s other books, but am very interested in reading her memoir as I think there’s going to be a lot that will resonate with me
  10. Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi – finishing the list with some queer SF, about which I’ve heard such good things

Putting together this list just makes me want to get to these books sooner! No idea when that’s going to happen, given how many other books I also want to read, but these are definitely some of my top choices.

Have you read any of these books? What backlist books are you keen to read? And if you’ve got a Top Ten list this week, pop the link in a comment and I’ll check it out!

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