In 2016, I managed to read 300 books. I’m pretty damn proud of that. But getting my first job – part-time that became full-time – plus various health issues and actually attempting to have some kind of social life – all slowed me down a lot. This year has been especially sucky in terms of reading; I’ve been slow, distracted, and found it hard to focus even on books I’ve been anticipating for years.
So far this year I have read 105 books – and a bunch of those are individual episodes of Tremontaine, the amazing Serial Box prequel to the Riverside series. I kind of feel like marking episodes is cheating, but…well. If it’s listed on Goodreads, it counts, right?
ANYWAY. Here are some of the year’s highlights so far!The Mortal Sleep (Hollow Folk, #4) by Gregory Ashe
Representation: mlm, Gay Male, Bisexual Male, Mental Health
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Months have passed since the events at Belshazzar’s Feast. Vie Eliot, reluctant psychic and self-appointed defender of the small Wyoming town called Vehpese, knows that trouble is coming, but for the time being, he wants to spend as many happy days as he can with his boyfriend.
Until one night, two men arrive and blow up a car. They threaten to do more damage unless Vie leaves town. Immediately.
That same night, a woman appears at Vie’s door, asking Vie to look for her missing children. The job seems simple: they have been taken by their estranged father. But in Vehpese, nothing is simple—especially not the disappearances of children.
As Vie searches for the children, he discovers that he is not the only one looking for them. Worse, Urho Rattling-Tent and Lady Buckhardt, a seemingly immortal pair of supernatural creatures who have plagued the area for centuries, have begun to assemble an army, and Vie and his friends are outmatched. As time begins to run out for the missing children, Vie draws closer to a final battle with Lady Buckhardt and Urho, a battle he knows he is not prepared to win.
Before he can conquer his physical demons, Vie must find answers about himself and his own past and what he has heard other supernaturals call the mortal sleep. Those answers might give him the knowledge he needs to defeat Urho and Lady Buckhardt—if the truth doesn’t break Vie first.
There’s nothing I can say about this series that hasn’t been said far more eloquently by Kathy over at Pages Below the Vaulted Sky. I’m grateful for these books not just because they take my breath away, but because Kathy and I bonded over them, and she is both ridiculously awesome and an amazing blogger (her belated best of 2018 post is a literal work of art). There have been many, many wonderful books in my life, but only one or two have made me new friends. So entirely aside from the fact that the Hollow Folk series is the best thing, these books actually changed my life in that way too – and thus started me down the path that led directly to me starting my own book blog.
So they’ve had a major impact on me, is what I’m saying here!
My brain fritziness meant it took me a while to finish book two, but I devoured book three and then spent the early part of this year on tenterhooks waiting for the last, final instalment in the series.
It ripped my heart out. I sobbed. I have teared up over books; I have shrieked out loud; I have ranted and raved; I have occasionally had to curl up in a blanket fort with ice-cream and pretend certain books never happened. But only three times in my life has a book actually broken me, and Mortal Sleep – book four of the Hollow Folk series, the finale – is the third of those.
So what are these books actually about? The short version: an abused, slightly-psychic teenager gets sent to live with his (also abusive) dad in the middle of nowhere. Over the course of the series he finds out that his powers are a lot more extensive than he ever thought, falls in love, fights to be a better, less fucked-up person, and pits himself against a collective of seriously evil people with superpowers of their own.
And that really doesn’t do any justice to the books at all – it makes them sound so generically YA, when they’re anything but. These books are raw and gorgeous and horrifying, and so real that the fourth wall breaks down and you’re basically living the story, not reading it. Every character, every emotion, every conversation – they’re all so real, down to the awkwardness and mistakes and fuck-ups the cast go through. These characters read like actual teenagers, and they’ll break your heart to pieces, and you still won’t be able to put the books down.
You need to read these, okay?Mirage (Mirage, #1) by Somaiya Daud
Representation: PoC, Colonialism
Genres: Sci Fi
In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.
But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.
As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.
I was late to the party on this one, for which I’m kicking myself, but good gods was it incredible! Daud’s writing is lyrical and stunning, and the fact that even I (who never see twists coming) could predict every plot-point really doesn’t matter; not when the writing is such a joy to read and Amani (the main character and first-person narrator) is such an incredible protagonist. She’s so much softer than most of the YA heroines I’ve seen lately; not in the sense that she’s weak (anything but!) but…she’s just so full of compassion and love, in a way that never rings false. Her heartfelt devotion to her faith also really touched me – besides the fact that the religion Daud has created is just really interesting to me, main characters don’t tend to be religious very often. Not like this, anyway; I’ve seen more fanatical religious characters, whose faith is – it’s like steel, cold and rigid and unbreakable. But Amani is devoted, not fanatical, and I didn’t realise there was so much of a difference until it was on the page in front of me.
It almost goes without saying that this is is very much a story about colonialism and cultural identity. I don’t feel like I have much of a cultural identity myself (besides generic Whiteness) because we moved around the globe so much when I was growing up, so this is usually something I don’t connect to very well in books. But Daud conveys it incredibly well here; while I’ve always been happy to accept that cultural identity is a thing, Amani helped me actually get it for the first time. It’s a whole added layer of horror to Amani’s story, but also adds an incredible amount of depth, too, and is part of what makes Mirage stand out from the crowd.
I mean, I feel like this is a story we’ve seen dozens of times, but Daud makes it feel fresh and new and un-put-downable. I can’t wait for the sequel!Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Portia Rosenberg
Representation: Secondary PoC characters
Genres: Historical Fantasy
Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me...
The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French.
Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.
I read this for the first time over a decade ago, but I’d forgotten so much my reread felt like the first time cracking open the covers. This is a deliciously massive tome written with a subtle snarkiness that reminds me more of Good Omens than anything else, although the themes are very different! More than anything, this is one of my happy books, books that simply delight me; it took me months and months to read, but it quickly became the book I reached for whenever I felt down or upset. It’s not that it’s a fluff-story (though there’s nothing wrong with those!), but it draws you in and draws you along and it’s just fun? Even when it touches on things that are pretty horrible, there’s something about it that makes it so easy to read, and I loved all the twists and turns!
If by some odd chance you haven’t read this before, I really think you should give it a try. Don’t be intimidated by the length! Time goes faster when you’re having fun, and the same definitely applies to pages!The Perfect Assassin (The Chronicles of Ghadid, #1) by K.A. Doore
Representation: PoC, Asexual Homoromantic lead
Genres: Secondary World Fantasy
A novice assassin is on the hunt for someone killing their own in K. A. Doore's The Perfect Assassin, a breakout high fantasy beginning the Chronicles of Ghadid series.
Divine justice is written in blood.
Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.
Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.
Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.
This is a book about an asexual, homoromantic assassin. I mean. Do you really need me to tell you anything else?!
In all seriousness though, Doore has crafted an incredibly believable world (fans of Glenda Larke’s Stormlord/Watergivers trilogy should definitely check in if you’re looking for another excellent water-revering desert setting) with a wonderful cast of characters – featuring, but not at all limited to, the badass cinnamon roll Amastan. And with the caveat that I don’t read books about assassins very often, the social function of Doore’s assassins was really interesting – I feel like even extreme pacifists are likely to, if not agree with, at least see where these particular assassins are coming from. Personally I’m strongly anti-death penalty, but I thought it worked well in this world and setting – it made sense and I was willing to go along with it. It helped enormously that this is nowhere near grimdark (I still haven’t made it through the third Night Angel book because urgh, I just Do Not Want that level of horrifying violence and general evil, okay?) Perfect Assassin is part murder-investigation, part coming-of-age, and part love story, which – I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen an asexual romance in a traditionally published work??? And it was wonderful??? As a panromantic ace, this book made me hug my e-reader. Representation matters, y’all.In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4) by Seanan McGuire
Genres: Portal Fantasy
This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.
When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she's found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.
The Wayward Children series keeps going strong (have you pre-ordered book 5 yet? No? WHY NOT?) and In an Absent Dream might actually have unseated Every Heart a Doorway as my favourite installment in the series. Set long before EHaD, IaAD is the story of Lundy, one of the teachers at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Specifically, it’s the story of how she found her door and what she found behind it – the Goblin Market, which some of you folklore/fantasy buffs out there might recognise (although the Goblin Market originates from a poem by Christina Rossetti, the concept’s been borrowed and reimagined by many, many different books). The version presented in IaAD, though, is unquestionably my favourite iteration: beautiful and strange, it functions on strict rules that, rather than being suffocating, made my inner child tear up (in a good way).
You see, this Goblin Market is built on – and mercilessly enforces – fairness. Remember being a child (we’ll pretend none of us do it anymore) and crying about how something just wasn’t fair? The Goblin Market is the answer to that cry, and I think that might be one reason the book hit me so hard – it taps into very old hurts (or not so old – forget pretending, who doesn’t look at the world now and want to scream at how unfair so much of it is?) and…well, it doesn’t heal them, but it does show you a fantasy of how fairness could work, and I wanted it so bad. The beauty of it made me ache. I don’t know if my Door would take me to the Market, but I would be beyond delighted if it did.A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1) by Arkady Martine
Representation: Queer Protagonists, PoC, Colonialism
Genres: Sci Fi
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident--or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan's unceasing expansion--all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret--one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life--or rescue it from annihilation.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
I finished this one just a few days ago, and need to write up a review for it! But it’s a big, intricate sci-fi tome with incredibly detailed worldbuilding and I adored every second of it. Reminded me of those epic fantasy-politics books, but with spaceships and neuro-technology instead of dragons and magic.
I suspect this is either a love it or DNF it book; I can definitely see how people not as interested in worldbuilding could get bored – Memory pulls no punches on that front. I was swooning with delight at the long dissections of Teixcalaanli poetry, but it’s really not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s without question one of the best releases this year, though, no matter what the second half of 2019 has to offer us!Darkling (Port Lewis Witches, #1) by Brooklyn Ray
Representation: Trans Male lead
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Port Lewis, a coastal town perched on the Washington cliffs, is surrounded by dense woods, and is home to quaint coffee shops, a movie theater, a few bars, two churches, the local college, and witches, of course.
Ryder is a witch with two secrets—one about his blood and the other about his heart. Keeping the secrets hasn’t been a problem, until a tarot reading with his best friend, Liam Montgomery, who happens to be one of his secrets, starts a chain of events that can’t be undone.
Dark magic runs through Ryder’s veins. The cards have prophesized a magical catastrophe that could shake the foundation of Ryder’s life, and a vicious partnership with the one person he doesn’t want to risk.
Magic and secrets both come at a cost, and Ryder must figure out what he’s willing to pay to become who he truly is.
Word Count: 33200
Blood-letting (consumption of blood)Explicit Sexual ContentDeath and Resurrection of an MCMild Gore (very mild)
Another recent read, and one I am so mad at myself for not getting to sooner! This series has been on my radar for ages – hells, I’ve had Darkling on my Kindle for at least six months – but somehow I never quite got to it. The recent release of the third book in the series, Predatory, brought it back on my radar, at a time when I was struggling to focus on longer, more complicated books. I thought a novella would be a good way to get me back into reading-mode.
That was unfair, because Darkling deserves so much more than that. Again, I need to write up a proper review, but this is an exquisitely written book about a trans witch falling in love while trying to balance his conflicting powers of elemental magic and necromancy. The author has been very insistent in calling this series erotica, and as someone who generally skips over sex scenes, I have to say that the ones written here are amazing??? Oh my gods??? This book sizzles, you guys. I don’t know how erotica is usually defined – I had the vague idea that it means a book is nothing but sex, or almost nothing but sex. Darkling isn’t like that, but the romantic/sexual plotline is at least equally important as the magical conflict, and it’s sexy as hell.
I think what most impresses me is how much Ray fits into this novella – and how perfect the pacing is. Darkling never feels rushed, nor over-full; it’s exactly as long as it needs to be. And like I said, the writing is just gorgeous. I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to start book two!We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire, #1) by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Representation: Queer Protagonists (F/F), PoC, Classicism, Immigration
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Secondary World No Magic
At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.
On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?
Here’s one I did actually review! It’s been hugely hyped, and it deserves every bit of it; it’s a fiercely feminist story with wonderful characters, ones who face and deal with illegal immigration, classism, and enraging levels of misogyny. As I said in my review, it’s very much a Book For 2019 – there’s no way to disconnect it from current events in the world, and I don’t think we’re supposed to. But even if it had been published in a year (and world) less concerned with border walls and refugees and women’s rights, it stands alone as an incredibly well-written book. It’s much more than an ‘issues book’, which I’m sure some people have accused it of being; it’s a damn good story that’ll have your heart in your throat, and I’m already craving the sequel.
(AKA, books I have started, haven’t finished yet, but know I love anyway)
There are the old stories. And then there’s what actually happens.
Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew upon storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn't what the storybooks promised.
Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family's power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.
Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin isn’t destined to save the empire.
He’s destined to destroy it . . .
Uniting the worldbuilding of a Brandon Sanderson with the storytelling verve of a Patrick Rothfuss, debut author Jenn Lyons delivers an entirely new and captivating fantasy epic. Prepare to meet the genre’s next star.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
As I keep saying, I’ve been struggling to focus properly on books for a while. Ruin of Kings is one of the books that has suffered because of this; I’ve been making my way through it very, very slowly. But in a way, that’s also a good thing, because RoK really needs – and deserves – to be savoured. There’s something about RoK that reminds me of Kushiel’s Dart – the intricacy, I think, and the scope of the worldbuilding. RoK is peppered with illuminating footnotes inserted by the fictitious chronicler, whose eyes you can almost see rolling as he comments upon beliefs or opinions expressed by the various characters – he’s a subtly snarky sod, and I love how these footnotes are used to create an unreliable narration, since they often contradict or correct things mentioned in the text; they’re informative, but they also make you wonder who on earth is telling the (objective) truth here. But I am a shallow, shallow person and will freely admit that it’s the dragons, not-elves, and disaster-bi!lead that really have me hooked.
I’m enjoying this one so much!Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...
First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.
The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.
As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?
I don’t usually read contemporary fiction, but really, who could resist that premise? This is rapidly becoming my new Happy Book – one reason I’m going so slowly is that just a page or two is enough to have me grinning or outright giggling no matter how low my mood, so I really don’t want to finish it and lose that.
It’s such fun without being annoyingly simplistic; there are all kinds of things Going On, but the core of it is very much this hilarious sweet feel-good love story. I want to twirl this book on the dancefloor, okay? Preferably in a super glittery dress!The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta
The spellbinding tale of six queer witches forging their own paths, shrouded in the mist, magic, and secrets of the ancient California redwoods.
Danny didn't know what she was looking for when she and her mother spread out a map of the United States and Danny put her finger down on Tempest, California. What she finds are the Grays: a group of friends who throw around terms like queer and witch like they're ordinary and everyday, though they feel like an earthquake to Danny. But Danny didn't just find the Grays. They cast a spell that calls her halfway across the country, because she has something they need: she can bring back Imogen, the most powerful of the Grays, missing since the summer night she wandered into the woods alone. But before Danny can find Imogen, she finds a dead boy with a redwood branch through his heart. Something is very wrong amid the trees and fog of the Lost Coast, and whatever it is, it can kill. Lush, eerie, and imaginative, Amy Rose Capetta's tale overflows with the perils and power of discovery -- and what it means to find your home, yourself, and your way forward.
FROM THE SAME AUTHOR WHO GAVE US THE BRILLIANT DEATH.
I’M STARTING TO BELIEVE AMY ROSE CAPETTA CAN DO NO WRONG, HERE.
And by the way, I haven’t finished Lost Coast OR Brilliant Death yet. Why??? Because they’re both so gorgeous I keep getting overwhelmed by The Awesome and flailing myself off the sofa.
I think that about wraps it up! How has YOUR year been going so far?