Winter’s Orbit Review: A Cornucopia of Bliss

Winter's Orbit | Raphael Corkhill | Macmillan

Winter’s Obrit | Everina Maxwell | Published by Tor | Date Released: 2/2/21

One match can light up an empire? No. One match can light up the desiccated husk of my soul after reading this.

Let’s see. What can I say about Winter’s Orbit? Well, it turns out…quite a bit.

I felt inexplicably drawn to this book. Could it have been the drop dead gorgeous cover? Or maybe the promise of a m/m royal marriage arrangement set in SPACE? Or perhaps the hint that the novel was heavier on the romance than the sci-fi–the latter of which I am an admittedly poor study. Regardless, I did dive in with some doubt that it would be for me. I am usually drawn to more character-driven fiction, while this synopsis promised political intrigue at every turn (and boy did it deliver). But it delivered the political machinery in such a way that made it engaging for even the likes of me.

So what’s this gorgeous piece of space romance and interplanetary politics about?

Let’s turn it over to Goodreads, because I am abysmally bad at synopses:

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

When I realized I could get my mitts on this new release with my Audible credit, excitement mounted.  I began my listening for a quick diversion while doing other things, doubtful that I could become as emotionally invested in a sci-fi novel as I am in my usual genre haunts.

“Well, someone has to marry the man.”

…is how this lovely courtship begins. What I mean, is my courtship with this book. At first I was intimidated by the erudite British accent of the narrator, Raphael Corkhill, but was quickly won over by his talent at depicting the counterpoint of Kiem’s goofy charm to Jainan’s stoic practicality, and the dynamic between these two against the tense political landscape. Given that I am not a reader of much sci-fi, the last being The Need—does that count as sci-fi?—and before that, Annihilation (both excellent), I adored that the tech was so seamlessly integrated without clunky, overwhelming explanations, but rather just enough to pique my interest.

The plot deliciously gains traction the deeper in you get. I cannot help but be intimidated by multi-threaded plots of political intrigue like this (see also my review on Six of Crows in a discussion of e-books vs books), but it is truly a testament to Maxwell’s storytelling savvy that I was able to follow along just fine and quite enjoy the ride. Maxwell’s prose was clean and elegant, with incisive metaphor and simile, blessedly void of the overly wrought exposition I feared going into this genre. Bonus: the novel demonstrated pitch perfect use of gender pronouns for the story with the lovely and logical freedom of beings in Maxwell’s universe to choose their expression via glass (nonbinary), wood (male), or flint (female) ornaments.

Things Winter’s Orbit delivers via gut punch after gut punch: tension, layered plot, psychological acuity, as shown in Kiem’s growth from the self-depreciating charismatic reformed party boy royal and Jainan’s struggle with being cut off from his clan and planet as the Thean diplomat, not to mention–well, rather than spoil anything for you, let me just leave you with this juicy morsel:

“Pain had its uses, Jainan thought. It put things in perspective. There was something clean about the way it cut through the emotional tangles and reminded you that things could be worse.”

But the main winning aspect in a cornucopia of bliss is the tentative, budding romance between Kiem and Jainan, rife with all the fanfic tropes you’re dying for–bed sharing, arranged marriage, misunderstanding–executed so beautifully and so naturally. Remember that strangers-to-friends-to-lovers I said I was expecting with Boyfriend Material in my last post? Winter’s Orbit was exactly this. This book gives an entire new perspective to the slow burn trope. These two orbit one another, learning each other’s nuances so gradually, it is like watching two people realize that by a fortuitous turn of events, they have been married to the exact person made just for them. I was moved to tears at one point just by this unfurling romance, like a flower opening at the first lick of the sun’s warmth (I was also 2 glasses of wine in by that time, but the point stands).

Regarding the format in which I consumed this

I feel that there is a big difference between experiencing a book on audio versus reading it. Some books present better in audio format, for me at least. I have no idea if this is one of those books, because audio is the only way I’ve experienced it and want to re-experience it in the future. It must be said here that the Corkhill did such a brilliant job of portraying both Kiem and Jainan, their distinct voices were sounding in my head with crystalline clarity for days after I finished the novel. Also, audio books are versatile. You can listen to this book: in bed, working out, at work, in the car, while doing mindless tasks, while imbibing, while staring into the middle distance, wondering how you got to this place in your life where you wished you had a therapist just so you could talk about all the Feelings this book awoke in the cobwebbed annals of your heart…

Verdict?

If you’ve been sitting on an Audible credit, I say make it rain on Winter’s Orbit.

6 Best Books of 2020

I seem to have recurrent amnesia for how much I love writing about books I’ve read. Since I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell regarding my fiction, please excuse me while I belatedly celebrate my 2020 reads.

I should amend the title of this post to the 6 best books I read in the year of 2020, not the 6 best books of 2020. Most of my favorite reads were backlist, but I am also reviewing 7 2020 releases, with some, ahem, possibly controversial opinions.


**Look out for my upcoming reviews on these 2021 releases: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, and Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell. I have much to say.**


2020 Releases I Read

Amazon.com: In a Holidaze (9781982163631): Lauren, Christina: Books

In a Holidaze (Romantic comedy) by Christina Lauren

Release date: October 6, 2020

A cozy Christmas romance a la Groundhog day. Christina Lauren has done it again. Initially, I was not interested in reading this 2020 CLo release because of the gimmicky/holiday wrapping, but I did and I don’t regret it one bit. I snuggled so deep in the found family and friends-to-lovers tropes that I was blissfully lost in its cozy folds for the six hours it took to consume this piece of transportable Christmas spirit.

Memorial (Contemporary) by Bryan Washington

Release date: October 27, 2020

When I was writing my graduate thesis on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, there was a quote I kept coming back to:

“In the neuter austerity of that terrain all phenomena were bequeathed a strange equality and no one thing nor spider nor stone nor blade of grass could put forth claim to precedence…in the optical democracy of such landscapes all preference is made whimsical and a man and a rock become endowed with unguessed kinship.”

All this to say, Washington bequeaths his characters and their every moment, triumphant or tragic, with an optical democracy. Each horrific reality is given no more or less weight than any beautiful revelation. This works to elevate the beauty of the work as a whole. I was not expecting what I got with Memorial, which is neither good nor bad. It is exactly what it is, which is kind of what it felt like Washington was trying to say.

Amazon.com: A Deadly Education: A Novel (The Scholomance Book 1) eBook:  Novik, Naomi: Kindle Store

A Deadly Education (Fantasy) by Naomi Novik

Release date: September 29, 2020

You know I had to review my girl Novik’s newest–a lush original take on the magic school genre where the school is…well, essentially trying to devour the students. After Uprooted and Spinning Silver, Novik can do no wrong with me. A Deadly Education throws you into some heavy world-building right off the bat, which settles comfortably into place as the plot gains speed. The characters totally slap. And the promise of budding, forbidden romance in the next book of the trilogy sweetens the deal of course.

Loveless (YA) by Alice Oseman

Release date: April 30, 2020

I did not particularly care for this book, which surprised me given how much I adore Heartstopper, I Was Born For This, and Radio Silence. I am not entirely sure whether the  opinion I walked away with was mostly due to seeing Oseman’s struggle so hard with creating this novel on social media. I’m not saying artists shouldn’t be transparent about creation or illuminate how hard the process can be, but I feel as though seeing her suffering regarding this book may have made me see all the faults with it. Despite its faults, the characters were thoroughly filled in, and the dynamic between Rooney and Pip was FIRE–peak sapphic sexual tension.

Book Review: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Boyfriend Material (Romance) by Alexis Hall

Release date: July 7, 2020

This was 2020’s sweetheart release, a cuddly romance we all desperately needed. I loved these two characters. Mostly Oliver if I’m being honest, but to be fair, Luc is a self-admitted berk. This story was just the right timbre of sweet for which I was aching. The build-up of the romance and the construction of the characters’ lives—mostly Luc’s, with his work mates and group of friends, was spot on and hilarious.

But sometimes you read a book and it’s not at all what you thought it would be from the blurb. Boyfriend Material was this for me, which was partly a good thing and partly a teensy bit disappointing, only because it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. From the premise, I expected a strangers-to-friends-to-lovers scenario in which there was a painful slow burn saturated in miscommunication. And *there was all of this*, but because these characters Arc and Grow, they reveal their hands a lot sooner than I expected. They play off of this place of mutually acknowledged interest in being more than fake boyfriends from almost the halfway point in the book. Which was actually refreshing for the genre, rather than the story’s tension riding on the MCs’ complete ignorance of each other’s feelings.

…Let’s talk about the sex.

Wait. There wasn’t any, aside from the slow fade out before anything really happens (You know what I’m talking about). Let me be clear; I am not decrying this book over its woeful lack of sex. I was merely caught off guard after the other five Alexis Hall books I had read. 

Thank you NetGalley for an Advanced Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



Without further ado, here are my

 

6 Best Books of 2020

Piranesi (Fantasy) by Susanna Clark

Release date: September 15, 2020

Synopsis

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.


Piranesi is a labyrinth of a tale, breathtaking in scope, told by a heartbreakingly human narrator.

A fantasy to give you the exact feeling you’re hoping to find when delving into a fantasy read. At least that’s what it was for me. This was my first foray into Susanna Clarke, and I can say with supreme confidence that I will be giving her other work a read very soon.

 

The Goldfinch (Contemporary) by Donna Tartt

Release date: October 22, 2013  

synopsis

After losing his mother in a horrific bombing, Theo Decker embarks on an urgent odyssey through survival, love, and far too many goodbyes. Tartt presents us with a modern day bildungsroman that destroys and rebuilds in equal strokes.


God, this book. A book about art and humanity that Tartt says began with the intertwining of a dark New York and dark Amsterdam mood, and I *clap* was *clap* here for it. Definitely one of my all time favorites. Others have decried this book for its wanderings, but I loved every single word of its 771 pages. I basically got my master’s in English–not to intelligently discuss moving literature, no–but to ecstatically absorb and find myself muted in the face of their greatness. For me, The Goldfinch rivals The Secret History. 

“Caring too much for objects can destroy you.”

Yes, Ms. Tartt. It certainly can, as I am writing this from the grave.

 

The Queen of Nothing (Fantasy) by Holly Black

Release date: November 19, 2019

I don’t want to put the synopsis here for anyone who has not yet read the first two books, but let’s just say this was the close of a expertly woven, completely transporting trilogy, in my humble opinion. It is important to note that I’ve put the Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition here, and with good reason. *Whispers* It includes the letters Cardan wrote to Jude while she was in the mortal world, drowning in feels.

All hail the queen of faerie, Holly Black. That is all. 


 

We Contain Multitudes (YA) by Sarah Henstra

Release date: May 14, 2019

synopsis

Jonathan Hopkirk and Adam “Kurl” Kurlansky are partnered in English class, writing letters to one another in a weekly pen pal assignment. With each letter, the two begin to develop a friendship that eventually grows into love. But with homophobia, bullying, and devastating family secrets, Jonathan and Kurl struggle to overcome their conflicts and hold onto their relationship…and each other.


Look, I didn’t even know what to do with myself while listening to this book. Stunning. Heavy. Shattering. Euphoric. I listened to it on audio (a few times), which might bias my experience here, because the voice actors were legit phenomenal, and so real, and it just felt so tender and devastating hearing them right in my ear. 

I’ll Give You The Sun (YA) by Jandy Nelson

Release date: September 16, 2014

synopsis

At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them.

Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways… but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.


Another amazing art book. And romance book.  And sibling book.  And family book. I had no idea this book would beat me up and steal my lunch money, but here we are. If you enjoy experiencing exactly what it feels like to have hearts in your eyes while simultaneously ugly crying, then read this book. 

Radio Silence (YA) by Alice Oseman

Release date: February 5, 2016

synopsis

What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?

Frances has been a study machine with one goal. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. Then Frances meets Aled, and for the first time she’s unafraid to be herself.

So when the fragile trust between them is broken, Frances is caught between who she was and who she longs to be. Now Frances knows that she has to confront her past. To confess why Carys disappeared…

Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.


I had to give the Oseman a fair shake. Though I did not enjoy Loveless, I loved this book. Coincidentally, I had concurrently discovered the fictional podcast Welcome to Night Vale, so this book had an extra layer of gravity. The novel was like a blanket to wrap around your heart to cushion it against the feels of friendship and resurgent teenage angst. 


 

What do my fellow readers think? Love any of these? Disagree that The Goldfinch rivals The Secret History? Let’s duke it out in the comments discuss.

2019 Book Awards

I read 50 books in 2019. I rated many of them 5 stars, which is kind of a rare situation for one who avidly reads. I think it just means that in my advanced years, I am able to gauge what I will like. While I’m sure you’d love to hear me talk about all 50 of them, I will merely forcefully recommend all of the awards winners here with gorgeous cover thumbnails and vague categories that leave you salivating for more, and of course, my favorites at the bottom. A fellow Instagrammer inspired the Oscars-style roundup layout, without which, this would have been a much longer post.

 Longest Book & Best Worldbuilding

Strongest cast & Most Unique

Best Female Lead

Alice Proserpine, The Hazel Wood
or
Cassie Maddox, Into the Woods and The Likeness

Best Male Lead

Sean Kendrick, The Scorpio Races
or
Declan Lynch, Call Down the Hawk

And the winner, for my

Best Read of 2019

is

scorpio races

“It’s the surf in your face, the deadly magic of November on your skin, the Scorpio drums in the place of your heartbeat…it’s life and it’s death or it’s both, and there’s nothing like it.”

 

That’s it. That’s the book.

 

My favorite thing about this stunning fantasy is that you can reach out and feel the November iciness of the break, the steam rising from the horses’ flanks. It’s legend breathed to life. If this wasn’t already featuring as my favorite novel last year, it would be boasting the award for most atmospheric with Stiefvater’s fictional island, Thisby, and all of its traditions and prejudices. In an interview, Stiefvater said she traveled to cliffs all over the world to find the exact ones she saw in her mind:

 

“I went to four sets of cliffs. You didn’t believe me when I said I was obsessed. California, Yorkshire, and Dover, England are the other three. And then last year, I was in Paris with my husband in December, and it was snowing. It was the first time it had snowed in Paris in years and years. I’m with my husband, without the kids, in the City of Love. I have a day off from doing author things and I told him, ‘Rent a car. We’re driving to the cliffs in Normandy.’ “

 

 

That is serious dedication to building atmosphere. Like my favorites of Stiefvater’s novels, if you go into it a little bit blind, you’ll reach the end seeing in technicolor.

 

 

Other 2019 favorites

  • The first four in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad Series
  • Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron
  • Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer

 

What were your favorite reads last year? If you read any of these, what did you think? Any special 2020 reading goals?

Women in Horror Month

I listen to film scores…recreationally. I would say this is just a thing I do when writing, but it’s also when I’m driving, coloring with my kids, at work–it’s often, okay? I remember hearing one composer and thinking wow but not recognizing it because I hadn’t seen the movie. The composer was Rachel Portman (the song was the main title for Chocolat). I looked into her and found a massive body of magnificent work. I realized I had not heard of her because female composers in film are a rare breed–whether there really aren’t that many or that it’s hard for them to break through in a field dominated by men.

Women in horror presents and simultaneously disproves a similar statistical situation. But that’s another endeavor entirely. THIS post is about celebrating women in horror across a variety of mediums. Last year, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I wrote a post on my experience reading 44 books by only women authors in 2017. This year, I’m recommending some contemporary (and one classic) works by women in horror for you to sink your teeth into.

Novel

baby-teeth.jpg

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage was an unexpected read last year. It was an audiobook I chose on a whim, and I’m glad I did. Gabra Zackman did a phenomenal job of narrating. I feel like the blurb is a little reductive of the sophisticated exposition and themes at play in this psychological horror. The end culminates in a different revelation than the reader carries from the beginning, leaving awe and sharp discomfort in its wake.

Actually, it reminds me of a short story I recently read by Annie Neugebeauer–

Short Story

“That Which Never Comes” by Annie Neugebauer appears in the first volume of Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon. This story is all about painful anticipation, but, there was something at the end, that really, truly terrified me and it had nothing to do with that which never comes. This story is such a full representation of a difficult, often deliberately misunderstood genre. You should also read her manifesto on why women in horror month matters.

Film

This article on 15 female horror directors revealed the director of my favorite horror film, American Psycho, to be another woman in horror to celebrate, Mary Harron. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a black comedy and psychological horror. My husband and I always reference it as the movie which you can play at any moment and it’s a good and/or hilarious part.

The article also reminded me of Honeymoon, a film that has stuck with me since watching it five years ago. The acting is seamless with tension that builds and builds to a gut-twisting crescendo.

Honeymoon.jpg

A more recent achievement for women in horror was Toni Collette’s complex, layered performance in one of the most startling, horrifying films I have ever seen, Hereditary. I can’t even say anything about this film. You just have to see it.

hereditary

Art

One of my absolute favorite mediums of horror is art. Dappermouth is an artist I discovered on tumblr a couple years ago. Every one of her pieces is so evocative and makes me feel things I don’t understand.

dappermouth

Another artist who dabbles in horror is the author and musician, Maggie Stiefvater. Her tarot cards, The Raven’s Prophecy, are stunning. If you’re just beginning with tarot reading, the images are extremely emotional, making them easier than some decks to connect with.

Music

I want to recommend two artists, Meg Myers and Banks, with music in this genre.

The first video I saw for Meg Myers was Desire and I kinda fell for her. Her music is something that is waning in a very self-conscious field: it completely gives in. This song and video is so dark, she revealed in an interview, that a boyfriend broke up with Myers after experiencing it.

Banks is another phenomenal artist–I like earnest female artists, okay? She writes electronic, contemporary R&B-inspired confessionals. Her song “Fuck With Myself” examines the interplay and imbalance between self-love and self-hate. The video, in which Banks abuses a bald effigy of herself, is a horror gem.


 

Do you have an women in horror recommendations? Favorites? How will you celebrate the month? 

Top 6 Reads of 2018

The time has come again for a book wrap up. Here are my 6 favorites from last year.

tsh

 

The Secret History

I finished this book at the beginning of 2018, and I still crave the feeling I got while reading it. There are books you love because the world feels real and transports you (Harry Potter) and books you love because of the characters (The Catcher in the Rye). Then there books that read like shooting a FEELING directly into your veins. And this one is it. The Secret History is dark, smart, and will leave you tense and gasping all the way to the end.

 

 

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

I notice a theme with some of my favorite books and that is setting, which Call Me By Your Name has in spades. Italy. Good god, it’s lovely. But also, Elio. Elio is the sweetest summer child that ever was. His emotional narration rips into your heart with teeth that will leave their venom behind, forever infecting you with FEELINGS. Elio’s narration will blur your vision with his angst. You will remember your exact self at teenage-years-old. In short, you will fully comprehend the concept of “shook” when you finish this novel.

Six of Crows | Crooked Kingdom

img_20190122_230945_090

Four words for you: No mourners, no funerals. I feel like I need a rollie and a burning  whisky as I write this. I’m kind of cheating on this one saying both were top reads of last year, but really, this entire universe is just…wow. The first novel in this duology gave me a revelation about how I read. The world is flat-out stunning–sexy, smart, but the characters and plot are phenomenal too. If you love action, slow burn, heists–shit, I didn’t even care about heists until reading this–smart heroes, villains, and the gray ones between, read Six of Crows. If you want to be completely transported, this series is your ticket to Apparating.

spinning silver

 

Spinning Silver 

I was looking for good fantasy feels when I started this book; let’s just say I struck gold (*waves hand* you’ll get it when you read it). It was even better than Uprooted (which I reviewed as one of my best reads of 2017) a feat I never dreamed possible, in this dimension or its parallel. I was craving fantasy, and this book is the genre’s epitome. When you read this, you will want to be zipped up in a sleeping bag and buried in a tomb with Spinning Silver clutched to your chest.

 

 

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren

I have read four of Christina Lauren’s books and nary a one has disappointed me. But this one…whew. This is one of those books that overreaches its genre and plucks the strings of your soul and stays and stays and stays. I just got all mushy thinking about it again. This book is about gangly teens, growing up, reading in reading nooks, overcoming loss, and finding your soulmate over books. It’s endearing, funny, heartfelt, hot, and now I want to read it all over again.

 

annihilation

 

Annihilation

I did not read a lot of horror last year–three, in fact, and one was a novella–and it will show in how inadequately I will sing the praises of this novel. But this book, this little iridescent bundle of sci-fi horror like you’ve never seen  before had me holed up for days and contemplating which lines I wanted to tattoo on my body. The setting is stunning, but the narrator, and the way in which she just wields a good story like a shank in a psychologically and physiologically threatening frontier, is VanderMeer’s prize piece.

 

 

________________________________________________________________________________________

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Did you have any favorites from last year? Please, share in the comments. I’m always looking for my next fix.