Top Ten Tuesday: Single-Word Titles

I’m just squeaking in under the wire here, but I loved this Top Ten Tuesday topic so much that I wanted to participate, even though it’s last minute! At first I thought it would be a challenge to fill all ten slots on this list, but I actually ended up having to leave some out. Here are ten of my favourite books that go by just a single word:

34810320Sadie by Courtney Summers
This gritty YA thriller is one of the best things I read in 2018. Told in alternating points-of-view, one in which the titular protagonist tracks her younger sister Mattie’s killer across America and the other a serialized podcast of her story by a local radio personality trying to locate the missing Sadie, the book is less about what happened and more concerned with how events unfolded. Sadie herself is so intriguing; her determination to make right the botched police investigation and bring Mattie’s murderer to justice is balanced with her resourcefulness and vulnerability and Summers handles the dark themes of her book (which is definitely on the mature side of YA) with sensitivity. This was one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I put it down!

15195Maus by Art Spiegelman
Yes, I know there are subtitles for this genre-defying graphic novel, but if I were to reference just Maus to almost anyone, I’m certain they would know what I’m talking about so I feel justified in including it here. Originally serialized from 1980 to 1981 (it’s now commonly published in either a one or two volume collected edition), Maus depicts both Art Spiegelman’s interviews with his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, and Art’s memories of the complicated relationship he has with his father. Memorably, the Jewish characters are drawn as mice, Nazis as cats, etc. Maus became the first graphic novel to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize and it’s significance both as a work of literature and in its sobering account of the Holocaust and the inter-generational impact of that trauma, really can’t be overstated. It’s also damned good. As you’d expect from the subject matter, Maus can be difficult to read. It’s unflinching and honest and will move even those with the hardest of hearts, but it’s well worth reading and will no doubt remain a classic.

25353286Provenance by Ann Leckie
Compared to her Imperial Radch trilogy, I felt like this standalone novel set in the same universe but featuring an entirely different cast of characters, undeservedly flew under the radar. Admittedly a book so focused on a fundamental archival principle (“provenance” is a term for the individual, family, or organization that created or received items in a collection) was always going to appeal to my librarian who seriously considered becoming an archivist nature, but I honestly loved Provenance! Leckie raises important questions about the way we document historical events, wondering if a document needs to be genuine to be important? Or can it gain significance through what it represents, even if it is based on a lie? Provenance is part mystery, part coming-of-age tale, and part political thriller with astounding worldbuilding, subtle but pointed social commentary, and engaging characters. I just wish more people would read it!

14497Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
No one can accuse Neil Gaiman’s works of flying under the radar. They’ve been adapted into TV series, movies, plays, and even an opera, but I still have a soft spot for Neverwhere. I love the idea of London Below, a world where people who fall through the cracks of society go, sometimes merely through showing compassion for others, and especially the way in which Gaiman has used the existing London tube stations as the inspiration for creatures and beings that inhabit his byzantine underground world. Although protagonist Richard Mayhew is your standard fantasy ‘everyman reluctantly sucked into adventure’ character, the beings who populate London Below are every bit as strange as their setting. It’s been about seven years since I read it last so I’m definitely due for a re-read.

Foundryside RD4 clean flatFoundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Set in an industrial city inspired by the Italian City States, Foundryside is an inventive, fast-paced book about a street smart thief who gets in over her head when she unknowingly steals an immensely powerful object. Sure it has a gorgeous cover, but it’s Bennett’s creation of one of the most innovative magic systems I’ve ever encountered that has me singing Foundryside‘s praises. Basically the consciousness of objects in the world can be manipulated when they’re inscribed (referred to in-world as ‘scriving’) with a set of magical symbols and codes. Operating like the rules of a computer programming language in our world, scriving tricks objects into believing that they are supposed to behave differently. The result is a fantasy novel uniquely placed to comment on the ethics of technology, intellectual property, and anti-competitive practices that create barriers to information for the less privileged members of society.

32322796Elegy by Vale Aida
As anyone who has been reading this blog, or following me on social media knows, I am physically incapable of shutting up about Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. I have a literary type and it’s the clever, witty, competent, theatrical hero every bit as frustrating as they are intriguing. He who places everyone else above himself even while putting up a facade of apathy. Author Vale Aida’s Elegy and Swansong (the Magpie Ballads duology) are a delightful Lymond pastiche. Like the idea of the Lymond Chronicles but worried about the dense prose and untranslated quotations? Wish Lymond was more overtly queer than subtextually queer (it’s still pretty damn queer, it was just written in the 1960s)? Love the enemies -> lovers trope? Then Elegy and Swansong are for you! They are independently published, but available in eBook or paperback form through Amazon or Book Depository and are well worth buying! I fell in love with the characters, swooned over the lush prose, and delighted in the political intrigue.

PachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee
I feel like considering it only narrowly missed out on the top spot on my ‘Favourite Books of 2017’ list, I don’t talk about Pachinko nearly enough, so here goes: I knew very little about Korea in the 20th century so this multi-generational historical fiction novel following an ethnic Korean family living in Korea under Japanese rule, and then in Japan itself, was an eye-opening experience. It’s a novel that doesn’t shy away from depicting discrimination and hardship faced by Koreans living in Japan, who were seen as foreign residents and shut out of many traditional occupations. What makes Pachinko so engrossing though are its characters. Although the characters are realistic and flawed, at times making choices that are not in their best interests, I love that this family isn’t afraid of hard work and sacrifice in order to achieve a better life for their children. When they succeed, we feel their happiness, when things don’t go as well and they endure hardship, we bare their pain. It never feels long, and I was carried away by the elegant prose and the engaging portrait of one family through the decades.

68485Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
I love that the genres of fantasy and science-fiction have come far enough that taglines like “lesbian necromancers in space!” and “queer librarians on horseback fighting facism!” are being used to sell books. It wasn’t always that way, but there were pioneers, like Ellen Kushner’s 1987 “mannerspunk”/”fantasy of manners” novel Swordspoint. It’s a second-world fantasy (meaning it’s set in another world but there’s no magic) about a bisexual master swordsman (Richard St. Vier), who is hired by nobles to settle their disputes by dueling on their behalf. The plot is largely political intrigue among nobels, but it’s Kushner’s lovely prose and the way in which she writes her captivating characters (particularly Richard and Alec and their relationship) that stayed with me long after I finished the book. I’m definitely due for a re-read this Spring!

31451186Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
I’m not just including Borne because I’m especially proud of the review where I compared the concept of this novel to studio executives hearing the pitch for SpongeBob SquarePants for the first time (although, I am proud and I stand by it!), it’s honestly one of my favourite standalones of all time. I value uniqueness in my reads and I can’t think of anything stranger than Jeff VanderMeer’s novel about a sentient cross between a sea anemone and a squid, a towering, insane, flying grizzly bear, and a post-apocalyptic city scavenger. Often eloquent and beautiful, Borne is a melancholy, but ultimately hopeful, exploration of humanity, the environment, and non-human intelligence.

35018890Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
All three of Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier trilogy books are single-word titled books and I absolutely adore them. Inspired by both Cabaret and Weimar Republic Berlin, Amberlough is a tense spy drama set in a sensual, richly described, secondary world during the rise of a fascist government coup. I’ve rarely A) been so tense while reading a book and B) found myself absently reflecting on the book even months after I finished reading it. I loved the moral ambiguity of the world and its characters, the relationships between each of the characters (but particularly Aristide and Cyril), and the political intrigue. Amberlough is one of those rare books that has imprinted on my heart and that I know I’ll be re-reading for the rest of my life.

What are some of your favourite single-word book titles? Drop me a comment and let me know!

Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, created by The Broke and Bookish and now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

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!

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.

48107252._sy475_
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!

The Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag 2019

I’m more than a little late on this one, but before July slips away I couldn’t resist filling out the Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag for the third year in a row. Honestly 2019 has been a disappointing year of reading for me so far. I’ve read a lot of great reads but very few that blew me away. With just five months left of the year there are only 4 books or series that I can see making my year-end list of favourites. I’ll have to step it up! But first, a reflection on the first half of the year in books:

Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2019
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Hands down it’s Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. 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” is so engaging that I had trouble putting it down and have since recommended it to countless friends and coworkers. 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. Say Nothing will haunt me for a long time to come.

Question 2 – Your favorite sequel of the year


Two of my favourite trilogies wrapped up this year. I can only imagine the pressure an author must feel to stick the landing of their series, but both of these authors brought their respective stories to a close brilliantly. Amnesty, the final part in Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough Dossier series focused on its characters to explore recovery from trauma and how to move on in a bittersweet but perfectly appropriate finale. Katherine Arden’s Winter of the Witch focused on Vasya, one of my favourite fictional characters, maturing into her powers and her slow-burn relationship with the Winter King. Although the pacing was at times uneven, I was engaged throughout and found the story deeply moving.

Question 3 – A new release that you haven’t read but really want to


Three new releases that have caught my attention, but that I haven’t picked up yet are:

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – Measuring in at a whooping nearly 900 pages, this is a doorstopper of a book that almost feels like a throwback to the massive fantasy epics of 10-20 years ago BUT it’s written by a woman and the reviews I’ve read say it’s worth the time investment.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine – This one got a lot of buzz as a clever, intricate sci-fi debut involving political machinations. All of these things appeal to me so I look forward to checking it out!

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – I’m not sure it even counts as new anymore since it came out last October, but I’m still dying to pick this up! I LOVED The Traitor Baru Cormorant but wanted to re-read before moving on in the series and I haven’t done it yet. This year for sure!

Question 4 – Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – I feel like every book blogger is talking about this book! I keep checking back waiting for it to be added to the Toronto Public Library catalogue so I can place my hold, but honestly the buzz has been so overwhelming that I might just buy a copy because this book sounds right up my alley!

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang – Last year The Poppy War was one of my favourite books – a fantasy debut that was refreshingly diverse, was set in a brutal world, and featured a ruthless, not traditionally likable heroine. I look forward to continuing Rin’s story in this sequel.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – At this point I will read anything Leigh Bardugo chooses to write, so I am all in for her adult fiction debut!

Question 5 – Your biggest disappointment

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The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie. I ADORE Leckie’s Imperial Radch Trilogy and the standalone novel set in the same universe (Provenance) so my expectations were sky high for her first fantasy novel but I was just so damned bored! I strongly considered DNF-ing and only didn’t so I could write my review on how much I disliked this book. Others may find it experimental and brave but I hated it.

Question 6 – Biggest surprise of the year


My big self-set challenge for this year was so read the Nebula nominees, which included novellas. I’d previously always thought that novellas weren’t my thing, but it turns out I was just reading the wrong ones! I read some brilliant novellas this year. I had a good inkling that I would adore Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series since they’ve been so acclaimed and the summary really appealed to me, but I was surprised by how much I loved Kate Heartfield’s Alice Payne Arrives and Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach. As a bonus, both authors are Canadian!

Alice Payne Arrives and its sequel are pure time travel fun with a lesbian WoC highway(wo)man protagonist who, along with her scientist lover, robs unsuspecting men who behave inappropriately towards women. What’s not to love?

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is an ecological novella that cleverly imagines how time travel technology could be used for profit, while exploring generational differences in a sensitive way. Also, it has an asexual secondary character!

Question 7 – Favourite new to you or debut author


I FINALLY read Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series of novellas and I have absolutely no idea why it took me so long. I AM OBSESSED. Snarky pretends not to care introverted robot who would prefer to be watching its favourite TV shows but actually cares a whole lot and has to keep saving its stupid humans? Sign me up!

Question 8 – Your new fictional crush

Pass.

Question 9 – New favourite character


Hands down the answer is Murderbot. I adore Murderbot. I probably relate to it a little too much for it to be healthy. I will read anything Martha Wells writes about Murderbot. Runners up are Billy from Daisy Jones & The Six, who I found so empathetic and engaging, and Elma from The Calculating Stars. Her mathematical brilliance, drive to achieve her goals, ability to reflect on how she could do better when it came to women-of-colour and those from less privileged backgrounds, and her severe social anxiety made her such a well-rounded and interesting protagonist.

Question 10 – A book that made you cry

Once again, these two brilliant conclusions to trilogies. The emotional catharsis was A Lot. And honestly even the description for Amnesty when it was released was enough to make me emotional (DO NOT READ THE DESCRIPTION FOR AMNESTY IF YOU HAVEN’T READ AMBERLOUGH AND ARMISTICE, IT IS SPOILERY), so was there ever any doubt that the book would make me feel all the feelings?

Question 11 – A book that made you happy

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The True Queen by Zen Cho. Sorcerer to the Crown was such a delightful read and I absolutely adored this sequel as well. It’s well-paced, with more plot twists throughout than Sorcerer to the Crown and the writing remains witty, often with tongue-in-cheek. The return of Prunella and Zacharias filled me with delight, and I loved the expanded roles of some minor characters from the first book, and the introduction of new characters like Muna, a young Malaysian woman in search of her sister.

Question 12 – Your favourite book to movie adaptation that you’ve seen this year

I don’t know if I’ve seen any to be honest! I don’t tend to watch a lot of films though.
Although not a movie, I’m very much looking forward to watching the adaptation of Good Omens.

I also started watching The Magicians this year and binge-watched the DVDs in record time for the first three seasons and it was my happy place. I absolutely loved it. And then season four came along and if you’ve missed what went down about the end of the season, including the shameful treatment of mental health issues, queer characters, the actors involved, and the fanbase then you’re lucky. It’s soured my entire view of the show to date and I haven’t been able to watch it back since, which is a shame because the weird and frequently ‘just for the hell of it’ weirdness of the show, the musical episodes, and the friendships between the characters were exactly what I wanted in a show.

Question 13 – Favourite book post you’ve done this year

It’s been a rough year for me with the winter that never ends kicking my SAD into high gear and then a summer that has been incredibly humid and stressful at work so I haven’t had the time or drive to blog. I’m hoping to write a few non-review posts in the next few weeks that I’m looking forward to as things finally quiet down for me at work.

I’m most proud that I completed my challenge of both reading and reviewing all of the Nebula nominees for Best Novel and Best Novella before the awards were announced. Read my coverage here.

I finally found the words to write a review of Amberlough, one of my favourite books.

And I’m honestly pretty pleased with how my less positive review of The Raven Tower turned out.

Question 14 – The most beautiful book you have bought/received this year

The Amberlough Dossier series have some of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen in my life. I also bought a keeper copy of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside and I love the cover design on it.

Question 15 – What are some books you need to read by the end of the year

I’d really like to work through some of my owned but not read backlist of books. That includes reading Royal Assassin, the second in Robin Hobb’s Farseer series, Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, The King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo, The Regeneration Trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and Ghost Road) by Pat Barker, and reading some of Mary Renault’s work for the first time.

As well as a few re-reads so I can continue with series – The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson and The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold – and a few classics. I’m hoping to tackle Rebecca (for the first time) and Frankenstein (which I haven’t read since I was 19) this Fall.

How’s everyone else’s reading year going? Are you having better luck with your book choices than I am? What should I add to my TBR that you absolutely loved and think I would too? Comment and let me know!