Best Books of 2017

bestbooks

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.

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.

Book Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

24790901Title: THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US
Author: Emily Skrutskie
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 273
Publisher: Flux
My Rating: ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Review on Goodreads

Unfortunately this book did not turn out to be as mind-blowingly awesome as I’d been led to believe, but I did still enjoy it. There were a lot of aspects to it that I absolutely loved, but there was also plenty I did not like. I can’t help thinking this book would make an incredible film or TV series, but as a book it just didn’t click with me. Which I know is a weird thing for a book blogger to say, but I it’s so rare that I feel this way about a book that I’m gonna say it anyway.

What I Liked:

→ There’s a f/f romance! This is the main reason I picked up this book. The main character, Cassandra, is gay, and this isn’t harped on about, it’s just something that is what it is. Same with her love interest, Swift.

→ The worldbuilding. The book is set in the near-future, in world ruined by climate change, a world where floodwaters have eaten up most coastal cities. The United States has split into smaller governments to better take care of their people (in theory). Also, there’s freaking sea monsters! They are genetically engineered and bred specifically to defend ships and I though this was super cool and creative.

→The book is certainly engaging! It’s a light, quick, easily digestible read, and so I was able to get through it quickly and I certainly thought it was fun!

→The protagonist. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Cassandra Leung at first, but now I think she’s the best thing about this book. She starts out pretty quiet and unassuming, mostly reacting to things around her, but she quickly goes from an ordinary morally upstanding character to the fringes of moral complexity. I really enjoyed watching her go through the stages of that moral development. Her ruthlessness just seemed to increase and increase, and I think she has it in her to be a pirate queen of her own.

→The villain. I use the word villain loosely, but Santa Elena, the pirate queen, is pretty damn cool. She took over a ship with her baby son strapped to her back and now everyone is terrified of her. She rules with an iron fist, she’s vicious and ruthless, she’s selfish and cunning, and I absolutely loved her. In fact, I would have liked this book a lot more if Cas had been aged up and Santa Elena had been her love interest, because I found her a hell of a lot more intriguing than Cas’s actual love interest. I also thought they had way more chemistry. I realize things would have been even more dubious in terms of consent and healthy relationships, but this book already veers towards the dark, and I think this would have made it more interesting.

What I Didn’t Like:

→ The romance. Ugh, I hate that I didn’t ship these two, but I hated Swift. She’s a fine character, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like her. She’s a jerk most of the time, and she’s volatile and just…I don’t know. I didn’t like her at all and so I had trouble shipping her. And I just couldn’t feel any chemistry between Cas and Swift that wasn’t contrived.

→The worldbuilding could have used a little bit more meat. This is the start of a series so I won’t harp on about this too much, but I would have liked to know a little bit more about the international world and more about the damage climate change as wrought. Just some more context would have helped.

→The writing. This book is written in first-person present tense, which is one of my least favorites, so I found it kind of jarring. Plus the writing is YA, and by that I mean there’s a lot of “something dark rose inside me” or “I felt a storm rising inside me”, that kind of thing, and it got annoying after a while. The writing is also quite bare, very straightforward, yet somehow often melodramatic.

→The action scenes and jargon. This is probably just a personal thing, but I get really put off by intense action scenes that feature a lot of jargon. In this book, there’s a lot of futuristic ship jargon and techy stuff that I found myself glazing over, which led to me being confused later on. Again, more of a personal hangup than anything.

→ Minor characters. First off, there’s really only four minor characters who even get names, and these are the ones vying with Swift for the chance to inherit the ship. The rest of the pirate crew is faceless and nameless; they’re just there. Even those four characters were barely developed. And in the case of one character in particular, he does something that gets him in trouble but it’s never really explained why he does it? What his motivations were? It just seemed like something thrown in to add more excitement to the plot.

→The ending. I won’t spoil it, but I just could not understand Cas’s decision in the end. She had the chance to take charge of her own fate but she didn’t. At all. And if we’re meant to believe she did this for ~love~ then I’m gonna need the relationship to be a little more convincing.

Overall I did have a fun time reading this book, but I didn’t enjoy the romance as much as I had hoped to, and I doubt I will be picking up the sequel. However, I will definitely be checking out other things this author writes!

End of the Year Book Tag

ENDOFYEARBOOKTAG

I was tagged for this by the lovely Steph at Lost Purple Quill! Thanks Steph! I haven’t done a book tag in forever. (I’m also pretty certain someone else tagged me for this as well at some point…I’m SO BEHIND on things I’m tagged on.)

ETA: OMG, I just realized why I thought I was tagged for this before! I was, way back in September, by Rachel! I can’t believe I didn’t remember this at all.  My answers are totally different!

1. Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?

I don’t usually like to leave books hanging for a long time, so nothing aside from what I’m reading now! I am determined to finish The Bloodprint before the end of the year, though it’s turning out to be one hell of a slog and I have to force myself to read it.

2. Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?

Hmm, not particularly, although I am finding myself partial to a particular brand of historical fiction at the moment. I’m currently reading The Dark Days Club, which takes place in Victorian London, and I don’t want it to end! I’m finding it super cozy and charming.

3. Is there a new release you’re still waiting for?

I don’t believe so…Jade City just came out so I’m really excited to get my hands on that, but I don’t think there’s anything else at the moment. Not that I would remember if there were!

4. What are three books you want to read before the end of the year?

You know what I’ve been realizing? That planning out what I’m going to read has kind of been bumming me out.  Like, it’s fine to make vague plans of what I want to read in the future, but to structure it strictly like I did for the past two months really took the joy out of it. One of my favorite things to do, when I’m on the verge of finishing a book, is go through Goodreads summaries on my TBR to rediscover a book I want to read. That way there’s a bit of a surprise in it for me!

That being said, I would really love to read The Hate U Give, which I have waiting on my Kindle at the moment! Everyone and their mother has read this, it’s being turned into a film (actors have already been cast!), and I think it’s still on the NYT bestseller list. I really need to get on this.

5. Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favourite book of the year?

I doubt it. I’ve just read too many awesome books this year! I’m sure I’ll enjoy The Hate U Give, but I don’t think a contemporary will take the place of my favorite book when I’ve read some incredible fantasy books this year.

6. Have you already started making reading plans for 2018?

Vaguely! As I said, I’m trying not to plan too strictly.  I know I’m definitely starting Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles in a buddy read led by Chelsea at Spotlight on Stories, which I’m very excited for.  And I think Chelsea wants to read Jane Eyre around then, so I’ll likely join her in that. I also really want to read Libba Bray’s Diviners series.  Oh, and the sequel to The Traitor Baru Cormorant is coming out, so I’m planning a re-read of the first book before the second, since I’ve surely forgotten everything, and I think Rachel is planning on reading it with me!  LOL, I realize this is already pretty strict planning…alas. I’m still super excited for these reads.


I suck at at tagging and I think this meme has made the rounds already, so do it if you like, and do ping back to me so I can read your answers!

Top 5 Wednesday: Books I’m Thankful For

top5wedfloral

I haven’t done Top 5 anything in a while, but I thought I could give this week’s Top 5 Wednesday a shot! The topic is Top 5 Books You Are Thankful For.  It ended up being…a little demoralizing.  Let me explain. When I first saw the topic, my mind immediately jumped to books with f/f pairings, just because this has been on my mind lately.  In particular, YA books with f/f pairings. But as I went through my list of books read this year, I realized that none of the books I’ve read this year feature any prominent f/f pairings.  There is a thread on Twitter that recently talked about how few f/f books there are in YA and in fantasy, particularly compared to m/m, and f/f books tends to be sidelined as “special interest” or something.  All of which is to say: please, please, recommend f/f books to me! Preferably fantasy, but I will take contemporary as well! Give me recs guys!!!

Anyway, I didn’t mean to turn this into an essay on the state of the YA market. Despite the aforementioned blow, I did manage to find five books I am thankful for, and for various reasons! In no particular order:

20764879A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab: Aside from being a spectacularly written book with incredible tension and a romance that makes me giggle (a rare thing), A Gathering of Shadows also features Lila Bard, an absolute tour de force of a character. So often women with magic are reluctant to use their powers or stumble into them. Not so with Lila.  Lila actively seeks out her power. She is not frightened by her abilities; she is impressed by them. She wants to be the most powerful of them all, so she trains as hard as she can, even when others tell her not to. She takes ridiculous risks and she’s full of herself and she’s not frightened of anything. She is an absolutely incredible woman, an incredibly written female character, and I am so thankful she exists.


31123249Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali: This was one of my favorite books of the year.  Ali writes about Muslim community with such grace, such love, such complexity! In Ali’s book, Muslims were real and human, lovable and flawed, loving and cruel.  Ali wrote about a niqabi who also happens to be an outspoken badass – talk about flipping the stereotype of oppressed Muslim women right on its head! The narrator is witty and engaging, and the writing is high-quality. I am thankful this book exists because it is such a great example of diversity in literature done right.


33574143The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Probably one of the stranger books I’ve read this year, but also one of my favorites! It’s a novel of manners a la Jane Austen with a touch of magic (telekinesis, to be specific). At its heart, it’s a romance. However, what drew me to it was the elegant writing, the prettily crafted world, and the compelling main characters.  The moment I finished this book I was inspired to write a novel of manners of my own (Egyptian inspired, in my case). So, I am thankful this book exists, because without it, I wouldn’t have my current WIP, which is one of my favorite projects that I’m working on.


29396738Monstress by Marjorie Liu: This one’s a little different, since it’s a graphic novel. I don’t normally read those, but I was drawn to Monstress.  Let me quote the Goodreads summary at you so you understand why: “Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.” I mean. Need I even say more? This book is absolutely wild, so freaking original, with that overwhelming epicness that so many fantasy books strive for but don’t achieve. I am thankful that something this original exists.


16235Sister of my Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: Not only am I partial to f/f relationships, I am super fond of friendships between women. Sister of my Heart features one of the most beautiful, intimate, and enduring friendships between two women that I’ve ever seen.  Two girls, Anju and Sudha, from different worlds, grow up together, close as sisters, and their love for each other goes beyond anything.  There were so many beautiful scenes in this book, but the one that I remember most clearly is Anju watching Sudha look at the moon. Sudha is topless, but her hair is covering her chest, and Anju is thinking she is beautiful.  There were of course flaws in this book, and I’m sure if I went back and looked with a more critical eye I would find them. But I don’t want to. As much as I want to go back and reread this book I’m afraid reading it now, with my more critical eye, might ruin it for me. So I am simply thankful this book has given me such a beautiful and powerful female friendship to think about.