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Best Books of 2018

According to Goodreads, I’ve read one hundred fifty books this year.

Having read so many books, which were the best ones? The ones that stuck with me, that I want to grab you and tell you to read this book now. Here are ten, in no particular order.

Buy Hamilton’s Battalion here

This is an anthology of three novellas perfect for the Hamilton fan in your family. All the stories touch upon Alexander Hamilton, but they are not about him. Rather he serves to act as the connecting thread through three very different stories.

My favorite is Promised Land by Courtney Milan. It’s the story of Rachel, a woman serving in the continental army as a man and Nathan, who she tackles, thinking him a British spy. Reasonable, given his sympathies when they last spoke. Awkward, given that her husband thought she’d died of yellow fever. Rachel and Nathan are both great characters, and they have issues to work through (even putting aside the failed her own death thing) that make the story compelling.

Buy A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole here

A Princess in Theory is the first book in the Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole. I couldn’t put this book down. Ledi and Thabiso’s story is part modern fairy-tale (a prince in disguise) part secret identity exposed (prince? Or fuckboy?) and a hell of a lot of fun. I love that the heroine is a scientist and completely dismissive of Prince Thabiso, who has never been treated that way before. When an unknown disease hits Thesolo, Thabiso convinces Ledi to go there with him and help find a cure. Oh, and they’ll need to pretend their childhood engagement is back on. (I love the fake relationship trope)

Book 2 in the series was great, and I’ve pre-ordered book 3 (April 2019) and the novella that will act as book 2.5 (Jan 2019).

Buy Rosemary and Rue here

So I’m actually going to use this space to encourage you to read the entire October Daye series–I devoured the first twelve books in only a few weeks. I will say that books 1 and 2 are good but a little shaky, but once they take off in book 3 they only get better and better. October Daye is a half-human half-fae in this urban fantasy series.

It opens with her on a case as a private detective–but instead of recovering the missing people, she is turned into a fish for fourteen years. That loss of time informs the rest of the series because her partner moved on, and her daughter wants nothing to do with her. She turns her back on the world of Fae until she’s dragged back into that life by a binding spell. The secondary characters are compelling, Toby is a flawed but awesome heroine who anchors the series. I love Seanan McGuire’s books almost without exception and I’m already dying for book thirteen.

Buy Puddin here

If you’ve read or seen Dumplin’ (and you SHOULD), you’ll want to read the sequel, Puddin’. If you haven’t, Puddin’ works as a solo book, but Dumplin’ is so good, I encourage you to read both. Puddin’ is the story of Millie Michalchuck, who has gone to fat camp every year, but is determined to go to a journalism camp this year instead. Callie Reyes is in line to be the next dance captain until she leads an act of vandalism, and Millie identifies her. Callie has to work with Millie at her uncle’s gym as her punishment. An unlikely friendship forms…until Callie finds out that Millie is the one who turned her in. Millie has to battle her mother and the world’s expectations of fat girls to follow her dreams. Julie Murphy is great.

Buy Me Talk Pretty One Day here

This is actually a recommendation for the audiobook rather than the physical book. While reading the essays can give you a giggle, it’s hearing David Sedaris’s voice with all of its inflections as he reads his work that will make you die of laughter. I recommend all of his books, and just finished Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls on audiobook about a month ago.

Buy Heretics Anonymous here

When an atheist is enrolled at a Catholic school, how will he ever make friends or fit in? How will he survive any day without his eyes rolling out of his head? This is a great YA novel about faith, falling in love, and growing up. Definitely worth a re-read.

Buy Big Fat Bitch here

I gave a rave review to Big Fat Bitch here, but my fast review is that this slow burn romance is a great take on Beauty and the Beast. I love that the “beast” in this book is the woman. But it’s so much more than a romance. If you like deeply complex narratives, love stories, and books making you cry, pick this one up.

Buy Media Darling here

I reviewed Media Darling here, but my fast pitch is that this f/f romance between a movie star and a media writer is possibly my favorite romance of the past year, period. Both Emerson and Haley are well written, three-dimensional characters. They make mistakes, make love, and while it’s hard fought, they get their happy ending.

Buy The Autumn Bride here

I got this book from The Ripped Bodice (indie romance bookstore–buy from them!) as a “blind date with a book.” I haven’t read much Regency era romance, but it was my blind date, so I decided to give it a chance. Abigail and her three closest friends are practically starving. So Abby does something she’d never imagined–she goes over some rooftops and breaks into a house, desperate to find something to buy–or eat. Instead she finds Lady Beatrice, an old woman being abused by her servants. Abigail and her friends save Lady Beatrice from her servants and are promptly adopted as her “nieces”–the Chance sisters.

When her real nephew, Max, returns from abroad, he’s certain that the girls are gold diggers at best. Sparks fly between him and Abigail, and the rest is history. Each of the four books (Autumn Bride, Winter Bride, Spring Bride, and Summer books) works as a stand alone, but they’re better read back to back as a series.

Buy Nate Expectations here

Nate Expectations is actually the third book in Tim Federles’ series about Nate, a small town boy who becomes a Broadway Actor. In this book, Nate’s show closes down and he has to go back to small town life. When he’s assigned a project on the book Great Expectations, he decides to put on a musical. The book centers around this. There’s great secondary characters and Nate continues on his journey to figuring out who he really is.

You don’t need to read the first two books in the series, but if this book appeals to you, read them first.

What was/were your favorite book/s of 2018? If you want to see what I’m reading in 2019, keep up with me on Goodreads.

Audiobooks

Recently I learned that Irresistible has an audiobook. I have not purchased it, but I’m curious.

While at WorldCon, I attended a panel on audiobooks. I’ve never created one, although I’ve certainly considered recording myself reading the first chapter of Capturing the Moment. I learned how expensive they are to create, how complicated they are to make, and why you shouldn’t just give away your audiobook rights when negotiating your contract.

I’ve grown to love audiobooks and I currently have two going in the car. The first is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas with my older daughter, Athena. I want to take her to the movie in October and I think she can handle the book, even though it is intense. The narrator does a great job at reading the story, and I nearly started crying when she narrrates the scene where Khalil is shot. (Not a spoiler–it’s in the flap copy and is the incident that puts the book in motion). The second is Discount Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire, which I am enjoying a bit less because I don’t love the narrators choices (including mispronouncing Aeslin mice, based on the cannon pronunciation guide per Seanan). David Sedaris is a great narrator, and that’s how I super recently fell in love with him–not through his written essays, but by listening to him narrate them on the drive from San Francisco to LA. Ditto David Rakoff (RIP), who I have loved for years. I’ve listened to What Happened by Hillary Clinton on and off, but thinking about the 2016 election (and how she was right) is still tough for me.

But then there are terrible narrators. I love Madeline L’Engle, but she shouldn’t have narrated A Wrinkle in Time. There has also been several dreadful audiobooks of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. If the narrator is crap, the experience of listening to it is crap.

To revisit the question of the Irresistible audiobook–should I get it?

Seven Books I Love–Honorable Mentions

When I did my Seven Books I Love series, I talked about how hard it was to pick favorite books/series. So here are seven contenders that could have made the list depending on the day I made a decision. These are seven fast plugs

The Tortall books by Tamora Pierce were my entry point to fantasy with strong female protagonists. My fourth grade teacher had read The Hobbit to us, and I’d liked it, but had definitely noticed the lack of women. I might have moved onto The Lord of the Rings like some classmates who liked fantasy, but instead either I stumbled across The Lioness Quartet or, more likely, a teacher/librarian/bookstore employee introduced me to it. While these are YA books, I strongly encourage anyone who likes strong female representation in fantasy to read the series. Start with Alanna: The First Adventure, in which Alanna and her brother Thom switch places–he goes to the convent where as a boy he’ll learn magic and she pretends to be “Alan” and goes to court to learn to be a knight. There are roughly 15 books in the series, with more coming. As a side note, I read this with Athena (9) and she was able to get her copy signed when Tamora Pierce made an appearance at Borderlands Books (a great indie SF/F/Horror bookstore in San Francisco–they ship nationwide if you want to support them).

The Newsflesh series is set in the not too distant future of the US, where a cure for the common cold interacted with the cure for cancer, and while the upside is that no one gets colds or cancer anymore, the downside is that now we have zombies. Georgia (George) and her brother Shawn run a website of “Newsies” (those who report the news), “Irwins” (those who go out and get action videos of themselves fighting or taunting zombies), and “Fictionals” (people who write fiction, like epic love stories). At the start of Feed, the first book in the series, George and Shawn get the news that their website has been selected to cover the Republican nominee for President. Then, as the campaign progresses, it becomes clear that there are powerful people pulling the strings, and George is determined to get to the bottom of it. This is the first book in the original trilogy, which has spawned tons of novellas (The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell makes me full on sob), and a novel written from the pov of the team covering the Democrat in the race. Feed can also be ordered from Borderlands Books. Mira Grant is the YA pen name for Seanan McGuire, whose October Daye books made the Seven Books meme, and it was a toss up between Newsflesh and Toby, tbh.

The Hate U Give has been on the top of the Children’s/YA Bestseller’s list for a year and a half, and if you read it (and you should) you’ll understand why. Starr grapples with being torn between the world she lives in–a majority black urban neighborhood–and the world she goes to school in–a private, majority white school. When her childhood friend is shot by a police officer in front of her, she has to decide if she wants to be the anonymous witness, or to find her voice and tell the truth. The story is timely, grappling with systemic white privilege, and the strained/toxic relationship between the police and communities of color that spawned Black Lives Matter. I’m going to start reading it with Athena in anticipation of the movie this fall (see the excellent trailer here.) If you want to support an indie bookstore, I suggest Bookasaurus.

I’ve mentioned in the past how much I love Alisha Rai. Glutton for Pleasure is my favorite book by Alisha. Chef Devi Malik and not one, but two sexy twins in the hottest menage love story I’ve ever read. I’m shocked my kindle didn’t melt when I reached the sex scenes. The sex scenes are worth revisiting over and over. It’s not just sex, though–can Devi find more than just kinky sex with Jace and Marcus? (And what will her family think?) Even without the hot, kinky sex, the story has emotional pull, and kept my interest. You can buy it from The Ripped Bodice, the only all-romance bookstore.

The series that really turned me into a reader was The Baby-Sitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin. I even went by Kristy (a reasonable nickname to my IRL name) for a good eight years in school. These books sucked me into their world and I loved them. I snark them on my book review blog, Be Quiet Mommy’s Reading, along with other 80’s books I read in my series called Snarking Nostalgic. Yes, they are flawed, but they are awesome. There is an attempt to bring them back in graphic novel form, which Athena reads and I think suck. The original series is out of print for the most part, but you can find them at used bookstores and indies like Powell’s Books.

This was so close to making my list. I am a hardcore Phantom of the Opera fan. I used to work for a Broadway ticket concierge service and every time they did a $25 matinee, I’d go see it. I’ve seen it easily twenty times, and that’s before we get into things like the 25th anniversary live concert shot at the Royal Albert Hall. Yes, I will even defend Love Never Dies. But the perfect accompaniment to the musical is Phantom by Susan Kay. It tells the story of Erik (the canonical name for the Phantom) from birth to death from various points of view. It shows how he learned all those skills he employs in the show, and his love for Christine. I used to use part of this book as my audition piece when I did theater. If you like Phantom the musical you will love Phantom, the book. If you want to support an indie, why not Powell’s?

I’ve blogged before about how Forbidden was the first book I ever read by Beverly Jenkins. Romance Twitter kept talking about a drop everything and read Beverly Jenkins day, so I had to go see what they were talking about. Rhine is a black man passing as white in the post-Civil War west, and Eddy is the black woman he falls for. He has to decide if he’d risk losing everything he’d gained for the woman he falls for. It’s such a good book–I was actively upset that I had to stop reading to go get my children at school, for one. I ran out to read everything else of hers that I could get my hands on–and I’m still working my way through her backlist book by book. If you want to shop indie, order it from The Ripped Bodice.

ARC Review–Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire

***I am choosing to bring my old book review blog, Be Quiet, Mommy’s Reading, back to life. This is a cross post, one week after it was originally posted there. If you want more book reviews, come follow me over there as well. My kids will book vlog, and I’ll cover more genres than romance***

I received this arc (advance reader’s copy) from Seanan at Worldcon.

Warning–this is the 12th book in the October Daye series. There are spoilers for the previous 11 books/the world after the image of the cover. My recommendation to read the series is in my seven favorite books posts here.

Click here to buy Night and Silence

 

After the events of book 11, The Brightest Fell, things aren’t going great. Tybalt and Jazz have PTSD–Tybalt isn’t even coming to see Toby. Are they even together anymore? No one is coping well. Then Gillian’s father shows up at Toby’s house and tells her Gilly has been kidnapped–again–nearly accusing her of it. She has to go and find her daughter, and it’s clear that someone/s Fae were involved.

When I first read the flap copy for Night and Silence, I was concerned. We’d already done a Gillian was kidnapped plotline in One Salt Sea (book 5). However, Seanan McGuire is brilliant and manages to turn what could so easily have been a recycled plot point into an exciting new story that draws us further into Faerie–not just today but the history and mythology of the world. I would never spoil a plot point, but I will say there are a number of twists and turns, one actually eliciting an audible gasp.

In terms of character development, the way Tybalt’s PTSD plays out is respectful to those who suffer from it. He doesn’t just “get over it.” He is struggling to be who he was, and failing miserably. We don’t see Jazz in this book–she’s referenced but is physically absent–but we know she can’t sleep. Both of them are haunted by Amandine’s actions. Toby isn’t doing so well either–she’s plagued by doubt and recrimination and Gilly’s abduction hits her like a ton of bricks, and she has to pull her shit together, at least on the surface, until she can get Gilly back.

The pacing is tight, and as always McGuire’s characters all have distinct voices and personalities. The tenor is slightly different from the books because Toby is so stretched so thin, emotionally, at this point in time. The way McGuire shifts Toby’s voice leaves it authentic–achingly so because you get drawn into the mire of her grief, terror and fragility. This is not to say there is no humor or that it’s a depressing book–it’s neither of those–merely that the stakes are raised on any number of fronts. There’s still the characteristic McGuire touch of snarky humor–too many character’s voices would be inauthentic if that were missing.

I highly recommend this book. 4.5/5 stars from me.

In the print copy (I’m not sure about digital, sorry) there is also a novella told from Gillian’s point of view that you won’t want to miss. If it’s not in the e-book, you’re going to want to go and buy the physical book so you can read it.

Seven Books I Love, part four–The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

There’s a Facebook meme going around where you list seven of your favorite books in seven days. I thought I’d do mine as a series of blog posts. I’m going to cheat and do a few series mixed in with single books. This is not an absolute list–this is my seven of many favorite books. I could do one of these for children’s books, YA, adult, romance, and I’d still never even approach naming all my favorite books.

That said, here is book (series) four…The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire

The world of Faerie never disappeared; it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie’s survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born.

Outsiders from birth, these half-human, half-fae children spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October “Toby” Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery…before the curse catches up with her.

–summary of Rosemary and Rue, book 1 in the series

Rosemary and Rue is the first book in the October Daye series. It opens with October “Toby” Daye, a half human/half Fae knight, tracking the man who has kidnapped her liege lord’s wife and daughter…and she fails, horribly. So horribly that the kidnapper turns her into a koi. She spends fourteen years in the pond, only to change back by some unknown exercise of her powers. By this time her ex and her daughter have moved on, and want nothing to do with her. She, in turn, turns her back on Faerie.

I think starting a series with a failure is a brave move. Everything that happens, and is still happening in the upcoming book twelve of the series, comes back to this failure and how it changed Toby. That said, books one and two are a little slow–I think in part to doing the heavy lifting in world building and introducing characters–but good. Book three, though, was when the series took off for me.

McGuire’s Faerie world borrows heavily from Celtic tradition with a twist all her own, as the Faerie Hills open into our world. Most of the Toby books are urban fantasy, largely taking part in San Francisco and the Faerie Hills near it. Living near San Francisco, part of me is always a little delighted to come across a setting from one of the book and is half hoping to see a Fae creature because I’m a bit whimsical.

Toby becomes a private investigator in her “real” life as well as picking up her sword again (more or less). This means the books tend to fall into a procedural or an investigation theme. Each book expands the world as we know it, adding characters, and deepening relationships and motivations. Some of my favorite characters are Tybalt, the King of the Cats and the Ludaeig, the sea witch.

McGuire’s books always have snappy dialog and pop culture references. Toby’s books are a bit less so because she’s fourteen years out of date–her relationship with cell phones is entertaining for one, and there’s a teenage character who thinks her taste in music sucks. Toby’s universe is also peppered with incredibly snarky characters as well as incredibly earnest ones as well as the baddies. There’s a lot of nuanced characters–the Ludaeig always demands a price, but as the books unfold you understand why she is the way she is. The man who turned her into a fish–Simon Torquill–is also an unexpectedly gray character, as we find out in either the most recent book or the second to most recent book.

I loved McGuire’s work as YA author Mira Grant (Feed will show up in my honorable mentions), so I started reading her adult work. The Incryptid series could easily have taken this spot as well. I sat down to start reading the Toby books in February and with a short break to read the new Anne Bishop, I devoured them all in under a month.

Urban fantasy your thing? Read the October Daye series.

Buy Rosemary and Rue (book one in the series) for 1.99 on kindle.