Book Bingo Mini-Reviews: Row 1

r/fantasy book bingo is almost over for the year, so I thought it would be fun to do a quick recap of all the books I read for the card since last April. This year’s bingo introduced me to a lot of really great books I might not have read otherwise. To prevent overwhelming you all with a tl;dr of mini-reviews, I’ll be posting these one Bingo Row at a time, probably about once a day or every couple days as time allows.

Small-Scale/Slice of Life Fantasy

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen

The Infinite Noise (The Bright Sessions #1)

Hard mode: yes, this book is not, in fact, Record of a Spaceborn Few

Anyone who knows me knows that a book featuring a jock/nerd romance is an instant buy for me, especially if they are queer. I was therefore extremely excited to read this book. Caleb is an ordinary, popular teenager, except for one problem: he is an empath, meaning he can feel other people’s emotions. Given the strong emotions you’re likely to find floating around a high school, this is a pretty stressful situation. Caleb finds solace through therapy and through his friendship with the introverted, depressed Adam, with whom he eventually falls in love. This is a very cute young adult love story on a similar vein to Becky Albertalli’s books, but with superpowers. It is set in the same universe as an audio drama starring Caleb’s therapist, and I think I might have gotten more out of certain plot points it if I’d listened to that first, but alas, I did not. I enjoyed this story throughout but was disappointed with how abruptly it ended; I would have appreciated more denouement.

4.5/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares
  • Media tie-in novel (the Bright Sessions podcast)
  • Local Author (New York City or LA)
  • Published in 2019
  • Character with a disability (clinical depression)

A Novel Featuring a Character With a Disability

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan

The Gray House

Hard mode: yes, not only is the disabled character the main character, but every main character is disabled

I actually read several excellent books this year featuring protagonists with disabilities, and struggled with deciding which ones to pick for my bingo card. Gray House was not actually my favorite of those, but I did feel like it needed to be talked about because I do think it’s an intriguing, well-written work. This book is about a group of students at a home/school for disabled youths, and the strange and mysterious things that happen there. The characters are all deeply compelling and human, and I grew to care deeply about all of them. However this book overall falls solidly in the camp of “Objectively excellent, but sadly not for me.” I never really do well with the psychological, “What is real, what isn’t” type of narratives, and this had a lot of that. I think it ultimately reminded me too much of the sort of thing that used to be assigned reading in high school, and therefore reading it felt more like homework than entertainment. I don’t want my own hang-ups to dissuade anyone else from reading it, however, and highly recommend it as a creative, well-written work with excellent prose.

3.5/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares
  • Slice of life/small scale
  • Local Author (Yerevan, Armenia)

SFF Novella

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

The Deep

Hard Mode: Yes, this is published by Simon and Schuster, not Tor.com

This book is, if you’ll forgive the pun, deep. The premise here is the children of pregnant women who were thrown overboard on slave ships were born and became mermaids. Yetu, the heroine of the story, is one of their descendants, and the only member of their race charged with carrying on their ancestral memory. These memories are traumatic, and the heroine resents having to relive them, so she flees to the surface, with results that are beneficial to her character growth but potentially disastrous to her people. I really enjoyed this book. The prose is poetic and constantly compelling, and I loved the complicated relationship between Yetu and the rest of her people, especially her mother. I do wish this book had been a full-length novel rather than a novella, however. There were many intriguing things touched on that I felt weren’t given the space they deserved.

4.5/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares
  • Media tie-in (was originally based on a song)
  • #ownvoices
  • Ocean setting
  • Published in 2019
  • Local author (Cambridge, UK)

Self-Published SFF Novel

Mid Lich Crisis by Steve Thomas

Mid-Lich Crisis

Hard Mode: When I read it it had under 50 Goodreads rating but it has, I think, since surpassed that number

This was a fun one! I enjoyed it a lot. Mid Lich Crisis stars Darruk Darkbringer, a lich overlord who insists he’s just misunderstood. He just wants to avert a prophesied disaster, but as a result everyone calls him the e-word, evil! How rude of them! Darruk wants to turn over a new leaf and save the world the old fashioned way, but that turns out to be easier said than done. Darruk’s hilarious and sometimes absurd journey of self-discovery had me laughing out loud and also had some clever social commentary. I admit at first I was taken aback by the ending, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it was the best and most fitting way this book could conclude.

4/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares
  • Published in 2019
  • Features vampires
  • r/fantasy book club (reading resident authors)

SFF Novel Featuring Twins

Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, #1)

Hard Mode: yes, the main character is a twin! And since switching places with her counterpart launches the whole plot, I’d say it counts for extra hard mode too

Somehow I made it well into my 30s without having read this one yet. However, even reading it for the first time as an adult without the lens of nostalgia, I still found it an enjoyable read. The series begins in Alanna: the first Adventure with Alanna and her twin brother Thom, both dissatisfied with their assigned gender roles. While Alanna longs to become a knight, Thom only wishes to delve into the mysteries of magical knowledge. So they do what many identical twins would do in that situation and switch places. I loved watching Alanna struggle and train to become a knight, and her friendship with the rest of the trainees. While the first book is rather charming middle grade story, the next books follow Alanna into her teens and then adulthood. Some aspects of the series have admittedly aged poorly. The Muslim-coded desert people are pretty cringey at times and I like to hope that kind of thing would get a lot more scrutiny today. Likewise, while I appreciated the romance didn’t go quite the predictable direction I expected, the narrative does reward a pushy suitor for being overly persistent. Still, for being written in the 1980s, it is a somewhat progressive and very entertaining read.

3.8/5 Stars

Other Bingo Squares
  • Middle grade (book 1 only)
  • Title more than four words (books 1-3 only)
  • Local author (Syracuse, New York)

And that’s a wrap! I’ll catch you in a day or so with the second row of mini-reviews.