I began sharing book reviews because I wanted to help authors I liked make a career in writing, and because I enjoyed writing reviews and thought I was good at it.
I no longer enjoy writing reviews.
Part of it is the nature of the author/reviewer relationship mediated through ARC distribution platforms like NetGalley: If I accept an ARC, I have to post a review, even if I don’t like the book. But what if I don’t like it because I’m just not smart enough to get it? What if I don’t like it because I’m not the right reader? What if my not liking it closes doors I don’t yet know will keep me out of my own career in writing?
If I do decide to start writing reviews again, I will likely stick to books I have purchased with my own money so that I have the ability to choose whether or not I want to say anything about them publicily.
However, part of what’s going on is also just that I’m not generally enjoying much right now.
I’m okay. I’m not in crisis, and I don’t want anyone to worry about me. Depression seems like an unpleasant but perfectly reasonable response to what I’m going through right now, especially given what we’re all going through right now.
For now, I’m going to focus on taking care of myself and my family; cutting back on commitments that don’t make me happy; and chasing the things that do still spark joy.
I’ve been able to finish a shocking number of short stories in the past few months, and I hope to be able to share some of those … realistically, with the rate at which publishing moves, within the next decade or two. I have the first draft of a cozy rural PNW sapphic romance novel about grief and ghosts and a three-legged gremlin dog to revise.
I think I might like to use this blog to talk about writing as a practice–routines, planners, resources, etc. I can’t say for sure yet because I don’t want to overcommit and cut into my fiction writing time, but that sounds fun and potentially useful. We’ll see.
I am also working on a post about the books that I’ve found most useful in dealing with both my feelings about and the material reality of preparing to lose a parent to pancreatic cancer. Should be a riot.
I initially titled this post “2021 Summer Reading Demands,” but I think that’s bad SEO.
Tori Curtis (dear friend and author of Eelgrass, who shares my passion for starting projects we don’t even intend to finish) recently complained to our group chat that the local library didn’t actually have any information about the summer reading program they advertised. We decided to make and swap Summer Reading Bingo cards, the way we have previously swapped writing prompts.
Then, I decided to make 4 more and share the collection with you. Choose your own adventure!
Summer Reading Bingo Rules
No rules, just right.
Yes, you can count the same book for multiple squares (but see rules 3 and 4).
If you complete a row, column, or diagonal before September 22, tag me on Twitter (@jzkelleywrites) or email me (jz at jzkelley dot com) with the titles of the books you read (minimum 3), and I’ll shout you out in my wrap-up post. Include a (1) link to something you want to show off!
If you complete the entire sheet before September 22, tag me on Twitter (@jzkelleywrites) or email me (jz at jzkelley dot com) with the titles of the books you read (minimum 10), and I will give you an actual, tangible prize in addition to a shoutout. Probably a gift card? TBD.
Resources and Recommendations (mostly alphabetical)
If you’re wondering, “Does X book fit Y category?” the answer is yes. Some books will fit the spirit of the category, and some books will only fit the category on a technicality. That’s fine. There are no grades. You cannot do summer reading wrong.
The goal is to expand your literary horizons and have fun. If you can only manage one of those things, let it be fun.
Here are some suggestions for the less common categories to get you started:
A 2020 debut
A debut is an author’s first published book.
Since so much of an author’s career hinges on their early book sales, and the pandemic messed up everything in publishing, I want to bring extra attention to debuts published in 2020.
I loved Beneath the Risingby Premee Mohamed and Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, but I really want to read Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London as well.
Here is a tip for shy readers: While librarians and booksellers are usually happy to offer recommendations, you can also walk around your library or bookstore and look for a display with staff recommendations.
Science fantasy adventure stories set on planets that are not earth
Think of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter, Kenneth Bulmer, etc.
Check the content warnings first, but Skyfall by Catherine Asaro is like a proto-feminist take on the genre, kind of … Anyway, it’s a wild ride, and I’d recommend it purely on the strength of its main character’s massive, constantly described, literally golden breasts.
If, for some reason, you don’t want a Big Titty Gold Girlfriend, there’s a Goodreads list with other suggestions.
Need suggestions for other categories? Ask me in the comments!
Also, let me know what you’re planning to read! I always need more books for the list of things I’m definitely, totally, 100% going to read eventually.
Spoiler warning: Minor spoilers for Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom, King of Scars and Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo. Major spoilers for Adaptation and Inheritance by Malinda Lo.
Happy Pride Month!
This would maybe be a contentious post if strangers read my blog. In the off chance you are a stranger reading my blog, please allow me to clarify: Some of these characters do not explicitly identify as any particular sexuality. It’s possible they would choose to identify as pansexual, queer, or something else entirely.
I’m choosing to call them bi because that’s the label I’ve chosen for myself, and like all bisexuals, I’m greedy.
Also, this isn’t a list of the best bisexual characters or characters I think provide the best representation. They’re just my favorites, in no particular order …
Nina from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse
Nina is a controversial fat character. Her initial character traits are basically: gorgeous, powerful, likes sweets, dislikes physical exertion. Listed out like that, I get why she feels like a stereotype to some readers. (The fact that she’s the only explicitly fat hero, and therefore has to stand in for all fat people doesn’t help.)
However, as a fat person who likes sweets and used to dislike physical exertion, I like her. It’s nice to see a fat character who’s allowed to enjoy food and isn’t made the butt of a joke for it. I didn’t read her as glutenous or lazy. I read her as spoiled.
I like that Nina’s confident in her size and her sexuality. I like that she remains fat over the course of two series, even when her appearance is magically altered so she can go undercover, which would have been a convenient excuse to make her thin. I like that she’s allowed to be complicated and even unpleasant at times, and she’s still seen as desirable.
Plus, her powers are cool as hell and she gets one of the best endings in the Grishaverse.
Dolly is my girlfriend and I love her. She’s a master thief in charge of weapons and vehicles for her found-family trio of lady criminals. On the outside, she’s so tough she doesn’t even have a favorite brand of cigarettes, because then she’d be disappointed in other cigarettes, and Dolly doesn’t have the patience for that kind of weakness. On the inside, she’s the marshmallow-sweet mom friend who carries her teammates when they’re too weak to walk.
I’m seriously head-over-heels for Dolly. When I write Run with the Hunted fanfiction, it’s going to be 90% loving descriptions of Dolly eating diner food, 10% descriptions of Dolly and her teammate Bristol kissing.
Reese from Adaptation by Malinda Lo
Hot take: Adaptation is superior to Ash in every way.
Am I just saying that because Reese gets to have a terrifying alien girlfriend and a sweet human boyfriend, and those are exactly my types?
ANYWAY, Reese is the opposite of Nina and Dolly, but just as controversial. A lot of readers complain she doesn’t have much of a personality. I think it’s more the case that Adaptation is a book about kissing nice human boys and scary alien girls, with a side of adventure, than a character-driven adventure novel.
I like Reese. Instead of a body count, she has a lot of normal teenage insecurities, which I found relatable as someone who was a painfully shy and insecure teenager. She isn’t insecure about her sexuality, though. When she realizes she’s attracted to both her debate partner, David, and her new friend Amber, she accepts it with the kind of nonchalance I wish were normal for more teenagers. And so do her parents! Wish fulfillment on top of wish fulfillment.
Danika Brown from Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Talia Hibbert’s Brown sisters books are my favorite contemporary romance series. Get a Life, Chloe Brown is the first and my favorite book of the series, because a difficult cat plays a prominent role, but Dani is my favorite human character in the series.
She’s a graduate student and instructor in feminist literature who desperately wants to become a tenured professor as soon as possible. She’s also (and I can only imagine how many “forced diversity” reviews Hibbert gets for this) a fat, bisexual, probably autistic, Black witch (as in the religion). Although Dani has some deep-seated romantic insecurities stemming from a bad breakup, she’s confident in her intelligence, her sex appeal, and her fundamental worth in a way that feels really refreshing and cozy to read.
I do have some qualms about the way Dani’s bisexuality is portrayed, but not because it’s unrealistic. Her love interest initially believes she’s a lesbian because “she talked about banging Janelle Monáe kind of a lot,” and … uh, yep.
It’s also important to note that Talia Hibbert is a queer woman, and even though Dani’s romantic journey includes some bisexual stereotypes, the way Hibbert writes it is nuanced and compassionate. Not quite as nuanced as I’d like, maybe, but I think most bisexual readers will be satisfied.
Bi Books on My TBR
Okay, listen. Listen! I know that’s a short list and they’re all women, but I tried to come up with not-women bi characters, and everyone I could think of got buried or otherwise punished for their sexuality. Or they’re Jesper, and I already have one Leigh Bardugo character on my list.
Here, let me make it up to you. Here are eight bi books I plan to read … eventually:
I love a reading challenge that introduces me to books I wouldn’t have found on my own. Usually, that means nonfiction outside the social sciences, poetry, and literary fiction, as well as science fiction and fantasy that none of my friends have read yet.
It feels like it’s good for me, even if I don’t always enjoy it. Like when my therapist makes me set a boundary.
Of the five books I read for Asian Readathon, only Thorn was originally on my TBR.The Collected Schizophrenias, A Crown of Wishes, Ayesha at Last, and The Wolf of Oren-Yaro were all new to me.
You may notice one of those books wasn’t part of my original plan.
One problem with checking giant stacks of books out from the library at once is I never remember what those books are about when I get them home or why I checked them out.
After a pair of depressing adult fantasy books (Passing Strange and The Unbroken, review of the latter coming soon), I was craving some lighthearted YA adventure. So I picked up Thorn by Intisar Khanani. The cover’s so pretty! And it has such a nice coming-to-market story! Surely, I thought, this is a book that will cheer me up after reading 600-something pages of violence against women.
I was mistaken.
I did like Thorn. The writing is compulsively readable, and the major twist was both surprising and satisfying. If I decide to read it again in a different headspace, I might even come to love it. I just didn’t enjoy reading it when I did.
Another thing I was mistaken about: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is partially set in the U.S., so I’m not going to be using that book to fulfill the non-US centric category.
Instead, I’m reading I’ll be the One by Lyla Lee. Somehow, I wasn’t aware of this YA novel about a fat (!) bisexual (!!) girl trying to become a K-Pop star when I created my initial list, so this was a happy accident. I’m stoked.
After Thorn, I took a break to read Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo, because I needed something dependable. Also, my hold had come in and I didn’t want to wait to get to the front of the line again. It has mixed reviews on Goodreads, but I really liked it. Probably because one of the POV characters is a fat bisexual girl.
By then, I was craving something to bring down my average page count. I chose The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang. It’s a collection of personal essays about mental and physical illness, art, science, magic, and legacy.
Surprisingly, it’s also one of the lighter books I’ve read this year. It’s not inspiration porn by any stretch, but it’s also not trauma porn. It’s about how Weijun Wang has sought to make meaning out of her pain.
I’m currently reading A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, which I hope will turn out to be at least 2 parts Yearning for every 1 part Suffering. So far, so good.