My reading has been a bit all over the place lately. Since the start of September I’ve read Kushiel’s Dart, the Captive Prince trilogy, If I Was Your Girl, The Motorcycle Diaries and now I’m onto Parable of the Talents.

I’m officially at the point in the Read Harder 2017 Challenge where I can’t finish anything else via audiobook. I’ve only got three left to do – read a superhero comic with a female lead, read a book published by a micropress and read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. I’ve got plans for completing all of those, but none of them are conducive to the audio format, so my audiobook consumption is back to being free-form, which feels good – I’ve been choosing books based on the challenge all year, and I’m very glad I did it (I still have those three left to finish before I can say I’m actually done, but I’m very close); I’ve read a lot of fascinating books that I might not have discovered or gotten around to otherwise. I’m ready, though, to go back to making my reading choices with less need for structure for a while.

I expect that I’ll do the Read Harder challenge again – maybe in 2019, we’ll see – but not every year. If I didn’t listen to so many podcasts I could get through books more quickly, but I love my podcasts and learn as much from them as I do from books, so I don’t anticipate spending less time with them anytime soon. So as it is, the Book Riot challenge took up most of my reading time for the year, and I’ve now got a backlog of things that I want to read without having to think about whether they fit into a challenge. One-year-on, one-year-off might end up being a good balance. I’ve gotten so much from the challenge that I’m sure I’ll return to it, even if it takes a few years.

I’d read Parable of the Sower a few months back and loved it so much that I knew I’d circle back to read the sequel soon; I’m only about a third of the way into it so I’m not going to get into it much right now except to say holy buckets is the prescience ever flipping my shit. I thought the first book was eerily on the nose, and it was, but I managed to miss reading any of the (many, now that I’ve looked for them) articles pointing out that Parable of the Talents featured a presidential candidate/president with dictatorial tendencies and followers who he incited to commit violence on people different from themselves and who promised – literally, in these exact words – to make America great again. Dear god.

ANYWAY, more on that after I’ve finished it; for now I’ll stick to the books I’ve finished.

Back in September I wrote about Captive Prince, and as it turns out I really couldn’t wait very long before returning to this series. After finishing the second one I immediately dove into the third, which I finished almost completely in a single day. (One of my favorite benefits of audiobooks is that devouring a book in a single day doesn’t mean that you can’t get anything else done – I had a productive, active day, thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful weather and mainlined my queer romance novel! Score!)

I definitely recommend this series for anyone who enjoys romance novels that aren’t just fluff. This story had some real roughness to it – it takes place in a fictional universe strongly based in Greco-Roman culture, and the world she’s created can be harsh. Slavery, rape and pedophilia are all dealt with – none of these things are glorified, the culture is portrayed as highly troubled and one where far too many people allow terrible things to happen as long as it’s not happening to them (sound familiar?) – but if you’re looking for a warm fuzzy romance, this isn’t it. If a complex, slow-blooming love between two powerful and sometimes ruthless but ultimately good (though one of them may not seem it at first) men who have both been burned terribly by the ambitions of their royal families and who would more naturally be mortal enemies rather than confidantes/friends/lovers sounds interesting to you – and if you like a bit of political machination/palace intrigue mixed in with your sexy funtimes – give this one a go, it’s well worth it.

Another series I’ll be returning to is Kushiel’s Dart. I know that the series is broken into story arcs of different characters, and we’ll see if I continue on past Phèdre’s story arc or not, but I want to finish hers at least, because I very much need to know how things go for her, and if Melisande is even slightly redeemable. (I hope yes – I want to say yes – but I could be entirely wrong; she could be pure evil. Either way she’s fascinating.) Normally I don’t go for books with so much focus on political machination – I admit there were parts of the plot that I fuzzed out on a bit, because the complex chess game between the different factions just didn’t hold my interest – but the characters are so compelling that I was always engaged by the story. That’s why I’m not certain whether I’ll continue on after Phèdre’s; if the second focal character doesn’t grab hold of me so strongly I might not be motivated to push through the intrigue.

I’m fascinated by the way Carey portrays Phèdre’s responses to pain; as an anguissette she experiences pleasure and pain as one, and the way Carey describes this walks an interesting line. She experiences pain as pleasure but it isn’t indistinguishable – she responds to pain as pain; it can overwhelm her, it can sometimes make her desperate for it to stop, and in the times when she’s faced with someone who wants to truly do damage to her she is as averse to the concept of true torture as anyone would be. I’d love to hear Phèdre talk more about where the boundary is for her; when the pain stops being something she takes satisfaction in.

And of course I need to know how things settle out between Phèdre and Joscelin. I do hope the poor dear boy doesn’t end up too badly off.

So Kushiel’s Dart fulfilled challenge #12 – Read a fantasy novel. For challenge #15 – Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+ – I read If I Was Your Girl, which I loved. I read that Meredith Russo wanted to write a YA novel about a transgender girl that had a happy ending, and she did a beautiful job. The book is certainly not easy – we learn through flashbacks about the difficulties Amanda went through before and during her transition, and as a transgender girl in high school in a small town in the South you can bet she goes through some rough times – but she’s a smart, quirky, lovable girl who discovers that she’s got far more strength than she ever realized, and also some friends that have her back even when other people are horrible. I think this would be a great book to help an actual young adult learn more about what transgender people can go through, but I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s smart and funny and at times adorable and is, ultimately, an extremely hopeful story.

Last off for now – for challenge #8 – Read a travel memoir – I read The Motorcycle Diaries. I think at some point I need to read some straight-up history of the Cuban Revolution to gain more of an understanding of it and of Che’s part in it – The Motorcycle Diaries are his notes from a trip he took well before the revolution, and were never really intended to be published, so the book doesn’t have much of what I’d think of as a coherent narrative. It’s a short book and it’s extremely fast paced, and his writing is snappy and sometimes funny, so it held my interest, but it’s really all over the place. There are some political/philosophical observations throughout it, but you get the feeling that he was just taking notes rapid-fire and not taking the time to write down a lot of the deeper thoughts that he would hint at. The story jumps from place to place very quickly, mostly telling only a single story about every town they visit. The book gave me a great sense of atmosphere and mood, but definitely left me wanting to read something more substantial about this period in Latin American history.