Did anyone else have a weird season of reading? For my first few books of 2019, I’d love or enjoy one book, then be disappointed by the next one. I was even worried that I’d fall into a reading slump – and I think we can agree that those are never pleasant.
Luckily that back-and-forth didn’t last long. (Hooray!) So out of the 10 fiction books I read over the winter, I’m highlighting seven of them in today’s post. And I have to admit, I like this season’s round-up a LOT. It features a great mix of genres, a couple “hidden gems” that deserve more attention, and a couple early contenders for Favorite New Book of 2019. 😉
Ready for some new book recommendations? Let’s start with…
The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan (YA Contemporary)
What does a soon-to-be high school senior do when her best friend and other classmates are busy touring colleges and preparing their applications? She starts training in live-performance escape acts, of course! 🙂 Quirky and nuanced, Erin Callahan’s The Art of Escaping is a refreshing tale about unexpected friendship, the risks of leading a double life, and embracing your authenticity. It’s also one of the few YA contemporaries I’ve read that sidesteps romance. Instead, it focuses on the deepening trust between Mattie, a budding escapologist trying to hide her dangerous hobby from her family, and Will, who’s struggling with his own secret. It took me a while to get used to Mattie’s and Will’s unique “voices,” especially since Mattie can be sarcastic and tough-minded. But once I did, and as the laughs kept coming (OMG this book is HILARIOUS in spots!), I really enjoyed it.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (YA Historical Fiction)
Between Shades of Gray sheds light on a World War II subject that’s rarely discussed in literature: Stalin’s genocide of the Baltic peoples. It focuses on one Lithuanian girl’s deportation with her mother and younger brother to labor camps in Siberia. The prose is simplistic and at times disjointed, but it doesn’t detract from the harrowing, unflinching portrayals of the brutal conditions and depravity that Lina, her family, and other deportees experienced. The well-drawn characters and the seamless interweaving of flashbacks into Lina’s narrative also make worthwhile. If you’re going to read this bittersweet yet ultimately uplifting book, though, read it to educate yourself on this little-known part of such a heavily chronicled war. Have tissues ready before the end, too.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Dystopian)
For anyone who hasn’t read it or watched the Hulu TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a near-future New England where a totalitarian regime forces women with healthy reproductive systems (“Handmaids”) to produce children for the men in their society’s ruling class. (And that’s only the beginning of its atrocities.) The protagonist, Offred, is a Handmaid; and she shares her story by detailing her day-to-day life in her latest assignment, immersing readers in a world of strict dress codes, religious fanaticism, and severely restricted women’s rights. I could go on and on about how strong, vulnerable, and fascinating Offred is and give other compliments about the book, because I have plenty. But the setting is one of the most oppressive patriarchal societies I’ve ever read about – and yes, it might be fictional, but it also seemed horrifyingly real at times.
King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo (YA Fantasy)
Ohhhhhh I was EXCITED when Leigh Bardugo announced she was writing a duology about Nikolai Lantsov, one of my favorite characters from her Grisha Trilogy. And while King of Scars isn’t one of her best books, it’s still a tour de force in character development. The young king Nikolai, with his loyal Grisha general Zoya at his side, must find a way to free himself of his (literal) inner demon while strategizing his way out of yet another war with neighboring countries. Meanwhile, far to the north, Nina (one of the POV characters from Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom) is off on a mission to rescue and recruit persecuted Grisha – until she discovers a terrible secret that compels her to rethink her choices. It takes a while to see how Nina’s and Nikolai’s / Zoya’s storylines are connected. But the dark humor, breathtaking prose, and unexpected vulnerability from each character makes King of Scars well worth your reading time. Though I wouldn’t recommend diving into this one if you haven’t read the Grisha or Six of Crows books yet.
That ending, though… I’m sure some fans love the Big Revelation, but I’m still ambivalent about it.
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (Fantasy)
It’s hard to summarize this finale to Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy without spoiling what happened in the previous books, The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower. What I CAN say about The Winter of the Witch, though, is it’s a satisfying end to the series. Arden further expands on her worldbuilding, introducing new spirits, the realm of Midnight, and one of the most well-known figures of Russian folklore (Baba Yaga) to give Vasya the allies and means for saving both her people and the spirits she’s connected with from the darkest sides of each other. The timeline is confusing at times, but the prose is still gorgeous, the plot and characters engaged me right to the last page, and… well, feelings happened. (*sniffle*) I couldn’t have been happier with this book.
The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky (Historical Fantasy)
One of my favorite research subjects for school was the many indigenous peoples of the U.S. and Canada. So even if I hadn’t read Jordanna Max Brodksy’s Olympus Bound Trilogy, The Wolf in the Whale have leapt onto my radar solely for that reason.
Set in the arctic regions of Canada and Greenland, this is the tale of Omat, an Inuit girl raised as a boy so she can one day be a shaman and commune with nature and animal spirits to protect her people. Life, however, throws many twists and turns her way, and soon the spirits stop listening and her family is on the verge of starvation. Thus, Omat must make sacrifices and difficult choices if she wants to save them. And when she meets a group of Vikings led by the ruthless Freydis Eiríksdóttir, sister of Leif Eiríksson, it leads to a clash between Inuit spirits and Norse gods that could spell disaster for Omat, her people, and everything she holds dear. It’s a beautiful, brutal, heart-rending story that demonstrates the same meticulous research Brodsky had shown with her Olympus Bound books. Except, in my opinion, The Wolf in the Whale is her finest work yet.
The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin (Science Fiction Novella)
Part of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle, The Word for World Is Forest is a chilling look at what happens when humans attempt to colonize an inhabited planet and the relatively peaceful indigenous people resort to violence to resist against the destruction of their home and the enslavement of their kind. The story, characters, and worldbuilding aren’t as well-developed as those in Le Guin’s novels. But the environmental and anticolonialism themes resonated deeply and unexpectedly. Maybe it’s because I started reading Forest on the night I saw the “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin” documentary, where one segment covered Le Guin’s father’s work as an anthropologist, specifically his work with Ishi, the last known member of the Yahi people of California. I don’t know if Le Guin’s sympathy toward Indigenous Americans influenced her to write Forest, but the parallels between them still echo with me today.
What I’m Planning to Read During the Spring
So which books am I most looking forward to reading in the coming season? Here are my top six:
- The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (reading this one right now!)
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (methinks this will be my Iceland travel read *smiles*)
- Night of Cake & Puppets by Laini Taylor
- Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse
- The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, to finish the Mistborn Trilogy
What books did you read over the winter? Have you read any of the books mentioned in this post? What are you looking forward to reading this spring? Speaking of which: Happy first day of spring!