In Which My Library Surprises Me
I like diverse books. It seems obvious – are there really people out there who don’t? As a member of marginalised communities myself and (I hope) an ally of others, I was appalled to realise how many of the books I read and enjoyed were written from an overwhelmingly white, western, able-bodied, neurotypical and heterosexual worldview. If POC and LGBTQIA+ characters make the cast, it’s rarely as main characters. I’ve been making a concerted effort to improve that. There’s sadly still few really diverse books are out there, in proportion to the number being published overall, and I’ve had my eyes opened to how many harmful tropes and stereotypes are perpetuated in fiction, mostly through ignorance rather than deliberate prejudice.
So Pride Month was a perfect opportunity to fill some of those holes in my Goodreads shelves. One problem – I’d already realised my book collection wasn’t exactly swimming in diversity. Not that I have nothing, but nowhere near enough to represent the whole LGBTQIA+ spectrum in my Pride Month reading.
Step forward, local library. It isn’t huge, and the adult SFF section where I usually gravitate is, well… disappointing. But to my surprise, when I investigated their Young Adult section, they had a good range of books, including recent releases, and ordering from the other libraries in the network I managed to fill the gaps in my TBR. The reading, of course, spilled past June into July and August, particularly as some of the orders took a while to come in. But it was a far better selection than I’d expected, and I’ve continued to make heavy use of the ordering facility ever since.
This Savage Song is the sort of book that makes me want to kick myself for taking so long to get round to it. I’ve had this almost a year. What was I thinking? The worldbuilding and concept are fantastic. A city where human acts of violence breed literal monsters, half controlled by a man who makes deals with them and protects those who pay, and the other by a man who fights them whatever the cost. Of course the two MC’s – August and Kate – come from opposite sides of the city and are thrown together as events escalate and it seems no one knows who’s winning the war. Or even who’s in control of it. Kate isn’t the kind of protagonist you instantly relate to. She starts off simply unlikable, but still so compelling; you know there’s more to her than meets the eye. August, though, is an adorable, tortured cinnamon roll. Their friendship, unlikely as it seems, grows so organically and fiercely and I would absolutely go down with this ship – not necessarily as a romance, but two people who belong in each other’s lives. The writing is dark and delicious and the action and intensity grows and grows as the book goes on. I definitely felt wrung out when I finished.
If I Was Your Girl, features an #ownvoices trans MC, and I would seriously recommend anyone with the slightest interest in understanding diversity to read the book on that basis alone. But it’s not just a worthy read to be ticked off a list – I was rooting for Amanda the whole way, the story (a YA romance) was engaging and well written, the supporting characters all felt complex and three-dimensional, and the family relationships were beautifully portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first page to the last – 4.5 stars.
Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda has got a lot of high praise in the online book community. It’s a cute, funny romance, with a sparkling cast of diverse characters, and tackled a number of issues head-on without coming across as preachy. I’ve seen it take criticism for the way the MC is outed without consent, but (speaking from an outside perspective) I didn’t think it was treated lightly – on the contrary, the narration made very clear that it was a hurtful and unacceptable thing to have happened. I wouldn’t say this was an absolute stand-out contemporary, although I know a lot of bloggers who would disagree with me, but it was definitely enjoyable and I’ll be checking out Becky Albertalli’s other book ASAP. 4 stars.
Been Here All Along is a a pretty simple story. The romance (m/m, one bisexual) is predictable but adorable, there’s a good vein of self-discovery and a range of family and friend relationships are explored. Four viewpoints seemed a lot for such a short book. Ezra’s in particular seemed unnecessary to the story, but it’s a minor quibble because I was in the mood for a short, sweet, easy read and really I loved this; it’s one I’ll probably return to for rereads. 4 stars.
Iron Cast was this month’s audiobook – not a Pride Month read but with a WOC as one of the main characters and more POC in the supporting cast. It’s fantasy with a difference, set in Prohibition-era Boston where painters, singers, actors and musicians known as hemopaths can twist reality as they perform. The setting was evocative and a huge contributing factor to the appeal of this book, but I never warmed to most of the characters and there were pacing issues – fast action in places then inexplicably slow in others, it never seemed to flow right. The plot was intriguing and dangerous, and pulled off the trick of not knowing who to trust. Also, it’s a standalone, a rare beast in fantasy, and had a nice balance of open and resolved at the ending. Overall, glad I read it but not one that will stick with me. 3.5 stars.
I have a difficult relationship with self-published fiction. I want to support the authors who are working their butts off and putting themselves out there. But I have no idea how to find the hidden gems in the vast sea of self-published works. Lambs Can Become Lions I stumbled across via bookstagram; it’s a f/f retelling of Robin Hood, with a fantastically diverse supporting cast. I really wanted to like it, but I found the writing a bit clunky at times, and particularly at the beginning the diversity felt more like a tick-list than an organic part of the story. However, the plot was good, I enjoyed the dual POVs, and once the characters were established they were endearing, although there’s only so much space in a (short story? novella?) to develop them. I’m pretty sure this author is only going to get better so I’ll be sticking around for the next instalment. 3 stars.
The Crown and The Arrow, and The Mirror and The Maze were both short stories set after The Wrath and The Dawn and its sequel. They were beautifully written but didn’t add much to the story, although it was interesting to see more of Khalid’s perspective and The Crown and The Arrow did answer a lingering question from the first book. 3.5 to 4 stars for both.
I’ve never watched The 100 TV show, but I know enough about it to be intrigued by the concept and when I saw the book in the library I had to give it a go. Sadly, it’s best summed up as a big fat meh. Far too much over-blown angst, and the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Bellamy and Clarke from the show turned into a much more cliched teen romance. The flashbacks weren’t well integrated into the story, the characters were mostly forgettable. I gave it 3 stars because it was a fun, quick read but it seems a little generous on reflection!
June book haul
Yes, I’m still hauling books at a much faster rate than I can read them, even on a good month like this one. What can I say? There’s a reason bookdragon fits better than bookworm – I can’t resist adding to the hoard.
Plus, a load of these were secondhand buys for series I’ve been eyeing up for a while, so it would have been rude to say no, right?
Have you read any of this month’s books? What did you think of them? Any tips on where to find the self-published authors worth reading? Is sixteen books in one monthly haul too much (spoiler – of course not!) or do you go bigger and better?