<![CDATA[Erin Rockfort - Blog]]>Fri, 23 Oct 2020 06:22:09 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 42]]>Fri, 23 Oct 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-42I am...deeply uncomfortable with the fact that this week means there are only ten more weeks left in the year 2020

No thank you!!!
#83: THE DRAGON REPUBLIC by R.F. Kuang

So I read The Poppy War over a year ago. And then reread it a few months ago for my podcast (shameless plug: 
https://brodaciousbookclub.buzzsprout.com/903883/3462592-the-poppy-war-by-r-f-kuang - really though I think it's one of our best episodes, available on your fave podcatcher).

And then didn't read The Dragon Republic because I'm so gosh darn bad at getting past book 1. Listen, there's so many books out there?? Who has time??

Anyway, all this to say that The Dragon Republic is excellent. Everything that the Poppy War does well, the Dragon Republic does better, in my opinion. That might just be because the author don't have to worry about setting up the world or the characters, she can just start from go with a story that is both achingly tragic and deeply moving.

Similar warnings to The Poppy War in terms of violence, sexual assault, with newcomer "implied cannibalism", which is fun. Also, some ableism, though I think this book goes further to challenge it than its predecessor (not that the ableism in The Poppy War is, imo, portrayed as a GOOD thing). 

[mild spoilers for The Poppy War]

It's hard to continue on with a series when book one ends with the protagonist committing genocide. Like, that's pretty much number one on the "unlikeable protagonist" scale. And yet, Kuang manages it. Rin is just as compelling and sympathetic as she was in the first book, in my opinion, made even more heart-wrenching because you (and she!) know what she's capable of. 

The politics are more intense, the world-building really adds onto what was already established, and we get to know the characters better. I was hooked absolutely from page one, I could not put it down. Also, damn, it is super weird (in a good way!) to read the descriptions of the fantasy Europeans/white people in this.

I am absolutely on the edge of my seat for The Burning God. Like, I kind of didn't want to pick up any other books this week because my brain wants book three RIGHT NOW and was unwilling to hook itself on anything else.

#84: THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES by Grady Hendrix

Aaaaaaaaand the award for creepiest paragraph I've read in 2020 goes to........

Seriously though, when I first picked this up, I thought it would be light-hearted spooky fun. Housewives form a book club and then slay a vampire! What could go wrong! Not to say that it's NOT spooky, because it is, and not to say that it's not FUN, because I did enjoy it (though I'm not sure that fun is the word I would use). But light-hearted this book is not!

Major CW for child sexual abuse, gaslighting/manipulation, mentions of suicide and suicide attempts, ableism, and an EXTREMELY upsetting scene involving insects (feel free to DM for details).

Honestly, this book ended up being a lot slower and more thoughtful than I was expecting it to be, interspersed with moments of horrifying action. For example, very early in the book, the main character is attacked and has her ear partially bitten off by an old woman who is under vague vampiric influence. So, y'know.

I was definitely invested in the characters, and particularly, in the main character's attempts to safeguard her home and her children from a literal predator. I cared about her family life and her ongoing book club, though woof, it all got a bit rough for a while.

There's a bunch of issues that I can't really speak to in terms of how well this book handles them. For example, the vampire in question targets Black children because he knows they're less likely to be protected by the state. Obviously this is not portrayed as a good thing, but is potentially worth mentioning that it means there are more Black victims than white ones, which sat a bit uneasily with me (especially because most, though not all, of the main characters are white, as are the children who get to survive their ordeal).

Also, it is perhaps worth examining that the horror of this book hinges on an "other" moving into a primarily white neighbourhood. While it's clear that the author is aware of social issues and the ways in which the state is racist, the premise itself when looked at on a thematic level leaves me squinting, just a little. Not necessarily the author's fault, just something to be aware of with this kind of book, perhaps.

(There are also no queer people in this book. That's a little beside the point maybe, given that it's clearly going for a "small town white-bread heteropatriarchy" kind of vibe, but still. I calls it like I sees it.)

So in conclusion, I did enjoy the suspenseful, thrilling aspects, and, genuinely, also the gross-out elements, but I would definitely want to be providing a good heaping of content warnings before recommending this.

NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA

#85: The Skylark Saga by J.M. Frey
#86: Axiom's End by Lindsey Ellis
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 41]]>Fri, 16 Oct 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-41Hey!! It's CanCon weekend! That feels significant (and not just because I didn't finish my reading in time shooooooooosh). Kind of a sad reminder that we're all still living in this very strange world where friends only exist online and not in real life.

Hmm. Now I've just made myself a little sad. But, hey, you know what'll cheer me up? Reviewing some books! What's on the list for this week? Parable of the Sower? Err........
#81: THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER by Octavia E. Butler

So this was maybe an odd book to read at the time I was reading it.

A novel about societal collapse related to an increase in climate change and related environmental events? What? No, that's not anxiety-provoking or timely at all!!!

Despite this story being pretty dark at times (seriously, CW for violence, sexual assault, and death - you know, the usual apocalyptic things) and despite it being very focused on religion, which is usually not my thing, I actually quite enjoyed this? 

Parable of the Sower follows Lauren, a girl trying to make her way in a world that's falling apart, getting more and more violent by the day as people scramble for resources. Meanwhile, she's discovering a new religion called "Earthseed", which focuses on the nature of change and has a goal of getting humankind to space.


I think I liked this so well due to a combination of the fact that Butler's writing is very good and engaging, and her characters are very well-formed very quickly. The story started out a little slowly, but once it got to the actual meat, I was enjoying what I was reading. I found myself easily getting attached to the characters (risky in an apocalyptic story).

Also, I think what really worked for me was that, despite the fact that the world is literally burning and the characters are always in mortal peril, that horrific things are happening to and around them, there's still a strong kernel of hope.

The main character Lauren is very driven by her goal of forming an Earthseed community and, importantly, it's a community built on taking care of each other. Over and over again, she and her comrades choose to help the people around them, when it would be easier to abandon them to their fate. Even though the novel ends on a distinctly bittersweet note, I didn't mind too much, because I wanted these characters to succeed, and I believed in their ability to do so.


I know there's a sequel, but I'm almost a little hesitant to read it. I liked where this book ended really well, and I feel fairly certain that a sequel would only double down on the tragedy of life in this wasteland. I probably will at some point pick it up, but for now, I'd like to leave these characters in their own little safe haven.

#82: RAYBEARER by Jordan Ifueko

Oh, this book really doesn't disappoint!

I've been seeing good reviews about Raybearer for weeks (months?) and friends, they were not lying! This book really is that good!

It follows Tarisai, the daughter of the mysterious Lady, sent on a dangerous and awful mission. Interesting magic system, court intrigue, and big found family feels await her as she struggles to balance her duty with her new feelings of belonging and acceptance.

This book feels like a warm hug. I love the characters, I love the soft tragedy that unfolds as you understand more of the motivations, and I love the use of irony. I was entirely on board with this journey, and I'm so very excited to read the sequel (oops, is that a spoiler?). 

Also, it goes without saying that it's deeply awesome to see fantasy based in West African mythos. There's also quiet but definitely present queer representation, including ace representation, which is great.

NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA

#83: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
​#84: The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 40]]>Fri, 09 Oct 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-40Well...so much for my goal to read all my CanCon 2019 books before CanCon 2020...oops? They're in my list! In the meantime, enjoy my "continuing to be swamped by the library holds" reviews...
#79: GIRL, SERPENT, THORN by Melissa Bashardoust

I LOVED this book.

I really like retellings of fairy tales and folklore, and though this wasn't precisely that, it feels so much like it that I was probably bound to enjoy it. My understanding is that it's based on elements from Persian folklore (e.g. divs feature heavily within the story), but not a retelling of any specific story.

It's a pretty fine line to walk, but enables the story to have those folkloric elements like curses and monsters and destinies, while still being a story that appeals very clearly to modern sensibilities and modern reckonings.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn follows Soraya, the sister of the shah, who has grown up with a curse: she cannot touch a living thing with her bare skin without killing it. When she finds out about a potential way to lift this curse, she begins to unravel the complicated story of her family's rise to power, and reckons with being "poisonous."

This is, bizarrely, not the first story about a girl able to kill anyone by touch that I've read and loved this year. I guess maybe this is a trope I enjoy? But also, this and The Obsidian Tower are very different books in many ways, though both very well written.

In particular, the thing that stands out to me about this book is the character of Soraya herself. She's fascinating and complex in a way that I feel female characters often aren't allowed to be; the narrative allows her to be deeply angry about what has happened to her, while still allowing for her to repent for the mistakes she makes. 

Furthermore, I love the use of her curse, of the concept of being "poisonous." I love that it's portrayed as having caused her pain, yes, but also as a kind of power. There's so much going on thematically in this story about family and monstrousness, it's really really excellent. Also, the supporting characters are all well-drawn and fascinating, especially Soraya's one love interest, who has moth wings and was apparently made for me specifically. More moth-girls in fiction, please.

#80: SILVER IN THE WOOD by Emily Tesh

Oh, what a lovely little book!

I wasn't entirely sure what I was about to get into when I picked this book (novella?) up, and I ended up having a really great time with it. Giving information I feel risks giving too much away, but suffice to say, it is a story seeped in folklore and fairy tales and the writing makes it all come alive in a lush, beautiful way.

I know there's a sequel to this book, which is a little confusing to me, but I'm here for it. I really enjoyed this, and I hope you will too.

NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA

#81: The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
#82: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 39]]>Fri, 02 Oct 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-39Spoooooooooky month is here!

I have not chosen particularly spooky titles for this week. Or, come to think of it, for the next few. Sorry! You gotta check out my podcast for that kind of theming (/shameless plug).
#77: BINTI by Nnedi Okorafor

A weird but interesting little novella about a young woman who is the first of her people to attend a space university, and in the process, gets involved in an intergalactic war.

I think the plot is interesting, and the story well-executed, and I like both the main character and the strange tentacled aliens that make up the opposition. I like that the story is seeped in feelings about being an outsider, and there's a strong through-line about reparations and cycles of violence that I always enjoy.

Ultimately, though, I wish it had been longer. The book is only 50 pages, which for me was really not enough to properly sink my teeth into. There's something to be said for a story that gets in and out, but I really think the plot developments could have benefitted with a little bit more room to breathe, and time to get to know the characters and the world a little better.

I didn't really have any issue with the implausibility of some of the science aspects, nor about the use of sacred mud, which seems to be a few people's sticking points with this novel, but I also don't really care about how scientific a sci fi story is, and I actually really liked that it was so deeply engrossed in a (from my understanding, Namibian) cultural tradition. Interested to see where this goes next!

#78: BAKER THIEF by Claudie Arseneault​

Really lovely story about facing down oppressive systems, and also baking.

The story follows Adèle, a cop recently transferred to a new city, and Claire/Claude, the titular baker thief, seeking to find the explanation behind a strange new magical technology. Obviously, there's quite a bit of subterfuge, investigating, and avoiding one another. Plus secret identities! I love secret identities.

The really standout aspect for me is the way the story handles various queer identities. Claire/Claude is genderfluid and aromantic, and Adèle is demisexual (and I think either bi or pan, but I don't remember the story specifying). Particularly, it's nice to read a fantasy story that still uses these words! Also, wow, aromanticism is super rare to see, and even rarer to see characters navigate a queerplatonic relationship.

Come for the croissant puns, stay for the conspiracy unravelling.

NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA

#79: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
​#80: Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 38]]>Fri, 25 Sep 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-38Been a hell of a week, hasn't it?

It feels a little like most weeks are, indeed, hells of weeks, but this past week especially.

Hang in there. At the very least, I've got too good recs for you this time.
#75: THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Talk about a sleeper hit, my goodness.

This is not my genre, this is not my thing, this is not my rodeo, except apparently it is?? Because I loved it???

Again, this is a "I wish I knew how this ended up on my radar" book because I need to get more recs from them IMMEDIATELY. I read this book in a single day and I cried more than once. And not like, getting a little teary, not having one or two noble tears streak down my cheeks, I mean that I full on WEPT.

MULTIPLE TIMES.

It's possible that some of this had to do with me having some weird mental health stuff going on right now, but also, there's absolutely something both about this story and the way Reid writes it that it burrowed its way into my skin and would not let me go.

The book's protagonist is Monique, a magazine writer who's chosen, quite out of the blue, to be the biographer for an aging Hollywood star, Evelyn Hugo. Most of the story is told in first person from Evelyn's point of view, as she dictates her life to Monique, but we also get to know Monique's story and struggles and the ways in which their lives and lessons overlap.

I was cautious when starting this, and it took me probably between 50 and 100 pages to really get invested. Like I said, not my genre, although now that I think about it, I have enjoyed several Hollywood-centric fanfics in the past (Performance In A Leading Role, anyone? Or, more recently, Slow Show?), and this was truly not all that different. However, once I hit the first 100 pages (my reading goal for the day) I found I couldn't put it down.

Evelyn herself is a masterwork of characterization, in my opinion - she's ruthless and headstrong and often very selfish, but in ways that are deeply understandable and human. The war between wanting security, and wanting to prove herself, but also deep down wanting a family, was endlessly fascinating to read, even as it was frequently devastating.

This is a very sad book in a lot of ways - or, perhaps, "bittersweet" is a better word. It deals with racism and sexism and, obviously, homophobia. I think what really got to me is that, despite the fact that the story is at times deeply heartbreaking, it's also filled with so much love and, at times, so much joy, and these I think contributed to why it had its claws so deep. I'm getting a little choked up just writing this.

I don't know if this will be everyone's cup of tea, but I would definitely recommend picking it up if it seems even slightly like it might be.

#76: CLOCKWORK BOYS by T. Kingfisher

Oh hell yes.

I've only read one thing by T Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon before, and while I really enjoyed that, it was her horror novel The Twisted Ones, so I had no idea how her writing would translate to any other genre.

Folks? I was not disappointed.

I'm almost tempted to describe the plot of this novel as a heist. While that's not technically true (the characters aren't trying to steal anything necessarily), the feel of the book and the characters feels way more like a heist than like a traditional quest narrative. Perhaps because the characters are mostly criminals?

Either way, it really worked for me, I liked all the characters, I liked how their relationships developed, and I was invested in seeing where their stories would go. While I was sort of vaguely interested in what they were trying to do (ie stop the dreaded Clockwork Boys that are ravaging towns), and thought there were a lot of cool world-building aspects, it was the characters that really sold this for me.

There's also some surprisingly poignant moments involving the plagues and other general issues that pervade the world these people live in, and I could understand how the characters got themselves to such a place of taking basically a suicide mission, somewhat against their own will. Anyway, I love these weirdos and I wish there was more than just one sequel.

​NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA
#77: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
#78: Baker Thief by Claudie Arsenault 
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 37]]>Fri, 18 Sep 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-37I have officially lost all control of my library holds list, if you're wondering where I'm at this week.

Also, even though Can*Con isn't happening in its usual capacity this year, I still feel a distinct need to actually read the books I bought at last year's Can*Con before the weekend that would normally host the end this year. So like, mid-October. 

Wish me luck on trying to balance that goal with also reading through the books I've gotten from the library!
#73: NETWORK EFFECT by Martha Wells

I feel like very little needs to be said about Murderbot stories at this point, particularly since this is #5 in the series. You like Murderbot? You'll probably like this book!

This is the first novel-length book in the series, though even at that, it only clocks in at around 250 pages, so it's not a massive departure in length. Which, by the way, is not a criticism, I love very few things more than a book that knows how to get in and out efficiently. Like a good burglar.

Without giving anything away, I liked the addition of new characters (including Mensah's daughter), and I liked to see more of Murderbot getting to be Murderbot around people who knew it. I also really enjoyed the return of several characters, and how that enabled the connections developed in earlier books to deepen.

I kind of wish that the series would tackle more directly the android situation in a general sense, by which I mean looking at the broader plight of bots within the world, and what it would mean for more of them to be acknowledged as people. This book probably goes the furthest towards doing so, and maybe that's something they're looking to build towards, I'm not sure, but each book makes me want more and more.

#74: THE MYTHIC DREAM edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolf

Really, who doesn't enjoy a Parisien/Wolf edited anthology? 

Reviewing anthologies is always a little odd because they're made up of so many composite parts, and there's always going to be stories you like more than others. As a whole, though, this newest anthology succeeds in much the same way that this pair's previous anthologies have as well.

The Mythic Dream, in addition to having one of the prettiest covers on my bookshelf, is an anthology of folklore retellings. Similar but fundamentally a little different than the previous collaboration on fairy tales. This, perhaps more than that, really allowed the authors, all coming from different cultural backgrounds, to expand on the stories that they grew up with.

My favourite stories in the anthology were Phantoms of the Midway by Seanan McGuire, Kali_Na by Indrapramit Das, Live Stream by Alyssa Wong, and Florilegia; Or, Some Lies About Flowers by Amal El-Mohtar.

NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA
#75: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
#76: Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 36]]>Fri, 11 Sep 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-36I think I've reflected on this before, but it is genuinely wild to be so far through this year and this challenge and still have SO MANY UNREAD BOOKS.

As I'm writing this I have SIX BOOKS out from the library, in addition to all the unread books on my shelves.

Sincerest apologies to anyone I actually know whose books I have yet to get to.
#71: THE FIRST SISTER by Linden A. Lewis

I really need to start making note of where recommendations come from (I mean, twitter, broadly, but more specific than that).

I was really into this book! I liked the characters, I liked the set up, and I even liked the switching in POVs, which was shockingly easy to follow for such an easily confused reader as myself. 

The story follows First Sister, [name redacted], a member of a religious organization that also doubles as sex work, and Lito, a former soldier in the opposing army. First Sister is assigned to spy on her new captain, while Lito must try to track down his former partner, who is a traitor to their side. Meanwhile, Hiro, the former partner in question, communicates through pre-recorded messages.

There's a lot going on in this story, on both a narrative and a thematic level, but it's relatively easy to follow, which is always a boon in my opinion. I did guess the big reveal before it happened, but that to me is merely a sign that it was well foreshadowed and developed beforehand. I thought that the tensions between various groups was interesting. I maybe would have liked to know a little more about the groups and their conflicts, but I also didn't feel like the information was lacking.

I'm going to give a CW that's also a spoiler, so scroll on if you don't want to see it (has to do with misgendering):

[SPOILER]

Due to the nature of the plot and also one of the major twists, a character is misgendered through much of the book. This is absolutely portrayed as an act of violence and violation towards them (as well as the body modification that has been done to them without their consent), and once the other characters realize what has happened, they revert to the correct pronouns, but this may be something trans readers should know about beforehand!

[/SPOILER]

Other CWs include: involuntary sex work (and accompanying sexual assault connotations, if not depictions), non-consensual body modification and experimentation, ableism.

Mostly I'm very interested to see where this story goes next, as a lot of the aspects it brings up will, I think, ultimately be determined by how well they're handled down the road. For example, near the end of the novel, one of the characters is revealed to be plural. I'm interested to see how that element is depicted moving forward, now that the character is aware of it.

In conclusion: interesting space opera/sci fi book with genuinely more depth than I was expecting it to have. Go prepared, because there's some triggering stuff, but by all means, give this one a look if it seems up your alley.

#72: GODS, MONSTERS, AND THE LUCKY PEACH by Kelly Robson

I didn't realize before I read this that I was all about women with more than the usual number of legs, but you learn something new every day, huh.

The story takes place a few hundred years in the future, following near world-ending ecological disasters. Our main character, Minh, works in fixing ecosystems, a project that has become less appealing to the people in charge due to the advent of time travel. Also, she's got six tentacle-like legs, which is pretty cool. 

There's a lot of interesting themes being explored in this book, which I was definitely interested in. We get flashes of the distant past, where they eventually end up travelling to, and I liked the exploration of the difficulty between preserving and experiencing the past versus trying to do the hard work involved in preserving the future. 

I thought the characters were interesting and well-established, though I did feel a little like I was missing some motivation on their part (though that could be me). I particularly liked the character of Kiki, and her mentor-mentee relationship with Minh. 

I found I got bogged down a little bit in the first half of the book, particularly, when it came to the procedural stuff and the logistics of the time travel. I'm sure there are people who enjoy this element of science fiction, where the actual science and whatnot gets explained, but I'm a reader who's pretty happy to just be told, "yep, we're time travelling, let's go!"

I've seen some reviews that were unhappy with the ending, and while I understand why they probably felt that way, I liked it - it was bittersweet and while abrupt, does feel like a complete end to how the story had been unfolding up until then.

NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA:

#73: Network Effect by Martha Wells
#74: The Mythic Dream ed. by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolf
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 35]]>Fri, 04 Sep 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-35Hmm.

September, huh?

Hmmmmmmmm.

Don't like that.

​Don't like that one bit.
#69: THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexis Henderson

(obligatory "nice" comment)

You know how sometimes you read a book, and it's exactly what you're hoping it's going to be? This was that book for me.

It follows Immanuelle, a young woman growing up in a fantasy (?) puritanical community, ruled over by an abusive religious figure, who prosecutes those thought to be witches. When she finds herself called by vengeful forces into the Darkwood, where the witches used to gather, she has to choose whether to obey her patriarchal religion, or seek to stop the cycle of violence.

These kinds of stories (i.e. about prosecution of witches, who in turn have Actual Witch Powers) can really go either way for me. In fact, I think the only one that's done it well - and the thing I would probably compare this to the most - is the film Paranorman. Luckily, this, like said film, landed quite firmly on the "hell yeah" side of things, rather than the "fuck off" side.

What the author delivers is a really heart-wrenching story about abuse and trauma, and the ways in which violence and abuse perpetuate themselves. It doesn't shy away from what was done to the witches in question (not a traditional witch-burning story, but still bad), and the specifically religious abuse by their Prophet.

I thought the world, though insular, was well-developed, and I really liked all the characters and cared for the various relationships, even if I did sometimes wish the author had a little more faith in readers' ability to remember details. I thought it grappled really well with the political tensions and the uncertainty, not painting things over easily. I even liked the romance, which is a pretty small part of the story, but still.

One thing I would warn for, because I know many like to know these things [spoilers] is that the story does involve the death of the major victim of abuse and sexual assault. I think that it's handled well and respectfully by the author and the story, but YMMV about whether or not it was necessary.

In conclusion, yeah, if you're looking for a slightly-creepy story about survival and rebellion within an oppressive system, this is the book you want. This is, I think, what I was missing in Cinderella Is Dead last week, the element of realness that pervades this book. I read it in 24 hours, and had a hard time putting it down.

#70: THE MONSTER OF ELENDHAVEN by Jennifer Giesbrecht

So I picked this book up because I'd heard a lot of contradictory things about it, and find that I'm falling on the "meh" side of things, for a multitude of reasons.

The first reason, which is not insignificant, is that the optics of the book's main premise, i.e. that two queer men are trying to bring about a plague in the city of Elendhaven as revenge for how one's family was treated, are not...great.

I'm all for revenge stories and messy queer stories, but woof, the plague-based nature of this seems, uh, a little fucked up. I'm not a queer man, and I'm too young to remember the AIDS crisis, but even I don't think the exceptionally harmful stereotype of "queer men spreading disease" is a feature of the past. Maybe if this was written by a queer man it would at least have the ring of authenticity, but as is.......oof, I say. OOF.

The other part that didn't really work for me was the length. This book (novella?) is only about 100 pages long, which really wasn't enough for me to get all that attached to the characters or the plot itself. It seems like there was plenty of room for expansion without necessarily "padding" the book, but as is, it all just felt very rushed to me.

I liked some of the stylistic aspects and I'm always down for the weird, kind-of-fucked up dynamic that the main characters have, but that wasn't quite enough for me. Unfortunately, this one is a bit of a miss.

​NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA:
#71: The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis
#72: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 34]]>Fri, 28 Aug 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-34Last week of August, hmm?

*vibrates uncomfortably*

What a fuckin' month it has been, my dudes.

​*continues to vibrate off into the distance*
#67: ON THE COME UP by Angie Thomas

Not that I think Angie Thomas should be beholden to the world of The Hate U Give or anything like that, but if she WANTED to write many more books set in Garden Heights, I for one would not complain.

On the Come Up follows Bri, a high school student who wants to be a rapper, no matter how much her mom would rather she focuses on school. As she attempts to make her dream a reality, partially to support her family's financial woes, she struggles with racist stereotypes and ongoing gang tensions, as well as conflicts with friends and family over her choices.

This isn't a sequel to THUG, but does, as stated, take place in the same universe and the same neighbourhood. The stories aren't really related, though there are a couple references to the events of THUG, and I thought it was interesting to see some of the changes in the neighbourhood.

One of the things I think Thomas balances really well are the elements of high school life, complicated family relationships, community issues, and, obviously, dealing with racism. She hits both the highs of excitement over new relationships and gaining appreciation for the things you're good at (in this case, rapping), and the lows of poverty and racism, and ties it all into a cohesive whole.

Excellent book, highly recommended.

#68: CINDERELLA IS DEAD by Kalynn Bayron

CW for abuse, implied sexual assault/rape, homophobic society

So I've been sitting here for some time trying to figure out why this book didn't exactly work for me.

It's not that the book is bad, because it's not, and it's not even that I didn't like it, because I thought it was fine. It's that I felt like there was something...missing, maybe. Perhaps it's a question of length - the book is quite short, only around 250 pages, and I feel like I would have benefitted from having more time to get to know the characters and the world.

Cinderella Is Dead is about fairytales, and about the cultural stories we tell, and what happens when you don't fit into those stories. Set 200 years after the story of Cinderella, it tells the story of Sophia, a queer woman (probably a lesbian, but I'm always hesitant to label characters who do not label themselves) who rebels against her kingdom's decree that every unmarried woman must attend the annual ball to be bid on by a (male) suitor.

The Cinderella story as fascist propaganda is an interesting angle to take, and I'm into the idea of examining fairy tales through a queer lens. I also really enjoyed some of the aspects of the original story that were worked in, like the magical tree bestowing the dress (though my Into The Woods-loving heart was unable to not sing "shiver and quiver little tree" while this was happening).

The other standout aspect of this novel was the twist on the fairy godmother character. I would have liked to have known a lot more about her, especially because some questions about her motivation end up unanswered at the end of the novel, but that almost heightens the intrigue of her character. I was into it.

I think the problem I run into is that a lot of aspects of this story feel unfinished, or lacking in depth in some ways. I buy the fascist government (unfortunately the real world examples prove their ease), but the characters (including the actual rebels) don't seem to have any real plans for rebellion until midway through the book, and though I appreciate the f/f romance, I didn't feel particularly invested in it at any point.

The biggest place where the lack of depth is felt, I think, is in the mood of various scenes. The stakes are established, but the characters don't seem to feel them - they move about without fear, despite being hunted. Scenes that could have been powerfully tense (e.g. between the main character and the main villain) have no spark, they fall flat.

This is the author's debut, and I like the ideas well enough that I'm really interested to see what she does next, but Cinderella Is Dead feels just...a little forgettable.

​NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA:
#69: The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
#70: The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht
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<![CDATA[Lightning Round Reading Challenge Week 33]]>Fri, 21 Aug 2020 10:00:00 GMThttp://erinrockfort.com/blog/lightning-round-reading-challenge-week-33This sure was a weird couple of books to read in one week, huh?

On one level, they're not that dissimilar - they're both horror-ish, at least, which is something? I'm genuinely unsure of what else would have paired better. At least they are alike in being extremely unique reading experiences, and I can't imagine pairing either, but particularly Jones' book, with something fluffier.

This is what happens when your reading schedule is determined largely by the library holds.
#65: THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones

Oh boy was this book a wild ride! I...I think I liked it, though it was definitely touch and go a couple of times there. 

I'm not even sure how to attempt to give a brief synopsis without spoilers. Basically, the story follows four Indigenous men (more or less) as an event from their past catches up to them, and scary things ensue. I think that's about all I can give without spoilers, though if you want something that might have helped me while I was reading, [SPOILERS] there IS definitely a supernatural happening, though it takes a little while to get there [/SPOILERS]


I will give a warning for violence and gore, against both animals and humans (and specifically against women, kind of?) Also, I found this book to be genuinely scary, or maybe more accurately, genuinely disturbing, for whatever that's worth (though as discussed a couple weeks ago, I am a bit of a weenie).

Some vague, spoiler-ish thoughts: I think I lack some cultural context to fully understand the themes of the story, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I'm not sure if Jones was specifically riffing off Deer Woman legends, but I was really into that connection. What is it about deer specifically that we find to be scary? Is it the antlers? Anyway. Also, use of second person POV, which is always really fun.

The characters are well-rendered, even if not necessarily always likeable, and I was rooting for them to make it out. The thing that I think stands out the most, though, is the creeping sense of dread that the author manifests: absolutely necessary in horror, and extremely well-done. 

I think what really made this book work for me was the ending, because like I mentioned, I teetered a couple times over whether this was going in the "extremely competently made but holy shit did it make me feel bad" category or the "scary and awful but enjoyable reading experience." I thought that the payoff was absolutely worth it, and totally satisfying, though it may not be for everyone.

I imagine this book might get DNF'd around the point where everything goes Weird and Horrible (about 100 pages in), and I would urge people to try to stick it through, but also, I would kind of understand. It doesn't necessarily get less horrible, but the horribleness has a point, and, like I said, it pays off really well (and you are reading a horror story, so, y'know).

All in all, my next quest is definitely to seek out more of this author's work!

#66: HARROW THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir

(...it feels oddly appropriate that this is book #66)

God, how to talk about Harrow the Ninth. 

I mean, if you're looking for the short version: it's good. It's wildly experimental and deeply weird and an excellent follow-up to Gideon - it builds on the world and the themes in ways that make sense, definitely push it from weird horror-fantasy into science fiction, and answers, frankly, more questions than I was expecting it to.

Truthfully, I found the ending to be a bit unsatisfying, but such is the nature of second books in trilogies. Very little is resolved at the end of the book, and I'm still a little bit confused by several aspects of the story, but I'm less confused than I expected to be, if that makes any sense

I read this book a little after most people I follow did, and while I avoided spoilers pretty well, I was still aware of people tweeting out their vague impressions, and I feel like my reading experience was a bit...different? The common theme I seemed to see was that the book makes no sense for about 70%, and then continues to not make a lot of sense. I did not feel this way!

It might be a different approach to reading - I was, as I often am, perfectly happy to let the author take me on a journey of her own making. Harrow doesn't quite have the same narrative voice as Gideon (appropriately), but I genuinely was having a lot of fun with the novel, even when I didn't know what was going on. The writing is still excellent, and I like to speculate.

And OH BOY was there stuff to speculate about.

Without getting into spoiler territory, I was pretty happy about all the reveals; they all made sense with the build up from book one and book two, and honestly, I was happy to get ANY answers - I had been half-convinced I would have to wait until book 3. I loved the use of second person, and I loved the weird jumping around, and I loved the weird meme references, though I think those are best discovered for yourself. I loved just spending time with the characters, new and old (oops, was that a spoiler?)

Also, you know I'm ALWAYS here for queer immortal polyamory.

Anyway, I really enjoyed it, I'm looking forward to rereading both Gideon and Harrow to look for clues, and I'm ESPECIALLY excited for Alecto the Ninth!

NEXT WEEK'S AGENDA:
#67: On The Come Up by Angie Thomas
#68: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
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