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Spring 2022 Blog Update

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.

Until then, did you know you can watch a live feed of the penguins at the Monterey Bay Aquarium? They get fed on camera every day at 3 PM PT. You’re welcome.

2021 Summer Reading Bingo (with Resources!)

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

  1. No rules, just right.
  2. Yes, you can count the same book for multiple squares (but see rules 3 and 4).
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
A grainy AF screencap of an Outback Steakhouse commercial with the outback logo and "NO RULES JUST RIGHT" over the image of some people eating some grainy food.

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 book released in March 2020

  • Books released at the start of the pandemic were particularly hard hit.
  • Beneath the Rising came out March 3rd, just saying.
  • Thorn by Intisar Khanani also came out that month.
  • The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin, The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune, and The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo are on my TBR.
  • Here’s the Goodreads list

A book about books or reading

A book about food

A book about sports or athletics

A book by an author who writes/has written fanfic

  • Cassandra Clare, Seanan McGuire, Marjorie M. Liu, Marissa Meyer, E. L. James, and Anna Todd are the obvious choices.
  • Apparently, Andy Weir (The Martian) wrote Ready Player One fanfiction.
  • You could also argue that anyone who writes biblically inspired fiction or retellings of any kind is writing fanfiction.

A book of science fiction or fantasy poetry

A book recommended by a librarian or bookseller

  • 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.

A book recommended by a stranger

A book with a person of color on the cover

A children’s or young adult book by an author of color

A children’s or young adult book by an indigenous author

A children’s or young adult book by an LGBTQIA author

A children’s or young adult book with a fat protagonist/a romance or young adult novel with a fat protagonist

A collection of personal essays published before 2000

A collection of poetry by an LGBTQIA poet

A graphic novel written or illustrated by a person of color

A historical romance novel with a protagonist of color

A horror or dark fantasy novel by an author of color

  • I’m going to read The Only Good Indians (Stephen Graham Jones), and I’m pretty sure several Silvia Moreno-Garcia books could fulfill this category.
  • Diversity in Horror Fiction has additional recommendations

A novel with a protagonist over 45

  • Read The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg (which is actually a novella, but no rules, just right).
  • Then AND ONLY THEN, you can pick one of these recommendations from Book Riot or Goodreads

A romance novel by a disabled author

  • Recommendations are not as easy to find as I expected!
  • Check out Corey’s recommendations for disability rep, then research the authors, I guess.
  • Sorry!
  • Maybe I’ll make a list myself sometime in the future.

A romance novel by a trans or nonbinary author/a romance novel with a trans or nonbinary protagonist

  • Since I link to Corey’s essays like 12 times a month, you really should read one of their books, published as Xan West.
  • The Calyx Charm by May Peterson (coming July 13) is incredible, so preorder that as well.
  • Book Riot has some additional suggestions

A romance novel by an author of color

A science fiction or fantasy novel by a disabled author

A science fiction or fantasy novel by an indigenous author

A science fiction or fantasy novel by an LGBTQ author

  • I have to plug The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg again. It’s gorgeous, it made me cry, I want everyone to read it.
  • Speaking of crying, C. L. Clark’s The Unbroken is like 90% lesbian suffering, 10% incredible world building.
  • Hey look, there’s a whole database of queer SFF!

A small press or self-published book

  • Obviously, I have to recommend Tori’s self-published debut, Eelgrass, again. It’s a lesbian selkie/mermaid fantasy about the ways in which our communities of origin can be complicit in our abuse.
  • Shira Glassman writes short, sweet, sapphic, Jewish-inspired fantasy and contemporary fiction.
  • Independent Book Review recommends 32 small press books from 2020.
  • It can be a little bit more difficult to find reliable review of self-published books, but Dear Author and Maryse’s Book Blog are both long-running book blogs that review self-published books.

A work of fiction by a disabled author

  • Check out the above recommendations for romance and SFF.
  • You can also look at Goodreads’s lists of disability books, but you’ll have to dig a bit to see if the authors are disabled or just the protagonists.

Bangsian fiction

  • A fantasy genre “in which important literary and historical personalities” interacting in the afterlife (E. F. Bleiler, Guide to Supernatural Fiction)
  • Popular titles include Bangs’s Riverworld series and The Divine Comedy
  • alleges that The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is also bangsian, which–[sigh] no rules, just right. I guess.
  • Of course there’s a Goodreads shelf.

Biopunk fiction

  • A sci-fi genre that’s basically cyberpunk but focused on biotechnology rather than digital technology
  • Popular titles include Scott Westerfield’s works (Leviathan, Uglies), Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, Dawn by Octavia E. Butler, Never Let Me Go by Kazu Ishiguro, and Frankenstein.
  • Some of the Jurassic Park works are probably biopunk.
  • Here’s the Goodreads shelf.

Epistolary fiction

  • Fiction told as or including letters, text messages, emails, journal entries, etc.
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War is a good pick for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.
  • Book Riot has 100 additional suggestions.

Hopepunk fiction

  • Essentially speculative stories that present a hopeful future
  • Becky Chambers, Emily St. John Mandel, and Alexandra Rowland (who coined the term) are the big names that spring to mind. I’d argue a lot of small press/self-published trans and queer works also fit.
  • I’m going to fight the person who put The Lord of the Rings on the Goodreads Hopepunk shelf.
  • Cat Rambo has a suggested reading list.

Nonfiction by a woman of color

Nonfiction written by a disabled author

  • My pick would probably be Exile and Pride, an essay collection by Eli Clare.
  • The Festival of Literary Diversity has 4 recommendations.
  • Check out these disabled writers featured on the Disability Visibility Project.

Nonfiction written by a trans or nonbinary author

  • I’m currently loving Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price, even though it’s less sociology, more self help than I expected.
  • I like this list by the Ottawa Public Library because it isn’t exclusively “trans and nonbinary writers write about being trans and nonbinary.”

Sword and planet fiction

  • Science fantasy adventure stories set on planets that are not earth
  • Think of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter, Kenneth Bulmer, etc.
  • Also, Dune!
  • 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.

Pride Month: My Favorite Bisexual* Characters (Book Recommendations)

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.

A waving pixel gif of a bi pride flag

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.

Gif of Nina looking down and biting her lip

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 from Jennifer R. Donohue’s Run with the Hunted series

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.

Gif of a Shiba Inu riding on the back of a tortoise
Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, just like Dolly!

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?

Gif of two cartoon aliens dancing

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.

Gif of Janelle Monae blowing a kiss at the camera

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:

A Blade So Black by L. L. McKinney (Goodreads)

  • YA urban fantasy
  • Alice in Wonderland retelling featuring a cosplaying bi Black Alice who fights nightmares
  • McKinney also has a sapphic Jane Eyre retelling (!!!) called Escaping Mr. Rochester (!!!!!!) coming in 2022

One Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (Goodreads)

  • Contemporary romance novella
  • Second-chance romance between two Black women, one of whom is the assistant to the prince of a fictional Wakanda-inspired country
  • The audiobook of A Princess in Theory, which precedes Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, has the best accents but also the sex scenes did almost kill me with their tonal dissonance

Seven Tears at High Tide by C. B. Lee (Goodreads)

  • YA fantasy
  • Bi Asian-American boy rescues a selkie boy on the Pacific coast
  • Rainbow Award Nominee for Bisexual Fantasy and Fantasy Romance (3rd place)

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust (Goodreads)

  • YA fantasy
  • Sapphic Persian-inspired Sleeping Beauty retelling featuring an Elsa-like princess whose touch is poisonous
  • I’ve seen it shelved as “creepy plants,” and I don’t know what that means yet but I’m excited

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (Goodreads)

  • Historical romance
  • Widow recruits aspiring astronomer to fulfill her husband’s legacy
  • I recently decided not to gift this to a friend because it’s long and reportedly a slow burn, but sometimes you just want to luxuriate

Let’s Call it a Doomsday by Katie Henry (Goodreads)

  • YA contemporary
  • “Ellis is scared about the end of the world; Hannah knows when it’s going to happen”
  • With an anxious LDS bi-questioning protag, probably more of a post-quarantine read

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman (Goodreads)

  • Contemporary novella
  • Small-batch yarn dyer falls for wildlife painter
  • Supposed to be very fluffy and cute and Jewish

Who are your favorite bisexual characters?

Have you read any of the books on my TBR? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Asian Readathon 2021: Final Thoughts

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.

Or my updated plan.

In my defense, I’ll Be the One really sounds like it’s set in Korea. It’s about a girl competing to become a K-Pop star. Nothing in its blurb indicates it’s actually set in LA.

Ayesha at Last was my third and final attempt to find a book not set in the US.

It’s set in Canada.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Elmo.gif

Good enough.

What I Read

Challenge 1: Read any book written by an Asian author – Thorn by Intisar Khanani

  • Dark and often painful fairytale retelling
  • Big on the found family feelings
  • Light on the romance
  • Some nuanced and redeemable villains
  • Why does every book I touch have so much sexual violence?

Challenge 2: Read any book featuring an Asian protagonist – A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

  • Hindu-inspired adventure
  • Angry girl x gentle boy
  • Yearning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • So much beautiful, sparkling imagery
  • “Be careful what you wish for” but not frustrating

Challenge 3: Read any book written by an Asian author in your favorite genre – The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K. S. Villoso

  • Filipino epic fantasy about toxic family relationships
  • “I can take care of myself” but she actually can
  • Meticulous and detailed world building
  • 0.5 seconds of found family before we return to our regularly scheduled suffering
  • Seriously, everything I touch turns to sexual violence

Challenge 4: Read any nonfiction book written by an Asian author – The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang

  • Disabled person, not person with a disability
  • Writing about writing about mental illness
  • Essays as conversations with dead sick people
  • Travelogue of hospitals, doctors offices, hotels, and internal landscapes
  • Shockingly, one of the lighter books I read this month

Challenge 5: Read any book written by an Asian author that’s not US-centric – Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

  • Contemporary Muslim Canadian Pride and Prejudice retelling
  • Main character’s poetry is actually good
  • Setting boundaries with difficult family members
  • Deliberately trying to make you hungry
  • Justice for Lydia

2021 Asian Readathon Progress Update

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.