Top Ten: 2016

This is my annual list of favorite books that I read and reviewed this year.

Break Me Like a Promise and This Raging Light were the two books that were most impactful to me and the two I most desperately needed to read this year. I haven’t stopped thinking about The Star-Touched Queen and In Some Other World, Maybe since I finished them. Passenger has become a defining book of key moments of this year and last (which is why I have three copies of it). Bookishly Ever After, Iron Cast, Tell Me Three Things, Three Dark Crowns, My Lady Jane, and The Museum of Heartbreak were all delightful surprises this year. Hands down, The Anatomy of Curiosity is one of the most inspiring books I have read. Ever.

You can click the cover photos to read my reviews. Since it’s 2016, I’m giving myself ten slots plus up to six honorable mentions. Alphabetical by author because picking favorites any more specifically is too hard.

Top Ten:

Bookishly Ever After by Isabel BandeiraPassenger by Alexandra BrackenTell Me Three Things by Julie BuxbaumThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani ChokshiIn Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen

  • Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira
  • Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
  • Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
  • In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen

This Raging Light by Estelle LaureThe Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter HapgoodBreak Me Like a Promise by Tiffany SchmidtIron Cast by Destiny SoriaThe Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff

  • This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
  • The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
  • Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt
  • Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
  • The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff

Honorable Mentions:

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoThree Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeMy Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi HeiligThe Museum of Heartbreak by Meg LederThis Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

  • The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
  • The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder
  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

 

This list is also a Pinterest board.

Quintana of Charyn: A Review

“We could look at the side of wonder.”

Quintana of Charyn by Melina MarcherraFroi was left for dead on the mountaintops of Charyn, taken to his uncle–a gifted physician. He has lost Quintana. He has lost Gargarin and Lirah.

Quintana of Charyn is alone and in hiding. She might be the curse breaker, but first she will have to survive long enough to give birth to the new heir.

In Lumatere, the Charyn threat is growing. Lucian of the Monts is uncertain of how to deal with his unwanted neighbors across the valley. Isaboe wants to erase the royal line responsible for the days of the unspeakable and the murders of her family. Finnikin wants to find Froi before it’s too late. But in their months apart, both young men have changed.

Two countries torn apart by grief and rage will have to find common ground if either of them hopes to heal in Quintana of Charyn (2013) by Melina Marchetta.

Quintana of Charyn is the final book in Melina Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finninkin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles.

Quintana of Charyn picks up soon after the brutal events of Froi of the Exiles. Everything is still a mess. The characters are all separated. The outlook is bleak.

It’s difficult to talk about too much of the plot but suffice to say that Quintana of Charyn gives these characters the space and the ending that they deserve. Through careful writing and artful plotting, Marchetta subtly shifts her characters and tone. After the harrowing experiences of book two, this conclusion to her epic fantasy trilogy reads like a soothing balm.

It’s a testament to the strength of the writing and the intricacy of this series that absolutely everything comes together here. Marchetta uses the fantasy setting to explore larger issues of forgiveness and love as well as grieving and rebirth in this powerful novel.

Quintana of Charyn is a must read for fans of the first two books in the series. Readers looking for their next sweeping fantasy series should definitely start this series at the beginning. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The Winner’s Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. As such this review contains major spoilers for books one and two!*

“She thought, fleetingly, that this must be what memory was for: to rebuild yourself when you lose the pieces.”

The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiArin and Kestrel should be on opposites sides in the war that is brewing between Valoria and its newly independent colony Herran. Yet, despite all appearances to the contrary they have been on the same side–that is, Kestrel has been on Arin’s side–from the outset.

Arin is certain that Kestrel is getting exactly what she deserves serving at the Emperor’s shoulder while she watches her father prepare to make war with Herran.

He’s wrong.

Instead, one impetuous decision has led Kestrel to the northern tundra as a prisoner. A traitor to her own country desperate to escape.

Arin and Kestrel have always been bound by their decisions–deliberate acts and willful lies that have pulled them away from each other again and again. With the threat of war growing every day, both Kestrel and Arin will have to redefine victory–and trust–if they hope to find their way back to each other or the people they’ve worked so hard to save in The Winner’s Kiss (2016) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime.

This novel starts off soon after the climactic conclusion of book two. Arin prepares for war in Herran while Kestrel is brought to a prison work camp in the Valorian Tundra, both haunted by the decisions that have led them to this point.

Rutkoski manages to strike the perfect balance between character-driven introspection and nail biting tension throughout the novel. Arin and Kestrel are broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes larger, because of their ties to Herran and to each other. Their own attempts to heal and rebuild play out against the grand battle looming over who will control Herran moving forward.

This book is the exact right conclusion for this series and the one that the characters deserve. The Winner’s Kiss delivers everything readers of this trilogy have come to love and expect while expanding Arin and Kestrel’s world even further with still more insights into these two shrewd and talented characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

Froi of the Exiles: A Review

Froi of the Exiles by Melina MarchettaIt has been three years since the curse on Lumatere was lifted. Three years since the Lumaterans trapped inside the kingdom for ten long years and those exiled during the siege reclaimed their land and tried to make it whole. But memories are long and recovery is slow as the country come to terms with what was lost during the time of the unspeakable and what has changed forever.

During his years as an exile, Froi never imagined he would find a home in Lumatere much less a position in the Queen’s Guard. He could not have guessed that he would one day count Queen Isaboe and her consort, Finnikin among his dearest friends. Even with so much changed, Froi is haunted by who he was during the exile. He has sworn a bond to the queen, and to Lumatere, that he might make up for his past and never stray again.

That bond is sorely tested when Froi is sent to a neighboring kingdom on a secret mission. In Charyn’s royal court Froi finds a princess who may speak prophecy or madness and twins who can offer two halves of the story behind Charyn’s own curse–and secrets of Froi’s past–if only they can learn to speak to each other again. In a barren kingdom where brutality has become more valuable than compassion for most, Froi will have to decide if he can stay true to his bond to Lumatere while also doing what is right in Froi of the Exiles (2012) by Melina Marchetta.

Froi of the Exiles is the second book in Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finnikin of the Rock.

Froi of the Exiles is a sweeping novel that blows the world of the Chronicles of Lumatere open as Froi and readers are introduced to new countries and cultures. This novel brings the strangely barren land of Charyn to life with stark, vivid descriptions. The dangers found in much of Charyn are expertly contrasted with moments of wondrous beauty and tempered by the sharp wit of these characters.

Marchetta offers a thoughtful meditation on forgiveness and recovery in Froi of the Exiles. Every character here has been broken in some way–sometimes by looming curses and other times by the casual cruelty of other people–that damage and those scars are givens. But it never defines them. Each character, but especially Froi, strives throughout the novel to move past that hurt and to take the damaged pieces and make himself into something stronger and better.

Froi of the Exiles is a masterful and well-executed novel where every word matters and the story will completely enthrall readers. Highly recommended. Part of a must-read series for fans of high fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Top Ten: 2015

Here’s my list of favorite books reviewed here on the blog in 2015. You can click the cover photos to read my reviews. Since it’s 2015, I’m giving myself 15 slots plus a few honorable mentions. Alphabetical by author because picking favorites any more specifically is too hard.

Top Ten:

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee AhdiehThe Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly BlackThe Scorpion Rules by Erin BowLove and Other Perishable Items by Laura BuzoThe Truth Commission by Susan Juby

  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
  • The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
  • Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
  • The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

Winterspell by Claire LegrandThe Start of Me and You by Emery LordLock & Mori by Heather W. PettyI am Princess X by Cherie PriestTonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

  • Winterspell by Claire Legrand
  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
  • Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty
  • I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
  • Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany SchmidtThe Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus SedgwickA Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria SchwabRebel Mechanics by Shanna SwendsonBlack Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

  • Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt
  • The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
  • Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson
  • Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Honorable Mentions:

The Game of Love and Death by Martha BrockenbroughWalk on Earth a Stranger by Rae CarsonBlackfin Sky by Kat EllisThe Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

  • The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
  • Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
  • Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis
  • The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

This list is also a Pinterest board.

Birthmarked: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'BrienIn a future where the world has been baked dry and the Great Lakes are empty craters, sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone’s world is divided by the walls of the Enclave. The privileged few living inside the walls want for nothing; their lives the stuff of legend with decadence and comfort documented for all to admire at the Tvaltar.

Gaia Stone has always known that her place is outside the walls. The Enclave does not welcome people with scars or burns especially not when they are as visible as the one on Gaia’s face. Like her mother before her, Gaia works as a midwife helping the women in Western Sector 3 deliver their babies. Like her mother, Gaia also fills the baby quota each month by “advancing” a handful of newborns to live inside the Enclave walls.

It is only after her parents are arrested that Gaia begins to wonder about the true purpose of the baby quote and what else the Enclave might be hiding. Gaia knows she has to try to infiltrate the Enclave and rescue her parents no matter the risk in Birthmarked (2010) by Caragh M. O’Brien.

Birthmarked is O’Brien’s first novel and the start of her Birthmarked trilogy which continues with Prized and Promised.

Birthmarked is utterly engrossing and atmospheric. Readers are immediately drawn into Gaia’s world and the complex politics surrounding the Enclave. Third person narration and flashbacks to Gaia’s past lend an introspective quality to this otherwise taut narrative.

Gaia’s arc throughout the story is handled extremely well as she begins to learn more about the Enclave and the politics surrounding it. O’Brien expertly demonstrates Gaia’s growth as well as her changing attitudes throughout the novel.

Every detail in Birthmarked is thoughtfully placed within a complex world and intricate prose where even the vocabulary is often unique and the dialog simmers with unspoken chemistry. Although this novel starts a trilogy, it also offers a self-contained story that leaves room to ponder and to savor. Birthmarked is a fast-paced, vibrant book that is absolutely brilliant. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Eve by Anna Carey, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Legend by Marie Lu, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

P. S. I Still Love You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*P. S. I Still Love You is the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. As such there are major spoilers for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this review.*

“You only know you can do something if you keep on doing it.”

psistillloveLara Jean didn’t know what to expect when all of her love letter’s were mailed. She knew she was upset and panicked. What she didn’t know was that the letter she wrote Peter K in eighth grade would lead to a fake relationship. She never would have guessed that it would lead to something more.

Lara Jean knows she loves Peter now. For real, not as part of their pretend dating. But she still doesn’t want to get her heart broken. She’s still afraid of getting hurt.

When another love letter makes its way back to her, Lara Jean is confronted with feelings from a crush she never quite forgot. Lara Jean might have feelings for two boys. But she can only be with one in P. S. I Still Love You (2015) by Jenny Han.

P. S. I Still Love You is the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and picks up shortly after the first book’s conclusion.

It’s hard to give this book a “real” review because there are a lot of spoilers–even with the summary because a lot of the driving plot mentioned above doesn’t come until after the first hundred pages.

P. S. I Still Love You was one of my most anticipated 2015 releases. While To All the Boys I Loved Before is a solid novel and functions perfectly as a standalone, I loved Lara Jean enough to want to read more. I also had a sneaking suspicion this book would have more John Ambrose McClaren* which I definitely needed in my life. (Not going to lie, he is my favorite character.)

This book does not disappoint. Although a lot of the plot focuses on Lara Jean’s romantic life, this story has a lot more going on. Lara Jean is still trying to be a good sister and live up to the standard set by Margot. She’s still taking care of Kitty and their father. She has to face cyber-bullying and changing friendships. Thanks to Peter (and her letters getting sent) Lara Jean has also come out of her shell and is trying new things.

It is particularly poignant to watch Lara Jean learn that the bonds that tie people together don’t always last forever and, more importantly, that sometimes that is the best thing for everyone. This story is imbued with a sense of nostalgia for the past as Lara Jean looks back on moments from her childhood but also immense optimism in terms of facing the unknown as she wonders what might come next.

Although Lara Jean doesn’t always make the decisions I would make in her position, she is such a well-written character that it doesn’t matter. Everything Lara Jean does and chooses makes perfect sense for her character in the moment so that the overall ending is deeply satisfying and absolutely perfect given the arc of both books.

P. S. I Still Love You is a must-read for fans of Jenny Han and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Also highly recommended for readers who enjoy slice-of-life novels with fun families, light (happy) romances, and especially for readers looking for a book that encapsulates nostalgia and optimism like no other.

*Follow me to my Exclusive Bonus Content if you want to talk more about John Ambrose McClaren (with some spoilers)!

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Exclusive Bonus Content: I loved John Ambrose McClaren just from the snippets we got about him in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Sometimes with a secondary character you can tell, by how they are written, that they are loved by the author and have a bigger story of their own. That was definitely the case with John and I was absolutely thrilled to find he played a bigger role in the novel.

While the romance aspect of P. S. I Still Love You didn’t go exactly how I had wanted (Team JAM in case I wasn’t clear) it still totally made sense for Lara Jean. I also feel pretty strongly that she and JAM will find their way back to each other, but I’m okay with having to imagine that part on my own–that’s the nice thing about open-ended conclusions to a favorite book.

So obviously I had strong feelings about these characters. Because of that, I made some buttons for any fans who want to declare their allegiance. You can see them all in my Buttons inspired by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before & P. S. I Still Love You post. Also you can tell from my blog’s sidebar which teams I have chosen.