Pop Song by Larissa Pham (DNFd at 25%)

Pop Song by Larissa Pham: 9781646220267 | Books

Something about the tone and writing style of this book just categorically did not work for me. I felt like the writing was straining for a level of insight or profundity that it simply didn’t have and couldn’t achieve. I also disliked how confused the essays felt; each one had so many ideas and incorporated so many sources that I struggled to parse out what point Pham was actually trying to make.

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin (DNFd at 53%)

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin | Penguin Random House Canada

I was SO excited to read this. First, the cover is GORGEOUS. Second, the synopsis convinced me I’d love this–I mean, just tell me this doesn’t sound amazing,

This wry and visceral debut novel follows a young Turkish-American woman who, rather than grieving her father’s untimely death, seeks treatment for a stubborn headache and grows obsessed with a centuries-old theory of medicine.

Twenty-year-old Sibel thought she had concrete plans for the summer. She would care for her grandmother in Istanbul, visit her father’s grave, and study for the MCAT. Instead, she finds herself watching Turkish soap operas and self-diagnosing her own possible chronic illness with the four humors theory of ancient medicine.
Also on Sibel’s mind: her blond American boyfriend who accompanies her to Turkey; her energetic but distraught younger sister; and her devoted grandmother, who, Sibel comes to learn, carries a harrowing secret.
Delving into her family’s history, the narrative weaves through periods of political unrest in Turkey, from military coups to the Gezi Park protests. Told with pathos and humor, Sibel’s search for strange and unusual cures is disrupted as she begins to see how she might heal herself through the care of others, including her own family and its long-fractured relationships.

I really gave this a fair shot–I read 200 pages–but unfortunately the execution let this down for me. The protagonist felt too disaffected, her narrative tone so dry and distanced that I struggled to connect with her as a character. The plot, too, felt a little aimless for my taste. It didn’t feel like there was any momentum in this novel to keep me engaged. I can definitely see people liking this novel though, so if it sounds like the kind of novel you’d like I’d still recommend you give it a shot.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (DNFd at 16%)

A Memory Called Empire: Martine, Arkady: 9781250186430: Books -

I wanted to like this so badly, but I just hated the writing. I swear to god it felt like every other word in this novel was italicized. I want you to imagine what that does to a reading experience. Also I hated the character development; it didn’t make any sense to me and was all tell and no show (there was a moment when the protagonist was like hmm I like this character, she is funny! when that character had literally said nothing even remotely close to funny). That sort of lazy description irritates me so much; don’t tell me something about a character that that character has not shown me in the writing.

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (DNFd at 11%)

Light From Uncommon Stars, Book by Ryka Aoki (Hardcover) |

Again, a matter of writing. This is a debut novel, and it showed. This novel has such a cool premise, but the writing just could not bring that premise to life. It was so simplistic to the point that it flattened all the novel’s characters, making them all feel very samey (which was all the more noticeable as a problem because the characters range in terms of age, background, experience, etc.).

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (DNFd at 43%)

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Another novel I gave a fair shot–also 200 pages–before I DNFd it. Radiance isn’t the kind of novel I usually gravitate towards; it has a lot of moving parts, incorporating text from interviews, scripts, diaries, etc. And where many of the books I’ve mentioned in this post let me down writing-wise, my issue with Radiance was not its writing. My issue was that the more stylistic, flashy elements of this book took over the focus on character. Or rather, that the focus was never really on the characters to begin with. After 200 pages, I got tired of navigating this expansive world with very little engagement in the characters populating it.

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The Jasmine Throne (Burning Kingdoms, #1)

The Jasmine Throne was an utterly engrossing novel; I can’t remember the last time I was so absorbed in a book.

It’s the kind of novel that creeps up on you. It starts off with two seemingly straightforward plotlines: there’s Priya, a maidservant who helps a homeless boy by finding him a position in the regent’s mahal, where she works; and Malini, who’s been exiled by her brother for disobeying his orders. So far so good, but there is so much more: more captivating backstory, more nuanced worldbuilding, more intricate character dynamics.

When I started this book, I thought it would be a solid 3.5 stars. I was enjoying it, and I was interested to see where it would go, but I didn’t feel deeply invested in its story or its characters. At some point, though, The Jasmine Throne hits it stride and goes from pretty good to completely unputdownable; at some point while reading this book, I went from ok let’s see what happens next to [dramatically dabbing my eyes because I was getting so emotional that it was making me teary-eyed]. Like I said, The Jasmine Throne creeps up on you: you don’t really realize how invested you are in its story until it hits you like a brick wall.

In retrospect, I think the way Suri chose to slowly develop her world in the beginning ultimately worked in the novel’s favour. One of my favourite things about the worldbuilding in The Jasmine Throne is that it never felt bogged down by obvious exposition or info dumps. You learn about the world of this novel in bits and pieces, from chapter to chapter, so that by its end you realize that you’ve absorbed so much information and detail without necessarily having it explicitly spelled out for you. And the worldbuilding is just excellent. I particularly loved the focus on plants and nature, the ways that they can be both beautiful and monstrous, vitalizing and destructive–all themes that Suri vividly brings to life through some real standout, and absolutely striking scenes.

And the characters! They were beautifully developed. I cried, multiple times, not even because something tragic happened, but just because I was so moved by the earnestness and the vulnerability of these characters. There is so much heart to these characters; they’re all, in their own ways, trying to cope with the hand that they’ve been dealt, to move towards healing when so much is pushing them in the opposite direction.

I just loved this, and I am thrilled that we have two more books to look forward to in this series.

Thank you so much to Orbit for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!

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Homesick by Nino Cipri — Dzanc Books

Everyone needs to put Nino Cipri’s work on their radar because it’s damn good.

What I love about these stories is how gentle and humane they feel. There are poltergeists and flying trees and disappearing houses and time travel, but in every one of these stories the fantastical never overtakes the human; Cipri’s work reminds me of Kij Johnson’s At the Mouth at the River of Bees and Sofia Samatar’s Tender in that regard. The first story in this collection, I think, encapsulates everything that Homesick embodies. It’s titled “A Silly Love Story” and it is indeed a love story, just with a poltergeist thrown in. And it’s a wonderful way to begin this collection, which is all about the many ways in which characters respond to ruptures in their world, whether minor or major, simply inconvenient or profoundly transformative. “Not the Ocean, But the Sea,” for example, begins with this paragraph,

“Nadia found the ocean behind the Swedish assholes’ couch during her weekly cleaning. She had followed a small trail of sand to the eastern wall with the vacuum, and when she’d moved the couch to vacuum underneath it, there was the ocean, snuggled right up to the wall. A fresh wind blew off it, stirring the curtains: the smell of salt and mud.”

Cipri’s stories are so clearly invested in the humanity of their characters, and it is for that reason that they are in the end so moving. The collection’s longer stories stand out in particular, impressive in how fleshed out and substantial they feel within such a relatively short span of pages. I’m thinking especially of “The Shape of My Name” and “Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff,” the latter of which acts as such a kickass and poignant end to the collection.

I’d also be remiss not to mention Cipri’s writing chops here. All of Homesick‘s stories are well written, but where Cipri always shines is in the dialogue. “Dead Air” in particular is a tribute to Cipri’s skill with dialogue, as it’s a story written entirely as a transcript of voice recordings from two characters who start dating each other. Even outside that story though, the dialogue is always pitch perfect: organic, funny, and current without feeling like it’s trying too hard.

(Favourite stories include “A Silly Love Story,” “Dead Air,” “The Shape of My Name,” and “Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff,” which was by far the best of the collection.)

Carmen Mario Machado calls these stories “deliciously queer and dark and playful,” and there’s little more that I can add to that, really. She’s right on the money.

Thanks so much to Dzanc Books for sending me a review copy of this in exchange for an honest review!

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