2018: A Year in Books

I’ve had a very bookish year this year, and though this is by no means unusual I thought I’d wrap up my best-reads, must-reads, and all my bookish resolutions in one big post.

This year I’ve read 54 books, a little lower than my usual 70-80 mark. Most of them weren’t even sci-fi this year, which might seem off for me at first, but it’s mostly due to my Creative Writing MA dissertation focusing on fantasy literature rather than sci-fi (it went great if you were wondering). Most of the books I’ve read outside of university research have also been re-reads, mostly of the YA fantasy persuasion, which is what I turn to when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with life.

So all-in-all I’ve had a great year for fantasy but not so much sci-fi or horror. Because of this I’ve decided that next year I’ll be doing whatever I can to read more horror. But for now, let’s wrap up my 2018 Must-Reads before I get on to 2019.

2018 Must Reads

This year, I must admit, I’ve failed my must read list! But I do have a valid reason for this, so never fear. The two texts I didn’t end up reading were The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin and Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. This is simply because I didn’t want to start any new series (given my being overwhelmed and all) before I’d finished the mountains of series I still have ongoing.

However I did manage to read:

So it wasn’t a complete failure of a year! And to prove it here are some of my favourite books of the year.

Best Reads of 2018

A few of my best reads I have already reviewed, including; The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, Spinning Silver, and The Geek Feminist Revolution.

But there are two books I’ve read this year that I have yet to review that have really stuck with me, and here they are:

34409335The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt was an incredible book. When the crew of the White Raven salvage an abandoned spaceship and find a woman who has been on board in stasis for years babbling about first contact with aliens they dismiss the claims; she has been asleep for a long time, and aliens are already an ingrained part of society. But when they realise they are not talking about the same aliens things get freaky.

Anyone who loved A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet will adore The Wrong Stars. Pratt takes on big, terrifying questions with a small, quirky cast of characters reminiscent of a modern day Firefly. By the end of the book I felt like I was on board the White Raven myself, and I can’t wait to pick up the next book and return to it.

26863058Another book that has stuck with me this whole year is The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky. This book is what prompted me to add more of Tchaikovsky’s work to my 2018 Must Read list, but I’m going to try and finish this series before I explore any more of his work.

The book follows Maniye, the daughter of the Wolf clans chief, who, like the rest of her clan, can turn into a wolf at will. But the other side of her parentage complicates things; her mother was the ruler of the Tiger clan, meaning that Maniye can also turn into a Tiger. Her soul remains split as she comes of age, and time begins to run out, forcing Maniye to make a difficult choice.

Tchaikovsky’s work is wonderful, I mean that in the most literal sense, I was full of wonder and delight reading this book. He crafted a world so real I fell into it with ease and I’m definitely eager to keep reading. Regardless of favourite genres I really feel this book would suit anyone, because for all its animal magic it is a story about people.

2019 Must Reads

The title of this section is a little misleading, because for 2019 I don’t actually have any Must-Reads, for a few different reasons. This year I wasn’t able to finish my list, and the whole affair made me a little anxious and put pressure on something that used to be enjoyable. So this year I won’t set myself any concrete challenges, but I will have two fairly lax goals to keep in mind when I read:

  • Finish as many unfinished series as I can (This of course means finishing series I have not yet read, not specifically ones that the writer hasn’t finished writing, looking at you Martin)
  • and get stuck into what I’m calling my Year of Horror, an effort to read as much horror as I can bear without crying or losing sleep to the point of hospitalisation.

My Year of Horror plan has come about after finally submitting some horror for my MA which went down pretty well with everyone who workshopped it. My work was inspired by Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and I enjoyed it so much that I had a strange realisation: I love horror movies but don’t read that many horror books! So of course this has to be rectified.

I know this post has been a bit rambly, it’s mostly to gather my thoughts and set some loose goals for next year. But if you have made it this far have a very Happy New Year! And I’ll see you in 2019 for some terrifying reads!

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‘Monstrous Regiment’ – Review

“That’s the trouble about the good guys and the bad guys. They’re all guys!” – Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

So after years of saying I would, I’ve finally read Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment. It’s the 30th of December and though I haven’t finished my 2018 Must-Reads I’m glad that Monstrous Regiment made the cut, it was a delightful read that was just so Pratchett I feel like it cleansed my soul for the new year.

The story follows young Polly Perks, who cuts her hair, dons trousers, and sets off to join the army in an effort to find her brother, Paul, who went missing at the front. As she fumbles through farting, belching and swearing like a proper lad she discovers she might not be the only one in her regiment with a secret.

img_3290Pratchett’s insights on warfare and army life are just excellent to read. I’ve spent a full year studying WW1 literature and reading up on war around it, and still Monstrous Regiment is one of the best books on conflict I’ve ever come across. Pratchett really can just condense the world down to its bare bones and build something wonderful around them, and the same is definitely true when he takes on war.

I loved every single character in this book but particularly Maladict the Vampire. Polly herself was a great protagonist, but as a reader I found myself aligning with her too much to really appreciate her as a character. Maladict, however, was my first look at the Discworld version of vampires and I loved reading all about him. But my love of Maladict brings up another point that I just love about any Discworld book I read; the world building.

I know I go on about world building a lot, but it really is a hallmark of the biggest and best fantasy. If a world isn’t fleshed out and meaty enough to take a huge bite out of, then why would any reader want to stay in it? If I could live in any fantasy world at all it would be Discworld, though the politics, the people, the religions, everything about it really, is such an obvious reflection of our own world (as most fantasies are, but Pratchett really tried to make a POINT here) there is still that wonderful hint of magic and whimsy in everything Pratchett touches.

In short, if you’ve read a couple Discworlds or if you’re going to and you aren’t sure which of the 40-something books you definitely should read, I’m telling you; read Monstrous Regiment.

‘Artemis’ – Review

Making more headway on my 2018 Must-Reads, I’ve finally read Artemis by Andy Weir. I loved The Martian and I loved reading Artemis as well. Weir weaves such a compelling, exciting plot that it’s probably the fastest I’ve read a book this year, it definitely brought me out of my reading slump for a little while as well.

The book takes place in Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, inhabited by people from all Earthen cultures and linked to Kenya’s space programme. Jazz Bashara, a young delivery woman and smuggler, gets pulled into a strange world of interplanetary conspiracies and risks everything for a well-paying job.

img_3258In short the plot was amazing, but the characters were not. Despite being a refreshingly diverse cast none of the characters felt particularly fleshed out. I’d read a few reviews comparing Jazz, the main character, to Mark Watney, the main character from The Martian claiming that they were very similar, so I was prepared for that. The problem is I wasn’t prepared for how similar the characters are, it’s not often that I read a book told from a woman’s POV that is so painfully and obviously written by a man, but it was extremely cringey in places.

The science was mind-blowingly detailed. Weir has clearly thought a LOT about a city on the moon and how it would work in conjunction with Earth and Earth’s economy, however I felt as though the social aspect of his moon colony was a little lacking. The disturbing idea that there is no legal age of consent was disturbing, he chalked it up to the multiple cultures and belief systems in Artemis disagreeing what made an adult. In the scenario that someone does sleep with a child or sells them alcohol and it’s clearly out of line that child’s family, in some sort of warped Viking justice system, enact revenge and just beat them up? The lack of a real system of law and justice made all the effort Weir put into the scientific world-building fall flat for me. As much as he might want it the world cannot run on science alone.

Though I certainly had some issues with this novel, the plot was thrilling and the scientific aspects of the world-building was more than enough to carry me through some very enjoyable reading. Can’t wait to see what Weir comes up with next, though hopefully he’ll have a few female beta-readers for the next one.

‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ – Review

I’m a bit late to the game on this one. Tolkien has been sitting on my shelf since infancy and I have given him a few goes over the years before I just gave up. It’s only in the past few years that I read The Hobbit and only in the last few weeks that I finally got through The Fellowship of the Ring.

img_3233The thing that struck me the most about Tolkien’s Middle Earth books is just the pure amount of detail. I have no idea how Tolkien kept track of it all, let alone how his first readers managed to sort through the intricate webs of world building without internet access or the general knowledge that Tolkien’s work has lapsed into. I realise now that without the internet I wouldn’t be as interested in half the books and franchises I love.

I won’t bore any of you with the plot or what this book is about, Frodo taking the ring to Mordor is now as much a classic tale as the Viking Eddas that Tolkien drew his inspiration from. But there was one small part of the story that I believe isn’t in the books that I equally liked and disliked strangely.

The party of four hobbits, before they meet up with Aragorn and Gandalf, become lost in the woods and are taken care of by Tom Bombadil who seems to be a sort of benevolent ancient trickster who can command the carnivorous willow tree to spit its victims back out. The hobbits spend a good few chapters in the Old Forest with Tom and his wife (who seems to control the seasonal weather in the forest) recovering from their journey thus far and enjoying Tom’s stories.

I didn’t particularly enjoy Tom’s character or his brief story line. It slowed the plot down immensely and slowed my reading with it. I liked when it was suggested that Bombadil be given the ring, being ancient and powerful and able to hold the ring without any of the usual effects. This plan was thwarted by Gandalf who said that he was just as likely to lose it by not caring about it, but I didn’t see this ancient fearsome god-like trickster in his character, he was written as just a weird old guy in yellow boots. And I have no problem with this, Gaiman makes his American Gods much more accessible and even comical without losing their awesome power, but Tolkien didn’t manage that for me.

What Tolkien did manage to do was create a rich, detailed world full of atmosphere and wonder. And though it definitely seems dated now (the fantasy tropes and the lack of any women on the quest irked me slightly but I was prepared for that) it’s easy to see how Tolkien became the father of modern fantasy. I’m looking forward to finishing the series, though they are so dense I don’t have much desire to binge-read, still I don’t think it will be long before I pick up Tolkien’s work again.

‘Kindred’ – Review

So I’ve finally made a little more progress on my 2018 Must Reads list and picked up Kindred by Octavia E Butler. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book. I have read Dawn (though I still haven’t read the rest of the trilogy) and Butler’s short story ‘Bloodchild’ but everything I’d heard about Kindred was different. And it really was.

51xp2-ed2b2bl-_sx323_bo1204203200_The other work I’ve read by Butler was very much hard science-fiction, and though Kindred was technically SF it had a very different vibe. The story follows Dana, a young black writer in the 70s who is suddenly transported to the 1800s to the antebellum south to save the life of her white, slave-owning ancestor. This becomes a recurring thing, with Dana becoming trapped in the past for various periods of time and becoming a slave whilst she is there.

Though the concept was amazing, the characters and subplots were crazy interesting, and the prose style was simple and effective, but there was no real explanation for what was happening. Whereas every question in Dawn and ‘Bloodchild’ were answered we just have to accept that Dana time travels to an ancestor for no real reason we know. This sounds pretty negative, but believe me it doesn’t hinder the story itself, and it’s a story about not having answers, even though Dana visits the past she still has huge gaps in her knowledge and has no means of really controlling what she sees or learns. The only small issue I had was that it put me off a little at the start, and that’s probably why it took ,me so long to get into.

Though there may be no explanation the narrative makes up for this in other ways. Dana’s relationship with her white boyfriend comes under a lot of strain when she begins to understand the history of race relations a lot better. Tensions just keep rising and rising throughout the narrative and you really start to feel Dana’s anger and frustration yourself.

Honestly Octavia E Butler is just incredible, even though I wanted a little more SF than I really got I was still just in love with the story.

‘The Geek Feminist Revolution’ – Review

The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays, written by SF author Kameron Hurley, on everything geek, feminist, and writerly. Hurley has been a prolific feminist voice in the SF community, and has often been applauded for the representation in her books.

38441580_2149415255269993_2096340577598570496_nI recently read her novel The STars are Legion which didn’t have a single man in it, it was like the polar opposite of LotR, and though it was a little gorey for me I enjoyed Hurley’s style enough to give her essays a try.

It’s not often that I read nonfiction, and it’s not often that I enjoy it, but I certainly enjoyed this. Hurley’s voice is a rousing call to arms for all geeky girls who feel that the community might have overlooked them, taken them for granted, or objectified them. And, to be honest, that’s pretty much ALL geeky girls.

Now I didn’t get into SF seriously until about 2015/16 so I feel like I missed a lotta good stuff, but Hurley cleared a lot of it up for me, mostly Gamergate and the whole Sad Puppies nonsense, and why exactly Jonathan Ross didn’t end up presenting the Hugo Awards. Hurley explained it all concisely, clearly, and told me exactly why she was angry, so this book is perfect for SF veterans and SF newbies alike.

As well as explaining her anger (and believe me she is angry in the best possible way) Hurley gives a lot of damn good advice about writing. She won’t give you any easy life hacks, she won’t tell you you’re gonna make it big, she is honest, she is knowledgeable, and she should be listened to. As a (very amateur) writer Hurley’s words really gave me hope and drive, I feel ready to take on the long, long, looooooooong road ahead of me with a little more vigour whereas before I was very close to giving up.

Hurley is a treasure, and should be treated as such. Anyone with an interest in SF should definitely read this book. And if you still aren’t convinced I’ll leave you with the quote that made me scream with the force of a thousand incensed female warriors:

“Let’s be real: if women were ‘naturally’ anything, societies wouldn’t spend so much time trying to police every aspect of their lives.”

‘Spinning Silver’ – Review

Those of you who know me will know that Uprooted completely blew my mind. It was my favourite read of 2017, and Spinning Silver is already one of my favourite reads of 2018.

36896898The story follows three young women; Miryem, the daughter of a money lender who is reluctant to collect his debts, Wanda, the the abused daughter of a farmer, and Irina, the daughter of a Duke who successfully makes her the next Tsarina. These three characters are the main narrators (with a couple other characters occasionally thrown in). Their stories become more interconnected as the Staryk, the strange winter creatures in the forest, thrive in an unusually long winter. It was very satisfying to read this in the middle of a heatwave.

Novik is an expert at weaving fairy tale elements into a brand new shiny story. Spinning Silver has elements of Russian fairy tales, Rumplestiltskin, faerie lore, and tops it off with sinister acknowledgements of just how purely terrible human beings are, even when there is worse around. And there is plenty worse. Miryem, the young money lender, isn’t just coded Jewish like in most fantasy fiction I come across (it can get pretty dicey when moneylenders pop up in fantasy, see JKRs goblins at Gringotts for a particularly fun example) but Miryem and her family are explicitly referred to as Jewish! It shouldn’t have shocked me, but sadly it did, it occurred to me about halfway through that the only Jewish characters I’ve read about have been in war novels, so I’m gonna try to amend that in the future. But anyway, back to my point, the worst thing Miryem faces isn’t the Staryk, or demons from Russian lore, it’s the people that live in her town, who owe her money and blame her people for their own debts. It was just so horribly refreshing to read I just loved it and it made me consider how prejudice works in such an intricate way I just ARGH I love Naomi Novik so much.

img_2951Another thing I loved about Spinning Silver was the romance! I live for slow burn romances guys, and this book DELIVERED. I practically wept at every interaction that Irina and the Tsar had together, it was beautiful and so satisfying. I won’t say too much about this but the romance element of Miryem’s plot felt a little rushed at the end and I would have loved to see more of that, or even have it a little more open ended rather than wrapped up too fast. Wanda didn’t have any romantic plot, which I was glad of, she was the one character in straits too dire to really give that any thought and if she had that sort of plot I’d have been disappointed, but Novik can be trusted guys.

I’ve seen a few people complaining that it was a little bit heteronormative and I do have to agree. Uprooted didn’t have much prominent LGBT representation as far as I can remember, but, like UprootedSpinning Silver has just so many great women looking out for each other, looking out for themselves, being selfish, being kind, being human and it was satisfying. I’m excited to see what Novik writes next and I’ve got my hands on the first in her Temeraire series so I can see what she does wit dragons, because if she can write a book this beautiful just about money and debt then she’s gonna blow my mind with fire breathing lizards.