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Year in books - Mini reviews of everything I read in 2019 - Tallulah Lucy
Blog,  Book reviews,  Reading

Year in books – Mini reviews of everything I read in 2019

What better way to mark the end of the year than by looking back at all the wonderful books I got to read? This really was a bumper year with very few disappointments. I’m grateful that I discovered a community that shares my taste in books on Instagram and that I could subscribe to Audible, which meant getting through many  more books than I usually manage. Some of them twice!

The Mime Order – Samantha Shannon

I started the year by finishing off this audiobook. Wow, I love how Samantha Shannon writes action. The action sequence at the end of this book made me buy the hard copy for reference.

The Bone Season was my highlight of 2018. I found the combo of Victorian England and cyberpunk with psychic superpowers equal parts thrilling and intriguing. I think this genre is called ghostpunk? I think I saw someone call The Bone Season that? It’s just really original and like nothing else I’ve read. The Mime Order was even darker and twistier. I’m holding off on reading the next in the series until #4 is on the way!

Until We Sleep (Dragon Age Graphic Novel)

I lost almost two years to my complete obsession with the Dragon Age universe. (Was 2017 even real?). I wrote a trilogy of novel-length fanfics, I nearly filled an entire sketchbook and I made so many new fandom friends. During the height of the Dragon Age haze I bought this graphic novel collection and I savoured it. I finally read the last book in January.

It didn’t give me a ton of new insight into the story, but it was so beautifully illustrated and the edition I have has commentary from the writers and the artists in the margins. Was an easy five star.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

I bought Children of Blood and Bone before the hype reached me. I loved the cover and the story was similar enough to Dragon Age that I knew I’d love it.

It was disappointing. It felt like a plod to get through the overdone plot points. I’m sorry! I know so many people really love it.  I suspect that part of why it didn’t hit me with the same impact is that I live in Africa so a lot of the unique vibe was lost on me because it’s my everyday. I’m all for more Africa-inspired fantasy books, but do they need to come with all the African cliches? (It’s difficult being specific without spoilers, so I’ll just link to one of the places where I grew up that was purposefully built of African cliches for context.) I ended up unhauling my copy because I knew I wouldn’t read it again. Excited to see what happens with the film though.

A Kingdom of Exiles – S. B. Nova

This was also a cover purchase! I don’t know how I even found out about the book or where I first saw it. I was hooked by the level of writing in the Amazon sample and at that stage I was looking at writing a first person story (Keyflame) so was looking for something with first person done well.

I ended up grabbing the audiobook as well through Amazon’s Whispersync. I got completely swept away by this story of fairies and friendship. It had a unique feel even while dealing with familiar tropes. I liked that the main character wasn’t special or strong and that she survived through kindness. I hope that the author finishes the series.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone – Laini Taylor

Earlier this year, I suffered from RSI in my wrist, so I had to take off work and lie around doing nothing for a few days while it recovered. I listened to Daughter of Smoke & Bone in one long session, winning a Marathoner Audible badge for listening for at least 8 hours straight. I wish I could have given this more than five stars. It was so cleverly told and so original.

It follows the story of an extraordinary girl raised by chimeras who can make wishes that come true, and how she discovers who she really is and the past of her people.

I have little desire to read the rest of the series because to me this was a perfect standalone.

Siege & Storm and Ruin & Rising  – Leigh Bardugo

 

When I discovered Leigh Bardugo in 2018, I had one of those, “I wish I’d written this” moments. Shadow & Bone delighted me because it was exactly the sort of story I like to tell in a style that I could identify with.

The Grisha Trilogy is influenced by Russian myth. It follows a girl who discovers she has powers that could help mend the ghostly gash through her country that houses nothing but darkness and monsters. Of course everyone else wants to use her powers for their own ends and she has to be very careful about who she chooses to trust (and who she chooses to fall in love with).  

I listened to the first book, Shadow & Bone, and  waited to get hold of the physical copies of the rest of the series before continuing, which I finally did in February during the whole RSI thing.

I was underwhelmed by them. I felt they lacked the tightness of plot of the first book had and involved a lot of meandering. I feel if Alina wasn’t the only point of view character, this could have been avoided. It’s understandable that she feels lost a lot of the time and that so much plot happens without her seeing, but as I reader I wanted to see all that stuff and I wanted to feel a sense of direction.

Which is one of the reasons I’m so excited for the Netflix adaptation.

Newsletter Ninja: How to Become an Author Mailing List Expert – Tammi Labrecque

I went to the hairdresser to have highlights done in my mane of hair and it took long enough for me to finish this book. It was a short read and there wasn’t much that I wasn’t aware of already, but the few new tips made it worthwhile.

It also made for a great team presentation at work. The related links at the back were super valuable.

Starheart – Hailey Griffiths

I’m always nervous reading books by people I know just in case I hate them. Thankfully this wasn’t the case for Starheart by Hailey. Her writing is truly beautiful. This was a shorter read than what I’m used to but really enjoyable nonetheless.

It’s the tale of a deposed monarch who has to defend her kingdom from a threat that no one else believes is real. 

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo

I started these books skeptical because bank heists have never been my thing and neither have groups of criminals. I thought I’d miss the romance of Shadow & Bone. Boy was I wrong.

I initially bought these books because they have my second favourite covers ever and I’m so very glad I did because I loved them enough to read them over and over again. The characters are so fully human and so well developed. I missed them fiercely after I turned the last page. And there was romance <3.

King of Scars – Leigh Bardugo

Of course I pre-ordered King of Scars and thank goodness it arrived before I finished Crooked Kingdom or I would have had an epic book hangover.

I did not enjoy King of Scars as much as the others. It felt more like it was setting up the story than a satisfying story in and of itself. But it was nice to see some familiar faces and there were so many great quotes. 

I can’t wait for the next book in this series.

The Cruel Prince – Holly Black

I finally gave into the hype and read this. It’s about a human girl who gets raised in the vicious fairy world. I loved the way Black wove in fae lore and I’m a fan of this type of enemies to lovers romance.   However, some of the narrative choices were weird to me. Like at once stage she goes back and infodumps a whole bunch about her childhood that would have been easy to weave in more naturally? And I saw the twists coming a mile away (This was quite satisfying though!).

I can understand why many people dislike this book. Still, I felt the writing in general was solid and it was a fun read. I will read the rest of the series when it’s out in mass market paperback.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely – Brigid Kemmerer

I’m not usually one for fairytale retellings (or retellings in general) but I am one for gorgeous covers and I have a particular soft spot for Beauty and the Beast because it’s ultimately a story about two weirdos finding love and acceptance.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely‘s main character, Harper, is easy to love. She’s tough, feisty and has a heart of gold. She kept me turning page after page. I was less interested in her love interest or in the plot itself. It borrows from Beauty and the Beast of course, but it’s not a retelling at all. I will continue to follow Harper wherever the story takes her next.

Tithe – Holly Black

Another book I read in a day because I just had to find out what happened. Dark and lore-filled is, I now know, Black’s jam. This story reminded me a lot of Cat Hellisen’s Charm. The tales themselves are nothing alike, but the vibe was similar.

 I found it difficult to like the main character (she does some really stupid stuff), but the world was intriguing enough to keep me invested.

 

Awkward in Print and Awkward in Trouble – Rachel Rhodes

Another friend read and romance (no fantasy!) so suffice it to say I was nervous going in. Awkward in Print turned out to be a really sweet story that got me right in the feels. I had it in audio and snagged a physical copy too.

Awkward in Trouble was also good, but I liked the characters less. I have the rest of the Awkward series and am looking forward to reading them.

Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark is Rising – Susan Cooper

The Dark is Rising sequence really captivated me as a child and I’d been desperate to go back and re-read. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as magical now. A lot of Over Sea, Under Stone is outdated and I feel like I’ve graduated to much more intense modern fantasy.

The Dark is Rising is still objectively good and I recommend it to younger readers. I’m still happy to have returned to this world one last time and I’m sure I’ll reread the rest of the books at some stage, although I won’t be buying them on audio.

Scythe – Neal Shusterman

One of those “will I ever be able to write anything this good?” books. I felt that Shusterman got the balance perfect between action and moral observation, which is my number one preference when it comes to sci-fi. 

The plot was tight, the stakes were high and the twists were twisty. I loved this book and I have the next in the series all cued up.

The Raven Cycle and Call Down the Hawk – Maggie Stiefvater

Then I fell down a hole. I was trying very hard to avoid fandom holes after the Dragon Age experience, which is why I didn’t read any SJ Maas this year, despite her books staring at me from the TBR shelf.

I thought I was being careful. I started reading The Raven Boys a while ago and, while the writing was some of the best I’d read, the story didn’t grab me at all. It asked me to care for characters I’d just met which usually means I’m in for a lot of emotional manipulation. But so many people I like suggested this series and they have my favourite covers ever, so I decided to try push through.

And here’s the thing about The Raven Cycle that I did not understand. It’s a cycle in that the beginning is the end. Not of the plot! That’s not spoilers! In that when you pick up The Raven Boys after reading The Raven King everything actually makes sense for the first time.

The Raven Cycle is a series that plays with time. You have actual time slips that give you flashes of the future, you have psychics who see the future, you have dreams that function as portents. On the first trip around the cycle these are all very mysterious and they start to make more and more sense as you progress. On the second trip round, they all slip so perfectly into place that you read the whole thing with goosebumps. Everything is foreshadowing. I’ve never experienced anything like this. It’s so masterfully done. Stiefvater will move your focus through the story like a magician making you look at one hand, while the real important events are happening in the background, in the other hand. It’s a story layered over a story and I cannot express how much I love it. I read it twice in a row. 

I timed finishing The Raven King for the release of the first book in Stiefvater’s new series, The Dreamer Trilogy.

Call Down the Hawk is to The Raven Cycle what King of Scars is to The Grisha Trilogy. It takes one of the main characters and spins a new story set after The Raven Cycle focused around him.

Only, Call Down the Hawk completely hit it out of the park. In a year that included Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Crooked Kingdom, I’m tempted to say that Call Down the Hawk was my top read.

Which is really quite something.

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