A Year in Reading: 2018 Wrap-up

2018 was a good year for me with writing and publishing. I published six books, wrote four (and one that was a failure), did some short fiction, and generally had a great time. I also did more reading than I expected, finishing 100 books! Some of those were my own as I did final read-throughs pre-publication or read back through a series in preparation for writing the next book, but most were new to me. Here are the six that stood out above the rest, in alphabetical order by authors, with links to my full Goodreads reviews:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill: This middle-grade fantasy was simply delightful on all levels. By times humorous and deeply moving, it’s the sort of book that satisfies all ages of readers. It was assigned reading for the fantasy workshop I took in April, but it was on my radar before that–and I’m glad the workshop pushed it up on the TBR list. It has so much to say about family, both the ones we’re born into and the ones we make for ourselves, and I found myself in tears more than once.

Crush, Svetlana Chmakova: I’ve been a fan of Chmakova’s graphic novels for years, but I think her Berrybrook Middle School books are her best work yet. In this third volume, gentle giant Jorge, defender of the weak, is caught up in an unexpected crush on Jazmine–but the story goes so far beyond that into issues of honor and respect and body autonomy without being preachy that it blew me away. I recommend the whole series, starting with Awkward and Brave.

‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King: I am not a reader of horror, and Stephen King’s writing is generally too harsh for my tastes, so I wouldn’t have picked this up if not for the aforementioned fantasy workshop. So I think I loved it more because I was not expecting to love it at all. I read it in two sittings and was never frightened, though it was extremely tense in places. It helped me discover that I only like books about vampires when they’re evil villains; I’d always thought I just didn’t like vampire stories. Probably my love of Dracula should have told me different, huh? But ‘Salem’s Lot was just fantastic.

The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu: Another fantasy workshop book, and here I’m solidly in the minority. Most of the other attendees hated it, but I fell in love with the characters enough that I have no interest in continuing with the series. That really does make sense, I promise. The story ended with everyone happy, but also with hints of how that happiness was going to be destroyed, and I don’t want to see that. The book reads very much like a tapestry, with little gems of stories shining here and there, and it’s also the first epic fantasy I’ve enjoyed in a long time.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: I’d been meaning to read this for a while, ever since my daughter fell in love with it, but it got lost in the pile (I own over 1200 books I haven’t read). Sometime last year my daughter found out I hadn’t read it and was horrified, so I sat down right then and read it. It’s not a typical World War II novel right up front, and it’s an epistolary novel, which I’m a sucker for, so there was very little chance I wouldn’t love it. I didn’t know anything about the Nazi occupation of Guernsey, which made the whole thing feel very fresh, and the romance is adorable.

Nine Coaches Waiting, Mary Stewart: I have a Goodreads friend who loves this book, and it had been years since I read anything by Mary Stewart (and that was the Arthurian saga, not her thrillers). It’s an older book with older sensibilities, but it suited my mood precisely. I was even okay with the instalove, because it made so much sense that the main character would not only fall in love at first sight (essentially) but also that it would turn out to be the real thing. It was beautiful, and I intend to read more Mary Stewart in the coming year.

So that’s my 2018 in books. I’m looking forward to a new year with more books to read and write!

Book Review: THE LADY AND THE FROG

The Lady and the Frog is a charming tale that riffs off the fairy tale “The Princess and the Frog,” but it’s not a retelling—from the opening scene, it diverges rapidly into a story about magic, curses, and love. I was especially taken with Henry, one of the heroes (one of the strengths of the story is its multiple points of view). He’s honest and forthright, painfully moral in the sense that you really feel how committed he is to maintaining the honor of the woman he loves, and just very sweet. His brother Jack is more lively, and it’s his sense of humor and fun that keeps the book from being moralistic. Evelyn, Henry’s love, is intelligent and has a strong personality, and is a good match for Henry, balancing his more prudish impulses and taking an active role in fighting their enemy. It says something about the strength of their relationship that I never felt impatient with Henry’s belief that even kissing Evelyn would be somehow improper.

Even Cassandra, the “villain,” has a sympathetic side. I liked that despite this, she never got a pass on the evil things she did in pursuit of her (laudable) goal. Her defeat ultimately is a defeat of the real bad guys, the ones who put her in a position to do evil. With Henry, Evelyn, and Jack having to work together to achieve this victory, it made for a satisfying ending.

Though this is a fantasy world not our own, it’s Edwardian-influenced rather than Victorian, which made it refreshingly different. Palmer’s sense of place is strong, and fits well with the story she chose to tell. The plot has some interesting twists and draws on different folklores, weaving them together creatively and bringing the story to an intriguing conclusion. I enjoyed this book very much.

You can buy the book here.

2014 in Review

bookstackThis has been a good year for reading. I didn’t read as many books as I usually do, but the quality of the ones I read made up for it. I used to do this whole elaborate year-end wrap-up–best books, worst books, new series, etc.–but over the years that’s sort of shrunk into “what did I love this year?” So here are five books I really loved from last year, some of them new releases, others books I missed when they were first released. (I put them in order by author’s last name, not being able to choose a favorite.)

Touchstone, Andrea K. Höst: This is a really simple story–the diary of a girl lost in a strange world, one day at a time–but the characterization and the cleverness of the setup make it shine. I think I read the whole trilogy in seven days. I still think Medair is my favorite of her books, but I’d have trouble setting the two against each other.

Greenglass House, Kate Milford: Beautifully written, beautifully conceived, rooted solidly in concepts of family and belonging, I was captivated by it from the beginning. I loved the characters, who were just quirky enough without being ridiculous, and the family relationship was great. It’s also got the best made-up role-playing game system I have ever seen in fiction.

A Stranger to Command, Sherwood Smith: This has been out for a while, and I have to confess that I didn’t read it when it first came out in print because I didn’t like the cover. I am full of shame. I have an epic love affair going on with Crown Duel, and anything to do with Vidanric is going to be a winner as far as I’m concerned, but this was an amazing story all by itself, full of intrigue and relationships. I would love to see another book about what happens between this one and Crown Duel.

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker: Again, I am full of shame for not having read this sooner. It’s just beautiful and clever, with interesting characters and a complex plot that reads so smoothly it isn’t until you’re finished and trying to explain it to someone else that you realize the depth of the plotting. I’m not saying I want a sequel–I think a sequel would be a bad idea, in fact–but the ending made me feel as if more was possible for the characters, like they’d go on living and doing things even though the story was done. Very enjoyable.

The Martian, Andy Weir–This one really grabbed me. I love hard science, I love survival stories, and this book had both of those cranked up to eleven. I’m not going to choose favorites, but this was definitely the one that got my blood pumping. I am totally looking forward to what Weir comes up with next.

I’m looking forward to a new year of reading!