My Favorite Fiction Reads of 2018

Another year has passed, which means another year’s worth of reading to celebrate! Yes, it’s time to share my favorite fiction reads of 2018. And let me tell you: Even though I had a pretty good idea which of the 53 fiction books I finished last year would end up on this list, I’m glad I didn’t share my list right away – because there was a last-minute shake-up!

Like with past best-of reading lists I’ve posted, this year’s showcases my 10 favorite brand new books of 2018 and 10 favorite previously published books. Unlike past years, though, I’ve made two notable changes. First, goodness, there were too many close calls when I tried ranking the books from #1 to #10! So I opted for alphabetical listing by title instead. Second, and sadly, no giveaway this year. As fun as giveaways can be, I can’t give one the attention it needs right now. So I hope you understand my need for keeping things simple, and you still enjoy reading this post regardless.

Ready to dive into the first list? 😉

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The Creativity Corner: Summer 2018 (Plus, A Question for Readers)

So… in terms of writing, this summer turned out much differently than I’d expected it to. If you read last week’s post on losing the passion for a writing project, then you know part of the story. (More on that shortly.) Yet it wasn’t an unproductive or disappointing season. In fact, some good things happened, like continued excitement about A Literary Tea Party, the cookbook I recently wrote an introduction for. And who knows, there may be more news to share in the future. 😉

I know, I’m being a tease. But one thing that’s clear? The second part of the blog post title. I might be making some changes to this series, and I’d appreciate any input that you, the reader, may have.

Let’s dive in so I can explain things in more detail.

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New DIY MFA Article, Plus a Note About My Recent Blogging Absence

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Every story, regardless of its length, pulses with literary themes at its heart. So for this week’s edition of “Theme: A Story’s Soul” at DIY MFA, I turn the column’s focus from novels to short stories. With the help of examples from authors Alethea Black and Ted Chiang, we’ll explore how short stories effectively examine their themes despite – or maybe because of – their word count restrictions and smaller “big picture.”

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Sara’s Favorite Reads of 2017 (Plus, Another Double Giveaway!)

Isn’t it fun to look back on the books you’ve read in the past year? I always enjoy doing this, though I also prefer to wait until January to share my lists of favorites. Somehow the books I read around Christmas and New Year’s have a habit of shaking up those lists – and that certainly was the case again!

Out of the 56 fiction books I read in 2017, I’ve narrowed my favorites down to a top 10 of brand new books and a top 10 of previously published books. Plus, like with my Favorite Reads of 2016 post, I’ve added something fun for readers at the end of this post. 😉 So let’s dive in!

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Recent Reads: May 2016

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Recent Reads is a monthly reading wrap-up, with mini-reviews of all the books I finished in the past month. I’ll also share what I’m currently reading and any other books that are in the pipeline. Want to share your bookish happenings, too? Feel free to do so in the Comments section at the end!

You know what I realized while finishing this post? Next month is July, when writers and bloggers celebrate the year’s halfway point by looking past on their 2016 reads and achievements so far. I’m not ready for that yet! :S

Mind-boggles aside, I managed to read five books during May. Out of those five, I’m reviewing four, including two brand-new YA fantasies, an eerie children’s classic about the Fey / Fair Folk, and a novella collection set in one of the most popular fantasy worlds at the moment. Which one was my Read of the Month? Let’s find out!

By the way, I’m still taking votes and suggestions for next month’s blogoversary! Click here to check out the poll and share your feedback before Thursday, June 16th.
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My 10 Favorite Reads of 2014

It’s here finally: the list of my 10 favorite books I read in 2014! I held off on posting this as long as I could, thanks to a last-minute contender I flew through just before year’s end. Now I feel confident about which books made the final cut – and to be honest, my pick for #1 was a super-easy choice. 😉

With one exception, each entry contains a link to my full review and an excerpt from said review that best explains why I enjoyed the book. I was going to write a new paragraph for each entry, but then I realized I didn’t have anything new to add apart from what I had already said before. So, why repeat myself?

One important note: This list contains books I read this year, regardless of the year they were originally published. I didn’t read enough novels that were published this year to create a Top 10 solely of 2014 releases.

So, here they are, starting with…  Continue reading

Playing Harry Potter Spell Book Tag!

Sumaira at Hyper About Books recently shared her Harry Potter Spell Book Tag list and challenged anyone who read it to take part in the game. Well, I couldn’t resist – I mean, we’re talking about Harry Potter, folks! So, here are the ten books I’ve chosen for my round of Harry Potter Spell Book Tag.

1. Expecto Patronum — A childhood book connected to good memories

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Elizabeth Koda-Callan’s Magic Charm Books: Each story tells of a little girl’s struggle to believe in herself using examples such as learning to dance, being cast in the lead role of a school play, and coping with the birth of a new sibling. As a child, I felt connected to the main characters because they were about my age and I could relate to their experiences. What made the Magic Charm Books so special, though, were the necklaces that came with each book. Koda-Callan obviously knew that children often need something tangible to help them apply the lessons they learn. What better – and prettier! – way to help little girls remember the Magic Charm Books’ messages of courage and self-confidence than by offering a necklace with a charm that symbolizes each book’s unique story? Continue reading

Recent Reads: “Tales From Earthsea” by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Tales From Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin
Fantasy / Short Stories / Novellas

Synopsis:

The tales of this book, as Ursula K. Le Guin writes in her introduction, explore or extend the world established by her first four Earthsea novels. Yet each stands on its own.

“The Finder,” a novella set a few hundred years before A Wizard of Earthsea, presents a dark and troubled Archipelago and shows how some of its customs and institutions came to be. “The Bones of the Earth” features the wizards who taught the wizard who first taught Ged and demonstrates how humility, if great enough, can contend with an earthquake. “Darkrose and Diamond” is a delightful story of young courtship showing that wizards sometimes pursue alternative careers. “On the High Marsh” tells of the love of power – and of the power of love. “Dragonfly” shows how a determined woman can break the glass ceiling of male magedom.

Concluding with an account of Earthsea’s history, people, languages, literature, and magic, this collection also features two new maps of Earthsea.

Rating: 4.5 / 5, and *Unputdownable*

First things first: I adore Ursula Le Guin’s work. I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read of hers so far (you can read my reviews of Lavinia, Changing Planes, and The Tombs of Atuan here at the blog), and I usually read them shortly after purchasing because I can’t wait to find out where her imagination will take me next. The latter point explains why I was shocked when I couldn’t recall a thing about Tales From Earthsea, even though I swore I’d read it a couple years ago. Now I have, and I can say with confidence that it’s found a place in my heart and bookshelf next to Le Guin’s full-length novels.

Tales From Earthsea expands the Earthsea universe with five short stories taking place before and in between Le Guin’s previously written novels. Two novellas bookend the collection: “The Finder,” which recounts the life of the mage Medra, including his role in the founding of the prestigious wizardry school on Roke Island; and “Dragonfly,” where the eponymous heroine defies the long-held “Rule of Roke” (prohibiting women from receiving formal training on magic) while discovering her true identity. The other three stories explore a young man’s desire to follow his heart instead of others’ expectations (“Darkrose and Diamond”) and bring back beloved characters such as the wizard Ged (“On The High Marsh”) and his first mentor Ogion (“The Bones of the Earth”). Finally, “A Description of Earthsea” is Le Guin’s equivalent to Tolkein’s Middle-Earth appendices, presenting some of the author’s world-building and history of the lands she’s so vividly created.

Overall, I enjoyed Tales From Earthsea, though two of its tales touched me more deeply than I would have ever imagined. I really connected with Medra in “The Finder,” as he evolved from a vengeful untrained boy-wizard to a courageous, empathetic man who respected and feared his gift. When Medra was in danger, I was terrified for him; and when the darkness and suffering he endured had broken him down to his state in the final “chapter,” my heart wept for him. “On The High Marsh” evoked a similar reaction from me with Otak / Irioth. He comes across as kindly yet deeply troubled at first, but it’s not until late in the story that I understood his discreet search for self-redemption and prayed for his success. The only tale that didn’t resonate with me was “The Bones of the Earth.” It bored me after a few pages, though in hindsight I’ve had a hard time pinpointing why.

What I love most about Le Guin’s work, though, is her distinctive writing style. Graceful yet clear, concise yet at times abstract, it strikes a delicate balance between imagery, wisdom, and the soul. While writing short stories requires a different knack than writing novels, the prose in Tales From Earthsea doesn’t suffer from the shorter length or timespan covered or the snappy pacing. It’s similar to the ease Le Guin shows when switching between fantasy and science fiction – and witnessing such consistency from a versatile writer is a rare delight.

And when an author you love continues to surprise you each time – or spark possible short story ideas for your own work (*raises her hand high*) – you know they’re a master of their craft. Tales From Earthsea is yet another jewel to add to Le Guin’s writing crown. She offers new glimpses into the people, settings, and conflicts of Earthsea, while maintaining the spirit that makes this beguiling universe – and Le Guin’s writing in general – so unique and beautiful. Long-time “visitors” of Earthsea will relish this volume and its insights. For newbies, however, I recommend reading the first four Earthsea books (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu) before reading Tales From Earthsea because of the returning characters and concepts from the earlier novels.

NOTE: The Studio Ghibli / Goro Miyazaki film “Tales From Earthsea” isn’t based on the book Tales From Earthsea. Instead, it’s loosely adapted from Ursula Le Guin’s third Earthsea novel The Farthest Shore and contains elements and characters from other Earthsea novels.

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Deciding whether to buy Tales From Earthsea from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”