It’s hard to believe another month has gone by! 2020 has been a bizarre mashup of time flying by but also looking around and just going when will this end??? I’m still riding the wave of my YA fantasy kick, and I spent much of this month trying to find another series I could latch onto as significantly as I did the Raven Cycle. I didn’t succeed… I started two totally new series to middling results (I liked both, but don’t think I’ll continue reading either) and while I did read two YA fantasy novels that I loved, one is a stand-alone and the other is essentially the Raven Cycle Part II and can’t be counted as a new discovery. That said, if you know of any addictive YA fantasy series, please leave titles in the comments because I’m always looking for them!
Here’s what I read this month:
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
I’m always looking for a new YA fantasy series, so whenever I read a positive review for one I put it on my TBR without too much vetting. This was the case for Girls of Paper and Fire. I don’t remember where I first heard about it. Knowing that something is the first book of a generally positively-regarded fantasy series is usually enough to hook me; Girls of Paper and Fire centers on Asian and queer characters, and that got me even more interested. The title worried me slightly (why are so many YA fantasies titled something of something and something?) but I read it anyway.
While I think Ngan is a very skilled writer who does an excellent job of distilling important ideas–like the danger and prevalence of the patriarchy, the trauma of sexual assault, and more–she struggles more with creating a fully-fledged fantasy universe that I could fall in love with. I like her characters, but I don’t love them. I was interested to find out what would happen next, but I was never in danger of staying up all night to find out. I like to be obsessed with fantasy books. I often want to reread them as soon as I finish. I’m tempted to buy the ones I borrowed from the library. I like to scroll tumblr for fanart and inside jokes. I like to make predictions about subsequent books and wish for TV adaptations. I liked Girls of Paper and Fire, but it didn’t make me want to do any of those things.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
I read Wide Sargasso Sea because I’ve heard that it is, essentially, required reading for fans of Jane Eyre. I am certainly a fan of Jane Eyre, but I could take or leave Wide Sargasso Sea. It’s not exactly a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel, but it’s closer to that than anything else. It follows the largely-ignored Bertha Mason, Rochester’s first wife, through her childhood in the Caribbean to the yearly days of her marriage. It’s a challenge to the Euro-centric storytelling of the original novel, and while that’s laudable, Wide Sargasso Sea fudges too many of the original details for my liking, and overall failed to fully capture my attention. It’s very possible that, going into this book as a casual reader intending simply to enjoy myself, I missed a lot of the nuance. I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’m in any way knowledgeable about the history of the Caribbean, so it might be my own fault that I didn’t especially like Wide Sargasso Sea, but the fact remains: I didn’t especially like Wide Sargasso Sea.
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
I seriously have no idea why I read this. Did I read a good review of it? Did someone recommend it to me? Did I see it on a shelf at work and think it sounded good? I have legitimately no idea. It was on my to-read list on goodreads so I got it from the library. And I was confused, because it’s not really my type of book. I don’t read a lot of dark fiction (I’m easily frightened) and while I love YA fantasy, I don’t read a lot of adult fantasy (aside from the majorly popular ones like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings). I do know that I thought Nevernight was YA until I was about halfway through it and then… it really, really isn’t. If you asked me if I liked Nevernight when I was about two-thirds done with it, I probably would have said I really did. If you’d asked me before that, I’d have told you I hated it and was close to DNFing it (the beginning is borderline unreadable, and I only powered through it because I’ve only DNFed one book in the past 10+ years and it’s not in my character to add to that list). Now that I’ve finished, I’m not sure how I feel. There’s a very surprising twist at the end that is very effective from a plot perspective but slightly disappointing from a thematic or character-based one. It’s possible that later books in the series salvage this (I did a brief Google search and it sounds like this is the case, that books two and three course correct a bit), but at the moment I’m on the fence, leaning towards no, about continuing the series.
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
I spent almost all of July obsessively reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle. I sped through those books as quickly as I could get them and requested Call Down the Hawk as soon as I finished because it’s been a while since I’ve loved a character as much as I love Ronan Lynch, the magical dreamer from the original series who becomes a fully-fledged leading man for this sequel trilogy. Right now, I’m having a hard time thinking anything about Call Down the Hawk except that… I was very spoiled with the Raven Cycle. They were all readily available to me. I didn’t have to suffer through any long hiatuses. I skipped from one book to the next with no more than a few days–or, in the case of Blue Lily, Lily Blue and The Raven King, a few hours–in between. And apparently I didn’t quite internalize that the Dreamer Trilogy is, in fact, a trilogy. And there’s only one out right now. AND IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER. And I have to wait until MAY 2021 to find out what happens. But I need to know where Ronan is! And what is going on with Adam? What’s Bryde’s deal? I NEED ANSWERS. And yeah, I have thoughts about parts of the book that aren’t the last chapter which I get into in my full review, but right now I’m just screeching internally because it’s been a long time since I’ve been properly devastated by finishing a book too long before its sequel is available.
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
This book is SO ADORABLE. I mostly read it because a coworker recommended Sarah Rees Brennan to me generally and I realized that–aside from her Shadowhunters-verse short stories written with Cassandra Clare–I haven’t actually read anything by her. I thought I had. In Other Lands is kind of a fantasy story, kind of a friendship story, and kind of a romance. It’s also pretty meta; I’d definitely recommend it to fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, although it engages differently. It’s basically what would happen if you released a genre-savvy asshole into a fantasy world and let him run amok, and it’s hilarious because said genre-savvy asshole manages to be both extremely lovable and deeply annoying at the same time. I really had no idea what I was getting into with In Other Lands, but I’m so glad I read it because I won’t be surprised if it makes it into my top ten list this year.
Here’s what I watched this month:
The Umbrella Academy
Season two of The Umbrella Academy dropped on Netflix at the very end of last month and I’m embarrassed at how quickly I tore through it. It’s such a great show. It balances silly moments with genuine emotion and manages to pair over-the-top fantasy action with nuanced storylines that touch on real-world issues like racism, homophobia, addiction, and abuse. Despite balancing lots of different storylines and a large cast of characters, The Umbrella Academy doesn’t seem to struggle with characterization or pacing. Season two lets the characters who were previously slightly sidelined get their chance to shine and tries different things without losing sight of what worked previously. I’m always a little worried that I show I love will drop in quality between seasons, but thankfully that’s not the case with The Umbrella Academy.
I watched The Mandalorian last month. It didn’t make that much of an impression on me, honestly (it didn’t even make my monthly recap). Baby Yoda is absolutely adorable; I love him and spent the whole show cooing at his sweet face. If the character designers hadn’t done such a great job on that little guy, though, I have a hard time believing anyone would care all that much about the show. The reason I mention this, though, is because my parents were extremely confused about the timeline (they were convinced Baby Yoda is, in fact, Yoda as a baby); my sister and I tried to explain it and at the end of it decided it would be easier to just rewatch all the movies, including Solo and Rogue One, in chronological order. It’s been a while since I watched them, and even though I’m a big fan (there have been a few Star Wars themed birthday parties in my family) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Different things struck me this time than previous viewings. Like, I’ve always loved Han and Leia but I was really sleeping on Luke. And I did not understand politics as a child. I’m bewildered as to how I made it through the prequels because I had literally no idea what was going on. I think I just liked Padmé’s outfits. As for the sequel trilogy, I think it’s probably the weakest overall because of The Rise of Skywalker (wtf Palpatine) but I love the other two. I’m one of the few fans who absolutely, enthusiastically thinks The Last Jedi is great (I wrote a tiny bit about that in my review for Solo, which is linked above, if you’re interested). I fully, unironically like all the Star Wars movies but haven’t done a full watch ever (at least, not since the existence of the sequels), so this has been a lot of fun. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll write a longer Star Wars review, because I have Thoughts™ .
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