Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Best Books of 2018

What a crazy, amazing book year it has been. A lot of great YA books came out this past year. I’m going to recap my year for a little bit. For the first time in 4 years, I set my reading goal on Goodreads to 100 books, and I’m already one past my goal! I read a lot this year (101 books and still going strong). I took a mini vacation from blogging last Spring, and then came back with some mini reviews. I became a little less stressed about my blogging/reviewing schedule and because of this I actually read more books…imagine that. I am also up to my 1209th blog post! I have written over 1200 blog posts. That is insane.
I also just got engaged this past week! I’ve been dating Nick for 4 years, and it kind of already feels like we are married because we have been living together for the past year and a half, in a house filled to the brim with books. We are both librarians. My stocking this year was filled with Harry Potter sweets, and I honestly cannot believe how happy this makes me. In general, I’m just extraordinarily happy at the end of 2018. And I hope everyone reading this is happy too!
On to the books!
My rules for this list are how they have always been:
1) Each book listed has come out this past year.
2) Each book is YA or Middle Grade
3) I have read the book in 2018
I am going to start at the top with number 1, and make my way down to my number 10 book of the year. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! May 2019 bring just as many, if not more wonderful books into the world.

1) Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson (Rating: 10/10)

This book is weirdly one of the few books I did not review (while on my blog vacation). But, it stuck with me. It was such a good mystery. It was a kind of homage to Agatha Christie and the older mystery writers. I knew right away that Nick would enjoy it and pushed the book on him. And not only did he also read it and love it, but he has since read it 3 times! He’s read it more than me, and I have a feeling we will have a race to finish book 2 when it comes out soon.  This book has everything: amazing characters, super interesting setting, intriguing murder mystery, a school of brilliant thinkers, a little romance, and plenty of suspense. The over-arcing mystery of it has me jumping in anticipation of the next one. This book is way under-hyped.

2) The Cruel Prince by Holly Black  (Review / Rating: 9/10)

This book was so good! As I said in my review, “It was dark, twisty, violent, and surprising. I loved the characters (most of them any way). And I loved the messed up world this all takes place in. I cannot wait to see what happens next.” This was a book for the fantasy fans who love world-building. The world was epic, and so so very dark.

3) Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Review / Rating: 10/10)

This book deserves all the attention and hype it has received. And honestly, my top 3 books of 2018 were a bit of a toss-up. I loved all 3 equally. As I said in my review, “I can feel the books that inspired this masterpiece. I felt elements of Potter, some essence of Throne of Glass, and bits and pieces of The Hunger Games. Though, it was 100% it's own story. A story that kept me up late at night. It was super hard to put down. It's filled with plenty of twists and turns. And some of them I did not see coming!” And also, “Also, the book just feels so important. So relevant to today. I know the whole “we need diverse books” thing has been going on for a while. But, I didn’t know how badly I needed such a diverse fantasy novel until this. Seriously, there are no other fantasy books like this. And now that I’ve had a taste, I want more! Diversity should be in more than just contemporary stories. And this book proves it over and over in how amazing it is.”

4) Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (Rating: 10/10)

This is another one missing a review! Just know that it was amazing. What a crazy, amazing year it’s been for YA fantasy books! This book felt very much like the old-school Tamora Pierce books. Though, I guess it helps that it’s a prequel series to her old school series: The Immortals. I had no idea how much I needed to re-visit Tortall, until this came out. It was a mixture of magic learning, power plays, feminism, politics, love, and world-building. I love getting to see behind-the-scenes reasons for why characters are the way they are, and this book is all about that. This is a great one for classic fantasy fans, fans of the author, and fans of exceptionally written YA books.

5) Pride by Ibi Zoboi (Review / Rating: 10/10)

As I said in my review, “I loved the fresh, modern perspective on love, class, and gentrification. This wasn’t just a fluffy romance retelling. This was also an honest, snarky, commentary on society and all of its latest changes. I felt like that makes this book stand out in a truly authentic Austen style. I loved Zuri almost as immediately as I loved Elizabeth Bennet. They are both girls that could so easily have been held back by what society expects of them, but instead flourish intelligently, poetically, and artfully.”  I read a lot of Austen/Pride and Prejudice retellings, and they all focus on the romance. It was nice having one that also focused on society and snark. The diverse cast and modern urban setting helped too. The poetry was beautiful. And of course I liked the romance too.

6) Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine (Review / Rating: 10/10)

In my mini review for this, I said, “In trying to explain it to friends, I called it the love child of Illuminae, Mistborn, and the tv show, Firefly. I can’t wait for more folks to read it.” This is some amazing sci-fi, a genre I’ve only recently really grown to appreciate. I remember thinking I’d never really read anything like this book before, and what better compliment is there? Talking about it now, makes me want to re-read it. Maybe I will before its sequel comes out.

7) The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (Rating: 10/10)

No review again. Yikes. I need to get better at not going MIA from blogging. However, I did say this on Goodreads: “I adored this book! It’s a fairytale, mixed with cross dressing, mixed with Project Runway. The art and the dresses are just beautiful. The concept behind it all: also beautiful. More please!”  The book deals with some serious topics, but handles it all in a light, fun-hearted way. I’m pretty sure this was a one-sitting read. The art was just beautiful.

8) Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne (Review / Rating: 9/10)

As mentioned in my review, “All in all, this was a lot of fun. You don’t need to have read Jane Eyre to enjoy this one, though I do think you’d love it so much more if you have read the original. It was kind of a lighter, sci-fi version of the classic. It has a super fast pace. The world in space was pretty amazing. The characters were familiar. And there were some added bonuses to the story that I felt improved things overall.” Somehow this author managed to make Jane Eyre is space work. 2018 was also apparently a good year for retellings.

9) Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegmund-Broka (Review / Rating: 10/10)

This is one of the best, underrated books of the year. It’s YA contemporary at its finest. I believe I compared this to Stephanie Perkins, Jenny Han, and Becky Albertalli in my review. It’s fluffy, romantic, and full of amazing theater drama. I loved all the theater and literature references. I also loved having such a confidant, flirty main character. I feel like YA is filled with a lot of introverted Bella Swan types, but it’s nice to get a Carrie (from Sex and the City) type character front and center too. And I loved the friendship turned romance in this too. I could see this turning into a charming Netflix movie. Aka; I’m crossing my fingers that this gets picked up.

10) Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Review / Rating: 10/10)

I loved this book. I think a lot of people gave up on it because of its slow pacing. But, the writing, the world-building, and the self discovery in this unique fantasy were just all so incredible to me. Most YA books involve a little growing up and or coming of age. This one takes that trope and re-creates it. The friendship, the side quests, and the surprise of the main character’s past for me were all just so interesting. I love stories where women dress as men to get by in a patriarchal society, and this story takes that to a whole new level. This was a beautiful book.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Upside Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

Summary from Goodreads:
From New York Times bestselling authors Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins comes the hilarious and heartfelt story of a group of magical misfits.

Nory Horace is nine years old. She's resourceful, she's brave, she likes peanut butter cookies. Also, she's able to transform into many different animals. Unfortunately, Nory's shape-shifting talent is a bit wonky. And when she flunks out of her own father's magic academy, Nory's forced to enter public school, where she meets a group of kids whose magic is, well, different.

This new, offbeat series from hit authors Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins chronicles the misadventures of Nory and her oddball friends, who prove that upside-down magic definitely beats right side up.
I picked this book up at a book swap of sorts on a vacation I took to upstate New York with my friends from library school. Though, I’m not going to lie; a big appeal for me was the main character’s name: Nory. It’s spelled wrong, but still. It’s not every day that I read from the point of view of another Nory.
This book was cute. It’s definitely a middle grade book that I know I would have loved a lot more if I were a kid. I can see a lot of kids loving this book. The writing style was not my favorite. It felt a little too easy, like maybe the authors were trying too hard to sound young.  I liked Nory a lot, and it was easy to relate to her. I think every kid at some point wishes they were normal.
On the other hand, I was also a little annoyed with her because she had such power and magic, and I was mad jealous. Instead of focusing on not being normal, she should have been focusing on how awesome she was. I like that her new school and teacher were helping her come to terms with her awesomeness. But, I still kept wanting to shake some sense into her. I was also not a huge fan of her friend, Elliot. He put way too much faith and attention in the wrong people. And he should have forgiven Nory way sooner.
I loved Nory’s aunt and her love of pizza. I loved the magic system to this world. And I loved getting to know all the characters in Nory’s new classroom.
I wanted more story though. I kept waiting for something bigger to happen. And while the almost-catastrophe at the end of the story was a pretty big deal, I wanted something more. The whole book kind of felt like the opening to a bigger book that I didn’t get yet. Not a lot happened in it, besides some bullying and some learning to love yourself moments. I’m not sure I’ll continue with the series. I know I’d have read them all as a kid. I give this a 7/10.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

Summary from Goodreads:
Dark secrets and forbidden love threaten the very survival of the Shadowhunters in Cassandra Clare’s Queen of Air and Darkness, the final novel in the #1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling The Dark Artifices trilogy.

What if damnation is the price of true love?

Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks.

Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined. Caught in a race against time, Emma and Julian must save the world of Shadowhunters before the deadly power of the parabatai curse destroys them and everyone they love.
I am a huge Cassandra Clare fan. I have read every one of her books. They are my catnip. Seriously, amazing characters + magical world setting + all the supernatural creatures my heart can come up with + super dramatic teen romance + crazy addictive, high action suspense, and well you get YA at it’s best. And I have to say that I do think her writing has come a long way since City of Bones (her first book). That all being said, this was not my favorite book by her.
It took me longer to read this book than any other book she has written –almost 2 weeks! It is another giant, reaching almost 900 pages. Maybe that mixed with my busy holiday time schedule, mixed with the epic sadness of the beginning of this book, all added to my lengthy reading time. Yet, I was counting down the days for this book. I was anticipating this one more than any other book this year. I didn’t pre-order it because I knew it would come out while I was away in Chicago. I bought this monster on vacation the day it came out and carried it on a plane…this book is massive and takes up a lot of carry on space the otherwise would have been filled with Garret’s popcorn.
Do not read the rest of my review if you don’t want minor spoilers!!
Reading the beginning of the book was like being punched to the heart, repeatedly…on slow motion. An important character died at the end of the last book, and this wasn’t just a well-loved character, this was a well-loved child character. And you go into these books, with the YA/Supernatural (tv show)/Buffy-type mindset of never really knowing if the character is truly dead forever, kind of hoping they aren’t. And then it’s like Sirius Black all over again when you realize your dreams aren’t coming true.
And of course Clare excels at writing characters, so it’s not a gloss-over kind of death. But, instead it’s the realistic, long lasting, slow motion repeated punch to your heart experienced in the eyes of all the other loved characters kind of death.
Then there were some classic, eye-roll inducing, overdone YA tropes I don’t like mucking up an otherwise awesome addition to the story. The whole spell Julian took to remove his love was just plain stupid and I can’t believe Magnus did that. All the elements of Fairy have been done before, and I was hoping for something new there. And the first half of the book just felt so repetitive. Repetitive grief, repetitive guilt, repetitive forbidden love….And I guess I needed more action, suspense, and humor.
Thankfully, those things finally came in the second half. But, I seriously think a whole chunk of the first half could have been removed and this would have solved a lot of my problems. The action, suspense, and humor also came with dystopia alternate worlds, revenge stories, children playing with necromancy, insane spells, added trips to the shadow market, rescuing Clary and Jace, a civil war, prison uprisings, political corruption, and more. Finally, it got to the point where I couldn’t put this book down. It just took a lot of grief-ridden, overly repetitive nonsense to get there.
Also, a lot of questions were answered in this installment. I finally understood some things about parabatai that I didn’t before.  There were tons of references to past series, past characters, past hardships. And I liked how things ended and connected. Stuff is definitely not over with Ty and Kit. I feel like I know where her next series will go (already), and I’m glad to maybe step away from Julian and Emma and Clary and Jace. Though, I had fun for their stories here. I like that Clare has gotten a lot more diverse with her characters. There’s plenty of LGBT representation. It’s the first time I’ve read about a transgender character in a YA fantasy. It’s also the first time I’ve read about a relationship between two men and one woman…And the romance throughout it all is sizzling.
It’s also the closest Clare has gotten to an allegory of current political situations. So much of the evil cohort could be connected to current day bigots in the Trump administration. I’m shocked that no one has commented on this yet. And I also hope that people can be as promising as shadowhunters/downworlders in the face of adversity and change.  Or maybe more promising would be nice too.
I loved the ending. I’m not quite sure why the book is named for a character that didn’t seem all too important…I kept waiting for her story to take more of a center stage, but weirdly she was the least developed character in there. I liked getting the bonus Clary story at the end. And I loved how stuff resolved with Julian and Emma. I’m glad Emma didn’t make the giant mistake I really though that she would. All in all, I give this one an 8/10. It would have been a 10/10 if the repetition and bad tropes to the storyline weren’t there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Carols and Chaos by Cindy Anstey

Summary from Goodreads:
A lady's maid and a valet become entangled in a yuletide counterfeiting scheme in this romantic Christmas YA adventure.

1817. The happy chaos of the Yuletide season has descended upon the country estate of Shackleford Park in full force, but lady's maid Kate Darby barely has the time to notice. Between her household duties, caring for her ailing mother, and saving up money to someday own a dress shop, her hands are quite full. Matt Harlow is also rather busy. He's performing double-duty, acting as valet for both of the Steeple brothers, two of the estate's holiday guests.

Falling in love would be a disaster for either of them. But staving off their feelings for each other becomes the least of their problems when a devious counterfeiting scheme reaches the gates of Shackleford Park, and Kate and Matt are unwittingly swept up in the intrigue. Full of sweetness, charm, and holiday shenanigans, Carols and Chaos is perfect for fans of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey.
This is the second fluffy book I read in a row, where I was hoping for just a little bit more. I enjoyed this. Again, it was a great, easy book to read while traveling. And it’s certainly the right time of year to read this cute, Christmas romance. I just don’t think it’s as good as other books by this author.
I weirdly did not know that this was a sequel to a book I read a long time ago, until after I finished it. So, I guess that answers the question of whether or not you need to read book 1 to like this one. The answer is no. Book 1 is not needed. I didn’t even realize there was a book 1. I guess it’s about another character in the same time/story, so it’s more of a side novel.
I loved the definite Downton Abbey feel to it all. The Christmas celebrations really gave me a hunger to re-watch the show, particularly a certain Christmas episode. I loved all the characters in the house (both upstairs and downstairs). And I also rather enjoyed the romance. It was nice to actually have a romance start between characters who clearly were into each other from the beginning. Their flirting was charming.
The main character, Kate, though was kind of boring. She was almost too good. She put up with a crazy mother, a demanding job, and still had time to genuinely care for every soul around her. I wanted a little more sass from her. I did find elements to the story to be quite hilarious. I love how things ended up with the missing friend. I laughed out loud reading the reunion scene toward the end.
All in all, this was a Christmas mystery/romance that was very fluffy (Hallmark worthy). There was not a lot of substance to the story, but maybe this time of year, that’s what people want to read. It did have good humor and characters. Though, the main character was a tad boring. And it did make me want to re-watch Downton Abbey. Maybe I will soon. I give it a 7/10.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What if it's us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Summary from Goodreads:
Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?
This was cute. It wasn’t the crazy amazing love child I was hoping for. I love both Albertalli and Silvera. And I may have overly anticipated a book collaborated on by both of them. That being said, I did still super enjoy reading it. I read it remarkably fast (over the course of a travel day). And I did make friends with a stranger at the airport because of it. I feel like both authors would be proud of that. Yay for cool adults reading YA!
I guess what makes this book stand out so much to me is that it is a classic romantic comedy story about a gay couple. It’s practically 2019. Why isn’t this a genre of its own already? It was nice seeing some classic, fluffly tropes apply to all kinds of love, and not just the normal hetero-type romance. Also, both authors know how to write realistic, current relationships in a way that most only dream about writing. Seriously, it felt kind of like the gay, modern version of You’ve Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle. It was top-notch fluffy romance. If you enjoy a fun romantic comedy, you’ll like this one.
I guess I was expecting a tiny bit more substance to the fluff because both authors are known for a little bit more than this. However, I’m not really complaining. It was nice having a book that was lighter and easy and fun to read during a hectic traveling day. The humor, the awkwardness, the awesome side friendships, and all the unbelievable character development both authors are known for, did really shine through.
My only real qualm with this book overall, is the ending. The ending was too real. I don’t want to say too much about it and spoil it for anyone. But, it was weird having such a fluffy (almost too good to be true-type) romantic comedy not end how all good fluffy (almost too good to be true-type) romantic comedies should. Like why was the ending the one element that was not a part of the cutesy story? I say if you’re going to be fluffy, go fluffy all the way.
All in all, both authors did a splendid job writing a truly modern, cute, gay romantic comedy. I read this book quickly. I loved the characters (main and side ones). I loved the corny love story elements that reminded me of You’ve Got Mail. I was maybe expecting a little more. And I was not a fan of the not-as-cute ending. I give it an 8/10.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Good Week in Books (195)

I had nice, festive book week. I went to visit family in Chicago for Chanukah. I read one book on the way to Chicago, and I read another one on my way back. I received one book as a gift. I bought a highly anticipated release (that I already started). And I purchased a book about a museum I went to with my mom and boyfriend. Not a bad holiday!
The new books:

Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Chicago’s Samuel M. Nickerson House: An American Palace by David Bagnall
How was your week in books?