- The Şiret Mask by Marie Brennan [Jump]
- Staged to Death and Deadly Decor by Karen Rose Smith [Jump]
- Full Metal Alchemist Volume Four by Hiromu Arakawa [Jump]
- Check Please! Year Three by Ngozi Ukazu [Jump]
- The Sins of the Cities Series (An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice, An Unsuitable Heir) by KJ Charles [Jump]
1. The Şiret Mask by Marie Brennan [Top]
Okay everyone, no spoilers, but I need every single story rec you have that's like this, because this is the most MY THING story I have read in a while. There are heists! There are the mechanics of heists! There are dramatic escapes and plans going horrifically wrong in every way they can and betrayals and secret identities and disguises and just... *dreamy sigh* I want to write stories like this when I grow up, I loved it.
2 and 3. Staged to Death and Deadly Decor by Karen Rose Smith [Top]
Caprice de Luca is a home-stager (which, I am learning from context, is someone who decorates houses for viewings – I did not actually know this was a job!), whose best friend from high school is accused of murdering her own husband. Cue amateur sleuthing! Family drama! Cute animals! Somewhat wonky prose!
I actually quite like this series. It's a bit... Gender-essentialist sometimes in its "That's what men and women are like" attitude, the dialogue can be quite unnatural (sometimes it reads like she's writing a description instead of dialogue and it's really noticeable) and the prose is SO RIDICULOUSLY SPECIFIC about brands and actions that it audibly clunks, but! It's a cozy murder mystery with a really strong focus on family, and that works for me.
The best part about it as a mystery is that Caprice's amateur sleuthing isn't of the "Well, obviously I know better than the police!" variety. It's very specifically "I am worried that the police are focused too much on people that I cares about, let's see if there are OTHER suspects." She talks to people, and when they have vital information she sends them to the correct authorities and makes them talk to lawyers! Honestly, that's kinda refreshing considering how thoroughly a lot of mysteries have people avoiding the police. They denouements of both do hinge on "And now the murderer tries to kill me!" as proof that Caprice is right, but that's fine by me.
And the romances are actually woven into the murder investigation somewhat organically, which is a huge contrast to how artificial Caprice's trust issues feel. On the flip side, it's hard to invest in the romances, because the sweet romance with the doctor that they fall into easily and naturally is blatantly gonna lose out to the conflict-ridden relationship with her brother's best friend where no one can communicate. Uggggggh. I do like the relationships though, despite the inevitability; there's such good sibling relationships here, where no one is completely right or wrong and there is a believable amount of history and conflict-balanced-by-affection, and the way that the family pulls together even when one of them is being a jerk is great. Plus the platonic (non-familial) relationships are supportive and kind, even though they're very much secondary to family and romance. I feel like the subplot relationships are presented in a weirdly conservative way – a bit "Ooh, a married woman going out for coffee with an unrelated man!" in a way that I can't put my finger on. It's not surprising for a cozy mystery, but it's noticeable.
(I was not kidding about the specificity by the way – everything is specific brands or designers, specific room dimensions, specific ingredients, specific weights – the way these and the descriptions take precedent over literally everything that could be happening can really grind my gears. I guess it makes sense for Caprice as a character, but for me as a reader it detracts from the narrative instead of adding to it because I've no idea what she's talking about. It reads like a catalogue description half the time.)
... Okay, I know I'm dragging this series a lot, but I really do enjoy it as comfort reading. Somewhat frustrating comfort reading, but it's cozy and warm despite the murders, so it's comforting nonetheless!
4. FullMetal Alchemist Volume Four by Hiromu Arakawa [Top]
I'll be honest, I forgot until about halfway through that FMA Volume 4 was THAT volume, the one that made me cry on a tram when I was fourteen because it broke my heart, and the one that suckerpunches me every time I've read it since. NO SPOILERS, just... Oh my heart.
I do not like the drama about the artificial souls, to be honest with you – it feels artificial (I'm not sorry) and forced and doesn't make sense for all of the reasons the characters SAY it doesn't make sense. I get that it's because Al is a traumatised thirteen year old boy, so I KINDA sympathise, but... That said, I really enjoyed the rest of the volume (maybe enjoyed isn't the right word); the Hughes family are adorable and supportive and I love them; Roy Mustang and his allies as a force of nature and subterfuge is the light of my life; Scar realising that there's actually an Ishbalan diaspora is mindblowing; and realising that someone actually figured out the plot this early on is just... Wow.
... And course there's that whole THING that I won't talk about, but if you've read it then you know both what it is and how well done it is. It is still gut-punching even though I know it's coming. Wow.
5. Check Please! Year Three by Ngozi Ukazu [Top]
I crammed the webcomic version of this into my face, twitter feed and all, in about a day, DMing clairerousseau to shriek the entire time. (And then I was a guest on her radiofreefandom podcast to shriek about it out loud! What a coincidence!) Now we get to see how far I can get into this review without spoiling it; I'm pretty sure that I've managed to avoid spoiling Year Two, somehow, but if you're trying to completely avoid spoilers then maybe skip this.
Year Three continues to be really cute and and funny and well-drawn, and the panelling/use of layout has grown dramatically from Year One, even if I still can't believe that Bitty is supposed to be 5'6". I love the way that the twitter feed for the comic (because it is a multimedia project) works to give additional context and fill in the relationships between comics – and oh boy the relationships. I was expecting everything about Bitty's relationship to end in tears and miscommunication and secrecy, and I was so happy when it turned out that adult communication was a thing and that it was allowed to actually solve problems.
Plus, it has such good platonic relationships, even if they're tinged with the sadness of your friends growing up and graduating and having to work out who they want to be from now on! And it depicts such a good, supportive, accepting network of friends in the Haus; Jack's team might not be exactly the same level of support, but they're trying and I appreciate that a lot, especially when it's contrasted against the toxicity of some of the other teams we meet. (And can I say that I really appreciated the way his anxiety was depicted, because I really truly did.) Plus: we meet the team's new Frogs and their new manager – I adore their new manager so much, she is a delight and I'm looking forward to seeing more of her, even if so many of the team have graduated and moved on.
... And of course the ending is really cool stylistically for the way that it winds backwards through time and tells the story around what happened, but also I am screaming because what is that last panel and where are Jack and Bitty?! I genuinely shrieked into Claire's DMs all the way through, because WHAT. WHAT. WHAT IS THIS CLIFFHANGER AND WHERE IS YEAR FOUR.
6-8. The Sins of the Cities Series by KJ Charles (An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice, and An Unsuitable Heir) [Top]
I THINK with this I have now read every single one of KJ Charles' books! Good work, self! The Sins of the Cities series is an interlocking trilogy about a group of friends contending with attempted murder and the secrets of an earldom. An Unseen Attraction is about a lodging house keeper in love with one of his tenants, both of whom are endangered when another tenant is murdered. An Unnatural Vice is about a crusading journalist attempting to expose a spiritualist, who happens to have information vital to both a missing person's case and a violent murderer. And An Unsuitable Heir follows the missing person in question (who did not want to be found) and the private detective working the case (who regrets every life choice that brought him to this moment.).
(I am TRYING to avoid spoilers, I truly am.)
I know that I talked about An Unseen Attraction on here before, and then just never got around to reading any of the sequels, but now that I've finally caught up, I enjoyed them a lot! The narratives wind together fairly well, and the scenes that overlap between books (because the stories are running concurrently rather than strictly sequentially) interact really well without feeling repetitive. I think An Unnatural Vice and An Unsuitable Heir suffer a little from at least some of their drama being in other books. There are at least two sequences where the protagonists get shut into a house to ruminate while the investigations and plots happen somewhere else, which I understand as needing space and time for character development, but also it feels weird as a reader. Plus, some of the plot developments can be seen coming pretty far in advance, but the resolution of them still manages to be satisfying, which makes up for it. (For example, nothing about Pen and Greta's story arcs surprised me, but the resolution worked for me anyway. Especially the way Greta... Solves her problem? And Lazarus' commentary, which is worth price of entry.)
For the most part, the relationships are satisfying too! There's consideration and respect in the relationships, sometimes from the start and sometimes only gradually, (... Did anyone else feel called out by Justin Lazarus' speech on how Nathaniel was ignoring the parts of Lazarus that were against his values, because, uh. I too preferred sneaky competent Lazarus.), not just in the romantic relationships but in the friendships too. There's so much support, and people making deliberate choices about who they want to be!
And there is so much about Victorian taxidermy (which was wild), spiritualism (wilder), and laws about sex and gender presentation (the wildest and also worst), which I found fascinating!
I like that the series has community as an important part of it, as KJ Charles has said before she finds it important. The stories make a point of having the characters as part of a queer community that looks out for each other, and contains people who are other flavours of queer than just cis and gay. There are explicitly trans, genderfluid, and pan characters! It shouldn't feel so surprising that a story about queer people contains more than one type of queer person, but... Honestly, I'm still surprised when I find books that contain communities rather than just the two love interests as an isolated pocket of queerness. Plus, one of the leads of An Unsuitable Heir is genderfluid, which isn't a thing I see very often in romance! (If anyone needs spoilers for how the genderfluid character is treated in the book, hit me up?)
I thought it was pretty good! It was funny and interesting and horrifying in turns, and the result was a compelling mystery even with my complaints about the pacing.
[Caution warnings: emotional abuse, religious abuse, offscreen torture, misgendering and transphobia, gender dysphoria]
- Kiss of the Rose Princess Volume 1 — This is really generic and visually busy, but it's kinda cute! I am so in the mood for generic right now, so "generic magical girl shoujo with magic knights bound to obey her" sounds like a good plan. Plus, I have identified the Inevitable Love Interest and deemed their frenemy situation to be acceptable, so it's... Fine?
- Complex Age Volume 1 — I am not in the cosplay side of any fandom, but reading a manga about someone who is really into it is making me think about all of the drama I've seen go past. It's kinda stressful to read, but it's nice to be reading something where fanwork is taken seriously?
- The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House — I am taking this one slow and savouring it, because Audre Lorde's prose.
- Magic of Blood and Sea — I am still heartbroken that I met Cassandra Rose Clarke and she thought I didn't like The Assassin's Curse, because I adored it in a thousand ways. I adored it enough, in fact, that I got my family to buy me the collected edition of it and The Pirate's Wish so I can comfort read it in a sun beam.
Reading goal: 50/180 (8 new this post) Prose: 27/90 (6 new this post) Nonfiction: 0/12
#getouttamydamnhouse: 16/80 (3 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 15/50 (4 new this post; Check Please! Year Three and the Sins of the Cities series. I was debating whether to include The Siret Mask, but I wasn't sure, so...