Best Books of 2017

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It’s time for a compilation of the best books I had the pleasure of reading in 2017! The challenge in making this list was that rather than describing these book’s qualities, I just felt tempted to gush incoherently in all caps. I tried my best to rein that desire in.

And now — drumroll please!!! — we begin the countdown!Read More »

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Wrap-Up: December

  • The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman (★★★★★)
  • The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (★★★☆☆)
  • The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan (★☆☆☆☆)
  • Court of Fives by Kate Elliott (★★★☆☆)
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee (★★★☆☆)
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (★★☆☆☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 6
YEARLY SO FAR: 75

Okay, so first of all, hats off to me for finishing off a whopping six books this month! I know for a lot of folks here in the book blogging sphere that doesn’t seem like much, but I haven’t accomplished this in a long time! I definitely tried to dedicate more time to reading than I usually do this month, and because I read so many books I didn’t love, I was in a hurry to finish them and get on to something better.  Funny how that works.

So let’s talk about that, huh? This was…not a great month! It started off amazing with The Dark Days Pact, but it very steadily went downhill from there. I finally finished off The Bloodprint, which was as terrible as the first chapter promised; I’m actually surprised and proud I managed not to DNF it.  Then I wanted to try some Kate Elliot, and though Court of Fives wasn’t as terrible as some reviewers make it out to be, I didn’t love it.  The Abyss Surrounds us, a f/f sci-fi that everyone purports is the greatest thing ever, was only just okay.  Jade City, a highly anticipated fantasy, was not for me. And finally, my classic read of the month, Northanger Abbey, was dreadful.

I’m really hoping I start off the new year with better books! Currently I’m reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I’m only one chapter in, so I don’t have too much of an opinion yet, but it seems entertaining.  And…that’s it! It’s been so long since I was only reading one book at a time. I’m sure that won’t last long, though.  I’m meant to be starting a buddy read of The Lymond Chronicles, beginning with The Game of Kings.  I’m also thinking to read Jane Eyre, but I’m not 100% on that yet; I think I might need a break from classics for a bit! Other than that, I don’t think I have any specific plans!

We’ve come to the end of the year, however, so stay tuned for a) a best books of the year post and b) a more reflective end of the year post including some bookish resolutions.

Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

3047636Title: NORTHANGER ABBEY
Author: Jane Austen
Release Date: 1817
Pages: 241
Publisher: Vintage Classics
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆(2/5)
Review on Goodreads

Before Northanger Abbey, the only Jane Austen I had read was Pride & Prejudice. This was way back in high school, but I distinctly remember not hating the book! This might have been because I am obsessively in love with the 2005 movie (I’ve seen it over ten times), but I didn’t find the book boring or the prose unbearable. I had the exact opposite situation with Northanger Abbey, unfortunately.

First of all, despite being so named, the characters don’t even arrive at the abbey until like 60% into the book! Ostensibly about a young girl named Catherine whose love of Gothic novels leads her into awkward situations at said Abbey, it is actually just the tale of Catherine hanging out in Bath, making some friends, hanging out at the Abbey for like half a minute, then getting married. I was bored out of my goddamn mind. I mean before she gets to the Abbey it’s literally just a bunch of people taking walks and going to parties and dancing and getting to know each other. When she does get to the Abbey, her imagination runs wild for like a chapter, and then everything is fine again. There’s some drama with her brother being engaged to a friend of hers which was probably the most interesting thing to happen in the book.

I will grant that the story had some well-developed characters and clever tongue-in-cheek humor (at times). Isabella in particular has to be the most Extra character I’ve ever seen, kind of like Vampire Diaries’ Caroline Forbes on Adderall. She and her brother are both insufferable in a very entertaining way, especially when Catherine is totally ignorant of their faults. There’s a lot of funny commentary on the way women are perceived and various mocking of Gothic novel tropes which I enjoyed.

Unfortunately his could not save it for me, especially given the state of the prose. The prose twisted and turned and was never-ending – finish a goddamned sentence for God’s sake! The long, overbearing sentences made it very difficult to focus. I also really hated the narration, which often referred to “our heroine” and talked directly to the reader in such a way that was jarring and consistently forced me out of the narrative. Add to that was boring and uneventful the story was, the book ended up being one hell of a slog that I had to force myself to finish.

Top 5 Wednesday: 2018 Wishlist

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Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

December 27th: 2018 Wishlist
–Looking forward into the new year, this is a list of the types of books you’d like to see more of in 2018! Try to avoid actual titles, and discuss themes, genres, or tropes you’d like to see more of in the new year!

Yes, it’s Thursday, but let’s just…pretend it’s still Wednesday. Yesterday I went to bed at 9pm instead of writing this post, and then I woke up at 12:30pm the next day. Yes, that’s about fifteen hours of sleep. The worst part? This isn’t out of the ordinary for me.

Anyway! There are plenty of things I’m dying to see in the books I read, especially YA fantasy, so it was difficult narrowing down to just five!

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Book Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

34606064Title: JADE CITY
Author: Fonda Lee
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 512
Publisher: Orbit
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

Obviously I should have paid greater attention to the descriptions calling this book a “gangster drama” and “kung-fu saga” and “Asian Godfather.” I have little to no interest in mafias, gangs, drugs, or martial arts of any kind. There are also way too many male protagonists in this book for my liking. I concede that this book would probably make an excellent movie, and as a book it wasn’t bad, but I just wasn’t into it.

Fonda Lee has created an original, inventive fantasy. One of the most intriguing things about it, which I was not expecting, is that it is not, like most high fantasies, set in an ambiguously medieval time period. If I had to assign the book a decade I’d say late 80s or early 90s, which was really strange but very intriguing! In Lee’s world, the geological substance of jade grants wearers heightened physical abilities, but only those native to the island of Kekon can utilize it properly. On Kekon, two clans rule the island and its jade, and tension is growing between them as a result of foreign influences.

It’s a truly fascinating premise, but I personally thought that Lee focused on everything and everyone uninteresting. The main POV characters are the head of the No Peak clan, Lan, his strongman and younger brother Hilo, their younger sister Shae, and their adopted brother Anden. Of all these POVs I found Shae’s to be the most compelling, but the narrative continually relegated her to secondary character. The head of the opposing clan, Ayt Mada, is a truly intriguing woman who murdered her way to the top position, yet she only features two or three scenes, every one of which she commands completely. Hilo’s love interest, Wen, was also intriguing, even though her introductory scene features her having sex with Hilo, which I majorly side-eyed. Wen is a “stone-eye” born with a genetic mutation that makes her immune to jade and is considered bad luck by many.

In short, I found the three women in this story more fascinating than any of the male characters, and yet the bulk of the book is focused on the men. This is not a gender-neutral world; I would say the gender dynamics pretty much resemble our own in the 80s and 90s. That’s fine; examinations of gender imbalances in non-Western settings are lacking in fantasy literature. But in my opinion, if Lee were going to craft her world in such a way, the women should have been given more screen-time. I would have loved to have Ayt Mada as a POV character, to learn more about her struggle to lead the clan in a world that only begrudgingly respects women.

This was my main issue with this book and likely the main reason I couldn’t get into it as much as I wanted. But also, plot-wise, I found it kind of dull, though that may be because I personally am not interested by gangster plots. Halfway into the book the pace picked up when Lee gave us an astonishing twist, but after that the pace slowed to a crawl again. There’s also a lot of telling in this book, a lot of exposition, which I’m not always opposed to, but here it just served to slow down the narrative even more. On the bright side, it did make it very easy to understand this brand new world and all of its factions. The learning curve for this fantasy world is not too steep.

I commend Lee for the skill it took to plan and write this lengthy novel, but I just wish she had given more attention to her female characters and picked up the pace of the plot a bit more. Overall, if you’re the type of person who enjoys mafia movies and gangster exploits this might be the book for you, because I do think it’s an objectively admirable book. Unfortunately, I feel only lukewarm about it at best.

The Ultimate Harry Potter Book Tag

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Okay. Believe it or not, I was tagged to do this tag by Rachel way back in June.  I’m not quite sure why I never did it, though? Anyway, since I find myself in a bit of blogging slump (and a reading slump, actually), and it’s the holidays (what better holiday book than Harry Potter?) I figured I would finally, finally do this!

I don’t talk about Harry Potter much on this blog, mostly because I’ve stopped relying on it like I used to, but you would be wrong to think it doesn’t mean more to me than any other series in the world. It was through Harry Potter that I discovered not only a love of reading but a love of writing. It was through Harry Potter fanfiction websites that I developed technical skills in writing. It was through Harry Potter that I met some of my best friends. It was through Harry Potter that I survived three miserable years living in Egypt. The series absolutely changed my life.

There used to be a time when I would re-read Harry Potter in its entirety at least once a year, but I haven’t done this in three years, the longest I’ve ever gone.  I think it’s just because I haven’t been doing very much re-reading in general, since there’s so much other new stuff to read that I can’t justify re-reading. But anyway, Harry Potter will always be my first book love and my first major fandom. Just wanted to establish that before I started on this tag!

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Book Review: Court of Fives by Kate Elliot

18068907Title: COURT OF FIVES
Author: Kate Elliott
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 438 (but my Kindle says 307???)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

(First of all, my ancestors are surely rolling over in their graves in shame at my failure to recognize this as a setting inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt. In my defense I’ve never studied Ancient Egyptian history, though I suppose that is not much of a defense. In any case, this book makes my people look damn good, which makes me happy! Apparently this book is also inspired by Little Women, which I’ve never read, and American Ninja Warrior, which definitely came through.)

I have to say, I am utterly baffled by the multitude of passionate one-star reviews on Goodreads. I can see nothing in this book that would inspire such vehement dislike! I didn’t love this book in its entirety, but I didn’t hate it, and there were certainly many parts of it that I loved.

Jessamy is a mixed-race girl in a world where such unions are uncommon and scorned, given that her mother’s race are a denigrated and oppressed group called “Commoners”. The book begins with Jessamy determined to run the “Fives” a gymnastic competition modeled after American Ninja Warrior that probably would have been way cooler to someone interested in that kind of stuff (I don’t mind watching it, but reading about athletic feats is kind of dull). She’s a fascinating protagonist if not entirely likable; she is certainly selfish, putting her family at risk just to run in this competition she’s not supposed to be in, but I’m really annoyed that reviewers seem to hate her for this. This streak of selfishness and self-determination is what makes her incredibly interesting. Again, I wasn’t sure I found her entirely likable, though not because of this – there was just something in her narrative voice that lacked consistency.

Major characters include Jes’s mother and three sisters, all of whom were fully-fleshed characters in their own right. Familial interactions between them, and their father, were given the spotlight, an unusual move in YA books where parents are usually absent and siblings only exists as props. I loved the messy dynamics portrayed in this family, as though clearly conveyed the stress they all live under, being a mixed-race family amongst people that hate them for it. The crux of the plot involves Jes rescuing her family, putting them and herself first. Also, this is random, but there’s one hell of a badass childbirth scene in this book that I loved. A woman actually gives birth in a crouching position and then eats raw placenta! The reason I mention this is not just because I’m a freak who loves childbirth scenes where women support women, but also because it’s where I can see Kate Elliott shining through. I’ve heard her speak at conferences and she is an unabashed feminist who talks often about writing women as they are, rather than what people want them to be. In this scene, and in much of the book, I could see this philosophy.

That said, the inevitable romance did drag the book down, in my opinion. I can certainly see why it was there but I didn’t find the love interest that interesting, though Elliott certainly tried to make him well-developed. He was a kind boy, but still retained the privilege of his race and class, which was reflected in his occasional ignorance. I definitely appreciated this depth, and yes, he was helpful to the plot, but it seems like he exists just to create drama for the next book. I totally get it – I just don’t like it.

Unlike many other readers I did not mind the dialogue, which is very formal and at times even archaic. I actually kind of liked it! It gave the story a fanciful flair! What I did think dragged the book down was the odd, unbalanced pacing, and the overly detailed descriptions of the “Fives” and everything to do with it. Again, I understand why this happened – this book needs to introduce an entire series and the “Fives” has to do with the mythology of the world – but I just didn’t like it. Speaking of mythology, the worldbuilding here is pretty damn fascinating and original!

Overall, while I myself did not love this book, I do think it is an objectively good book. It is well-written and engaging, with distinguishable characters, rich worldbuilding, and intelligent commentary on race and class and oppression. I would have to say the plot is its weakest point, again because of the strange pacing, but it’s not terrible, and otherwise I saw nothing that would help me understand the one-star reviews. It’s a solid 3.5 from me.