end of year: best books

Best Books of 2018

I read 92 books this year, the closest to 100 books a year that I have ever gotten in my adult life!!! It’s been quite interesting, as I’ve tried several new genres and some of my faves are quite surprising! So let’s get started!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Honorable mentions, in no particular order, include: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Freshwater by Akwake Emezi, Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus, Policing Egyptian Women: Sex, Law, and Medicine in Khedival Egypt by Liat Kozma, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena, and Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor.

And now for the countdown!!!

#10

spinning silver

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: This is a spellbinding, gorgeously written book that takes various elements of the Rumpelstiltskin story and weaves it into an enchanting winter tale. Though slow-paced, it is never dull, and is told in multiple different perspectives, each of which has its own unique voice. The romances in this book are subtle and oh-so-slowburn.


#9

sawkill girls

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand: This little horror story is written so viscerally that it will make shivers crawl down your spine. I couldn’t even formulate a proper review for this because I loved it so much. It’s incredibly atmospheric and does a superb job balancing cosmic horror with modern-day teen friendships. And it’s sapphic.


#8

the poppy war

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: This is one of the best fantasy books of the year. It features superb worldbuilding and a plot heavy on war and military drama, and yet it’s incredibly fast-paced. Its main character is one of the best female heroines (or anti-heroines) I’ve seen in a long time. The magic system is innovative. It’s a dark book that doesn’t shy away from depicting horrific violence and its effect on people.


#7

heart's invisible furies

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: This was such a surprise. I never expected to love this book, because it’s so outside of what I usually like. It’s a contemporary bildungsroman featuring a male character. But it turned out to be a darkly comedic and even absurd story interspersed with real tragedy. It’s also incredibly compelling despite its oddly episode plot structure; I couldn’t put it down.


#6

creatures of will and temper

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer: I’ll just quote from my original review: “This book cleared my skin, harvested my crops, nourished my soul, and added ten years to my lifespan. It simultaneously defied all of my expectations and yet gave me everything I wanted anyway.” It’s basically lesbians and demonic cults in Victorian London, superbly written and twisty. It’s so much fun and I absolutely adored it.  And that cover, Lord.


#5

silent companions

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell: This book is everything I ever wanted from a neo-Victorian Gothic horror novel. It’s gorgeously written, atmospheric, female-led, truly creepy, and features witchery, semi-demonic entities, supernatural forces, gruesome murders, and shocking family secrets. And I couldn’t put it down.


#4

if we were villains

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio: This was one of the first books I read in 2018, and that it’s stuck with me till now says a lot, especially considering this is not my usual genre. This is such an emotive book; it was definitely an emotional rollercoaster for me. The prose is gorgeous and rich, creating an autumnal, claustrophobic atmosphere that ensnared me. And surprisingly, it touches on the havoc wreaked by toxic masculinity and winds up subverting the reader’s normative expectations. It’s quite a delightful surprise.


#3

crimson petal and the white

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber: This gargantuan historical fiction tome is a neo-Victorian classic with an unusual narrative device that shatters the fourth wall. With a 19-year-old prostitute as its linchpin, it is brimming with period details; it mimics Victorian novels not only in its narrative form but in its style and content as well. 19th-century London comes roaring to life in this novel. It’s also surprisingly hilarious and compelling; it’s over 800 pages but I couldn’t put it down. And with so many hat tips and allusions to Victorian literature, it feels like a love letter to the entire period.


#2

home fire

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie: For me, this is the biggest surprise of the year. I mean, a literary fiction novel coming in at second place?? But this book absolutely destroyed me. It made me feel so strongly in a way that few books do. A modern-day retelling of Antigone set in England with an all-Muslim cast of characters, it is a nuanced examination of the effects of Islamophobia, corrupt states, imperialism, and alienation. The writing is quietly beautiful. And then there’s the ending. The ending of Home Fire is probably the most memorable, tragic, beautiful, and fitting ending I’ve ever read. It fucking wrecked me.


#1

godsgrave

Godsgrave (and Nevernight) by Jay Kristoff: Do you know the sort of book that just makes you happy to read? Like you genuinely look forward to when you can sink back into the world because it just fills you with indescribable joy? That was Godsgrave for me; I legit looked forward to my commute and didn’t want it to end so that I could keep reading. This is such a strange fantasy series in many ways: it’s written weird, it has footnotes, and it’s really, really funny (and dark, too, quite dark, but also funny). But what sets it apart for me is its worldbuilding, which is so very dense and rich with minute details. Not only is our main character fantastic, but the series is full of minor characters with their own arcs and vivid personas, and there’s an amazing f/f relationship!!! Honestly, this is just such a thrilling book (and series) that I could just gush about it forever, but I’ll stop now.

Uncategorized

Wrap-Up: December 2018

  • Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (★★★★★)
  • Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (★★★★☆)
  • Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand (★★★★★)
  • Damsel by Elana K. Arnold (★★★☆☆)
  • Vengeful by V.E. Schwab (★★★★★)
  • An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena (★☆☆☆☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 6
YEARLY SO FAR: 92

Why is my monthly average petering out to six books or less these past few months? Anyway, I’ll keep this post short since I’ll be posting more end of year type stuff over the next few days.

I am currently reading:

Can I tell you how excited I am to be reading Wicked Saints, finally? I kept telling myself to hold off until it was closer to the release date but like…I can’t. I’m a few chapters in and like it a lot so far (and I ADORE the cover)!! Very excited to see what’s in store!! Hopefully this is a YA fantasy I will actually enjoy; I’ve not been having good luck with them this year. Virgins: A Cultural History will be my first nonfiction book of the year. I bought it in Burlington a few months ago and it’s been calling to me. It’s also quite short, so it’s a good way for me to ease back into nonfiction.

Mini TV + Film Update:

I binged season 6 of Elementary in like two days. I love this show so much and I’m so sad that the seventh season will be the final one.

I also went to the movies for the first time in months so I could watch The Favourite which has got to be one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever watched. I definitely enjoyed it but I’m not certain how I feel about it, overall. I think Emma Stone and Nicholas Hoult were absolutely brilliant and I loved the music and cinematography, but I found the pacing a bit choppy. It’s definitely a very memorable film, though.

end of year: worst books

Most Disappointing Books of 2018

For whatever reason, the books below just didn’t jive with me. Some I disliked intensely, some I was very meh about, and some I just expected way more from. And the countdown begins:

 

JANE EYRE

10. JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte: It took me months to read this book. I appreciate its literary significance and I liked Jane’s character, but I found it way too long and incredibly boring. I didn’t get any sense of Gothic atmosphere and there were literally only like (2) scenes where I felt genuine enjoyment. I also found the writing needlessly overwrought.

wicked cometh

9. THE WICKED COMETH by Laura Carlin: Ugh, I wanted so much more from this. It was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. It’s a neo-Victorian lesbian thriller and yet it manages to be one of the driest, most soulless books I’ve ever encountered. Neither of the heroines had any hint of personality and the plot was ridiculous. It was such a slog to get through.

children of blood and bone

8. CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi: I found this book to be aggressively mediocre. It’s got intriguing worldbuilding, but its plot and characters fell completely flat for me. I had a lot of issues with the way it incorporated trope after trope without doing anything new or different. It also read more middle grade than young adult, which was jarring when the themes were so adult. And the writing was…not great, to put it mildly.

stalking jack the ripper

7. STALKING JACK THE RIPPER by Kerri Maniscalco: I so wanted to like this purportedly Gothic YA thriller. It started out okay, but for a short book, it’s really slow-paced and could not hold my interest. And the heroine read like a college girl from 2018 inexplicably transported to the Victorian era.

the wicked deep

6. THE WICKED DEEP by Shea Earnshaw: This book was just really, really bland and utterly forgettable. What should have been a tense, creepy tale about witches turned out to be a sappy romance that I didn’t care about. It’s also very slow, with almost nothing happening for the first three-quarters of the book.

only human

5. ONLY HUMAN by Sylvain Neuvel: This is the conclusion to the Sleeping Gods trilogy, and I have to say that my reading trajectory for the series went totally downhill for me. I really enjoyed the first book, was lukewarm about the second, and really did not like the third. I feel like it went completely off the rails here, with the plot veering into really weird territory. And it was boring.

the pisces

4. THE PISCES by Melissa Broder: I enjoyed the merman storyline in this book but hated everything else. This is very much a “it’s me not you” situation, though. From the first page this book is viscerally crude and gritty. I felt like it was trying too hard to be lurid or ~edgy or whatever and in the end it just made my skin crawl with how deeply unpleasant and depressing it all was. Which is a shame, because I really enjoyed the mythological aspects, but in the end all the weird sordid details of the heroine’s life ruined it for me.

sometimes i lie

3. SOMETIMES I LIE by Alice Feeney: So many dream sequences. The heroine is in a coma for most of the book and so much of it is just nonsensical pontificating and dreams. The characters made no sense. The twist was cool, I guess, but it was overshadowed by a bunch of other really weird and ridiculous twists. In the end I was just really, really annoyed by this book.

we were liars

2. WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart: This is a book that relies entirely upon its final twist, so when that twist is ridiculous, the entire thing falls apart. Nothing happens in this book aside from the main character trying to remember what happened to her, with little plot or clear progression of events. The final twist was a complete disappointment. This book was a complete waste of time.

an unwanted guest

1. AN UNWANTED GUEST by Shari Lapena: I really hated this book, because it had the potential to be great! It’s a locked room mystery, but the writing is awful. This is some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen. It’s clumsy and awkward and stiff. The dialogue is corny and melodramatic. And it’s boring as hell.

end of year: accomplishments and resolutions

Bookish Resolutions for 2019

I have some very specific goals for this year, so let’s get to it! Here are my 2019 reading goals/bookish resolutions!

Read at least 70 books. I read 90+ books this year and I even reset my Goodreads challenge from 75 to 90, but for some reason I feel like my reading is going to slow down next year? I don’t know why I’m getting this vibe, but in any case, I don’t want to stress out about my Goodreads challenge. I want to spend more time savoring books rather than speeding through them.

Read more adult high fantasy. This might seem like an odd goal for someone who is an avowed fantasy lover, but in looking over my books this year I noticed I only read two adult fantasy books, and they were both in the same series! I did this because one of my 2018 goals was to read outside my usual genres, which I did, but now I want to go back to my roots. I miss fantasy, and I think I’ve dipped my toe in other genres enough that I can settle back into my niches for a while.

Read series in order. Something I’ve been doing for the past couple of years is reading the first book in a fantasy series to get a broad sense of varied worlds and different writing styles. I did this specifically because I was trying to improve my writing. Unfortunately, my memory is crap, which means that I never finish series because I forget what happened in the first book and end up having to reread it. Therefore, for 2019, if a series is complete and I know I want to finish it, I’m going to commit to reading the books one after the other, or at least not leaving too large of a gap between the books.

Read at least one nonfiction book per month (and be less snobby about it). I really dropped the ball with nonfiction this year, and I’d like to fix that in 2019. I’ve already downloaded a bunch of nonfiction books from my library and have been adding a bunch to my TBR. As for the second bit of this goal, what I mean is I usually lean towards nonfiction published by a university press because I’m a snob about research and citations. But I’m going to try to read more commercial nonfiction in 2019.

Do NOT read more than one fiction book at once. I don’t know when I got into this habit of reading three or four books at a time, but I don’t think it does me any good. Instead what I’m going to try and do is read one fiction and one nonfiction book side by side, but never any more than that.

Read more classics. I’m making this goal very general and not committing to a particular number because I don’t know how successful I’ll be at this. I failed at this in 2018 because Jane Eyre took up nearly three-quarters of my year. I’m hoping I’ll fare a bit better at this in 2019 and knock some classic classics off my list. Of course I want to continue reading Victorian literature but I’d also like to dip my toes in to a Russian classic again.

Read three hard science-fiction books. I have a weird relationship with hard sci-fi. I almost never, ever reach for it, but when I do read it, I am absolutely obsessed with it. I think it intimidates me because the books tend to be really long and hard to get into, but they’re usually worth the effort. I don’t have anything specific in mind except for The Expanse series, but I’m open to recommendations!

Read for joy. This is kind of vague, so let me explain. Since I’ve started blogging, it’s hard not to sometimes read performatively. That is, I lean towards new releases or popular books that I know will get a lot of attention. I also shy away from rereading because I feel like that’s a waste of time. I don’t want to be like this next year. I want to read what I want to read, even if that’s weird, obscure 90s fantasy. I want to reread my faves. I want to read books because I’m savoring them, not because I feel like I have a responsibility to be reading them.

Hopefully I can accomplish all this. Next semester I’m going to be producing my Master’s thesis, which will probably take up a chunk of my time, so we’ll see how this goes. On the bright side, I’m going to be graduating in May, so I’ll have the WHOLE SUMMER to read a ton of books.

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Authors I Want to Read More Of In 2019

The title of this post is pretty self-explanatory. These are a bunch of backlist authors whose work I keep meaning to get to only I keep getting distracted by shiny new releases. This also works as today’s Top 5 Wednesday post!divider

Emma Donaghue

 

I don’t know if Donoghue has a particular brand, but when I think of her I think of historical fiction and lesbians. I don’t know if her historical fiction actually features lesbians, but it at least features women, and I’ve heard her writing is quite beautiful. I read Kissing the Witch ages ago but I remember literally nothing about it, and I love the sound of her other work, so I’d like to get to her soon!


Sarah Waters

 

I literally own every single thing Sarah Waters has ever written and yet I’ve only ever read a single book by her: Tipping the Velvet. I really enjoyed Tipping the Velvet, so I’m not sure why I’ve been hesitant to pick up another book by her! Her brand is Victorian Lesbians, which is right up my alley, so I definitely need to get to her work soon!


Nawal El Saadawi

 

El Saadawi is a very controversial Egyptian feminist known for both fiction and non-fiction. According to my mom, she’s controversial mainly because of her irreverence for religion and her dislike of the veil. She’s a seminal figure and as an Egyptian woman myself I really must read Nawal El Saadawi.


Leila Ahmed

 

Leila Ahmed is another Egyptian-American feminist, though definitely not as notorious as El Saadawi. She’s also a scholar of Islam and taught at the Harvard Divinity School for a while. Women and Gender in Islam is thought to be a classic, seminal work on the topic of women in Islam. I read bits and pieces of it for a class in college and really enjoyed it, so I’d like to read the full work. And I own her autobiography, A Border Passage!


Judith Flanders

 

The Victorian Lady! Judith Flanders is a well-known scholar of Victorian England. I bought The Invention of Murder a few months ago and I’m super excited to read it! I think I’ve been putting a hold on all my Victorian nonfiction books because I keep thinking, what if I get the Fulbright I applied for? Then I’ll be getting a Master’s in Victorian Studies and will read all that stuff then. I find out in April whether I got it, so if I don’t, I guess I know what I’ll be reading for the rest of the year.


Megan Chance

 

I read Inamorata years ago and adored it; it had so many tropes I love and it was one of the most atmospheric things I’ve ever read. Chance seems to revel in atmospheric historical fiction set mainly in the 19th-century that is also female-led. Her writing, from what I recall, is absolutely lovely, and I need to check out more of her work!


Megan Abbott

 

I loved Give Me Your Hand even though it was a really polarizing book. It seems like most of this author’s work is really low-rated on Goodreads, actually, but I loved the one book I read. I thought it was brilliantly written and so darkly intriguing. If her other work is anything like that I’m sure I’ll love it.

end of year: dnf'd books

Books I DNF’ed in 2018

I used to really hate DNF-ing books, mainly because I could never decide what I should do with them on Goodreads. I didn’t want to add them as “read”, but I didn’t want to revert them back to “want to read” nor did I want to give them a rating. This year, I finally figured out how to add those sticky shelves on Goodreads, so in addition to “read” and “want to read” and “currently reading” I added a “DNF” shelf. And I also realized that I could actually leave reviews without giving a rating, which is ace!!

Of course, I still don’t enjoy DNF-ing books because I don’t like wasting my time, but I normally DNF books pretty early. I can usually tell within a few chapters if I’m not going to be able to finish a book. (The one exception is Kushiel’s Dart which I read like half of before DNF-ing and it was literally a 1000 pages long so I don’t know what happened there.)

Anyway! Enough preamble, let’s get to the books I DNF’ed in 2018!divider

red sister

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence: This was a major disappointment. How could the book with the best first line I’ve ever seen turn out to be a DNF for me? Part of me wants to give it another shot someday, but given that my main issue was the writing, I’m not sure it will work out. I struggled to like the prose here, but I found it too muddly and confusing, like it was trying to hard to be impressive. And I didn’t like the omniscient narration.

the game of kings

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett: I was supposed to buddy read these in January, but I got like 20 pages in and knew I was done for. This is very dense historical fiction taking place in 14th-century Scotland. It’s full of allusions and other literary things that I struggled to comprehend. Alas.

faro's daughter

Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer: I barely started reading this before DNF-ing! I’d heard great things about this author’s romance but something about this book didn’t jive with me. I’m not even sure what it was – perhaps the omniscient narration? Perhaps the fact that the plot seemed like it was going to be focused at the 18th-century equivalent of a casino? I’m not sure.

jekyll and hyde

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson: This was SO BORING. I mean this whole freaking book was 78 pages and I couldn’t finish it. That’s how dull it was. The plot was intriguing but the author somehow found a way to write it in the most boring way imaginable. I just couldn’t keep going. I ended up going to Wikipedia to find out the specifics.

to all the boys i've loved before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: I didn’t like the voice in this book. The main character is meant to be a teenager but she sounds much younger than that, and I don’t read middle grade for a reason. Add the main character’s immaturity to the incredibly awkward, staccato writing and it was a slog to get through, so I put it down pretty quick.divider

Have you guys read or DNF’ed any of these books? Are there any you think I should give a second chance? Let me know in the comments!

end of year: accomplishments and resolutions

2018 Reading Resolutions Update!

Before I post my 2019 bookish resolutions, let’s check on how I did on my resolutions for 2018.

1. Read at least 70 books. Success! This year I have read 90 books. I’ll probably finish a couple more before the year is out.

2. Read more outside my preferred genre. Success! Major success! To the point where I think for next year I want to read more fantasy than anything else because I really miss it. But I’ve explored almost every genre/category outside fantasy: literary, historical , romance, erotica, women’s fiction, contemporary, and classics! It’s been an interesting year; I’ve definitely read a ton of books that I normally wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole. But I got some of my favorite reads of the year out them, so there you go.

3. Read more non-fiction! Fail. Major fail. I think I read 4? Ever since I started blogging I just don’t read as much non-fiction as I used to. I don’t know why, but I really, really want to change this; I very much enjoy reading non-fiction! So this goal will be one I carry with me into the new year.

4. Read one book in Arabic. Fail. I mean, I certainly purchased Arabic books, but…I did not manage to read one. I think I will be putting this particular goal on the back burner just because I don’t know if I will ind the time and effort to struggle through an Arabic-language book.

5. Don’t be afraid to re-read! Fail. Major fail! I didn’t reread at all this year. I think I’ll do better at this in 2019, though it probably won’t be an explicit resolution.

So, ultimately, that’s two goals out of five, which is fine, though hopefully I shall do better next year!