Emily from BookswithEmilyFox recently posted a video called Weirdest Books I’ve Read about…you guessed it…the weirdest books she’s read. I watched the video and I thought, hey, that’s fun.
Weird, of course, is a matter of taste and opinion; one person’s weird is another person’s pedestrian. But, going off a generic interpretation of weird, I’d say that I don’t read too many weird books! Mainly, this is because weird books are often weird because they don’t make sense, and I really dislike books that are confusing and have no satisfactory explanations. But there are exceptions! To that end, I’ll mostly stick to books I really liked!
Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bionic Bookworm. When I saw my friend Rachel at pace, amore, libri doing it, it looked like fun, so I decided to do it too, especially given this month’s Top 5 Wednesday topics are…not doing it for me.
Anyway, what I’ve discovered from this is I apparently don’t read a lot of retellings! I’m not sure why, as I quite like them. Let me know in the comments if there are any retellings you are fond of; I’m always on the lookout for Hades/Persephone retellings in particular, but I’m open to all.
Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum The original: The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers
I hesitate to call this a retelling. The King in Yellow is a book of creepy short stories that were actually a precursor to Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos; Lovecraft makes references to the stories in his own work. Downum’s work sort of…borrows that world for her own story rather than retelling any particular Chambers tale. The important thing, though, is that she manages to capture just how fucking creepy the mythos of Carcos and the King in Yellow are. It’s atmospheric and hella weird, and a great modern adaptation of this strange mythos.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge The original: Beauty and the Beast
I don’t know why I thought this was a Bluebeard retelling. Though, I suppose, the two are rather similar. Cruel Beauty’s strength is in its two main protagonists rather than its world-building (which is weak and derivative and confounding); Nyx and Ignifex. Nyx (Beauty) is bitter and selfish and I love female characters who are unlikeable. Ignifex is dark and witty and charming and rakish. Their interactions are delightful. The book reads like a fairy tale, so not everything always makes perfect sense, but it’s a treat.
The Kiesha’ra by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes The original: Romeo and Juliet
I only learned this was based on Romeo and Juliet very, very recently. I would say this is an extremely loose retelling, with only the first two books really having much to do with the Shakespeare play. This was one of my favorite series as a teen; I read it over ten times (though I suspect it wouldn’t hold up as well if I re-read it now). It tells the story of Zane and Danica, who come from two opposing shape-shifting species, the serpiente and the avians, who have been at war for as long as anyone can remember. Zane and Danica decide to come together and marry in order to bring peace to their societies and they end up falling in love for real. This is straight-up high fantasy, with fantastic worldbuilding and characters. The third book was also my first experience with a lesbian character, and that was very formative for me as a youngster.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer The original: Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Snow White
These series has received a lot of well-received criticism for its portrayal of Asian cultures. It’s true that its world-building is weak and somewhat nonsensical, but it’s a fun series nonetheless. It gives me “Found Family” vibes and it’s basically one adventure after the other. It’s also a very interesting twist on the original fairytales; the world of the Lunar Chronicles is a dystopia with cyborgs. In fact, Cinder, one of the protagonists, is part-cyborg herself, which is a super intriguing twist on the Cinderella story! I have yet to read Winter, the final book in this series, but it’s waiting for me on my Kindle.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller The original: The Iliad
I have to mention The Song of Achilles, even though I don’t think I loved it as much as most people did, nor am I familiar with the source material. Still, this book deserves mentioning for the beautiful, loving relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and its lovely prose. I hadn’t expected to enjoy this book when I first picked it up, but I was really pleasantly surprised that it kept me hooked. It also featured some really entertaining side characters; I really hope Madeline Miller writes about Odysseus at some point, because his snark was hilarious.
I thought this topic would be difficult, but it was actually rather easy! I ended up finding about eleven books I adore that don’t feature romance at all. Narrowing them down to five was actually the hard part.
Here we go!
The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst: This rich adult fantasy set in what appears to be Avatar the Last Airbender’s Spirit World. Spirits inhabit nature and select women have the ability to control them. These women train and then compete for the chance to be the next queen. One of these women is Daleina, who loses her entire village at a very young age to an attack of spirits. She is not particularly talented, but she is especially determined, and her progression from young girl to competent woman is something to see. Now, there is a relationship in this book, but it features so little it’s almost tossed in as an afterthought. Much of the book focuses on Daleina’s growth and training. The most prominent relationship is between her and her trainer, which is kind of a father-daughter dynamic.
A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby: This is an interesting historical fiction novel about Joseph Merrick, more popularly known as the Elephant Man, an Englishman who exhibited severe deformities. The novel is written from the perspective of Joseph’s nurse Evelyn, who also suffers a deformity. The two develop a powerful, touching friendship that becomes the crux of the novel. While this book does become somewhat repetitive after a while, it writes very descriptively of nineteenth century London and features many interesting and layered characters. I also think it’s quite a refreshing idea, fictionalizing a short time period in the life of a man who was known only for his appearance in freak shows. It humanizes a historical figure through the eyes of a similarly anguished female character.
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne: I barely know how to describe this book. It follows a young Indian girl named Meena, who decides to return to her birthplace of Ethiopia by traversing The Trail, a strange energy-type bridge that connects India to Africa over the Arabian Sea. Her perspective is interspersed with that of Mariama, a young girl from Western Sahara who journeys across the Sahara with an enigmatic woman named Yemaya. This is a very strange book set in a very odd future. There is no romance whatsoever because the plot is entirely focused on these two women and how their worlds come to intersect. The end left me absolutely reeling. I feel like I have to go back and re-read this book twice in order to fully understand it and comprehend all the symbolism and analogies.
Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum: In an homage to weird fiction, this horror novel brings forth Carcosa and the King in Yellow. Liz Drake, a woman with prophetic dreams, journeys to Vancouver to rescue her friend Blake from the clutches of the Yellow King. In her dreams, which are quickly becoming real, she must journey to the mysterious Carcosa to pull Blake out. This novel is thrilling and bloody and will send shivers down your spine. Liz is in a relationship, but it’s a minor point in the book. More prominent is Liz’s friendship with Blake and her increasingly disturbing dreams of Carcosa that are swiftly transforming her reality into a phantasmagoria she can’t seem to escape.
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett: Shara Thivani, a spymaster posing as diplomat, journeys to Bulikov, a city that ruled the world before its Gods were killed, in order to investigate the murder of a historian. Her search leads her to suspect that perhaps Bulikov’s Gods are not as dead as they seem. City of Stairs debuts an incredible female character in Shara, and the world-building is dense and original. In particular the focus on religion and Gods was intriguing and chilling.