It’s been a while since I’ve done a seasonal write-up on what I’ve read recently – and boy, it feels good to do one again. Maybe it’s because I read some FANTASTIC books over the past couple months, including a few that might end up near the top of my year-end favorites list. But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? We still have three months left in 2018. Who knows how the rest of the year will play out reading-wise, for all of us? 😉
Anyway. Over the summer, I read 13 books, bringing my year-to-date total to 41. Out of those 13, the eight I’m highlighting today are ones I rated 4 stars or higher on Goodreads. (You might be able to guess a few of them from the banner image above. *wink*) If you’d like to check out my complete review of any of these books on Goodreads, click the link in each book’s title.
My Favorite Fiction Reads of Summer 2018
Circe by Madeline Miller (Mythological Retelling)
I try to avoid clichés when discussing a book, but “bewitching” and “ambrosial” are perfect for this reimagining of the tale of Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios and the sorceress in Homer’s The Odyssey. It chronicles her girlhood as a lonely misfit in her father’s halls, to her discovery of transformation-based witchcraft, to her deserted-island exile and her impact on some of Greek mythology’s most famous figures. I was deeply drawn in by the characters, the setting, the magic, the prose – everything about this book, really. And even though Circe is character-driven, so much happens during the novel’s millennium-plus span, and so we witness Circe’s choices, loves, loneliness, and fears in all their rippling, breathing glory.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (YA Dark Fantasy)
How many YA fantasies with an anti-heroine have you read? Not many, I’m guessing? Then consider Forest of a Thousand Lanterns a work of rarely traveled territory, and one that’s done surprisingly well. Julie C. Dao puts an East Asian spin on the Evil Queen legend, crafting a young villainess-in-the-making who aspires to fulfill the destiny shown in her aunt’s oracle cards. But in order for Xifung to become who she’s meant to be, she must use the magic that’s within her – magic that comes alive when she eats the hearts of those recently killed. Darkly atmospheric and smartly paced, this book favors ambition over romance and is full of sensual detail, moral dilemmas, and unexpected vulnerability. Because even though Xifung knows what she wants, it doesn’t mean that her choices are easy – or that they won’t break her heart.
Guardian by A.J. Hartley (YA Steampunk Mystery)
What a finale to Hartley’s Steeplejack series! It’s also the most political book in the series, continuing to explore the themes of race and social justice through events that feel like they were ripped from recent headlines. The stakes for Anglet and the people of Bar-Selehm, especially the black and colored populations, are so high that I spent most of Guardian terrified for Ang and the other characters I cared about. This book (and the series as a whole) may take place in a fictional setting, but it deserves to be in the same conversation with well-known contemporary novels like Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and Ibi Zoboi’s American Street.
The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin (Fantasy)
After loving Jemisin’s Inheritance and Broken Earth trilogies, I read both of her Dreamblood novels over the summer. The Killing Moon is the first book in the series; and without getting into too much detail, it’s about assassin priests, two neighboring countries on the brink of war, and the realm of dreams. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is phenomenal once again, combining Freudian dream psychology with ancient Egypt and Nubia to create a setting that feels ancient, hypnotic, and surreal. The twists didn’t surprise me as much as those in other Jemisin novels have, but the story was still intriguing, the ending haunting, and the character relationships intricate and complex. I also read its sequel The Shadowed Sun, but found it a little disturbing.
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear (Fantasy)
This first book in Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky Trilogy acts more like the first third of a larger story than a standalone novel launching a series. In a continent inspired by 12th and 13th century Central Asia (think the Middle East, Mongolia, and China stretch of the Silk Road), the grandson of the late Great Khan and a princess-turned-wizard join forces against a sorcerous cult that threatens all of the peoples living under the Eternal Sky. By the end of the book, it’s clear their work has only just begun. But the thrilling climax and the satisfying ending balance the thin line between closure and cliffhanger surprisingly well. And everything leading up to those scenes – deception and intrigue, human-tiger hybrids and giant hawks, a vividly rendered setting, and well-rounded characters – make Range of Ghosts a breathtaking introduction to a mystical world on the verge of all-out war.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Time Travel / Romance)
Somehow I had an inaccurate impression of what The Time Traveler’s Wife would be about. So a large number of the “romantic” scenes seemed… weird, I guess? (You can “unhide” the spoiler alerts in my Goodreads review if you’d like to know more.) But other aspects of this time travel / magical realism classic are brilliant. The nonlinear structure, Henry’s ability to involuntarily slip back and forth through time, the consequences of that ability that impact Henry and his loved ones, a cast of layered and realistic characters, the questions that Niffenegger raises about love, fate versus choice, and time’s impact on relationships… It’s an intricate, thought-provoking story with a premise that’s more haunting that it seems, especially once you read the last 50 pages.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (Urban Fantasy)
I remember researching Indigenous American peoples in school and developing an admiration for their ways of life (and sympathy for the atrocities they endured at the hands of white people). So I was thrilled to hear about Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning (Roanhorse is a member of Ohkay Owingeh and a Navajo in-law), and now I’ll sing from the rooftops for it. This book is set in the Navajo reservation, or Dinétah, after climate change results in a mostly flooded America and follows monster-hunter Maggie Hoskie as she attempts to find a missing girl – and discovers a monster that is more terrifying than anything she’s ever seen. It’s gritty, action-packed, and full of the biting humor and horrific creatures you’d expect from urban fantasy. But thanks to its flawed kick-butt protagonist, the deep delving into Navajo culture and lore, and moments of raw vulnerability, it’s a truly compelling read.
The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan (Fantasy)
I need to stop borrowing books from my friends – because I usually want my own copy afterwards! (*lol*) That was the case with The Tropic of Serpents, the second installment of Marie Brennan’s fictional memoirs about dragon naturalist Lady Isabella Trent. This book sees Isabella and two of her colleagues off on an expedition to the tropical, Africa-inspired continent of Eriga to study – what else? – more dragons. And like in A Natural History of Dragons, she manages to get herself embroiled in trouble along the way. 😉 There’s so much to enjoy in this book, but Isabella herself continues to be the biggest draw for me. She may be a scholar at heart, but her courage for science’s sake, complicated relationship with motherhood, and empathy for the people of Eriga make her incredibly believable and endearing.
What I’m Planning to Read This Fall
Between a few brand-newbies coming out this fall and my TBR pile, here are some of the books I’m planning to read over the next couple months:
- Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
- The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
- Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
- Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
- Vengeful by V.E. Schwab
What books did you read over the summer? Did you enjoy any enough that they might end up being among your favorites in 2018? What are you hoping to read over the fall?