Tag: Fantasy (page 1 of 2)

Best Books of 2019

What a wild year. I discovered so many great books this year! Some of them were rather old, but some of them were brand spanking new. All of them were first reads (I could gush about some rereads too!). I had a lot of five star reads. I’ve only recently begun using star ratings on GoodReads. I wanted to see how it would work and I think I like it. Half of the fun of doing this list was going back and reading my original reviews/notes on GoodReads. So much gushing!

These books inspired me (one even gave me a huge breakthrough on my own novel!), they broadened my horizons, they made me laugh and they made me cry. I started the year saying I wanted to read more classics, and boy, I sure did. Now I think I want to dial that back a bit, but there are still several classics on my list. I’m already planning for 2020. But for now, here is (in no particular order) what rocked my world in 2019.

Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes!)
by Lorna Landvik (Contemporary Fiction)
I didn’t want this to get lost in the shuffle, so it goes on top. A seemingly quiet regional book, this is really much more than that. It goes beyond to suggest to us several things: what makes a good life? What makes a good person? How do you reconcile something that you’ve done that felt right but you knew was wrong? What do you want to be remembered for? And so much more. Landvik is local to me, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her several times. This book shines with her usual wit, but Haze, her main character, is enough of her own person to be separate. The story is told in a series of her small-town newspaper columns, as she lies in a coma. We also get to meet several of her friends, and get a bit of the stories of their lives, most notably 14 year old Sam, whose voice rose above everything. I loved the format of this story, I loved the genuine voices, and I wanted to be within the pages more than anything. Fans of A Man Called Ove, Landline by Rainbow Rowell or Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk will love this!

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe
(Supernatural Contemporary Fantasy)
The mark of a good book for me is how long the feeling of it stays with me, or how long I can hear the character’s voice in my head. Well, it’s only been about a month since I read this one, but I know that these characters and this story will stay with me for a while. This was a perfect October read, but it was much more than that. The story of Connie, a woman finding her way, endowed with gifts she may not understand, is interspersed with the stories of her ancestors, such as Deliverance Dane and Temperance Hobbs. You may remember The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Luckily for us, this book follows the same family, a few years later. There is so much happening – it was mysterious at first, then it grew to be touching and intriguing and harrowing and sad and inspiring. I will have a friend in Connie for a long time.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (Fantasy)
My review of this on GoodReads is a rather incoherent swoon, and I really am too close to improve upon that much. I just know I cannot wait to read this again, and I want to have Gideon for a best friend. We could companionably sit for hours polishing our swords, she reading dirty magazines and me reading Darkdawn. I could do this. This was billed as the most fun you will ever have with a skeleton. But it is also listed as science fantasy. I call it space opera, but that may be incorrect. Whatever. It is markedly twisty, ingenious and complex. It is funny. It made me almost ugly cry. The language is to die for and the story will grab your heart out of your chest. I loved this. Unequivocally. If you bought me a copy I would love you forever. I owe the library overdue fees for this one.

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (YA Fantasy)
I gobbled this one up in one day, hugging it several times. It was exactly what I wanted and needed in a fantasy. A love letter to libraries and a world ruled by books. A fun, feisty and daring heroine, with just enough fear and self-doubt to make her believable. The world was a simple one, but that let the libraries shine. I loved it. Great language and a fascinating magic system.

Sabriel by Garth Nix (Fantasy)
Here it is. The book that made me stand up and pace the room, realizing that a thousand years of history was not too much for my characters to ask for. This was the book that gave me a huge breakthrough on my own WIP. I will forever be grateful. I will also be sad that I cannot read it again for the first time. And what the heck took me so long? It has been languishing here for 20 years! Don’t make the same mistake I did. Go read it now. And then the rest – Abhorsen. Lireal. I am not done with the series yet but I am here for more necromancers and charter magic. It all starts here with Sabriel. She is amazing. With nothing more than words, bells, and a sword, she must keep the Dead from Life. Wow.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (YA Fantasy/Magical Realism)
Going back through my nearly incoherent GoodReads review, all I can say is that this book was the linchpin for me on the series. While I loved Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and I was hooked by The Raven Boys, this book made me realize what we were doing here, and how far this could go. I have not yet read The Raven King (though I mean to this month) because I simply don’t want this to end. Maggie has built each book around a character, and drawn each of these ensemble cast members so complexly (is that a word?), they really feel like real people. This particular book brought in such imaginative and wild elements, I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. But I wanted to, so I read on. There is no comparison.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Classic fiction)
So many five star reads this year, and this was certainly not the least of them (I also read War and Peace). But given that this book drives people equally wild with passion and derision, I am glad I fell on the side of passion. I thought it was wonderful! So many amazing passages, and the glimpse into the culture of whale hunting (while I cringe) was fascinating. I felt it ended too swiftly, but I do think that I will read it again someday. It was that good. Beautiful writing and a gripping story make this a classic worth reading. Also, hats off to this lovely Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with its soft cover and deckled edges, that was just so comfortable to read and had great illustrations in the back (including a cutaway view of a whaler and a map!).

Upstream by Mary Oliver (Nonfiction/Essay)
I read this last January, when the snow was deep and it was cold and white outside. It was lovely to read about Oliver’s woods, and her experiences with the animals and the pond and her own animals. I loved her treatises on literary greats, and how she wove that into her further musings on nature. If you’ve enjoyed Oliver’s poetry, you will love this. If you like essays by E.B.White, Annie Dillard and Anne Fadiman, you will love this. If you have not read any of those, read this. It will take you behind the curtain, lead you into the woods, and give you an overview of the lives of literary forefathers. But mostly it is beautiful. A lovely Christmas gift from my Book Aunt, and proof that I do not have enough books (they keep making new ones!).

Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye (Middle Grade)
I read this as part of a review of the second book in this MG series, Apprentice Needed. I love these characters. They have stood out to me more than any other MG I read this year. I currently have the third book in the series sitting on my stack for next month, and I cannot wait. These copies were sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I am happy to recommend this series to anyone who loves MG fantasy. If you know a kid who has finished Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, turn them on to this next.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie (mystery)
I do better with her Miss Marples, but if you are looking for a mystery that will creep you out, this is the one. She, the Queen of unreliable narrators and locked room mysteries, has here come up with something that feels like what you are used to, but oh, it is not. A perfect October read (in fact, I had it in my Halloween Reads list, which you should totally check out). But of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention that this has been A Year With Miss Marple, and I have read every Miss Marple book! (Okay, we have one left.)  It has been lovely, and if I had to choose, my favorite Miss Marple title would be They Do It with Mirrors. But it is a close thing. Start with Murder at the Vicarage, and read them in order. One a month was a lovely pace, not to confuse them too much.

Honorable mentions to Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – did not disappoint and kudos to her for putting together her first adult novel with as much care and attention as her YA novels, and to The Odyssey by Homer, which I finally read this year and was every bit as epic as people have been saying for two thousand years.

I’m not done reading yet this year – I still have 9 books to read to make my goal! But I am confident I will manage it. Right now I’m reading Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness and Bleak House by Dickens (my first Dickens novel!). And I’m aching to start The Raven King and Villette and the last Miss Marple of the year, Nemesis. This will all happen soon. It is hard to pick favorites from 90 books. But these I’ve listed above have stood out head and shoulders above the rest. I am so glad that I read them all. Come join me on GoodReads so I can see what you recommend. Find me here.

Tell me what your favorite book of 2019 was in the comments! And stay tuned soon for my first-ever Best of the Decade list! I will be reaching back into the vault for that one – 6 years of Examiner articles (as the Minneapolis Books Examiner), 4 years of blogging, and hundreds of books read.

Halloween Reads 2019

It’s time for another installment of spooky reads, folks! If you are looking to get some chills and thrills from your reading, look no further. However, note that I don’t do horror, so you probably won’t get any jump scares out of these selections.

If you’re counting, this is the ninth annual Halloween Reads list. I’ve been on the hunt since 2011. Since before this blog, when I posted on Examiner.com. Check the links at the bottom for the posts for previous years. This year, there seems to be a bumper crop of spooky reads! So without further ado, here is my list for your spoopy reading pleasure!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – Classic
This is the only book on the list that I have not read. I really meant to but what with my reread of Dracula and all, I just didn’t get to it. However, my understanding is that this is more in line with The Turn of the Screw – a psychological, gothic story that might leave you with shivers. This has been seeing a bit of a popularity boom on Instagram, and I can only conclude that it is deserved.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Adult fantasy
A long-awaited new book from one of my favorite authors, and it did not disappoint. If you are up for a perfectly creepy story that delves behind the façade and is set at a contemporary college, then this is for you. It is a complex story with deep roots, and a hellacious ride. An expertly crafted paranormal mystery with more twists and turns than you can imagine, this is about secret societies, inexplicable happenings, those things you catch just out of the corner of your eye, the demons that reside in hell and sometimes inside of us, and the haunting that we get from behind the veil as well as our own past. Note that this is not YA, as are Bardugo’s previous titles. This is her first adult fantasy.

Last Things by Jacqueline West – YA Fantasy
I reviewed this here last May, but I want to be sure to give it its due and encourage you to pick it up this time of year. What could possibly be spooky about a dark forest, a little abandoned shack, a boy who suddenly writes hit songs, and a girl who is always being pursued? This is a great suspenseful read set in a small town in northern Minnesota, full of heavy metal music and characters who will shock you. Check out my full review to get more details.

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe – Contemporary/historical fiction
A follow-up to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, this is a loose sequel. I think you can safely read this without having read Physick. However, the first book is so good, why not treat yourself to both? In this book, Connie is a professor whose life is about to change a whole lot. The book shifts back and forth between Deliverance in 1661 and Connie in 1995 Boston. Connie is faced with a choice that relates to a centuries-old curse – does she risk her fiance’s life trying to break it? Or play it safe and let him go? It’s a little bit of a love story, but a whole lot of family dynamics and some hocus pocus too.

Sabriel by Garth Nix – YA Fantasy
I have read most of this series now and I can see that it is going to be an all-time favorite. Necromancers, walking into Death, and lands that are separated by a wall, where one side is magic and the other isn’t? Yes, sign me up. Add to that incredible heroines – we get to know Sabriel through her action-packed story, but then later we meet Lireal and Clariel. The mysteries of this world deepen and the magic is phenomenal. Excellent world building, including magical familiars and bells with different functions, and all kinds of nasty creatures. If you haven’t already, go back and resurrect this older series. You won’t be sorry. Also known as the Old Kingdom or Abhorsen series (don’t ask me why we can’t settle on one).

Endless Night by Agatha Christie – Mystery
This is not one of her detective series, but one of her psychological thrillers. I don’t typically like these, as I have fallen so in love with Miss Marple and Poirot over the years (particularly this year, when I am co-hosting a monthly Miss Marple readalong on Instagram, and participating in another readalong of various Agatha titles. I read this for that other readalong) that I miss them when they are not present. But this one was so full of foreboding, so twisty turny, and had such a great ending, that I have to say, if you haven’t tried Agatha yet, and you like mysteries, you may want to start here. It starts slow but I was absolutely gobsmacked at the end. If you are reading her detective series, I believe you should start at the beginning for those. The Mysterious Affair at Styles for Poirot, and The Murder at the Vicarage for Miss Marple.

Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs – Memoir
This reads like one of those romcoms where one half of a couple tries to convince the other half of the couple to move from midtown Manhattan to a fixer upper in the fields of Connecticut. Oh wait. That’s kind of what it is. But the twist is that Burroughs has a family history of witchcraft, sees things before they happen, hears things no one else can hear (like trees groaning) and has uncanny premonitions that he can see in a kind of movie in his head. Until it goes white static. This is funny, heart wrenching, intriguing, thought-provoking and encouraging. It may open your mind up to things that you thought were myth, or reassure you about things that you experience. Overall, I enjoyed it, and while it’s not scary, it does give you a good witchy vibe. Like this, “What I am certain of is that there’s something wonky going on beneath the surface of what we call reality. Things are most definitely not as they appear. Things are much, much more.” I mean, isn’t that kind of what we all want? More?

You can always find my Halloween Reads from previous years as well. Check here and here and here, and find links to more. I’ve got two more years to add to this site, so I hope to do that this week. I so enjoy this time of year, and for me, nothing is better than curling up on the couch with the first blanket of the season and a spooky read on my lap, while the wind whips the leaves off the trees outside. I hope you find something you like here, and if you have any suggestions, please do share! I want to hear what your favorite spooky read is!

Book Review: Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed

Today I am participating in the blog tour for Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed by Obert Skye, which is  the second book in a series. Now, don’t be discouraged. The first book is so good, that you will be so happy that the second book is already out!

This is the Wizard for Hire series. In the first book, Ozzy grows up alone in the cloaked house in the woods. His parents were kidnapped from their house when he was seven. He is determined to find them some day, and then he sees an ad for a Wizard for Hire in a local newspaper. This is how he meets Rin.

There is also Sigi, who Ozzy meets out on the beach, who happens to be Rin’s daughter. And Clark, a sentient mechanical bird that Ozzy’s parents built, that keeps him company. And provides a lot of comic relief! The themes in this series, of loss, of grief, of realizing your potential, can be pretty heavy at times, so having Clark there is just as much a comfort for us as it is for Ozzy, it seems. We all come to like Clark so much, even though he has an affinity for mailboxes and spoons, that when he is threatened, it really makes you suck in your breath!

But on with the story. I don’t want to spoil you so I’m not going to recap the plot of the first book. I am, however, going to tell you to go get it right this minute, if you like anything to do with magic, and are game for a rollicking, irreverent Middle Grade. This is Harry Potter meets Discworld, in the best way. It is not perfect, but it has enough ah-ha moments, and laugh out loud funniness, and edge of your seat danger, that it will keep you turning pages long into the night.

In book two, we go on a wild ride from the cloaked house in Oregon to New York City. I loved the characters, and how they grew in this book, especially Ozzy. As I mentioned, the themes in this book touch on grief and loss, but here we get much more of Ozzy reaching for his own potential. He is suddenly declared to be Rin’s Apprentice, and finds out he has to undertake five tasks. But he doesn’t know what they are. And Rin ain’t talking. Or, well, he is, but sometimes it is hard to understand what he’s talking about.

Meanwhile, they are all being pursued by Ray, and his henchman, Jon. You won’t feel sorry for Jon for long. I really can’t say much more without spoiling it, so trust me, these are villains you will love to hate. I highly recommend this for anyone who has read Harry Potter, whether adult or child, and is looking for more of that idea of being an outsider who finds his crew, and there is every bit of a hint of magic here too. But is it really magic? I think we are about to find out.

Even though this book is a contemporary (like Harry Potter), it will feed your need for magic, and fantasy, and Rin lets us know more and more about Quarfelt, his wizard home. And there is plenty of homage to Harry Potter, so I think Skye is perfectly aware of similarities. Like the Cinco-Wizard Competition (or Cin-Wiz-Com) – the five tasks Ozzy needs to complete.

“Is that anything like the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter?”

“No, this one has five things. And it’s just for you.”

Don’t ever expect a straight answer from Rin. But sometimes, he can be very wise indeed.

I will definitely be looking for book three in this series. Book two released last week, so I have a bit of a wait. But that’s okay. I’m willing to binge all three. And Obert Skye also wrote the Leven Thumps series, and I have book one of that sitting here waiting for me.

 

Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed by Obert Skye
Hardcover, 416p, ISBN 9781629725291, $17.99

I received an advance copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Potions Masters #2: The Transparency Tonic

 

I am pleased as punch to be included in the blog tour for the release of The Transparency Tonic by Frank L. Cole. This second installment of a Middle Grade series roars right out of the gate, and keeps it up with almost non-stop action. In between, we get that familiar junior high angst of wanting to please your friends, our hero questioning his own talents, and an ending that will surprise you.

Gordy and his mom are Elixirists – well, his mom Wanda is. He is just a Dram, an elixirist in training. But he is one of the best Ciphers she’s ever seen, and he can do this thing called Blind Batching that blows everyone away – sometimes literally. What’s a Cipher? What’s a Dram? What is Blind Batching? Well, glad you asked, because I am pleased to introduce you to a new world – of magic, of secrets, of carefully concocted potions. If you have read the first book in the series, The Eternity Elixir, then you know what I mean. Rest assured you are in for a treat. If you haven’t read the first book yet, go and do that as soon as you can. I’ll wait.

Let me help you out a bit – in the first book, Gordy is just a fledgling elixirist, not even a Dram. He isn’t sure what he can do, and he makes the mistake of thinking he has things under control. There is a re-animated mummy, a wickedly nasty elixirist out to get something that Gordy’s Aunt Priss found in the desert and shipped to his house, and a whole lot of people getting Blotched (that’s bamboozled to you and me, where you are under the power of another person and don’t remember what you are doing), including Gordy’s dad. The world building is detailed and interesting. The potion brewing is well done and includes all kinds of ingredients and considerations. You know you are doing some serious brewing when you are working with catfish eyes, a mill worm cut in half, pickled cobra hoods and scorpion stingers.

It all comes down to Gordy’s Grandpa, who he thought was dead, the powerful elixirist Mezzarix. This man doesn’t take banishment lightly. We are introduced to the potion Community, the B.R.E.W. (Board of Ruling Elixirists Worldwide) headquarters, and a host of potions that do all kinds of things. There is also, thankfully, a seven-page glossary that helps sort out all this new information. The world-building in the first book is very complete, and there is plenty of action once things get under way.

In the second book, The Transparency Tonic, we already know all that. So it is open the door and you’re in it. Keep your wits about you, and don’t pretend that you know what anyone’s motivation is. There are dangers around every corner, and Gordy has to decide who he can trust. The stakes are higher and the action is faster.

Lucky for Gordy, he has two best friends, Max and Adilene, who will help him on his journey. When Gordy and his friends start eighth grade, things start to change. But who is this new girl, Sasha? Why does she want Gordy to come to a party at her house? Things get especially touchy when Gordy picks Max as his lab partner. Adilene had really had her heart set on it. Then she meets an odd girl named Cadence, and finds she may be able to do things on her own.

Meanwhile, Sasha’s mom, the new head of B.R.E.W., is cracking down. All is well until she cracks down on Wanda. And remember Gordy’s Grandpa? Well, he is not one to be put aside. What he can do with a single human hair… Well. It’s not going to be good. Let’s just say there are new villains galore.

There is a whole lot going on in this second installment. The predicament of the kids rings true, and so does the situation with Wanda. We meet again with Wanda’s co-workers Bolter and Zelda, and we are introduced to various other factions of the potions Community, which opens up a whole world that Gordy can now take part in. I am not going into any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the best bits. But if you love Middle Grade, you will love this. Five stars on GoodReads! Highly recommend for fans of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and books that include magic and action.

Potion Masters: The Transparency Tonic (Potion Masters #2) by Frank L. Cole
Hardcover, 384 pages, ISBN 9781629724881

Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir (Potion Masters #1) by Frank L. Cole
Hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 9781629723587

Thanks to Callie at Shadow Mountain Publishing for including me in this launch blog tour! The Transparency Tonic released on Jan 16, so go look for it now! Frank Cole will be touring the western United States, so check the website for dates and places to see if he is coming near you!

Book Review: The Hazel Wood

Have I got something for you. There has been a lot of buzz in the past couple years about fairytale retellings, sure. But Melissa Albert takes it a step further yet. This is a newtelling (new-telling? New Telling?) – a wholly new world, The Hinterland, which we learn about from the character searching for the book within the book.

People. The booklove in this book! This is literally a bookfreak’s dream come true.

But I digress.

What is so arresting about this book is its immediacy. It is almost magical realism in its here-and-now-ness. We are in modern day New York City. Our MC has current problems. Her cell phone is dead. Her stepdad is a jerk. Her stepsister is a bitch (who makes her feel like “an awkward breadstick”). Okay. We’ve all been there. In bits and pieces, we get more of the story, more of her story – the midnight runs, the near misses. Her mother. The weird stuff that seems to explode around them. Why?

And her name… wait for it… is Alice.

I love it. Everything about this story felt so right on.

And while we are in modern New York City, yet… there is something, just a hair’s breath away, just over a slight border, one you cannot see, just waiting. The Hinterland. And that, my friends, is where Alice must go to find her mom. Whether the Hinterland is a place or a people, we aren’t sure.

There is unexpected help, there is unexpected danger. All around. It is endemic to the fairytale. Wait. The stories. Danger is endemic to the plurality of stories that exist in this other land.

I’m doing a bad job of explaining it, because it’s just that good. But you can get a synopsis from anywhere. What I’d like to tell you about is the beauty of the way this was put together, the intricacy of it, and the wild success of it. Albert has come up with a whole new realm, and folks, she’s going to take us there. I was excited reading this, excited like the first time-reading-Harry Potter excited. Because everything felt imaginative and whole.

As good as the storytelling is, the writing is even better. One of the things that I loved so much right away about Harry Potter was the wordplay. Albert scores hit after hit on that. Albert sings when she is putting us in Alice’s memories: the way a book is evocative of the place you first read it. The way that smells are colors and sounds are food. Waylan Jennings is whisky and a suit is an exhausted brown. This is what makes a story stick.

Things like this, one of the best list paragraphs I’ve read in a long time:

“Everyone is supposed to be a combination of nature and nurture, their true selves shaped by years of friends and fights and parents and dreams and things you did too young and things you overheard that you shouldn’t have and secrets you kept or couldn’t and regrets and victories and quiet prides, all the packed-together detritus that becomes what you call your life.

But every time we left a place, I felt the things that happened there being wiped clean, til all that was left was Ella, our fights and our talks and our winding roads.” – p130

Alice is worth our time, too. She climbs into bed with The Blind Assassin, “because if you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.” She doesn’t like her stepdad because, among other things, he doesn’t read the right books. She tamps down an anger she doesn’t understand with “hippie shit” her mother teaches her, and once called, she is laser-focused on her goal.

And Alice has a friend. Finch wears an expression like armor, one that seals him off from the world and protects him from… what, exactly? He is a superfan, one of the few who has read the book Alice’s grandmother wrote, and who has a deep appreciation for story. (And he wants to go home at one point, “because that’s where my first editions are.” Don’t we love this sweet little cinnamon roll?) I was really getting a soft spot for Finch.

Let’s not forget Ella. Ella in all this is more than just the crazy mom who married up, the waitress who can beguile a rich guy. The daughter of the woman who wrote the tales of the Hinterland down. Ella has guts. Ella is bad-ass her damn self. But we don’t get much of her story.

The three of them do a kind of dance with The Hinterland, each for their own reasons. And along the way, we get bits and pieces of the stories of the Hinterland. Oh, by the way, we’re getting those in full, too. It has just been announced that Albert will be releasing two more books – one will be the actual Tales of the Hinterland (squeeee!) (presumably the book that Althea, Ella’s mother, wrote in the first place) and the other will be set in the same world, a follow-up to this one. So we have Hinterland for the next two years!

So yes, Leigh Bardugo wrote original, imaginative fairytales set in her fantasy world (The Language of Thorns was my top pick for 2017). And Lev Grossman gave us a doorway into a hidden world through an alleyway. But this is like Ravka meets Brakebills. Except that school is the least of our worries. And the world feels as real as your own backyard. So it’s not a retelling – it’s new. We get it first.

Go on, get this one. But a note here: the author posted that some bookstores had put the book out early, and asked people to hold off on buying it until Jan 30. Please, booksellers, don’t skirt a Strict on Sale date. And readers, if you know a book is out early, wait to buy it. I know, it’s hard. But it could make that small difference for where – or whether – a book lands on the New York Times bestseller list, among other things. And this one is sure to land there, somewhere. Help it land higher by buying it during release week. On-sale date is January 30. Set an alert.

Because I forgot to mention, in case you can’t tell from my Bookstagram photo above, that this book is gorgeous in and of itself! I have heard the final copy does not disappoint – gold foil, embossing, just everything. The ARC is easily one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I can’t wait to get my final copy!

Oh, and five stars on GoodReads! I don’t usually give stars, but I think that I will start doing that for all my reviews on GoodReads this year. Just as an experiment. I wrestle with anything less than five stars. But maybe it will help people decide what to read, and help authors I love. Come find me there!

Happy New Year!

 

Best Books of 2017

My year got hijacked. I started off strong, reading something like 20 books in January (thanks in large part to a part-time job as a warming house attendant, which essentially meant uninterrupted reading time on most days). Then I got a job at a bookstore. Sounds ideal, right? Well, it really cut into my reading time, I can tell you that!

However, I did manage to get close to my goal of 75 books. I might even make it. At this writing, I have two days left, and I’ve read 60 books. And there’s a readathon tomorrow!

But all that aside, I did manage to read some great books this year. Books that blew me away, and that made me think, that stayed with me. And that is always the best thing. The following are the ones I most heartily recommend. Continue reading

Tolkien Reading Day 2017

I hadn’t really anticipated becoming wholly consumed by Tolkien during the month of March. But that appears to be what has happened.

First, I heard about this from the bloggers over at Pages Unbound. They put out a call on Twitter for bloggers to take part in their two-week Tolkien blog fest, which would feature posts they wrote plus lots of guest posts. I was happy to write a post about how Tolkien has influenced my work, which can be seen here. And there are lots of other posts about all things Tolkien, so get on over and check them out.

Then I saw a challenge on Instagram. I do a lot of photo challenges (which, if you don’t know, are basically lists of prompts that you interpret and then share with a hashtag), and this was to be a month-long Tolkien theme under the #MiddleEarthMarch tag. I thought that sounded like loads of fun, so I was eager to participate in that. This also included a Lord of the Rings read-along, which was preceded by a read-along of The Hobbit, where we followed along on #febandbackagain.

I had a blast with the prompts, and had fun going through my books and gathering together all my Tolkien-related titles. Come to find out that I actually have a pretty good collection! I am especially happy with a special edition I picked up at a con a year or so ago for $20 – it is the green leather one in a slipcase, with runes on the cover and spine. It’s gorgeous, and a lovely addition to my library (but really, I’m a sucker for anything in a slipcase or a boxset).

On my #RockMyTBR challenge, I had already ear-marked a Tolkien title, The Silmarillion, for April. But I substituted the above titles, which was handy because I found that either I do not own The Silmarillion or I simply couldn’t find it. I just swapped my previous March title with April. And then GoodReads changed its rules so that you could count rereads as part of your challenge goal, so that helped speed me along.

Before I saw the Pages Unbound post, I honestly didn’t even realize there was going to be a Tolkien Reading Day in March. March 25 is the anniversary of the day of the defeat of Sauron, in case you are wondering. The celebration is sponsored by the Tolkien Society, and there are lots of celebrations worldwide. This worked out perfectly for me, since I read that scene in the book on the night of March 24! I was able to keep on track with my reading in the read-along, though I am sad to say that I hardly read anything else during March. But it was worth it.

I never read The Lord of the Rings until after college. So this was only maybe my third time reading the series. The last time was when the movies came out. When I was in high school, fantasy was a class for stoners and slackers. I loved English and reading, so instead, I took Shakespeare and English lit. Well, let that be a lesson to you. Don’t skip a class if it sounds interesting! Had I taken fantasy in high school, I might have been a decade ahead on my Tolkien obsession!

And now I am well and fully hooked. I have always loved the movies, and my son and I did a binge watch of the extended version DVDs over the holidays. So that set me up nicely for all the reading. Now I am looking forward to The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion. I have been looking around, and it sounds like this is the order which is most recommended in reading Tolkien (that is, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion).

I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Beren and Luthien, which is being released in May, and was edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee. Many Tolkien fans will know that this story of star-crossed lovers was very close to Tolkien’s heart. He even had the name Luthien engraved on his wife’s headstone when she died, and then instructed that Beren should be engraved under his name (they share a headstone).

I’ve long had a wish to go to Oxford, and see his haunts. I would also love to go to New Zealand, where you can see the set for the Shire, and have lunch at the Green Dragon. So go ahead, Tolkien merch, take all my money! I don’t even care.

 

RockMyTBR Challenge

I love this challenge. I tried to do it last year, sort of. I made it maybe two months. But I didn’t have a plan, and I didn’t have a post. So here I am, holding myself accountable. Unfortunately, I am too late to link up with the intro post. This is hosted by Sarah at The YA Book Traveler and I am so glad she’s doing it again! It’s a great way to be sure your books are not languishing too long on the shelf! I tend to use my library a lot, so this helps me add to that.

Since last year didn’t go so well, I have laid out some rules for this year for myself.

My Rules for #RockMyTBR

You must make the TBR from books you already own, whether they are packed away, on your shelves or in piles on your floor does not matter.

You can put books anywhere on the TBR for the year, using whatever criteria you want to read whatever you want whenever you want.

You can switch out books for another on your TBR, but only WITHIN your TBR. If you trade a top book for a later book, you cannot trade that top book again. You must read it when you come to it.

You cannot add any newly purchased books to this TBR. This is only for books you owned at the beginning of the year.

I reserve the right to add any books from my shelves, but only in addition to the books already on the list.

These kind of fall in line with what Sarah has already outlined, but I am really going to be strict with myself. That’s why I’m letting myself trade within the TBR, but making sure to put limits on that. I figure if I have a book that I want to trade more than once, then I probably don’t want to read that book anyway, and I might as well get rid of it.

Without further ado, here is my plan for #RockMyTBR for 2017!

January – The Star-Touched Queen (also for #DAReadathon and #boutofbooks) Done!

February – Sherlock Holmes box set (four books)

 

March – Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor (have read the first one)

April – The Silmarillion by Tolkien and The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

May – Very Good Lives by JK Rowling

June – Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

July – Game of Thrones book 1 by George RR Martin

August – Mary E Pearson Remnant Chronicles series

September – The Late Homecomer by Kao Kalia Yang

October – Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde (have read the first three but need to start over)

November – A Breathtaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

December – Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow by Andy Sturdevant

Wish me luck!

 

#DAReadathon + #RockMYTBR Challenge + #BoutofBooks Readathon + TBR

What better way to start the New Year than with a reading binge? I saw the announcement of the #DAReadathon Challenge on Twitter just before Christmas and while I had it in my head I simply couldn’t sit down to sort it all out. This is one of the more complicated challenges I have seen, but since it involves Harry Potter and reading more diverse books, I simply couldn’t pass it up without at least trying.

Many of you know that the diverse books movement has been a big thing throughout the past year. It would be nice if we could say that it wasn’t needed, or that it had been going on a lot longer than that. But judging from some major faux pas recently by major published books, it is still needed, and we need to realize that those from marginalized groups need to have their own voices, and need to have representation in the publishing industry.

Publishing is just telling stories, after all, and how can we say we are doing a good job of that when we aren’t telling all the stories – just select ones that are curated by one race, one gender or one worldview?

So in my own small little way, I’m going to be working on this. I’m doing this challenge, and I’m sad to say that for some of these prompts, I’m not sure what I will read. I wish I could readily answer each one. Clearly, I have some work to do.

The challenge began yesterday (oops!) and goes until January 15. Each of the books should fit in with one of the prompts, which are named after spells in the Harry Potter fandom. Since this is one of my favorite fandoms, I was very attracted to this idea. Also, for those of you who don’t know, the DA in the challenge name stands for Dumbledore’s Army. Well, we need this more than ever now, don’t we? I like everything about the way this is set up.

Here are some of my picks. I’ll need help with this one, so if you have suggestions, please let me know in the comments! Or find me on Twitter or Instagram. I want to hear recs, people!

Expecto Patronum – diverse book featuring issue of personal significance to you or a loved one – I’m going with The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig – because it deals with a girl’s relationship to her father. I imagine that Nix’s is more complicated than mine, since her father wants to return to where her mother died, and possibly could. And mine, well, can’t. But it sounds eerily familiar and I am sure this will bring up some long-buried feelings for me. Plus, all the cultures involved just sound fantastic. And I have an ARC of the sequel, so must read this first!

Expelliarmus – diverse book featuring a marginalised group you don’t often read about – So maybe this would be LBGTQIA? Because I’ve not read much in that area.

Protego – Read an #ownvoices book for this prompt – Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova – I won this in a Death Day chat back in early November. I really have been paying much more attention to the traditions of Day of the Dead lately and I am very excited to read a book by someone who grew up in that culture and has a story that centers around it. I had to resist picking this up earlier to save it for this challenge, so now it’s time!

Reducto – a book that empowers women from all different walks of life – Here we have The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. I received an ARC of this at Heartland Fall Forum, and then I interacted with Becky on Twitter a bit, and well, bam, this shot up to the top of my TBR. This features an overweight teen who is a bit confused about her sexuality, and has a twin sister. I am going out of a limb a bit here to say that it empowers women, but if there is an Upside to Unrequited Love, it has to be empowering, right? This releases in April so I am excited to be reading it so early.

Impedimenta – a diverse book that has been on your TBR for far too long! – This has to be The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi. I have had this since it released and it is so beautiful, and I have heard so much about it, but I have only picked it up once. And now that the sequel is coming out, I really need to get on it. I love following her on Twitter and Instagram so I am really looking forward to finally reading this!

Stupefy – a diverse book that has stunned the internet with all its well-deserved hype – The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – this is a contemporary, which I don’t often read, which is also good for me to do once in a while. This title has landed on many year-end best lists, and I have heard it compared to Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, so of course that piqued my curiosity. Then I won a copy, and well, here it is!

Lumos – a diverse book that was recommended by one of your fellow book bloggers – I would like this to be the forthcoming History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, recommended recently by the always-reliable Brittany at Brittany’s Book Rambles, but alas, it does not come out until January 17 and I don’t have an ARC. In her last BBTC chat, she featured this book and Adam took part. It was a delight. But I must find me something else so I’ll be asking my blogger friends!

From the website of Aente, Read at Midnight, the host of this challenge, here is her brief definition of what a diverse book is: “Any book that features a diverse experience such as LGBTQIA, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender diversity, indigenous, neurodiversity, people with disabilities.”

I still have two slots to fill, so I’ll be actively looking for those books which can fulfill these areas. I would love to find something with Native Americans (I really love all I’ve read by Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie), or something that I perhaps hadn’t thought about reading at all. I don’t know, it could be anything. The bottom line here is that this challenge is already a win for me, because it has me searching my book piles (and my booktree, because there is The Sun Is Also a Star, about halfway down! Which is why it is not pictured above!) for those stories.

There is a points component to this challenge too, but I won’t be worrying about that. I honestly have enough to do in the next two weeks. But this is a great start to my year and I’m really looking forward to it! What are your favorite diverse reads?

Bonus: For this challenge, I finally went to Pottermore and found out what my Patronus is! And while it was quite a process, I discovered that it is the “unusual” Patronus of a Leopardess!

I’m also going to try this year again to do the #RockMyTBR challenge from Sarah at The YA Book Traveler. I fell off the wagon on this one last year. And this week I’m doing the #BoutofBooks readathon (which is only one week, from Jan 2 to Jan 8). Here is the info on the #Bout of Books Readathon, for which I will be using the same books as for the #DAReadathon, and then if I run out of books, I will just add more! The stack helps me to put blinders on and means that I really will complete the books that I have listed.

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 2nd and runs through Sunday, January 8th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 18 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog– From the Bout of Books team

 

 

Best Books of 2016, Part 1

I love my stats. I am still not sure if I’ll make my reading challenge goal for this year – I had hiked it up to 80 books, even though last year I had not made my goal of 75. Call it a fit of optimism. But the year before last I read 100. Now my challenge shows me that I have 1 day and 10 hours to make my goal. This year, they have a feature called My Year in Books, which is like catnip to me. My longest book was Crooked Kingdom at 536 pages (every moment of it worthwhile); my average page count per book was 296 pages. These 72 books I’ve read so far this year amount to 20,439 pages. I like that. It’s a nice round number. I only wish I had more reading stats.

What I do have is a list of the books I liked the most. The ones that stuck with me. Here I’ll highlight my favorite reads of the year, covering many genres. My top three (no surprise) are all YA fantasy.

I want to say that YA fantasy has really stepped it up in recent years, but maybe it is just that I have only begun paying closer attention since I started blogging. I have gotten to know many bloggers on Twitter and Instagram who focus on YA, so that might be leading me more towards that genre as a whole. I am not a huge fan of contemporary (though I love Rainbow Rowell and I am looking forward to Adam Silvera’s new one), but I can’t get enough of the fantasy.

Without further ado, here are my top reads of 2016!

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

This one has stuck itself deep into my heart, deep into my psyche and my imagination. It is one of the most highly imaginative, well-executed books that I think I have ever read. It feels cut out of whole cloth. It is magical, awe-inspiring – the superlatives do not do it justice. What Kristoff has done here is imagined a whole new world – one with three suns, then created a lexicon that uses that specific element – days are not days, they are “turns” and so these characters do not say ‘some day,’ but “some turn.” He has then populated that landscape with an incredible cityscape, and other continents that share their own incredible histories, and then peopled that world with characters that make you cringe and make you cry, that you will root for and fear all at once. The writing, the very magic of the words and sentences, is sublime. There is even – wait for it – a vast, cavernous library that has its own surprise, and is prowled by actual bookworms, which will eat you whole.

This is deep and dark and full of foreboding. People die. Many die in gruesome, startling ways. Our heroine, Mia, is befriended by shadows, and you will soon wish you had your own Mister Kindly. Her story is heartbreaking, but she rises above it in ways that will astonish you. You may not agree with everything she does, but you will want her to succeed at doing it. Let’s just say it earns the hashtag for this title, which is #stabstabstab.

I cannot say enough good things about this book, except holy hell, why was it not on every best list, and why is it not being sung from the mountaintops? And just that you should go get it. Read the synopsis on your chosen book site, and then know that is not nearly enough. It is so much more. For some reason I haven’t published my review yet. And my library doesn’t have a copy. I had to get mine from another system (thank the goddess for Interlibrary loans!). But it is worth hiking over hills and mountains to get this in your hands.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

It was hard to choose, if I had to, between this and Nevernight. The clincher, I think, was the overall feel of the book. This is a fantastic story, told by two teens, who are very different from each other. I don’t know if you will like Katie, but that’s okay. You may be repulsed by August, or utterly charmed by him. You will certainly feel for them as they are drawn into this world they inhabit, which they are trying very hard to resist. I loved the story here, I loved the characters, and I loved the utterly forlorn nature of the situation. This is not sugar-coated. It is dark and it is nasty. But there is music, though it does not bring beauty, and at the end, there is hope. This was the second book I had read by Schwab, and I found it even more wonderful than her Darker Shade of Magic series. No romance here, thank you very much. And I can’t wait for the second in this duology, Dark Duet. You can see my full review here.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

I’ve been championing this book ever since I first read it. I loved it. It is a fast-paced, rousing rebel-with-a-cause adventure, and I want to get back to the desert and see what could possibly happen next. I loved Amani and I loved the setting. I could taste both the dust in my mouth and her own desperation to get out of her sleepy little one-horse town. But along with the adventure, this was also a book about stories. There are legends, and myths, and everyone has their own secrets, and the stories might be true, or might not. There is magic, there is a lovely spot-on bit of blushing romance, and I can’t wait for the next book. I don’t own a copy of this one, but I am torn now, because they changed the beautiful cover for the next book. Why oh why did they do that? They just don’t understand – series must match! And that gorgeous cover is something I would have loved to see carried through. Ah well. I know well enough by now that publishers have reasons why they do things.

Nonfiction

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

I read this bit by bit, trying to savor it but still rushing to the next chapter. I loved the way it was laid out. Each chapter focused on a different element of writing. You might want to skip ahead to whatever is eating you at the moment, but I urge you to read it all the way through. It’s like a little masterclass between covers. See how many flags are in my copy? I am excited to put all this great advice to use. A Minnesota author by a Minnesota publisher! I got this copy at the Minnesota reception at Heartland Fall Forum, where I finally got to meet Ben in person.

The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang

If you have not read The Late Homecomer, you may not be familiar with Yang. She is a Minnesotan, but her writing will take you far away from here. In her latest book, she tells the story of her father. It’s interesting to hear a daughter focus on her father, but clearly they have a special relationship, and his gift made an impression on her. This is a riveting account of his life, from the mountaintop jungles to the refugee camp to life in America. It is clear that should Yang choose to, she would be an astounding poet. If you ever – I mean EVER – get a chance to hear her speak, run, don’t walk. She can make an entire room cry just answering a question. Her thoughtful, clear-headed story will leave its mark on you. Bonus: if you are not familiar with the Hmong people, you are in for a helluva story. I am so glad that she wrote this book. This one should be filed under “miraculous.” (I received a copy of this book from the publisher at the spring bookseller meeting of MiBA.

Grief Is the Things with Feathers by Max Porter

Never mind that Porter stole the title of the poem that was my mantra while my best friend was fighting cancer. I was irked by that at first, wishing I’d thought to title my poetry collection with this, but that would be too close to the source, wouldn’t it? At any rate, I did not have huge high hopes for this novel. I thought it was at best an affectation, at worst an over-hyped golden boy. But, ahem, I stand corrected, even if only to myself. This spare, lyrical novel will give you pause. It may seem crazy, but just read every word and take the journey. The journey is always different but the ending is magnificent. Keep going.

Fiction

The Dark Lady’s Mask by Mary Sharratt

Carry yourself away, 400 years in the past and across the ocean, to Italy, to England. Mary Sharratt brings it all to life. In what is fast becoming her trademark of authenticity, she has recreated the world in which, perhaps, William Shakespeare made the acquaintance of England’s first published lady poet, Aemelia Bassano. He may or may not have traveled to Italy with her, and then, returning to England, he wrote those sonnets – to her? It is all conjecture at this point, but oh, highly suspect! And somehow, it just feels right. We get glimpses of the court life, glimpses of the precarious nature of society then, the predicament of women, and the words, all the words. This is a lush, fully-imagined story, great for anyone who enjoys diving into historical fiction. Disclaimer: I worked with Mary on a social media campaign for the release of this book. Look for #OpheliaReads on Twitter and Facebook for some fun pics!

Wintering by Peter Geye

And now for something completely different. Peter Geye fully brings to life the landscape of northern Minnesota like no one else. In fact, you could say that the landscape is another character in his books. If you have not read his earlier work, The Lighthouse Road, you could pick that up first, and then binge both of these. They are each told covering two time periods, and contain multiple perspectives, sharing some characters. It is complex writing, and beautiful. Geye returns to his North Shore town of Gunflint, and tells the story of a trip a father and son took into the wild years before. It is an adventure story, tense yet full of the peace of nature. You do not need to have read Lighthouse Road in order to enjoy Wintering, however. Just find yourself some Peter Geye, and settle in for a great winter read.

 

And with that, I got carried away. Check back tomorrow for the second half of my Best of 2016 reads, with more YA, mystery, middle grade and children’s picture books!

« Older posts

© 2020 BookManiaLife

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑