Some #balisebooks

Spoiler Alert / All the Feels – Olivia Dade

Contemporary romances set in the world of a successful TV series… and the fanfiction around it.

Spoiler Alert and All the Feels are both set around the same fictional TV series called Gods of the Gates, in which the male protagonists of each book are both actors and best friends. In Spoiler Alert, Marcus is also a closeted fanfiction writer – and he meets April, who’s a cosplayer in that universe. In All The Feels, Alex has some PR issues after picking a fight in a bar; he’s assigned a minder, Lauren, to make sure that he doesn’t hurt the reputation of the production any further.

I loved both books, and I enjoyed seeing these two romances bloom at roughly the same time and seeing references to the other book in both books. I laughed out loud many times, and the handling of the fanfiction element was absolutely great. I also got a lot of warm fuzzy feelings when it came to the main characters starting to accept themselves and making real progress along the book – especially since I could identify pretty strongly with one of them.

Leviathan Falls – James S.A Corey

The last book of The Expanse series yields a very satisfying ending.

There’s always a bit of anxiety involved with starting the last book of a series that one loves – will the series end in a satisfying way that gives closure and a proper goodbye for characters that have existed in one’s mind for a few years at least? I’m happy to report that Leviathan Falls is absolutely in this category. The world presented in the first book evolved a lot during the few decades spanned by the books, and yet still feels very consistent. We started with some people, met new ones, lost some along the way, got emotionally involved with a lot of them… The Expanse, to me, is much more of a “character” series than a “plot” series – not that the plot is lacking (far from it), but I’m far more involved in the characters than in the plot. And in that regard, the ending was very satisfying to me. I still have a few novellas to read in that universe – this will probably happen this year; and I also still have a few episodes of the series to watch (I love the TV series as well!); in any case, I’m happy and grateful for the hours I got to spend with these books.

Across The Green Grass Fields – Seanan McGuire

Another book of the Wayward Children series – it has HORSES! Or, well, close enough.

Many of the Wayward Children stories follow the same narrative device: a child finds a door to another world and spends a few years there. In Across the Green Grass Fields, Regan loves horses, and “her” door leads to a world full of centaurs, unicorns, kelpies and other equine species. I very much appreciated the exploration of the world and of the social conventions of Regan’s world and, as usual with this series, the whimsy of the world and the delight of the language make it a pleasure to read. I was a bit disappointed by the ending, which felt a bit rushed to me, but I was still happy to have read this installment of the series.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals – Oliver Burkeman

Life is short, task lists WILL take all the time you give them – what to do with that?

In Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman develops the sobering idea that time management is an illusion and that there is absolutely no way of “getting everything done” – partly because the “things that need to be done” will fill up the void anyway. He finds that liberating – since there’s no way to make it so that you will DO ALL THE THINGS anyway, give up, prioritize, and do what you can – if there is not enough time for you to do all the things that you must absolutely do, then your perception of what you must absolutely do is wrong, not the other way around.

I liked the book a lot and it feels like it has a lot of interesting/challenging things to say, but that I’m not necessarily ready to hear them yet because my brain goes into an anxious loop of “I… do agree with everything you’re saying, but I REALLY DON’T WANT TO, and I really don’t know what to make of that, and ‘now what'”. That said, it was for sure interesting food for thought and it did give me ideas and insights about how I could try to make my days work better – not because it gives plans for that in any way, but because it allowed me to take a step back and see the problem differently (… we’ll see how that goes 🙂 ). I would definitely have enjoyed it more if not for my own anxious relationship with time which made that book pretty challenging for me – but this may well be a re-read later down the road.

Last #balisebooks of 2020

The Duke Who Didn’t – Courtney Milan

A very cute and completely wholesome romance that takes place in victorian Wedgeford, a village whose population is primarily composed of people of Asian descent. Chloe Fong is one of these people; she makes lists and helps her dad perfect the large-scale production of his “unnamed sauce”. Jeremy Wentworth came to the village a few years before and, unbeknownst to the people of the village, he’s the duke that… owns the entire village. Beware: this book will make you hungry for bao buns. You’ve been warned.

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education plays with the idea of “what if Hogwarts, instead of being a reasonably safe place for kid wizards to learn their craft, was incredibly dangerous – but still the best and safest place for young wizards to learn their craft, even though they have a significant chance of not surviving the monsters living in the school? This was a fantastic book, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The setting is tense and scary without being nightmare-inducing, the characters end up being liked despite not being a priori likeable, and that world building is :chef-kiss:. Loved it, and really looking forward to the second book.

L’Anomalie – Hervé Le Tellier

(no English translation yet)

I don’t often read in French, and for once that I do, that book ended up getting the Prix Goncourt (one of the most prestigious French literary awards). In L’Anomalie, something very weird happens to the passengers of a Paris-New York flight (and saying anything more would spoil a lot, so I’m not doing that). We follow the story through the eyes of multiple people that are on that flight as we get hypotheses about what exactly happened. This was very entertaining, thrilling, and the writing is superb.

Discount Armageddon – Seanan McGuire

I discovered Seanan McGuire earlier this year when I read ALL THE THINGS for the Hugo Awards, and she’s absolutely my favorite discovery this year. Discount Armageddon is the first book of the InCryptid urban fantasy series, which follows Verity Price, cryptozoologist (and ballroom dancer). Cryptozoologists tend to want to protect all the cryptids/monsters that are not particularly dangerous to humans, whereas the Covenant is more of the opinion that a good cryptid is a dead cryptid. And when these worlds collide in New York, well, we get urban fantasy. And this was some great UF, completely hilarious at times, and I absolutely want more of that series.

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is a literary masterpiece. The TV series adaptation is fantastic – it does add a fair amount of “fluff” around the book (and it’s esthetically superb). The Testaments is a “fifteen-years-later” sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale book that ties in very neatly to the TV adaptation. We read a story told by an Aunt and two teenagers in two different situations (one is in Gilead, one is in Canada), and it beautifully echoes the mood of the show. A very good read.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Consider a universe where a minority of people have some magic. Some of these people have “useful” talents (like being able to control fire). One of these people is Mona, a 14-year-old girl whose talent is around bread. She can make muffins not burn, and she can make gingerbread men dance, and she’s not entirely sure whether the sourdough in the basement is sentient or not. And when a dead body is found on the floor of the bakery she’s working in, Mona gets in trouble – obviously, who else than the home wizard would be responsible? I really, really liked this book – especially how seemingly unimpressive powers can get very useful in the face of adversity 🙂

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire

As mentioned above, Seanan McGuire is my strongest entrance of the year on the list of my favorite authors. Every Heart a Doorway is the first book of the Wayward Children, and introduces Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. All the children in the Home have, at some point, found a door to another world; they’re back, and they need a way to cope. Nancy is the newest addition to the home and, shortly after her arrival, another boarder gets killed. I loved the atmosphere and the characters. I actually already read the fourth novella of this series (it was nominated for the Hugo Awards this year), and I absolutely want to read the other ones.

Other reads

  • 99 Erics: a Kat Cataclysm faux novel – Julia Serano – this was some hilarious meta-fiction about a writer who decides to date 99 people named Eric “for science” (and to learn about conflicts in writing). I really enjoyed it, but I may have enjoyed it more at smaller doses 🙂
  • Glory in Death; Immortal in Death – J.D. Robb – second and third book of the “In Death” series, a VERY large series of “detective stories / romance / sci-fi”. Somewhat formulaic. but very enjoyable; I could definitely see this series becoming my new go-to “I need something comforting to read”. And that was a perfect read for the few hours I spent in the hospital after surgery 🙂
  • A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor – Hank Green – the second book after An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It was good, and a good conclusion to the story, but I found it pretty hard to “reconnect” to the story (which I had read two years ago), and that kind of colored my enjoyment of this one.
  • Spoiler Alert – Olivia Dade – a very cute romance between a fanfiction writer and the main actor of the series of the topic of the fanfiction writing (who is… also a fanfiction writer). This was also pretty funny… and made me want to read and write fanfiction.

And if I had to choose one…

A Deadly Education. But Every Heart a Doorway is a very close second.