Get to Know the Fantasy Reader Tag

I’m going to make an effort to get back into semi-regular blogging now that I have some time on my hands and I figured what better way to ease back in than with a tag?! I’ve shamelessly stolen this from Hadeer, but the original idea comes from the Get to Know the Romance Reader Tag created by Bree Hill, which was adapted for fantasy readers by The Book Pusher.

1. What is your fantasy origin story? (How you came to read your first fantasy novel)

I have a notoriously bad memory, which only gets worse the further back I go, so I honestly can’t recall my first experience with fantasy, but I was a fan from a young age. Phoebe Gillman’s beautifully illustrated The Balloon Tree, about a princess who must save her kingdom from her evil uncle, the archduke, when he stages a coup while her father is visiting a neighbouring kingdom, remains one of my favourite picture books. My mom read aloud to me and my younger brother the early Harry Potter books as well as middle grade fantasy staples like the Chronicles of Narnia, and some of my favourite series as a 9 or 10 year-old were Bryan Jacques’ Redwall, featuring anthropomorphic animals in an abbey, and Lloyd Alexander’s high fantasy, welsh myth-inspired Prydain Chronicles. The first “adult” fantasy I remember reading is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon though, which I read during 7th grade science class (hiding it under my desk, likely not very subtly given the size of the book)!

2. If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Forgive me, but I hate these kinds of insert yourself into a story questions. Honestly I just don’t feel that I’m interesting enough to be a fantasy heroine! I will say that I admire the way that Robert Jackson Bennett writes women, and women who are perhaps unlikely protagonists (such as Shara, a clever spy yes, but a quiet tea-drinking, glasses wearing spy, in City of Stairs and middle-aged, disabled military general Mulagesh in City of Blades), and his skillful worldbuilding, so I’d probably want him to take on the project. A few tropes I love to see employed are the protagonist, a master of self-control, taxed to their absolute limit, resulting in exhaustion fainting, angsty and complicated, but ultimately loving, sibling relationships, and condemnation by the court of public opinion ultimately revealing that all is not as it seemed and the character has been wronged. I’m not sure that I’d want any of these things to happen to me though!

457301523. What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

I haven’t read much fantasy so far this year (although my order from my local SFF indie bookstore is set to ship in May, so look for that to change!), but I did love Daughter from the Dark by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, translated from the Russian by Julia Hersey. It’s a twisted (though arguably more straightforward than their previous effort translated into English, Vita Nostra) standalone about a DJ who saves what appears to be a ten-year-old girl named Alyona from danger, only to find himself with questions about who she actually is and what she wants from him. Is she a daughter whose existence he’s just learned about? A young con-artist? An otherworldly being seeking to return to paradise with her brother? Or something more sinister? The development of the fraught relationship between DJ Aspirin and Alyona is compelling and I loved the way in which Daughter From the Dark talks about music, art, and freedom.

4. What is your favorite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

My favourite subgenre is definitely secondary world fantasy. A big draw for me is worldbuilding and there’s so much that can be done in creating a world with its own cultures, rules, and history. Sometimes that also means a magic system. The Coldfire Trilogy by C. S. Friedman does this very well with its energy field known as the fae that can be manipulated/Worked to perform magical feats, though not without consequences. Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside with its magic system that is more reminiscent of technology/coding but set in an Italian city state inspired secondary world, is also an outstanding example. I love the fact that secondary world doesn’t have to mean magic though. Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier series of spy novels are set against the rise of a facist government certainly draw inspiration from Weimar Berlin, but they’re differentiated not by magic (in fact there’s no magic at all), but because they’re set in a secondary world with different political tensions and events.

The subgenre I’ve read the least is definitely urban fantasy. Surprisingly, for someone who LOVED Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m actually not big on reading about vampires, werewolves, and other assorted creatures and their daily lives. I realize that it’s a big subgenre so it’s entirely possible that I just haven’t read the right book yet. I realize that I’m generalizing/oversimplifying when I say this, but I don’t typically find that urban fantasy offers enough worldbuilding or deep diving into characters to keep me happy and the tropes don’t tend to appeal to me personally.

5. Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

I don’t buy a lot of books period because I live in an apartment in a big city so I don’t have a lot of space and I have access to an excellent library system, but the ones that come closest are probably Robert Jackson Bennett, Leigh Bardugo, and Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette. They haven’t written a lot of adult fantasy but based on the strength of one trilogy, I would also say Katherine Arden and Lara Elena Donnelly. N. K. Jemisin is also high on my list.

6. How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)

A bunch of different ways! I follow Tor on social media and their blog and tend to read the forthcoming releases posts. I don’t always agree with their choices, but I follow what’s being nominated for the big SFF awards (Nebula, Locus, Hugo). I read blogs of course and especially value recommendations from bloggers/friends whose tastes align closely with my own. I especially value picks from any of my fellow Lymond Chronicles fans since we tend to have a very specific set of tropes that we love. On Goodreads I tend to read a few two star and a few five star reviews of a book to see what people loved about the book and what didn’t appeal to them to see if it’s something that’s going to bug or elate me, and while I take them with a grain of salt, if a bunch of authors I love have enthusiastically blurbed a book, it’s often a good sign that it’s something I’m going to enjoy as well.

7. What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

50202953._sx318_Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of my all-time favourite books, so it would be an understatement to say that I’m excited about this! I love Clarke’s sense of humour and her creativity and can’t wait to see what her new book will offer. The comparison titles (Circe and The Ocean at the End of the Lane) I’m taking with a grain of salt since I wasn’t wowed by either book, but I think there’s a good chance that they’ve just picked popular fantasy titles with crossover mainstream appeal.

45166076._sy475_The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho. I’ve really enjoyed both of Cho’s previous titles and the description for this (queer found family wuxia fantasy!) sounds both right up my alley and perfectly timed for my ongoing spiral into The Untamed obsession!

 

8. What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

I’m going to second Hadeer here and say the fact that it’s written by middle-aged/old white men for white men. There have always been women writing fantasy, they have just historically often been less prominent or critically lauded as male writers in the genre. Increasingly diverse writers are publishing and being promoted and there are more #ownvoices stories out there.

Although we’re talking about fantasy specifically here, I’d also like to say regarding its sister genre, science-fiction, one misconception I had was that it wasn’t for me as a not particularly science/engineering/math-oriented person and as a woman. I realized that, like most genres, it wasn’t that the entire genre wasn’t for me, it was about having to do some research to discover what I wanted from the genre. I found that “hard sci-fi”, which was driven by science and technology and ideas, was still not my cup of tea but that I loved character-driven stories with a compelling emotional core, like Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers and Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries, and clever political intrigue tales with fascinating protagonists like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch. It’s just about digging a little and finding what content or which subgenre appeals to you.

9. If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

SO, obviously this is going to depend on the person, but here are some general recommendations:


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I have yet to find a person who didn’t enjoy this book/duology. I gifted it to my not a reader friend (she reads maybe a book or two a year, maybe) and she finished the first one and bought Crooked Kingdom. I gifted it to my brother’s girlfriend, who is not a fantasy fan. She loved it. This is the one book that I will thrust at absolute everyone and be confident in my recommendation. It’s YA, but has crossover appeal. It’s fantasy, but has crossover appeal. The characters are three-dimensional, flawed but compelling, the pace is quick and filled with plot twists, yet Bardugo slows down and gives her characters enough time to breathe and to come face-to-face with their trauma. Six of Crows is the perfect gateway book.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. Not as universally successful a recommendation as Six of Crows, but I’d be pretty confident in saying most people who pick this series up enjoy it. I’ve recommended this to my not a reader friend for when she finishes Crooked Kingdom and I’ve gifted this to other people who don’t necessarily enjoy fantasy. Perhaps because there’s a historical element and it’s grounded in our world, I think A Darker Shade of Magic is a more accessible pick than say jumping into a high fantasy novel.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Perhaps a little riskier, but I just found this world and Arden’s prose so entrancing that I feel like others could easily be sucked in. There’s a historical element and a mythic/folk tale element that may be easier to accept than a high fantasy story as well. I also gifted this to my brother’s girlfriend and she loved it.

10. Who is the most recent fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

Honestly I’ve been really out of the loop and haven’t been keeping up on blogs or seeking out new content enough lately as I’ve been caught up in the never ending doom spiral these days but if you read a ton of fantasy please drop your blog in the comments and I’ll take a look!

January/February Wrap-Up

We’re 2 months into 2020 and honestly? I’m not off to a great start. I’ve read 10 books so far (3 of them re-reads), which puts me on track for my Goodreads Challenge goal of 60, but I don’t have a new 5-star read to show for it. February hasn’t been a great month for me personally and I’ve been struggling with both Seasonal Affective Disorder and stress over my job situation (my temp. FT position is coming to an end in less than a month and I don’t know what’s next for me) so I only made it through 4 books this month – 2 of them novellas. Hopefully March will be a more successful reading and blogging month for me!


JANUARY
The Raven Boys (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater  small 5 stars
The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books by Edward Wilson-Lee  small-2-stars + Review
The Dream Thieves (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater  small 5 stars
Blue Lily, Lily Blue (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater  small 5 stars
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine  small 4 stars
Tarnished Are The Stars by Rosiee Thor  small-3-stars

FEBRUARY
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers  small 3 half stars
The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood  small 4 stars
The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons  small-2-stars
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey  small 4 stars

Current Reading: I am slowly working my way through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I keep getting sidetracked by new release library holds but I am genuinely enjoying it and looking forward to getting back into Wolf Hall in March. I’m just starting Daughter from the Dark by the Dyachenkos (trans. by Julia Hersey). I loved Vita Nostra so I’m hoping this will be another strong release from them. I’m also continuing with my Ace Books Challenge by picking up Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller. Besides those books I’m really desperate to get a few five star books under my belt so I may dive into my backlist of titles I’ve been wanting to read for awhile rather than grabbing the new and shiny.

***Seen on TV***
I don’t have cable or any streaming services except Netflix but I’m slowly trying to catch up on some of the TV that I’ve missed. In the last few months I’ve watched (either on DVDs from the library or on Netflix):

  • Chernobyl (HBO) – Difficult to watch at times but eye-opening, especially since it occurred the year I was born so I didn’t know that much about the events or the government response. Skip episode four entirely if you’re triggered by seeing multiple dogs die.
  • Good Omens (Amazon/BBC) – I read the book years ago and really liked it so I’d been waiting to get my hands on this. First of all, David Tennant and Michael Sheen are perfect as Aziraphale and Crowley and I loved watching their relationship develop on screen. Generally I thought the pacing and depiction were very good. My one complaint is that when Tennant and Sheen weren’t on screen I found myself losing interest, but this is a gorgeous tribute to Pratchett’s work and is so enjoyable!
  • Star Trek Discovery (CBS All Access) – The plot is a little bonkers at times and can be hard to follow, but I just love these characters so much that I don’t even care! Pike was a tremendous addition to the show, Ethan Peck was great as Spock, and I continued to enjoy the relationships between characters: Tilly and Michael’s friendship! Saru and Michael’s respect for and trust in one another! Stamets getting his husband back! I’m curious to see where it will go next, but honestly I’m most interested in the characters so it hardly even matters.
  • The Untamed (Netflix) – In case you missed it, I’ve wholeheartedly fallen into The Untamed and I’m never climbing out! The Untamed/CQL is a Chinese-subtitled fantasy series set in ancient China about different sects who seek immortality through dispelling demons and monsters using magic and swords. It’s part political machinations, part murder-mystery, but mostly it’s a love story between the rule-abiding stoic Lan Wangji (aka. Lan Zhan) and carefree mischievous Wei Wuxian (aka. Wei Ying) that transcends decades, family obstacles, and even death! Although based on a gay Chinese novel, censorship prevents it from openly being depicted as a love story but somehow the show is even gayer as a result? There’s lots of yearning, touching, long-held gazes, and yes they even have their own in-show ship song (sung by the actors portraying the roles). The special effects are awful, but the acting, costumes, and set design are terrific. I’ve actually cried watching this show, which is rare for me, and I’m so hooked that I think I’m on my fifth or sixth re-watch. Let me know if you want to gush about The Untamed with me!

***Seen on Stage***

In contrast to my reading, I saw a lot on stage! The odds that I’ll write full reviews are not good, so here are some short reviews on the Toronto theatre scene this month:

Mother’s Daughter and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train (Soulpepper)
My day off happens to fall on a Wednesday so I made it a two-show day by taking in a matinee performance of Mother’s Daughter and spending the evening at Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at Soulpepper.

Mother’s Daughter is the final part in playwright Kate Hennig’s Queenmaker trilogy, exploring Tudor Queens through a contemporary feminist lens. While I still think the first of these plays (The Last Wife, about Catherine Parr) is my favourite, I loved this story of the much maligned “Bloody Mary” Tudor as she comes into her power. It’s very much a play about perception and legacy, deftly exploring how women (and particularly women with power) are viewed and remembered by those around them. Why is Mary villainized while her father, who executed indiscriminately, is remembered more fondly by history? At the heart of Mother’s Daughter are the relationships between women. Mary (played as a sympathetic anti-hero by Shannon Taylor) has a fraught relationship with the apparition of her dead mother Catherine of Aragon/Catalina (Irene Poole in a commanding performance), who urges her to be merciless and eliminate rivals while she has both a sisterly love and a healthy distrust of half-sister Bess (charismatic Jessica B. Hill), a more able political player, and finds commonality with the pious, doomed Lady Jane Grey (Andrea Rankin). I sympathized with Mary as she at first attempts to placate her enemies and grant them clemency, only to make choices that arguably lead to ruin when she’s pushed to act decisively. Told in accessible colloquial language (in the wake of Brexit, a line about how the ‘English do not like Europeans’ referencing Mary’s unpopular marriage proposal from Spain drew laughter), Mother’s Daughter is a timely and perceptive exploration of women in power.

Set almost entirely in the notorious Rikers Island prison, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train explores themes of contrition and hypocrisy. Minimal set design emphasizes the bleak environment faced by incarcerated men and highlights the sliver of sunlight they observe in their daily allotment of yard time. Although this production is anchored by strong performances from Xavier Lopez as Angel Cruz, on trial for attempted murder, Diana Donnelly as his put-upon, proud defense attorney, and the reliably excellent Daren A. Herbert as charismatic fellow inmate Lucius Jenkins, I couldn’t fully connect with the story. I suspect the play is meant to cause audiences to reflect on morality. I’m all for moral ambiguity and it’s a theme I usually love to see explored, but I found the weighing of an unintentional killing of one man, essentially a cult leader who has objectively done bad deeds, against eight lives of “normal” people taken intentionally to be too cut and dried for me to take seriously.

Singin’ in the Rain – Film with Orchestra at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
I’ve been to a couple film with orchestra presentations in the city now with mixed results, so I was a little skeptical about how well this would work but figured that either way it was a chance to see one of my favourite films on the big screen. Singin’ in the Rain with the TSO was such a delight though! After the first few minutes (in which the live orchestra drowned out the movie musical), the sound was adjusted and I had a lovely time. Admittedly I’m not a film buff and I don’t tend to see a lot of movies while they’re still in theatres, so I’d forgotten the sheer joy of watching and reacting to a film with other people and how fresh that can make the experience even of watching a film you can practically quote from memory. An all-time great made even better with a live orchestra.

Secret Life of a Mother (Crow’s Theatre)
I went into this one-women show completely blind, having booked tickets entirely because I loved both playwright Hannah Moscovitch and Maev Beatty, the actress starring in it. As it turns out, it’s a raw exploration of pregnancy and motherhood that’s by turns laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly poignant. Both the friend I went to see this with and I do not intend to ever have children, yet it had both of us tearing up so I can only imagine the impact this beautiful show would have on a mother or mother-to-be! One of many highlights was Maev sharing that during childbirth, starred at by impatient doctors, she felt such pressure to perform that she pushed so hard she gave herself a black eye! I absolutely loved this and would recommend it to most (although it does deal with difficult issues, including miscarriages, so not for women who have recently been through a miscarriage or infertility).

Caroline, or Change (Musical Stage Company and Obsidian Theatre)
If you’ve never been to Toronto, The Winter Garden Theatre is one of the most gorgeous theatre venues I’ve ever seen. It’s one part of the last surviving double-decker theatre in North America and the ceiling is adorned with lanterns and real beech branches and leaves to give the appearance of an Edwardian garden. These days it’s mostly used as a venue for TIFF so I was thrilled when the Musical Stage Company announced their residency in the Winter Garden Theatre. As I’ve come to expect from Musical Stage Company, this production is top-notch. The cast is terrific, with standout performance from R&B star Jully Black in her first musical theatre role as Black maid Caroline, and Vanessa Sears as daughter Emmie and the simple multi-level effectively conveys the reality of 1963 Louisiana. Unfortunately the problem with Caroline, or Change is the source material. The music is beautifully sung in this production but there’s not a memorable song among them, the book is clunky, and there’s an over-reliance on the double-meaning of change (Caroline is told that she can keep any change found in her employer’s clothes while she does the laundry and the musical is set against the backdrop of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the assassination of President Kennedy. I’m also a little baffled by the choice to have all of the inanimate objects (the laundry machine, the radio, the moon, etc.) personified as human beings yet nothing’s ever done with this concept and Caroline doesn’t interact with them? Anyway, great cast, great production, but not a musical that I enjoy. I cannot freaking wait for next year and the Musical Stage Company production of Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 though!!

Book Review: The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

40639316The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library by Edward Wilson-Lee
Published March 12th 2019
star-2

In hindsight, the clue that I wasn’t going to enjoy this book was right there in the (sub)title.

When selecting The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books as my January pick for a Biographies! book club at work, I assumed that the focus would be mainly on Hernando Colón, Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son, and his quest to collect and then organize books and material into a great library. At the time I thought nothing of the fact that this son, the man the biography is ostensibly about, isn’t even named in the subtitle. By the time I had tediously made my way through the first hundred pages (reading with a piece of paper covering the remaining text on the page so my mind and eyes couldn’t wander) about Columbus and his New World voyages, I bitterly regretted both my mistake and the fact that because I was reading this for work, I couldn’t DNF it.

The story of Hernando, his library, and how he undertook the process of organizing its contents is genuinely fascinating, but unfortunately this story makes up only a small fragment of Wilson-Lee’s bloated, meandering book. The rest covers Christopher Columbus, and Spain and its history in a way that only those who have personal experience with either the region or the manuscripts Hernando collected (which, remarkably, one member of the book club did!) will enjoy. I suspect that many others will DNF (as the two other members of the book club did), frustrated by the lifeless narrative, the dense text, and the lack of focus. Those who finish The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books will no doubt be left with a great deal of respect for Hernando Colón and his work, but sorely disappointed by the wasted potential that is this biography.

Fully the first third of Wilson-Lee’s book is focused on Columbus and, to a lesser degree, his relationship with his illegitimate son. Colón, who accompanied his father on many of his voyages, idolized his father and attempted to repair his tattered (yes, even in the sixteenth century) reputation. Yet even after Columbus’ death, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books reads like filler. It’s an exploration of place and time that goes far beyond what’s necessary to contextualize Hernando Colón’s life; more travelogue than biography. It’s also less than strictly factual, frequently using phrases like “perhaps he would have encountered” or “he may have seen” to discuss architecture and features of the towns and cities Colón visited.

I’ve also never before encountered a biography that told me less about its subject as a person. By all accounts Hernando Colón was an obsessive man, a workaholic consumed by his library and other projects (including a comprehensive Latin-English dictionary that never made it past the letter B, a description of the geographic makeup of Spain including distances and geographical features, and a biography of his father that neatly omits all of Columbus’ worst qualities), who had little in the way of a personal life. Yet the same accusation could be leveled at William Pitt the Younger and I would recommend William Hague’s informative and entertaining biography of Pitt to just about anyone, so I’m inclined to think the omission of any insight into Hernando Colón is a fault of the author.

Parts of The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books detailing how Hernando categorized his collection of prints so that he wouldn’t purchase duplicates, and describing his epitome, which summarized information contained in each manuscript with the purpose of disseminating not the books themselves but the summaries to the broader public are fascinating, but they occur late in the book and far too infrequently. As someone who doesn’t often pick up non-fiction, I may not be the target audience for this book, but as a librarian, I most certainly am. If even a librarian, the very geekily interested in the organization of information type of reader this book should appeal to the most, can barely get through the book, I’m not sure what hope anyone else has of finishing it!

2020 Reading Resolutions

Although I didn’t publicly commit to any 2019 reading resolutions, I certainly had some goals in mind. Like many book bloggers, I hoped to spend the year clearing off some of my owned but not read books/backlist TBR. Like many book bloggers, this did not happen. So this year I’m committing publicly to my reading and blogging goals in hopes of holding myself accountable. My 2020 goals are as follows:

1. Read at least 60 books
This will be the third year in a row that I’ve set my goodreads challenge count to an achievable, non-stretch goal of 60 books. In 2018 I famously missed this goal when, late in the year, I abruptly decided to read the 800+ paged Anna Karenina. Although I made my goal in 2019 (with 63 books read in total), I’ve decided to stick to 60 for a few reasons. My reading is definitely impacted by stress and what goes on in my personal and professional life and since I’m still technically a part-time employee of the library system I work for (despite working full-time or nearly full-time hours since I was hired a year and a half ago) with a temporary full-time contract set to expire at the end of March, I really can’t predict where I’m going to be later in the year, whether it’s as a part-time employee surviving by picking up whatever extra hours shifts are available at branches across the city or in another temporary full-time role at a new branch, and that means that I have no idea what my schedule or free-time will be like. The other reason is that I find setting a higher yearly challenge goal dissuades me from picking up longer books, including classics and high fantasy works. I want to feel comfortable picking up longer titles this year without worrying about balancing a long book out by reading exclusively novellas or graphic novels for awhile.

2. Read (at least) 6 classics
The goal I failed rather spectacularly at this year was to read more classics. I don’t think I read a single classic all year! This year I’m aiming for one every other month for a total of at least six. I’m not going to commit to a firm classics TBR, but I will be reading Brideshead Revisited with Steph and Rachel this winter, and possibilities beyond that include The Iliad, Rebecca, East of Eden, Of Human Bondage, a work by Dickens (I’ve only ever read A Christmas Carol, so if you have a favourite Dickens book let me know in the comments!) and Pride & Prejudice.

3. Blog on a consistent basis
It’s not just my reading habits that are impacted by stress/my professional life, when I’m pressed for time or feeling down I don’t have the drive to write reviews or other content for my blog. I feel victim to that in a big way in 2019 and barely had a presence for the last half of the year. I’m not going to resolve to review everything I read or to maintain a blogging schedule because that’s setting myself up for failure when my professional life is so uncertain for the foreseeable future, but I do want to be more consistent and put up at least a few posts a month throughout 2020 and not just poke in for monthly wrap-ups and year-end posts. I’d also like to participate in more book tags and create more original posts/content beyond just reviews.

4. Don’t feel guilty about re-reading my favourites. Do use it as an opportunity to review them.
2019 was a very mediocre year of reading and part of that was because I picked up new books that didn’t end up grabbing me when I would have preferred the comfort food of re-reading an old favourite. This goal is two-fold. I’m definitely a re-reader, yet I often feel guilty when I do it, as if I should feel badly about not constantly seeking out new favourites. I’d like to maintain a better balance between new reads, backlist reads that I hope will become new favourites, and re-reading old favourites. I also have the unfortunate ability to get in my head about rave reviews and put them off or not write them at all because I’m anxious about not being able to accurately describe how much a book meant to me. I’m going to be less intimidated by books I absolutely loved and make more of an effort to do my favourites justice by re-reading some of them and then actually putting into words how much I love them!

5. Read what I own
I’m a big library user and don’t buy many books. The exceptions are keeper copies of favourites that I know I will re-read one day, new or second-hand copies of books I suspect I will love, and gifts or random used bookstore buys. My bookshelves have reached the point of overflow and I definitely need to do a personal weed (a librarian term for going through books and deciding what’s worth keeping and what should be discarded) in order to reorganize, so I’d like to go through my shelves and read more of the titles I’ve picked up over the years so I can decide whether I need to own copies or if I should donate them. Also, I STILL haven’t read all of the books in my Five-Star Read Predictions from 2017 (I’ve read 2 out of 5) and I own all of them, so clearly I need to finish those off so I can do another predictions post!

6. Do more buddy reading
I was hoping to do a lot more of this last year than I actually did, so this year I’m resolving to find other like-minded readers and take on books together. Rachel, Steph and I have already committed to reading a few books together, but if anyone else is interested in buddy reading something together, let me know!

I was going to resolve to read more non-fiction, especially since my favourite book of 2019 was a work of non-fiction, but I’ve been struggling to get through this biography that I’m reading for work for a week so I think I’m going to leave non-fiction alone for a bit!

What are your reading goals for 2020? Leave a comment and let me know!

Favourite Books of 2019

Often I have trouble narrowing down which titles should appear on my favourite books of the year list. It says something about the mediocre year of reading I’ve had that out of 63 books read, I could really only come up with 12 contenders. There are a few more that I heartily enjoyed and recommend, I could discuss my pleasant surprise at some great Canadian science-fiction this year, like Kelly Robson’s deservedly Hugo nominated novella, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach and L.X. Beckett’s technologically adept Gamechanger, how much I enjoyed Taylor Jenkins-Reid’s ode to a fictional 70’s band, Daisy Jones and the Six or how I appreciated Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik putting a feminist spin on fairy tales, but ultimately there were really only twelve books that I seriously considered for this list, so I’ve written up the two that fell just short as well.

Honourable Mentions

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12. An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

“I am a boy and a girl and a witch all wrapped into one very strange, flimsy, indecisive body. Do you think my body couldn’t decide what it wanted to be?”
“I think it doesn’t matter because we get to decide what our bodies are or are not,” he answered.

Unsurprisingly, Rivers Solomon’s debut novel about the journey of the HSS Matilda, a space ship organized much like the antebellum South, is an uncomfortable read. It’s unflinchingly graphic in its depictions of violence and unsubtle about the way that dark-skinned sharecroppers from the low-deck slums, like protagonist Aster, endure brutal treatment, deplorable living conditions, and pervasive casual cruelty (including misgendering) from white upper-deck “owners”. Yet this sci-fi treatment of American slavery is grounded by exceptional world-building and its characters, who are unique, diverse, and full of heart, even as they wrestle with the collective trauma of their people. As a queer, autistic, and black character, Aster is still all too rare a protagonist to come across and I loved watching the connection between Aster and Theo, another nonbinary character grow. The exceptional characters and worldbuilding are let down by a meandering plot and an ending that doesn’t feel earned, but it’s a promising debut and an inventive, sobering look at slavery through a science-fiction lens.

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11. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

“You couldn’t spell obligation if I shoved the letters up your ass.”
“I gotta say, I don’t think that would help,” said Gideon. “God, I’m glad you didn’t teach me my spelling.”

I really wanted to be one of those bloggers screaming to the rafters about this book and forcing it into the hands of everyone they meet, but I never quite reached that point. Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed the book – it’s only just shy of my ten favourite reads this year – but it was more of a 4.25 star read for me than a glowing 5 stars. The premise is fantastic; gothic lesbian necromancers in space? Sign me up! and ultimately it’s the uniqueness that kept me hooked, but the execution of Muir’s vision didn’t always work for me. I could tell that she had thought through the nuances of her magic system, yet it wasn’t explained well on page and I found the world-building lacking. Some pacing issues also held this back from being the grand slam that it could potentially have been, but despite these issues I loved this weird little book and I fell in love with Gideon and Harrow and their complicated dynamic. I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything like Gideon the Ninth before and the ending left me itching for book two. Bring on Harrow the Ninth!

The List

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10. The Deep by Rivers Solomon

“One can only go for so long without asking ‘who am I?’, ‘where do I come from?’, ‘what does all this mean?’, ‘what is being?’, ‘what came before me and what might come after?’. Without answers there is only a hole. A hole where a history should be that takes the shape of an endless longing. We are cavities.

Based on a song by experimental rap group Clipping (which counts rapper/actor Daveed Diggs among its members), Rivers Solomon’s novella is spun from the darkly unique premise of an underwater society descended from the offspring of pregnant African slaves thrown overboard during The Middle Passage. The trauma of their pasts is too great to be remembered regularly, so Historian Yetu alone holds the memories of her people, but the burden is too great and when she has the chance to be free, she flees to the surface. Solomon’s prose is dreamy and lyrical as they reveal a richly imagined and completely alien undersea civilization. Although the themes are weighty, as The Deep considers the broken identity that results from a loss of cultural knowledge and history, and explores diaspora, and the impact of generational trauma on a people, I found the novella ultimately uplifting and hopeful. A moving and raw examination of how to learn to live with the pain of generational trauma on an ongoing basis, and the importance of companionship and finding strength in others like you.

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9. Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants by Mathias Énard
(translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell)

“Night does not communicate with the day. It burns up in it. Night is carried to the stake at dawn. And its people along with it—the drinkers, the poets, the lovers. We are a people of the banished, of the condemned. I do not know you. I know your Turkish friend; he is one of ours. Little by little he is vanishing from the world, swallowed up by the shadows and their mirages; we are brothers. I don’t know what pain or what pleasure propelled him to us, to stardust, maybe opium, maybe wine, maybe love; maybe some obscure wound of the soul deep-hidden in the folds of memory.”

No one could have predicted that I would love this as much as I did. Not Rachel, whose review alerted me to its existence in the first place, and not me, expecting it to end up somewhere in the four star rating range. Yet something strange happened when I picked up this odd little novella – I fell in love. The rich historical detail played a role. The spare, carefully crafted, yet dreamy prose so reminiscent of what I loved about Sarah Winman’s Tin Man (my favourite read last year) had something to do with it. The ‘what if’ premise that imagines how things may have played out if Michelangelo had accepted a commission from the Ottoman Empire to design and build a bridge across the Golden Horn was certainly a factor. Yet the most likely reason of all is simply that it’s so emotionally charged. I went from being interested and invested in the outcome, to overcome with pangs of emotion by the end. I wouldn’t recommend Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants to absolutely everyone, but in the hands of the right reader (who may be someone completely unexpected) this novella is an absolute gift and the sort of book that stays with you long after you’ve closed the pages.

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8. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

“I want to survive this world that keeps trying to destroy me.”

Unlike Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants, expecting a Leigh Bardugo book to win up on my favourites list is a pretty safe bet. To each their own, but I’m honestly a little baffled at why this book has been so polarizing a read as the goodreads ratings suggest it is. Personally I loved it! Bardugo’s first foray into adult fiction introduces Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a former drug addict, sexual abuse survivor, and high school dropout who is offered a second chance – the opportunity to attend Yale University on a full-ride. The catch? She’s tasked with monitoring Yale’s secret magical societies, whose occult activities are more sinister than she could have imagined. Alex is a prickly protagonist, but I fell in love with her and with her mentor, the affable Darlington, and assistant Dawes. I found Ninth House an intelligent, atmospheric, and entrancing read that was well paced and left me hungry for more. At times it is as dark as advertised, with the book engaging directly with themes of sexual abuse and abuse of power so I advise heeding the trigger warnings if that’s something that concerns you.

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7. Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

“Escape now, feelings later.”

Getting personal for a moment, 2019 was a pretty dark year for me. I struggled a lot with mental health issues brought on by professional frustration and I fell into reading slumps more frequently, which is why books that I couldn’t put down, that let me escape into another world meant so much to me. Steel Crow Saga was one of those books. Despite its length, Steel Crow Saga is an action-packed, swift-paced book that hooked me immediately. Set in a mid-20th century fantasy version of Asia, where the Tomodanese (Japanese) have the ability to bond with and shape metal and the Sanbuna (Filipino) and Shang (Chinese) people can create a soul bond with an animal, it’s very clear what nations are represented by their fictional counterparts and Krueger uses this understanding to explore the tensions between these Asian countries and the impact that colonialism has had on each of them. As a non-Anime watcher, the comparisons to Pokemon and Avatar: The Last Airbender were more of a deterrent than a draw, but if you’re also not a big Anime person and are considering this book, let me just say that yes, Steel Crow Saga is a lot of fun, but it also tackles serious themes, albeit while retaining a hopeful buoyance about the future. The novel’s four viewpoint characters (soldier, prince, detective, and thief) each have a clear voice and motivation and I loved them all so much! I love that there is such an excellent standalone fantasy novel out there, but how bittersweet that there aren’t more stories to read about these fantastic characters and the fascinating politics of the world they live in!

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6. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

“The phrase ‘see attached bibliography’ is the single sexiest thing you have ever written to me.”

Speaking of fun and reading the right book at the right time, there’s this gem. Often I reject these kinds of books as too fluffy for me, but once or twice a year (see my love last year for Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda) a book sneaks in with just the right balance of humour, heart, angst, a pinch of snark, and a winning romance. I started off skeptical but was quickly smitten by this charming self-aware tale of bisexual disaster Alex, the First Son of the United States, falling in love with Henry, the Prince of Wales. The relationship between the characters, though quick moving, avoids feeling like instalove because we’re let in on the emails and other communications between the characters when they’re apart. Although the writing didn’t thrill me, I found the chemistry between Alex and Henry believable and I enjoyed most of the secondary characters. It’s very definitely a book written by an American and I had trouble getting my head around the English monarchy being completely different (and undeveloped beyond some pretty cringy conservative tropes) while the American presidency seems to just go AU after Obama. The writing is also somewhat uneven. There are some beautiful romantic lines and bits of dialogue that made me laugh out loud, and I loved the allusions to queer history, but some lines do seem to be trying too hard. It’s not objectively one of the best things I’ve ever read, but I devoured it and then devoured it again before I had to return it to the library, and then bought a copy to re-read in the future. It’s not perfect, but I loved it anyway and it made me feel all of the feelings.

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5. Regeneration by Pat Barker

“But it’s not very likely, is it, that any movement towards greater tolerance would persist in wartime? After all, in war, you’ve got this enormous emphasis on love between men – comradeship – and everybody approves. But at the same time there’s always this little niggle of anxiety. Is it right kind of love? Well, one of the ways you make sure it’s the right kind is to make it crystal clear what the penalties for the other kind are.”

The World Wars hold little interest for me, so I rarely pick up books set during this period, yet a select few have been so well-written and affecting that they are among my all-time favourites: Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, Wein’s Code Name Verity, and now Pat Barker’s Regeneration. Confronting the psychological effects of World War I, the first book in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy is a slender but powerful read. Told through clear, sparse prose, the novel focuses on treatment methods during the war, but its primary focus is Siegfried Sassoon, a decorated English officer (and lauded poet) who, in 1917, was sent for treatment in a war hospital by pioneering psychologist W. H. R. Rivers after sending a letter to the Times declaring his disillusionment with the war. Barker begins her novel with this declaration, a scathing condemnation of those involved that begins, “I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.” As both Sassoon and Rivers are historical figures, what happens to each of them is already known, it’s the psychological drama behind the action that concerns Barker and that makes Regeneration such a compelling read. Barker deftly weaves in themes of class, politics, masculinity, and homosexuality, as she explores the psyches of both the soldiers and of their psychologist. The conversations between Sassoon and Rivers are particularly riveting. I can’t wait to find time to read the rest of this series in the new year because Regeneration was a knockout and a new all-time favourite of mine that I would recommend to just about everyone, though be warned there are some graphic depictions of the symptoms of shellshock as well as treatments for psychiatric disorders.

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4. The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

“I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites. It had been well over 35,000 hours or so since then, with still not much murdering, but probably, I don’t know, a little under 35,00 hours of movies, serials, books, plays, and music consumed. As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure.”

My favourite discovery of 2019 was the Murderbot Diaries, a set of four novellas (with a full-length novel to be released in 2020!) told in the first person by a snarky, self-deprecating, agender security unit that thinks of itself as “Murderbot”. Murderbot would like nothing more than to half-ass its job and be left in peace to binge-watch its favourite shows, but when things go awry, Murderbot chooses to use its proficiency to keep the human explorers it has been assigned to watch over alive. The key word here is chooses because Murderbot lives in a world where it is treated as sentient property, owned by a corporate entity that leases security units out for contracted work. Its hacked governor chip offers the character the chance to make choices but not the freedom to do so openly, so it has shut itself off from humanity by pretending not to feel. Over the course of the series, Murderbot reluctantly takes steps towards exploring its humanity as it sets out on its own and must adapt to escape discovery. Murderbot is one of the most relatable characters I’ve encountered all year and I’ve been more or less shoving the first novella (All Systems Red) at people and telling them to read it all year. Gloriously snarky, intelligent plotted, and well-paced, I would recommend these novellas even to those who don’t normally enjoy science-fiction. Like many of the best stories about non-human characters, the Murderbot Diaries are, at their heart, about what it means to be human, particularly in a world where you’re seen as something less than.


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3. The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

“I am a witch,” said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. “I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.”

Two of my favourite series wrapped up this year and as you can see by their placement on this list, they both stuck the landing! The Winter of the Witch brilliantly concludes the story of Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Having experienced grief and hardship and been tested, Vasya matures into her powers to become a formidable woman and witch. It’s a transformation that feels earned, but that is also empowering. I wasn’t fully on board in earlier books, but the realization of Vasya’s slow-burn romance with Morozko, The Winter King, finds a new tenderness here and, through Vasya’s growing strength, becomes a true match of equals. Like the previous books in the Winternight Trilogy, The Winter of the Witch is immersive and atmospheric, told through Arden’s evocative, graceful prose. I loved the realistic moral ambiguity of the world, the fact that nothing is strictly black or white, good or evil as it initially appears to be and the fact that every choice has a consequence. I definitely shed a few tears over this one, and while I do have some quibbles about uneven pacing, I absolutely loved this book and the series it concludes.

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2. Amnesty by Lara Elena Donnelly

“Small lies,” he said. “Do you promise?”

When I first read the blurb for Amnesty, the final chapter in Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier series my heart stopped. Promising the return of a departed and much missed (by me anyway) character, I began counting the days until its release and yet I worried. Was there hope that the characters I loved so much could both face the consequences of their actions and survive the book? Would they ever be able to find peace after what they’d done? Would the ending feel earned? I needn’t have worried. Amnesty gives its characters room to breathe as they come to terms with the changes both in the world they inhabit and in each other. Characters take the first tentative steps towards putting the past behind them, yet Donnelly never hand-waves the trauma that they have experienced or belittles the choices that have led them to this point. Few things appeal more to be as a reader than a realistic exploration of trauma and the long and arduous, but not impossible, path that leads, if not to recovery per se, than at least forward. Amnesty tackles this beautifully and concludes in a bittersweet, and yet perfectly fitting finale. I was profoundly moved and cannot wait to re-read.

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1. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

“Dating back to the Iliad, ancient Egypt and beyond, burial rites have formed a critical function in most human societies. Whether we cremate a loved one or inter her bones, humans possess a deep-set instinct to mark death in some deliberate, ceremonial fashion. Perhaps the cruelest feature of forced disappearance as an instrument of war is that it denies the bereaved any such closure, relegating them to a permanent limbo of uncertainty.”

Was there ever any doubt that this would be my book of the year? Since I read Say Nothing in March I have been thrusting it at everyone I’ve ever met and insisting that they have to read this stunning book. At least a few have. Both of them have loved it as much as I did. I very rarely read nonfiction, but this narrative nonfiction work about the disappearance of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, during the conflict in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles” was so engaging that I had trouble putting it down. One of the most unsettling and informative books I’ve ever read, it contextualizes the events of the Troubles and the day-to-day existence and trauma of those who lived through this period. Needless to say, this book left quite an impression on me and I know it will haunt me for a long time to come.

Most Anticipated 2020 Releases

Every year I resolve to read more from my backlist – books I’ve been meaning to read for months or even years but have never quite gotten around to – and every year I look ahead to the shiny new releases and my plans fly out the window! I love reading these kinds of posts from others and adding to (an already lengthy) TBR list. They’re especially helpful for me as a reader/blogger who gets most of my reading material from my local library so I can place my holds early and get ahead in the queue! Last year my most anticipated list included just 13 titles, but I read 7 of them in the end, so that’s pretty good. I still plan to read through some of the titles that I already own, but I know I’ll be unable to resist the siren song of many of these hotly anticipated releases!

Note: I’ve noticed this year that a lot of release dates have been shifting around, even in the last few weeks, so this is (as far as I know) accurate at the time when I wrote it, but release dates may change. I’ve tried to check both goodreads and chapters indigo, the largest bookstore chain here in Canada for accuracy.

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The Teacher 
by Michal Ben-Naftali
translated by Daniella Zamir

January 21, 2020

“No one knew the story of Elsa Weiss. She was a respected English teacher at a Tel Aviv high school, but she remained aloof and never tried to befriend her students. No one ever encountered her outside of school hours. She was a riddle, and yet the students sensed that they were all she had. When Elsa killed herself by jumping off the roof of her apartment building, she remained as unknown as she had been during her life. Thirty years later, the narrator of the novel, one of her students, decides to solve the riddle of Elsa Weiss. Expertly dovetailing explosive historical material with flights of imagination, the novel explores the impact of survivor’s guilt and traces the footprints of a Holocaust survivor who did her utmost to leave no trace.”

Since my first few titles (and some more further down) appear both on Rachel’s most anticipated list and on mine, a big shout out to Rachel for so often being my source for new literary/general fiction titles I might enjoy. Thanks Rachel! I’m so intrigued by this premise. Survivor’s guilt is a really interesting (and obviously depressing) theme and the promise of a book with historical material that has been well-researched and a richly imagined fictional biography speaks to me.

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The Truants 

Kate Weinberg
January 28, 2020

“Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat grey skies of East Anglia for one reason: To be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess’s thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna’s thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly-knit group of rule-breakers–Alec, a courageous South African journalist with a nihilistic streak; Georgie, a seductive, pill-popping aristocrat; and Nick, a handsome geologist with layers of his own.

But when tragedy strikes the group, Jess turns to Lorna. Together, the two seek refuge on a remote Italian island, where Jess tastes the life she’s long dreamed of–and uncovers a shocking secret that will challenge everything she’s learned.”

I don’t read nearly enough literary suspense and this sounds like the perfect antidote to that problem. I’m always wary of comp titles, especially those invoking the Queen of Crime Agatha Christie, but the goodreads blurb has enough descriptors I enjoy (‘unsettling’, ‘beautifully written’) for me to pick this up.

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To be Taught, If Fortunate
Becky Chambers
January 28, 2020

“As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, Ariadne and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.

Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.”

Canada usually follows the US release dates for books. More rarely, we’ll align with the UK date. Yet when it comes to books by Becky Chambers we’re somehow always months late to the party! I waited months for Record of a Spaceborn Few and I’m still waiting for this new novella by the author of the Wayfarers series, so onto the 2020 list it goes.

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Upright Women Wanted
Sarah Gailey
February 4, 2020

“Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her—a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda. The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.”

I really enjoyed Gailey’s Magic for Liars but, let’s be honest, it’s the “queer librarian spies on horseback” that rocketed this to the top tier of my TBR!

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Daughter from the Dark
Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
translated by Julia Meitov Hersey
February 11, 2020

“Late one night, fate brings together DJ Aspirin and ten-year-old Alyona. After he tries to save her from imminent danger, she ends up at his apartment. But in the morning sinister doubts set in. Who is Alyona? A young con artist? A plant for a nefarious blackmailer? Or perhaps a long-lost daughter Aspirin never knew existed? Whoever this mysterious girl is, she now refuses to leave.

A game of cat-and-mouse has begun.

Claiming that she is a musical prodigy, Alyona insists she must play a complicated violin piece to find her brother. Confused and wary, Aspirin knows one thing: he wants her out of his apartment and his life. Yet every attempt to get rid of her is thwarted by an unusual protector: her plush teddy bear that may just transform into a fearsome monster.

Alyona tells Aspirin that if he would just allow her do her work, she’ll leave him—and this world. He can then return to the shallow life he led before her. But as outside forces begin to coalesce, threatening to finally separate them, Aspirin makes a startling discovery about himself and this ethereal, eerie child.”

The challenging foreboding Russian fantasy Vita Nostra was one of my favourite reads of 2018, so I’m excited to dive deeper into Marina  and Sergey Dyachenko’s minds with this standalone novel, also translated by Julia Meitov Hersey.


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The Unspoken Name
A.K. Larkwood
February 11, 2020

“What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.”

The Unspoken Name has been much buzzed about in sci-fi & fantasy circles, but it first came to my attention when it was recommended by author Tamsyn Muir as a great high fantasy with queer representation. Admittedly I read fewer fantasy books these days that feature non-human characters, but titles like The Goblin Emperor are among my all-time favs, so a orc characters isn’t necessarily a turn-off. Also, author A.K. Larkwood’s about page lists some pretty intriguing favourite things to write about!

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Last Smile in Sunder City
Luke Arnold
February 25, 2020

“I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:

1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential – the cops can never make me talk.
3. I don’t work for humans.
 
It’s nothing personal – I’m human myself. But after what happened, Humans don’t need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came…
I just want one real case. One chance to do something good.

Because it’s my fault the magic is never coming back.”

An actor trying their hand at writing novels always fills me with a certain trepidation, urban fantasy is not my genre of choice, and reviews have been pretty middling, so I can’t honestly say that I’m expecting much from Last Smile in Sunder City, but I do still plan on reading it for two reasons: 1) It’s written by Luke Arnold, AKA Long John Silver on the best TV show there ever was, Black Sails, and Arnold has always seemed very pop culture and fandom savvy. 2) The Kirkus review described it as “the illegitimate love child of Terry Pratchett and Dashiell Hammett.” I love Chandler, Hammett and the hardboiled detective fiction genre and I’ve enjoyed the woefully little I’ve read from Pratchett, so this is a pretty powerful comp. It’s appeared in my local library’s catalogue so I’ll definitely pick it up at some point.


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When We Were Magic
Sarah Gailey
March 3, 2020

“Alexis has always been able to rely on two things: her best friends, and the magic powers they all share. Their secret is what brought them together, and their love for each other is unshakeable—even when that love is complicated. Complicated by problems like jealousy, or insecurity, or lust. Or love.

That unshakeable, complicated love is one of the only things that doesn’t change on prom night.
 

When accidental magic goes sideways and a boy winds up dead, Alexis and her friends come together to try to right a terrible wrong. Their first attempt fails—and their second attempt fails even harder. Left with the remains of their failed spells and more consequences than anyone could have predicted, each of them must find a way to live with their part of the story.”

More Sarah Gailey. More magic. Also apparently female friendships and gay witches? Sounds good to me!

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My Dark Vanessa
Kate Elizabeth Russell
March 10, 2020

“2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.”

Obviously a very timely novel in the era of #MeToo, I’m really intrigued to see how this one goes down and what uncomfortable questions it raises.

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The Glass Hotel
Emily St. John Mandel
March 24, 2020

“Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star hotel on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for Neptune-Avradimis, reads the words and orders a drink to calm down. Alkaitis, the owner of the hotel and a wealthy investment manager, arrives too late to read the threat, never knowing it was intended for him. He leaves Vincent a hundred dollar tip along with his business card, and a year later they are living together as husband and wife.

High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. He holds the life savings of an artist named Olivia Collins, the fortunes of a Saudi prince and his extended family, and countless retirement funds, including Leon Prevant’s. The collapse of the financial empire is as swift as it is devastating, obliterating fortunes and lives, while Vincent walks away into the night. Until, years later, she steps aboard a Neptune-Avramidis vessel, the Neptune Cumberland, and disappears from the ship between ports of call”.

Like many, I absolutely loved St. John Mandel’s previous novel Station Eleven, a quiet, hopeful book about rebuilding after the end of the world and the importance of the arts to our humanity. The Glass Hotel sounds completely different, but I’m sure that St. John Mandel’s prose will continue to soar and I can’t wait to read her latest effort!

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The Empress of Salt and Fortune
Nghi Vo
March 24, 2020

“With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.”

This Tor.com novella sounds so intriguing! If there’s anything I learned with my reading last year it’s how many terrific novellas there are out there and what an impact can be made in under 200 pages. I’m really looking forward to finding more great novellas in the new year and this looks like the perfect choice! Also ‘feminist high fantasy’ about the ‘anger of women’. Those are some pretty great descriptors.

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The City We Became
N.K. Jemisin
March 26, 2020

“Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.”

N.K. Jemisin. Need I say more? She’s definitely on my auto-read list by now and this is one of the most hyped and exciting SFF releases of 2020.

 

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Shorefall
Robert Jackson Bennett
April 21, 2020 (???)

“The upstart firm Foundryside is struggling to make it. Orso Igancio and his star employee, former thief Sancia Grado, are accomplishing brilliant things with scriving, the magical art of encoding sentience into everyday objects, but it’s not enough. The massive merchant houses of Tevanne won’t tolerate competition, and they’re willing to do anything to crush Foundryside.

But even the merchant houses of Tevanne might have met their match. An immensely powerful and deadly entity has been resurrected in the shadows of Tevanne, one that’s not interested in wealth or trade routes: a hierophant, one of the ancient practitioners of scriving. And he has a great fascination for Foundryside, and its employees – especially Sancia.

Now Sancia and the rest of Foundryside must race to combat this new menace, which means understanding the origins of scriving itself – before the hierophant burns Tevanne to the ground.”

There have also been January and February release dates for this one floating around, but I’m going with the bookseller pre-order date of April 21st. At this point Robert Jackson Bennett is both an auto-read/buy author and one of the few white cis straight men that I trust to write women/woc well. I adored his Divine Cities trilogy and thought Foundryside, the first in his Founders series, with its astounding worldbuilding was one of the most intelligent, thoughtful books I read in 2018. I can’t wait to dive into this sequel!

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The Silence of Bones
June Hur
April 21, 2020

“1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.

As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder.

But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.”

Hadeer’s most anticipated reads turned me onto this one. I don’t have a ton of YA on my TBR for next year and The Silence of Bones sounds unique for the genre. After Pachinko I’ve definitely had an interest in Korean lit/history, and the author is Canadian and apparently we even work for the same library system (although to my knowledge we’ve never met)!

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Swimming in the Dark
Tomasz Jedrowski
April 28, 2020

“When university student Ludwik meets Janusz at a summer agricultural camp, he is fascinated yet wary of this handsome, carefree stranger. But a chance meeting by the river soon becomes an intense, exhilarating, and all-consuming affair. After their camp duties are fulfilled, the pair spend a dreamlike few weeks camping in the countryside, bonding over an illicit copy of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Inhabiting a beautiful natural world removed from society and its constraints, Ludwik and Janusz fall deeply in love. But in their repressive communist and Catholic society, the passion they share is utterly unthinkable.

Once they return to Warsaw, the charismatic Janusz quickly rises in the political ranks of the party and is rewarded with a highly-coveted position in the ministry. Ludwik is drawn toward impulsive acts of protest, unable to ignore rising food prices and the stark economic disparity around them. Their secret love and personal and political differences slowly begin to tear them apart as both men struggle to survive in a regime on the brink of collapse.”

Rachel, Steph, and I have a bit of a pattern of reading books described as gay and heartbreaking and this certainly fits the bill. There was a distinct lack of depressing fiction in my 2019 reads. I’m hoping to change that and to be really emotionally impacted by something, and this might be the perfect choice. I also haven’t read a lot of Polish lit and I’m intrigued to see what that looks like.

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Network Effect
Martha Wells
May 5, 2020

“Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.”

Hands down the 2020 release that I am most excited about! Martha Wells was my favourite discovery of 2019. The Murderbot quartet of novellas are absolutely brilliant, with a protagonist who is snarky, relatable, and human even in its desire to be anything but. Like many other Muderbot devotees, I jumped for joy when I heard there would be a full-length novel featuring Murderbot.

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Suzanne Collins
May 19, 2020

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes will revisit the world of Panem sixty-four years before the events of The Hunger Games, starting on the morning of the reaping of the Tenth Hunger Games.”

The title and the cover are objectively pretty awful but how could I not be excited about a return to Panam (and terrified, definitely terrified)!

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Harrow the Ninth
Tamsyn Muir
June 2, 2020

“Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?”

Gideon the Ninth wasn’t an absolute slam dunk for me; I found the worldbuilding incomplete and the pacing uneven, however it was still one of the most singularly unique books I’ve ever read. I fell in love with the characters and I can’t wait to see where Muir takes them next in her second The Locked Tomb book.


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The Court of Miracles
Kester Grant
June 2nd 2020

“A diverse fantasy re-imagining of Les Misérables and The Jungle Book.

In the dark days following a failed French Revolution, in the violent jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, young cat-burglar Eponine (Nina) Thenardier goes head to head with merciless royalty, and the lords of the city’s criminal underworld to save the life of her adopted sister Cosette (Ettie).

Her vow will take her from the city’s dark underbelly, through a dawning revolution, to the very heart of the glittering court of Louis XVII, where she must make an impossible choice between guild, blood, betrayal and war.

I mean the pitch is “a diverse fantasy re-imagining of Les Misérables and The Jungle Book”. This could be terrible but I’m so curious about what a combination of those two things would look like!

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The Tyrant Baru Cormorant
Seth Dickinson
June 9th 2020

“The hunt is over. After fifteen years of lies and sacrifice, Baru Cormorant has the power to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest that she pretends to serve. The secret society called the Cancrioth is real, and Baru is among them.

But the Cancrioth’s weapon cannot distinguish the guilty from the innocent. If it escapes quarantine, the ancient hemorrhagic plague called the Kettling will kill hundreds of millions…not just in Falcrest, but all across the world. History will end in a black bloodstain.

Is that justice? Is this really what Tain Hu hoped for when she sacrificed herself?

Baru’s enemies close in from all sides. Baru’s own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path — a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world’s riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize.

If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.”

I know, I haven’t even read The Monster Baru Cormorant yet, but I’m planning to prioritize it this year and then carry on with this third book in the series. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an all-time favourite of mine that I’m excited to revisit.

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The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water
Zen Cho
June 23, 2020

“Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.”

I wasn’t as enthralled by The True Queen as I was Sorcerer to the Crown, but I still enjoyed reading it a great deal. I’m excited about anything Zen Cho has to offer and the blurb sounds right up my alley and fits in well with my recent plunge into The Untamed obsession! This also fits in well with my continuing read more novellas goal for 2020!

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The Angel of the Crows
Katherine Addison
June 23, 2020

“This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.
 
In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.
 

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.”

Somehow I only recently found out about this?? I’m a little appalled at my lack of awareness of this book because The Goblin Emperor is one of my all-time favourites… as is her Doctrine of Labyrinths quartet published under the name Sarah Monette. At this point I would read anything she chooses to write and a paranormal Victorian London is certainly appealing!

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The Empire of Gold
S.A. Chakraborty
June 30, 2020

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her familyand one misstep will doom her tribe.
 
Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid, the unpredictable water spirits, have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.
 

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.”

I still haven’t read Kingdom of Copper, but I loved City of Brass and look forward to reading the final chapter in the Daevabad Trilogy!

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The Island Child
Molly Aitken
July 28, 2020

“Twenty years ago, Oona left the island of Inis for the very first time. A wind-blasted rock of fishing boats and sheep’s wool, where the only book was the Bible and girls stayed in their homes until mothers themselves, the island was a gift for some, a prison for others. Oona was barely more than a girl, but promised herself she would leave the tall tales behind and never return.

The Island Child tells two stories: of the child who grew up watching births and betrayals, storms and secrets, and of the adult Oona, desperate to find a second chance, only to discover she can never completely escape. As the strands of Oona’s life come together, in blood and marriage and motherhood, she must accept the price we pay when we love what is never truly ours . . .”

Magic realism can be hit or miss for me, but I’ve read some books in the genre I truly loved and the emphasis on Irish folklore definitely appeals to my interests and my roots. This is also one of the more gorgeous covers I’ve seen!

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So there you go! Nearly double the number of anticipated reads I had last year (especially if you add in Rebecca Kuang’s The Burning God and Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, both due to be released in Fall 2020 although they don’t have cover art yet). Are you eagerly awaiting some of these too? Is there another upcoming release that you can’t wait to read? Please comment and let me know!

Most Disappointing Books of 2019

As the year winds down and we look ahead to a new year of trying to keep on top of our goodreads challenges and our ever growing TBR piles, I wanted to look back on some of this year’s reads that really didn’t work for me. Reading is always subjective and not all of these are bad books per se, they’re just books that, for one reason or another, I didn’t enjoy. Each of these books fell short of the coveted “good” rating of three stars or above on goodreads, making them my most disappointing books of 2019.

347231305. Slayer by Kiersten White
My rating: star-2-half
Review here 
Perhaps my expectations were just too sky high, but as an older millennial who grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the announcement of a new series of Buffyverse novels written by Kiersten White, author of the much loved Conquerors Trilogy, filled me with joy. Slayer failed to live up to its potential though in this underwhelming, and frankly unnecessary, read. The dialogue didn’t sparkle in that infinitely quotable, pop culture-infused way that episodes of the TV show still do decades later, the plot was predictable and a little sloppy, the main characters lacked depth while the supporting characters were interchangeable, and trying to figure out the timeline of the novel gave me a migraine. As I expanded on in my full review, I hoped that White would give us a slayer for a new generation. Someone relevant to today’s issues, who would disrupt the white feminist slant of the show. Instead, I had trouble connecting with either timid Nina or her protective twin sister Artemis. There were things I liked about Slayer, such as the Easter eggs referencing minor characters from the series, the idea of a shared slayer dreamspace, and encounters with OG slayers Buffy and Faith, but ultimately the novel fell short in just about every way.

329272394. The Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: star-2-half
Another case of a critically lauded (in science-fiction circles, at least) book that just didn’t work for me. While I may have struggled with and not fully understood Ninefox Gambit, the first in Yoon Ha Lee’s The Machineries of Empire trilogy, I appreciated Lee’s ambition and the fascinating dynamic between the story’s two protagonists, Kel Cheris and Jedao, the dead, sociopathic tactician sharing her mind. Not allowing the reader into the mind of a character and forcing us to view them only through the biased eyes of supporting characters can be done to great effect (see The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett) but in The Raven Stratagem I just found myself missing Kel Cheris and Jedao. Lee takes a step back from the action to shift from a military perspective to a more political and personal story (again something I’ve seen done to great effect, in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword for example), but something about The Raven Stratagem didn’t click for me. Perhaps its the perspectives involved – the fact that the story is mostly told from the POV of those who have power rather than those who lack it and are effected as a result. Perhaps it’s that the cast of characters expanded for this novel but weren’t nearly as well developed as in the first book. Whatever the reason, I found The Raven Stratagem to be a challenge with limited rewards. I’m honestly not sure whether I’ll bother to read the concluding novel in this trilogy.

43256597._sy475_3. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
My rating: star-2-half
I can’t think of a better example of the subjective nature of reading than the fact that Night Boat to Tangier has appeared on multiple critics’ best of lists for the year (not to mention been longlisted for the Booker) while landing squarely on my list of the year’s most disappointing titles! Night Boat to Tangier should have been a slam dunk. I don’t always love literary fiction, but a darkly comic read about two aging Irish criminals reminiscing about their pasts while awaiting an estranged daughter’s arrival sounded right up my alley. However it took me more than a month, and a number of self pep talks, to slog through its mere 255 pages. Although the book has some lovely turns of phrase and had me sniggering a few times at its black humour, I need more than language to be invested in a book and that emotional attachment never materialized here. Its protagonists are nearly interchangeable and because I was not connected to the characters, I was left unaffected by their reminiscing. The plot is nearly non-existent and I often found myself struggling to focus on the pages. Admittedly I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d had the time to devote to reading it properly, rather than in fits and spurts over a long period of time, but not much more. Do Charlie and Maurice ever reunite with Dilly, the estranged daughter? Honestly, by the time I reached the end I just didn’t care one way or the other.

393590112.Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee
My rating: star-2
Review here
I’d be more inclined to go easy on self-published author Jonathan P. Brazee’s military science-fiction novella if he hadn’t played the voting system to garner a completely undeserved Nebula Award nomination earlier this year. In a field of imaginative, well-written nominees, Brazee’s tale of a plucky underdog stood out in all the wrong ways. Fire Ant is an amateur effort, as riddled with genre cliches as it is spelling and grammar errors. My eyes glazed over at the abundance of military procedures and space battles, yet there was woefully little in the way of characterization. Admittedly I’m not keen on the military sci-fi subgenre and I definitely wouldn’t have picked up Fire Ant if I hadn’t challenged myself to read all the Nebula nominated novels and novellas this year, but I confess that I have little sympathy when an author pushes to get their work nominated for a prestigious prize when it isn’t anywhere near the high caliber of writing showcased by fellow nominees in the category. Fire Ant is the novella equivalent of the umpteenth sequel to a popcorn movie. Blandly entertaining enough while you’re consuming it, but forgotten shortly thereafter.

393958571. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
My rating: star-2
Review here
Leckie is the second author this year (along with Kiersten White) to appear on my most disappointing 2019 reads list after having one of my favourite reads in a previous year. I LOVED Leckie’s sci-fi Imperial Radch trilogy and her standalone set in the same universe (titled Provenance), so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her first foray into fantasy, but The Raven Tower‘s glacially slow pace made this one a challenge to get through. I continue to admire Leckie and respect her attempt to do something completely different with the genre, but the experimental nature of the novel (which is told from the perspective of a god who exists across time in the form of a rock) did not work for me at all. The distracting second person tense keeps readers at arms length from the characters so I was never able to connect with them and it’s about 250 pages longer than it should be. As a novella The Raven Tower could really have been something, but as a novel it’s just a snoozefest.

What were your most disappointing reads of 2019? Let me know in the comments!

My Life in Books 2019

Both Rachel and Callum did this bookish tag/meme recently and I’m shamelessly stealing it from them as I try and get back into blogging in time for all of the fun end of year content!

The rules are simple: Using only books you have read this year, answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

In high school I was 
The Girl in the Tower

People might be surprised by All My Puny Sorrows

I will never be The True Queen

My fantasy job is Sorcerer to the Crown

At the end of a long day I need Conversations with Friends

I hate The Deep

I Wish I had Magic for Liars

My family reunions are Empire of Wild

At a party you’d find me with Exit Strategy

I’ve never been to Blackfish City

A happy day includes Normal People

Motto I live by: Gamechanger

On my bucket list is Regeneration

In my next life, I want to have Vigilance

Books Mentioned:

Tagging anyone who would like to do this!