Reading Round-Up: March 2021

March was a busy month, reading-wise. I didn’t have a lot else going on, and I was continuing my Grishaverse reread for Rule of Wolves. I also read a lot of YA fantasy, then needed a break and ended up reading an old favourite. Anyway, onto the books!

Book of the Month

The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. KluneWhen I started reading this book, I was reminded of Jasper Fforde. Not in the “these are characters from literature we know” way, but in the more interesting way, in that this is a fantastical world that has a really well thought out bureaucracy. These are the details that I like. Anyway, Linus Baker is a caseworker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, and he goes to “orphanages” to assess whether they should be closed down. Another reason this spoke to me is that I’ve worked in the child protection sector and this is… not how it works, at least in Australia (this is also kind of the point).

Linus is content with his life and its routine, before Extremely Upper Management (this is the Jasper Fforde stuff I was talking about) sends him to an orphanage where “dangerous” children reside, including Lucifer. They’re cared for by Arthur Parnassus, who cares for and teaches them. This is a book about hope and love, and I don’t want to say much more because it’s a book you should read for yourselves. It’s unexpected and beautiful. I was reading a bit about Klune, because I hadn’t read any of his previous work. I found that he was inspired by the Canadian government practise of removing Indigenous children from their homes and raising them with white families. This has happened in Australia and is known as “The Stolen Generation.” It’s not a direct parallel to this situation, as it’s a story of hope where so many weren’t, but it left me with a lot to think about it.

Also there is a child named Chauncey whose dream is to be a bellhop. 

New Books

The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

I picked The Kiss Quotient up at the library, even though it wasn’t what I went there for, and I loved it. Stella Lane is an economist, and her mother is starting to talk to her about wanting grandchildren. Stella has Aspergers, and hasn’t found dating to be an enjoyable experience. So, she hires an escort, Michael. It’s a beautiful love story that’s about people on the autism spectrum and the Vietnamese community. I really loved Helen’s note at the end of the book about her own diagnosis of autism as an adult. In The Bride Test, Michael’s best friend’s mother flies to Vietnam to find his younger brother Khai (who is also autistic) a bride. She brings back Esme Tran, a young woman with a daughter of her own. While seeing Khai, Esme also works at his mother’s restaurant and takes classes at the international school, with ambitions of going to college. She’s also looking for her father, an American man who travelled to Vietnam while he was in college, unsure of his last name. There’s a third book about Khai’s brother (and Michael’s best friend) coming out later this year. This book habit is getting bad.

Girls of Paper and Fire, Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan

These books are unlike anything I’ve ever read and I love them (the first more than the second). Every year, eight “Paper” girls are chosen to be the King’s concubines. Paper is the lowest caste in this society, consisting of humans. Above them are the Steel caste, who have some human and demon (animal) features, while the ruling Moon class is demons. Being chosen to be a concubine to the King is seen as an honour, but it’s also the ritualistic assault of teenage girls. One year, Lei is unexpectedly taken from her village to be the ninth Paper girl. She’s thrust into a world of court intrigue and becomes fascinated with another Paper girl, Wren. There’s also a lot of other stuff, but I don’t want to spoil it! Make like Korg and start a revolution? This is an Own Voices story set in an Asian fantasy world, and it’s great. The third book comes out later this year and I’m really excited to read it.

The Language of Thorns, Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

The Language of Thorns is a series of fairytales set in the Grishaverse. Inspired by stories we know like The Little Mermaid and Hansel and Gretel, Bardugo (re)tells these stories in the setting of her world with the darkness of Hans Christian Andersen (boy was I upset the first time I read The Little Mermaid). I enjoyed it, but I really just wanted Rule of Wolves, so I read what Grishaverse I could.

Rule of Wolves is a close second for Book of the Month, but it’s going to get its own post in the next couple of weeks. I bought the ebook of Rule of Wolves and read it in a day. It wasn’t a perfect story, but I loved it and am still thinking about it. I got to talk about it with some friends after book club this morning and it was really great to be able to squeal about some things and discuss its flaws. I’m working on an email to send to a friend’s podcast and I might publish a version of it here later on. This book has also been out for less than two weeks, so I don’t want to spoil anyone unwittingly!

First Street by Catherine McKenzie, Jasmine Guillory, Elyssa Friedland, Shawn Klomparens, Randy Susan Meyers, Kermit Roosevelt III

When I was looking for books by Jasmine Guillory, I stumbled across this ebook in a library collection. It’s about Supreme Court clerks and is a nice balance of real world issues and soap. When I got to the end (it was kind of abrupt), I found out that it was a Serial Box production, which I knew nothing about. Serial Box publishes stories in a serialised audio format, and the ebook was published after the series had been released. Thus, the ending was more of a season finale cliffhanger. This was a fun, propulsive read and I guess it did what it was supposed to do, because as soon as I finished I immediately tried to find out if there was more and how I could get it (no, and I don’t know are the answers to those two questions).

Rereads

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

I read The Raven Cycle last year, but took a couple of months between Blue Lily and The Raven King, so there was some stuff I hadn’t remembered and also it was the start of the pandemic. This is a lovely wrap up to the series, even if I don’t think it’s as strong as the other three. I love Henry Cheng joining the Gangsey, and that he took a travelling gap year with Blue and Gansey after they graduated. All the Noah stuff breaks my heart, and I’m happy with how it ended. 

Crooked Kingdom, King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Part of my Grishaverse reread before Rule of Wolves, you can read more here.

Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

This is the first book in the Ashbury/Brookfield series by Jaclyn Moriarty. I reread this in the middle of my YA fantasy extravaganza, because I needed something different that was also comforting. The premise: English teachers at neighbouring private and public schools decide to set up a pen pal programme. Liz Clarry is paired up with Christina Kratovac, and they write letters. Liz tells Christina all about how her friend Celia has run away, and that this is a thing that happens a lot with Celia. There are also letters from fictional organisations such as The Association of Teenagers and Housewives of the Worlds Unite!, that represent Liz’s inner monologue and her insecurities, as well as some correspondence between Liz and her mother via notes on the fridge. It’s heartfelt and funny and clever, and it was lovely to see Liz and Christina’s friendship grow throughout the book.

Part of why I wanted to read this was to see if I was familiar with any of the landmarks now that I’ve lived in Sydney for a few years. The short answer is no, because I figured out that these schools are in the Hills district and I’ve never been there. I am however not too far from Ashfield, which tripped me up due to Ashbury and Brookfield. I hope to read the rest of the series later in the year. I’ve read the first three more times than I can remember, but the fourth one only a few. Jaclyn also does that thing that I now recognise in romance novels where the characters from the first book appear in subsequent books, but aren’t the focus of them.

Intentions

Time to see how I went with my intentions this month:

  • At least one Australian book each month, preferably from an underrepresented community – Feeling Sorry for Celia. Jaclyn Moriarty is a white woman, and her stories are somewhat about class differences, but not really.
  • Translations – N/A
  • Non-fiction – N/A
  • Read more books on the TBR shelf – If you count that I bought Crooked Kingdom and King of Scars after I already read them… nope. None this month.
  • Seek out more variety in writing type, try to read more poetry, beginning with novels in verse – N/A
  • #OwnVoices – The House in the Cerulean Sea, The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test, Girls of Paper and Fire, Girls of Storm and Shadow
  • March intention: Take more time with books. I did this to some extent. Aside from Feeling Sorry for Celia, I took more time with my rereads than I did the first time around, and I definitely picked up more. On the other hand, I sped through Rule of Wolves because I needed to know what happened.
  • New intention: Focus on that TBR list – maybe 2 books. So far, everything I’ve read in April has been from the library, but I don’t have anything on hold at the moment. I have three books that are currently out on loan, then I’ll get to the TBR.

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