Book Reviews

2018 Books of Awesome, Part: Those Books that Are Out Already

It’s that time of year again! That glorious time when I get to exclaim loudly (and with a fair amount of cursing) about all of my favorite books I read this year. Which this year is again ALL OF THEM.

On the one hand, it has been tough to find the time to read with a Constant Toddler, writing, and a dayjob, and having once read one hundred books in one year, reading “only” twenty-six feels almost like failure. But! On the other hand, reading less means I simply don’t have the time to finish books I don’t enjoy, so whereas before I’d maybe only really end up enjoying about a third of that hundred, now I enjoy each and every book I’ve picked up.

Because who has the time to read books they don’t enjoy??

Last year I read 100% fantasy, 95% written by women. This year it was closer to 60% fantasy and 89% women(or nb)-written. This year I’ve read a lot more literary than usual, which has been a nice change of pace. I do truly read and enjoy all genres, but in trying to be as fluent and well-versed in my own genre as possible, I’ve unfortunately neglected reading others. Thanks to being a part of a 2019 Debut Authors group, though, that was thoroughly rectified this year.

…and it also means that nearly half the books I read this year aren’t out until next! Alas, I’m sorry, but also: boy is next year gonna be AMAZING.

So here is the first half of my Amazing 2018 Year in Books, Part One: Those Books that Are Out Already:

 

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
This is an adventure and a half, complete with djinn and ifrit and ghouls and cursed artifacts and even more cursed lakes and a city and culture thousands of years old which actually has the weight of all that history. Nahri is the best, a thief turned possible royalty who doesn’t magically lose the thief side of her when she discovers her roots. And that ending – that ending. There are still two books to come and I have no idea how Chakraborty will top that ending but I have every confidence that she will.
Read if you like: epic second world fantasy that subverts YA romance tropes, actively interrogates morally gray questions, and is clearly written by someone well-versed in history.
The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L Howard
This is the sixth book in the series and if you’re interested in gentleman necromancers who handle family disputes, romance, and gibbering horrors with the same unwaveringly dry wit and cantankerousness, then I’d suggest starting at the very beginning. The Fall continues Cabal & co’s constantly humorous and increasingly corpse-filled story as his enemies multiple but so, too, his friends.
Read if you like: dry wit, rampant magic, the undead, the living, & increasingly bizarre situations.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber:
True crime podcasts are all the rage lately, but what about the real-life families of the victims? This story explores the implications of sudden fame (or infamy) on a family that had already found their peace. A quick read (or listen, because really you should probably listen to a book about a podcast) and unsurprisingly there’s already a live-action series in production by Apple.
Read if you like: family dramas, murder mysteries, thoughtful explorations of the far-reaching effects of our increasingly small world.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire:
Well, honestly at this point I will read anything by McGuire, and I have not been disappointed yet. This is the second in her Wayward Children series, which follows the lives of the children who went through portals to other worlds and what happens after. Although this one in particular is about what happened during, and it is full of contemplation about who you are vs who people want you to be and family and love and what you will do for both.
Read if you like: shorter fiction in a telling style; werewolves and vampires and monsters (oh my!); things that go bump in the night; gothic horror tropes; soft sads
Updraft by Fran Wilde:
Wow. This story takes you above the clouds into a city built upon spires of bone and then goes for broke. The worldbuilding is fantastic: Wilde creates a fantastical setting and then isn’t afraid to explore every corner of the resulting implications. I love all the rituals, the way history and law and warnings are passed down through song (because they don’t have paper [because how could they have trees??]), the way the flying felt real and the skymouths were scary af. I am itching to read the subsequent books in the series and find out more about how this city came to be.
Read if you like: thorough & fresh worldbuilding; feeling as if you are flying; songlore; bonelore; lore; deconstructing history; morally gray everything
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente:
This is one of those books you read about and instantly wonder how it hasn’t been written before. If you didn’t know, space opera is a subgenre of sci-fi, and now it is also a book about Eurovision. In space. But where Eurovision is about uniting Europe through increasingly bombastic song & dance routines, Space Opera is about uniting the universe. And Earth has just been allowed to enter the competition for the first – and possibly last – time. All Earth has to do is not place last to avoid complete annihilation, but the odds are stacked higher than Olympus Mons.
Read if you like: fun space romps; fun space humor; absurd & yet still possible alien species; conversations about sentience
From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris:
Magic in an alternate ancient Rome? Yes please! From Unseen Fire includes all the fun politics of I, Claudius plus the elemental magic of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Add in a full cast of awesome ladies and an exceptionally original take of elemental-based magic and, well, I am hooked forever. It’s clear Morris did her research on this one because reading it feels like a walk through the streets of ancient Rome.
Read if you like: kickass magic systems; sprawling epic fantasy; feeling as if you’re walking through ancient Rome
TW: off-screen sexual assault
The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst:
When every living thing has a spirit – including the trees – and those spirits are more than a bit murderous toward humans, you have yourself a bit of a problem, one might say. Add in some intricate worldbuilding, some cities entirely in trees, and a completely reasonable antagonist and you have yourself a fun (well, in a murdery sort of way) & exciting book. It’s Friendship is Magic meets a proper horror story.
Read if you like: not-so-reluctant heroines; murder spirits; murder; questionable politics; brooding rangers; uplifting inter-women relationships
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik:

When Miryem’s family comes close to ruin because her father doesn’t have the heart to collect on all the debts owed him, Miryem steps up and soon realizes she’s got a knack for turning silver into gold – not literally, of course. Unfortunately, she makes the mistake of boosting about her skill and someone does take her literally. Someone who happens to be the king of a frozen, fae kingdom just beyond our world. What follows is a twisting path of a story through terrain that almost feels familiar – just enough to be unsettling.
Read if you like: fairy tale retellings; fairy tale retellings where you’re not really sure how many fairy tales are being retold; demons; long, cold nights; subverting genre expectations; horrible people getting exactly what they deserve

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson:
If you like your fantasy extra long and extra epic, you need to be reading Sanderson. This is the third book in his Stormlight Archives series, or more like the ninth, tenth, and eleventh when compared to normal books. Sanderson continues to impress and expand upon worlds and characters in ways that are always satisfying and always a surprise. He also continues to learn from his past mistakes and is doing a better & better job of reflecting the diversity of a real world.
Read if you like: spending weeks or months reading the same book and never regretting it; all the best characters; worlds connected to other worlds in other books; solid epic
Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly:
This is a direct sequel to Amberlough, and you should probably read that first. And if you have, then I shouldn’t need to convince you to keep reading this spy thriller / cabaret adventure / anti-fascist gay romp. Well, okay, romp is probably not the right word. Armistice picks up sometime after Amberlough ends and answers nearly as many questions as it raises, while continuing to raise the stakes. Seriously I said anti-fascist gay romp, why are you still here?
Read if you like: second world fantasy with no magic; uncomfortably similar political situations; twisty & turny & thorny plots; sensuous writing where you can hear/smell/taste the world
City of Lies by Sam Hawke:
It’s a murder mystery set during a siege, what’s not to love? City of Lies is a fresh take on the epic genre, where the relationship between siblings being highlighted more than any of the romantic ones, where you’re never quite sure if the magic is real or not, and where the plot ratchets up and up and UP until you think it can’t possibly go any further, AND THEN IT DOES.
Read if you like: epic battles; awesome endings; stories about cities; contemplative narratives about the duty of a country to its people; quiet scenes juxtaposed with swordfights; MURDER MURDER
By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis:
This is the very direct sequel to The Guns Above, a flipping romp of a fun, exciting, explosions-filled story the likes of which I just haven’t read in ages. It’s just dark enough in places to make its lighter moments even better. It’s the kind of book you can read in a day and mull over for a month. But also laugh the entire time.
Read if you like: airpunk; understanding airship mechanics even if you never realized that was a thing you wanted before; fart jokes; camaraderie; really intense airship battles.
Vengeful by V.E. Schwab:
Another direct sequel, this time to Vicious, which asked the question: if given super powers, what would real people actually do? They wouldn’t save the world, that’s true. But some might still try, in all the wrong ways. Schwab has been improving by leaps and bounds with each book of hers and this one is no different.
Read if you like: morally gray characters doing murder; rooting for all the wrong (or right??) people; angry women getting vengeance; MURDER MURDER
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse:
Climate change has caused the oceans to swamp the Earth and usher in a wholescale apocalypse, but the Dinehtah people live on. After all, they’d already survived one apocalypse at the hands of the United States. They could survive another.
This is a dark but hopeful book, a story about the end of things, but also the beginning. There are gods, yes, and monsters, yes, but the line between them and humans is very thin, if nonexistent. It’s also action-packed and blood-soaked, and all I want is more fantasy like this.
Read if you like: post-climate change fiction; stories that don’t center white people; cinnamon roll side characters; gods being gods; urban fantasy with a fresh feel.
TW: child death

 

 

 

Image of books on a table from Unsplash.

Book Reviews

2015 Books in Review, Part Two

Here is part two of my 2015 Books In Review. Part one is here.
 

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

“Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.”

This is the kind of book where I finished it and immediately looked up the author and everything else she has written. Unfortunately, this is Duyvis’ debut, but fortunately she has another book coming out this year.

All that’s to say that this was a YA that made me so, so happy. Interesting fantasy world: yes. Awesome female main character: yes. Awesome bi main character: yes yes. Very high stakes that keep getting higher: yessity yes yes. No love triangle: OMG YES. Fun(?) moral choices: yeeessss.

I don’t often unequivocally recommend books, but here you go. Read it.

 

Clariel by Garth Nix

“Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilp. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.”

My last WIP had an ace main character, so before I started the draft zero I wanted to see what kind of ace representation was already out there in the YA world. Answer: nothing. Real answer: well, almost nothing. Clariel is the only one I’ve found so far with an ace MC, and boy is she awesome.

I’m a fan of the Abhorsen series, so I’m surprised I didn’t pick this one up sooner. If you haven’t yet, and you like necromancers and fairyesque worlds, you should read the first in the series: Sabriel. This one is a fun, if sometimes exceedingly dark, worthy successor in the series. The only downside is that the audiobook isn’t read by Tim Curry. 🙂

 

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

“After a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, Dellarobia Turnbow has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks a momentary escape with a younger man. As she hikes up the mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. For her, it’s a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media.

The bewildering emergency acquaints rural farmers with urban journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a biologist personally invested in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.”

You know me and literary fiction: there’s a reason most of my favorite list is fantasy. But goodness, this was a fulfilling, yet restless, book. Most descriptions bill it as a story about global warming, but it is so much more than that: a story of chaos and transformation.

Of course, I loved the parts about the butterflies the most, and all the detailed information about their lives. Absolutely insane what they go through. On top of that, I loved the depiction of science and scientists. As someone married to a scientist, I understand the frustration of watching your research be willfully misinterpreted. That careful underscoring of what, exactly, is science as well as why, sometimes, people ignore science was what really made the book.

 

I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons.

Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her.

Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window. A sticker of Princess X.”

A breathless chase through Seattle, where I never quite knew what was going to happen, ending with crazy madness and excitement. The comic portion integrated very well with the story and it was cool to see what May had been talking about just the page before play out in the comic.

It’s one of those this-is-a-cool-idea! books that could have gone horribly wrong, but Priest has enough chops that it not only works, it works well. It’s also a super quick, super fun read – I actually finished it in a day. That doesn’t happen often. 🙂

 

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

“Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.”

This was absolutely ridiculous. But in a good way! I wish I’d had it for Halloween, because it would have been a perfect all-night read. Just spooky enough without actually being scary. Just odd enough to be hilarious. And a perfect commentary on working in the modern retail environment.

The illustrations of the various Orsk products were also brilliant, devolving along with the story. I liked finding all the easter eggs in both the drawings and the story. Another book I read all in one sitting, because it was just too much fun to put down.

 

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

“This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.”

Jemisin has solidified her place in my Absolute Fave Authors A++ category with this novel. It is haunting. It is gorgeous. It is surprising. It may or may not be paying a direct homage to Portal 2 with that ending.

It is, in a nutshell, everything I want from modern fantasy. Diverse and interesting and fully fleshed characters. Diverse and interesting and fully fleshed worlds. Several did that just happen?! moments. New magic systems that make me go why didn’t I think of that?? Moral questioning. Moral darkness. And a very on-point critique of our own society.

The Fifth Season is by far and away my favorite novel of 2015. If you take nothing away from this list, at least do yourself a favor and read this.