Is it really the last week of 2018?? How crazy is that? I could swear that not too long ago, I started reading my first book of the year. And now, 51 weeks and 53 fiction reads later, Christmas has come and gone and 2019 is around the corner. I hope you’ve enjoyed your December holidays so far, and any New Year’s plans you have are fun, warm, and safe. ❤
Out of the 11 books I finished reading over the fall, I’m highlighting my nine favorites in today’s post. The funny thing is, I’m also working on my Favorite Fiction Reads of 2018 post, which will go live in mid-January… and you’ll hear about some of these books again then. No spoilers, though – you’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out which books made that list. Until then, enjoy these reviews! And feel free to visit each book’s Goodreads page by clicking on its title.
Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA Magical Realism)
Blanca & Roja is the latest in a growing line of surreal and gorgeously written novels by Anna-Marie McLemore. The del Cisne girls, “good girl” Blanca and spitfire Roja, are desperate to outsmart their family’s curse: In each generation of sisters, one will remain human and the other will become a swan. Their plight grows more complicated, and their fiercely loyal bond tested, when two missing boys reappear in their backyard as a bear and a cygnet. This story is loosely inspired by Swan Lake and “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” with a rich infusion of Latinx mythology / culture and sensitive portrayals of disabled and genderqueer characters. The blurb paints Blanca and Roja as rivals, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite their differences, they’re determined to do whatever it takes to save one another – and, in the process, defy others’ expectations of who they should be.
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab (MG Paranormal Fantasy)
Yes, Victoria Schwab writes speculative fiction for adults (as V.E. Schwab), teens, AND children! City of Ghosts is her latest Middle Grade novel, a spooky yet sweet story about 12-year-old Cassidy, who’s been able to “cross the Veil” between the living and the dead since her near-drowning. When her ghost-hunter parents are hired to host a TV show about the world’s most haunted cities, they take Cassidy along to Edinburgh, Scotland – and Cassidy, with her best friend Jacob (who happens to be a ghost), has good reason to be anxious about the trip. If it sounds dark for younger readers, don’t worry too much. There’s plenty of humor, tenderness, and adventure for kids to enjoy, and enough balance between all its facets for adults to be pleasantly surprised.
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin (Speculative Fiction Short Story Collection)
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? is N.K. Jemisin’s first short story collection, and boy is it as fantastic as her novels. The sheer breadth of worlds, conflicts, and subgenres she explores here are astounding. Alien invasions in which adults must “feed” children to their new masters. Street kids harnessing the ancient powers of their home cities. A Haitian spy seeking technology to aid in her country’s uprising against the French in an alternate 19th century New Orleans. Mythical creatures haunting the streets of a hurricane-ravaged town. But the variety and incredible worldbuilding (the latter of which is already one of Jemisin’s hallmarks) are only part of this volume’s appeal. If you pay close attention, you’ll recognize the interwoven themes of race, power, revolution, discovery, and justice – themes that play significant roles in Jemisin’s longer works, and are especially relevant in our world right now.
Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor (YA Fantasy)
Laini Taylor picks up where she left off in this sequel to last year’s Strange the Dreamer. So if you haven’t read the first book, you really should before starting this romantic, haunting, genre-bending finale. Despite some early overwritten chapters and a new storyline that’s initially confusing, Muse of Nightmares ripples with tension and electric emotions, especially once the big picture starts to make sense. This book’s greatest strength, though? The thoughtful way in which Taylor draws sympathy for the main antagonists by exploring their past trauma and heartache through flashbacks and dreams. Her awareness of how all characters experience pain and suffering adds gravity and poignancy to the story, and shapes it into a reminder of how love and hatred can influence our choices – or blind us to less devastating options.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (Magical Realism)
Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic follows Gillian and Sally Owens, orphaned girls who grow up watching love-sick women buy potions from their “witchy” aunts and vow to never give in to their heart’s desires. Eventually they go their separate ways and – of course – get married, only to reunite years later and come to terms with past mistakes, new passions, and their own tense yet tender bond. Admittedly Hoffman’s style relies heavily on “head-hopping” and exposition, which are two of my biggest pet peeves as a reader. But for some reason, they didn’t bother me so much in Practical Magic. I got to know Gillian, Sally, and Sally’s two daughters well; and I felt like I was watching the story’s events from over their shoulders. Plus, the romance doesn’t overshadow the emphasis on family, and the magical realism elements infuse the story with humor, darkness, and light.
A Room Away From The Wolves by Nova Ren Suma (YA Magical Realism)
I’ve learned to expect Nova Ren Suma’s stories to be eerie, evocative, and so nuanced that they beg for a second reading. A Room Away From The Wolves is no different. Troubled, withdrawn Bina runs away to New York City to stay at Catherine House, a young women’s boarding house where her mother once sought refuge. There, she finds herself drawn to her downstairs neighbor Monet, a reckless, secretive girl who wears colorful wigs and spins lies as easily as she breathes. The more time Bina spends with Monet, and the longer she stays at Catherine House, the deeper she delves into its mysteries – and the more she realizes how impossible it might be for her to leave. Told in poetic, voice-driven prose, this is a breathtaking but unsettling urban tale about the cryptic nature of deception, the desperate search for belonging, and the tenuous relationship between a daughter and her mother.
Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young (YA Fantasy)
In this Viking-inspired YA fantasy, a young warrior named Eelyn is captured by a rival clan after she discovers her older brother (whom Eelyn swears died in battle years earlier) has survived… and now fights for the enemy. Her hatred and resentment make her desperate to escape home. But everything changes when Eelyn realizes her “enemies” aren’t much different from her – and a third, legendary clan threatens to destroy everything and everyone she knows. The plot is predictable and trope-laden, and the worldbuilding could have been more developed. But for what Sky in the Deep lacks in originality, it makes up for in heart. The characters are flawed and well-drawn, especially Eelyn, whose path from prejudice to compassion proves she’s more than a physically capable fighter. Adrienne Young’s vivid yet understated prose is also a highlight, peeling open Eelyn’s conflicting emotions and painting clear pictures of the subarctic setting. Bleak and brutally violent at times, this tale of family, loyalty, and survival needs no magic to wield its raw, powerful message.
Starless by Jacqueline Carey (Fantasy)
I should be finished with Starless by the time this post goes live… and so far, I LOVE IT. ❤ Its protagonist, Khai, grows up in the deep desert, training as a warrior and spy in preparation of one day serving as protector of the princess Zariya. Yet there’s so much Khai soon learns he’s unprepared for: the truth about his identity, the intrigue within the court of the Sun-Blessed, the whims of the gods who dwell the earth – and the rise of a dark god who threatens to destroy everything Khai and Zariya cherish. The worldbuilding is incredible, the prose lush yet not overdone, and the characters… Oh my goodness. Starless‘s cast is fascinating as a whole, but I really appreciate how Carey nurtures empathy for Khai, a girl raised as a boy, through his first-person perspective. I can feel his joy, discomfort, pride, and anguish as he experiences it. This novel oozes humanity with its tender yet candid portrayal of genderqueer and disabled characters (Zariya uses canes to help her walk and has a respiratory condition), and it reminds me why reading is so, so important.
Vengeful by V.E. Schwab (Fantasy / Superheroes)
Supervillains, anti-superheroes – whatever you like to call Victor Vale and Eli Ever, they make their thrilling return in Vengeful, V.E. Schwab’s sequel to Vicious. Five years have passed, and life continues to be complicated for the former-college-roommates-turned-rivals with ExtraOrdinary abilities. A new organization has also emerged to contain, observe, and (in some cases) neutralize EOs. And in Merit, where everything began over 10 years earlier, a female EO threatens to destroy the city – and pit Eli and Victor against each other once again. It’s a gripping, wild ride that marries the themes of power, feminism, and deception in a surprisingly moving way. Or, rather, I found it moving, given what was going on politically in the States at the time.
What I’m Planning to Read Over the Winter
For me, winter is a great time to catch up on older titles in my TBR as well as any new books from the previous year that I haven’t gotten to yet. So that’s my plan for the next season of reading, along with a couple brand new releases. Here are five books in particular that I’m looking forward to:
- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
- Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
- Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
What books did you read over the fall? Have you read any of the books mentioned in this post?