July 2020 Wrap-up

It seems like July passed in a heartbeat! Honestly, I am kind of happy about that since I am eagerly awaiting fall book release season (and just fall vibes in general). August is a nice in-between of summery warmth and the beginnings of cozy, so I think it will be a nice reading month. Anyway, I just wanted to give a quick overview of what I read this July and what I rated each one.

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor): Lawrence, Mark: 9781101988855 ...

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Rating: 4 out of 5.
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone: Stories - Kindle edition by Howard ...

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Amazon.com: Unsouled (Cradle Book 1) eBook: Wight, Will: Kindle Store

Unsouled by Will Wight

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor): Lawrence, Mark: 9781101988855 ...

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Rating: 4 out of 5.
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone: Stories - Kindle edition by Howard ...

Soulsmith by Will Wight

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Amazon.com: Unsouled (Cradle Book 1) eBook: Wight, Will: Kindle Store

The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor): Lawrence, Mark: 9781101988855 ...

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone: Stories - Kindle edition by Howard ...

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Amazon.com: Unsouled (Cradle Book 1) eBook: Wight, Will: Kindle Store

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Reviews:

My favorite was definitely the Ancestor series by Mark Lawrence. I’m currently reading the last book in the trilogy. The most unique was Gideon the Ninth. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the sequel comes out in about a week, so I’m super excited about that! I also think I did a good job with actually reading sequels at all this month. I have an unfortunate tendency to prioritize different books rather than finishing a series. Definitely something I’m working on though.

What were your favorite reads this month? Do you have any new releases you’re looking forward to in August?

What is magical realism?

Today I wanted to talk about one of my favorite genres: magical realism. A few years ago, I read my first Haruki Murakami novel–and although I loved it, I had no idea how to classify it, or find more books like it. After a bit of research, I learned more about the term “magical realism”. I’m sharing a bit about it here in hopes that it will pique someone’s interest and allow them to discover a new niche.

What is magical realism?

Magical realism is a genre in which fantastical events take place in the modern world. Extraordinary or hard-to-believe phenomena live alongside realistic depictions of daily life. This may sound similar to a lot of fantasy out there, but there are a few distinctions that separate it from urban fantasies like Harry Potter (I am going to use this example throughout to show why it is not magical realism).

What makes magical realism unique?

  1. There isn’t a new magical world to discover.

In magical realism, the magic resides in our world, blending seamlessly with reality. Although the character may not realize that it exists, the author reveals it over the course of the story. This qualification already rules out a sizable chunk of urban fantasy. The wizarding world of Harry Potter, for example, is exactly that: a wizarding world. There is a division that essentially separates the muggle reality from any magic that may exist.

2. Maintenance of logical order by the narrator and characters.

Magical realism treats any fantastical events like they are perfectly normal. The description of these events feels completely natural, so a scene about traversing a dreamscape wouldn’t be any different than a scene describing a walk to the park. This is true about character reaction as well: there isn’t any more an extraordinary response to a fantastical event than there would be to its more mundane counterpart. Harry’s extreme surprise to learning about his heritage (I’m a WOT) does not follow this convention of logical precision.

What are some magical realism tropes?

3. Mysteriousness.

Magical realism tends to have a layer of fog that permeates the plot. Readers will often walk away from a scene thinking “What just happened?”. Most likely, there will never be an explanation for how certain fantastical events came to happen. Unlike fantasy, there is no magic system to uncover. Readers must excpect the strange happenings, and act as a bridge between reality and fantasy to make their own interpretations. Trying to find out how something happens is often a lot less important than discovering why.

4. Overlapping planes.

Although #1 did say that the fantastical lives alongside reality in magical realism, often there is a contrast between planes of reality. Murakami utilizes this quite a bit in his novels, contrasting life in rural Japan and the chaos of inner Tokyo. There are jolts as a character travels between nature and urban landscapes, which helps to set the scene for the strange events that take place.

5. Less of a conventional plot.

Readers who like a well-defined arc will probably be put off by the lack of such plot in magical realism. Of course, there are a series of events set up in a plot-like structure, but often the storyline can become muddled and dreamlike. Since there is an overlap between reality and fantasy, the focus tends to be exploring those relationships rather than having a concrete exposition, rising action, etc.

6. Criticism

Authors use magical realism as a way of juxtaposing what is and what could have been, or highlighting the strange disparities of reality. Political and historical critique are interwoven throughout many stories of magical realism. Other topics include gender roles or other societal norms.

What are examples of magical realism?

Famous (and widely agreed upon) examples of magical realism include Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Haruki Murakami’s novels, such as 1Q84 or Kafka on the Shore are other examples. Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Neil Gaiman novels incorporate themes of magical realism. Some recent examples you might have heard of include Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton.

Of course, there are many different opinions about what qualifies as magical realism, and how it distinguishes itself from other forms of fantasy. Some will argue that any fantasy is magical realism. There are those who will fight to place Harry Potter under that umbrella. To me, there is certain tone that comes with magical realism that you can’t find in urban or epic fantasy. It is dreamlike and almost nostalgic, it’s those subtle moods you feel but don’t know how to describe. It invokes a sense of de ja vu for places you haven’t been and times you haven’t experienced. I encourage you to read books like the ones listed above and see what you think.

Happy reading,

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.


Gideon the Ninth was…uh, I don’t even know. How to describe this book? It takes place in an ambiguously far future, in an ambiguous solar system full of necromancers. The emperor of said solar system, needing some necromancers, calls them to his big spooky gothic castle on a lonely sea-scaped planet. There is one necromancer from each House (of which there are nine), and accompanying them are their cavalier primaries, aka their parabatai, aka their sworn protectors and partners in crime. In this big spooky gothic castle, the necromancers search through the secrets that will allow them to ascend to Lyctorhood, a fancy immortal-type necromancer (who are incredibly powerful).

Gideon is decidedly not the cavalier primary of Ninth House, but her excellent swordsmanship and the trickiness of Harrowhark, Ninth’s necromancer, lead to her accompanying Harrowhark (Harrow for short) to the Lyctor trials. AND SHIT GOES DOWN.

I really can’t express how big of a finger this book gives to any genre stereotypes or tropes. It’s a science fantasy (?), but also gothic, oh and also, Agatha Christie. It is laugh-out-loud funny (like, genuinely hilarious), and incredibly chilling at times. There is some pretty brutal gore one page, and on the next our lovely Gideon is ogling girls through their too-thin nightgowns. The plot is an unpredictably wild ride across planets and skeleton-filled dungeons, with a nice dash of swimming pools in between. The story doesn’t follow a typical arc, so it may come off as a bit slow in parts for some readers. I didn’t mind it at all–I enjoyed getting to know the quirky cast of characters and just soaking up the atmosphere.

The characters are the main attraction of this show. Harrow, Ninth’s necromancer, is a skeleton queen, a snarky softie, and overall a major badass (in all black. all the time). Gideon is the strong and (unwillingly) silent type, but readers, privy to her inner monologue, get to see some other sides of her. She’s equally as soft as Harrow but with a goofy sense of humor, despite her giant sword. She laughs at all manner of puns and enjoys a good old “that’s what she said” punchline. Harrow and Gideon have a lovely frenemyship with lots of death threats and the occasional awkward hug. It was interesting to see them grow together when they weren’t fantasizing of ways to kill each other.

The overall tone, like the genre, was unique and riveting. Muir’s prose consisted of lovely descriptions punctuated by abrupt and occasionally raunchy humor. I thought this was a great combination because it created a sense of that lush, gothic, deep-space atmosphere while still keeping it genuinely entertaining. Five hundred pages flew by, and I was sad to see it end.

Luckily, the sequel comes out next week! If you are looking to binge some overdramatic sword fighting and skeleton servants, now is the perfect time to pick up Gideon the Ninth.

Happy reading,

Discussion: Do authors owe books to their readers?

Discussion: Do authors owe books to their readers?

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the disappointment of reading an excellent book only to find that its sequel won’t be released until a later month in a distant year. Sometimes, there is a complete lack of information about a follow-up, leaving readers feeling hopeless about ever diving back into their favorite worlds. As years pass, that feeling can morph into resentment and even outrage that an author has failed to provide a satisfactory conclusion to to a story. GRRM, Patrick Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch are common subjects (victims?) of these complaints, which have turned to bitter proclamations that a reader will refuse to buy their future works, or pirate them so that the author won’t get their money. On the other end of the scale, readers like D.R. Baker, author of the article Authors Don’t Owe You Books on Book Riot, implore that readers remember that these authors are human too—and they don’t owe you books. Thus, the topic of this discussion.

So which one is it? Are authors obligated to finish everything they put out into the world, or are we graced by anything they are able to produce?

One thing we must consider is that authors are people making a living creating art. It is a singular niche in our capitalist society because it is an art form with a fairly dependable market but its content is highly dependent on an individual. It is more widely available than fine art, but also not corporation-produced like movies and TV shows. And, unlike other forms of writing like journalism or nonfiction, this phenomenon is occurring for writing that is purely for entertainment purposes (don’t get me wrong, I know these stories hold a deeper place in many readers’ hearts, but that is a side effect rather than the goal). When was the last time someone raged online because there was no second edition of their favorite academic paper? What is it about these fictional stories, this one little category of consumerism, that produces such reactions?

I guess a first step in reaching some sort of conclusion is determining what causes people to lash out, unprovoked, with such vitriol. I’ve seen claims that readers are an author’s base of success—they are their income, their support. That author would be nothing without them. And that’s true. But, as consumers, this is true of everything we buy. Hungry customers allow restaurants to succeed. The desire for beauty drives patronage at hair and nail salons. And, while these services differ in that they fulfill recurring needs, they work in the same way books do: you get what you pay for. So yes, you (probably) paid for those excellent books that authors put out. But… did you pay in advance for anything else? Did you invest to ensure future content?

That’s a rhetorical question. No, you didn’t, because that’s not how this works. You paid for something that an author poured their heart and soul into, that they spent years crafting so that it could be presentable to the world. If anything, shouldn’t we be grateful that something with such a low price (probably never more than $30) touched us so deeply that we feel the need for more? Any time we put in to books is our choice. Any emotions they make us feel can only serve to make us more empathetic human beings. Does an incomplete story render that time and emotion useless, a waste of energy? I guess I’m getting a bit off-topic, and while typing this I’ve definitely solidified my opinion.

Another common stance on this is that authors don’t owe us books, but they owe us updates. Letting readers know that there is a completed first draft or that editing has commenced can reassure them that there is hope. Some claim that any sort of silence on the subject is selfish and indicates a lack of gratitude or respect for a fan base. But what if the author didn’t write that book for you? Does releasing that book to the public erase the personal ownership the author has over the story? Does it now belong to the reader or the writer?

I understand the frustration that people feel when they can’t have more of something they love. It is that love in the first place that leads to such passionate desire for more. That love is why we read. But ownership of a physical book is different from ownership over an author’s career. Especially when that career is an art form that is highly intertwined with the emotions and health of its creator. This point, however, brings up a counter argument : reading is an act of vulnerability for every party involved. Perhaps that is why some feel the need to turn their backs on authors when they feel their vulnerability has been exploited.

I really would love to hear your opinions about this, even if (nay, especially if) they are contrary to mine.

Happy reading (but don’t send death threats to authors from whom you are waiting for a sequel)!