Summer Wrap Up

This summer was incredibly long personally. I did get a lot of reading done though despite work, memorials, and finally taking a break. This season I got through 36 books, which felt really good for me. I also was a little more liberal with myself and not finishing books after I had started them. I had a pretty solid reading month. I enjoyed most of what I read, but there were very few stand outs. Over the month, I averaged 4.04 stars in the books that I finished. This felt pretty solid. I enjoyed most of the books I read. They were solid, but there were very few standouts for me personally, even in the ones where the books themselves were excellent.

Genre Breakdown:

Rating Breakdown:

RatingNumber of Books
2.0 – 2.5 Stars 2
2.51 – 3.0 Stars1
3.01 – 3.5 Stars7
3.51 – 4.0 Stars8
4.01 – 4.5 Stars7
4.51 – 5 Stars11

Standouts of the Season

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Ash by Malinda Lo

Monstress Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takenda

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian

Books that focus on Education

Happy back to school season! School and education has always been such a major part of my life. For me there are a lot of aspects to an education, not just learning algebra and going to class. There is building a strong foundation to move forward, finding passion and deciding what you are excited about, and taking new opportunities through extra curriculars and chances provided to you. All the books below take place at a school, but focus in a different space of the education process.

Changing Your Life (Core Classes)

Princess Academy (series) by Shannon Hale – Middle Grade/Fantasy

We are Okay by Nina LaCour – Young Adult/Contemporary

Educated by Tara Westover – Adult/Autobiography

Following Passion (Field of Study)

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wells – Adult/Autobiography

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – Young Adult/Contemporary

Truly Devious (series) by Maureen Johnson – Young Adult/Mystery

Taking Chances (Extracurriculars)

Again, but Better – New Adult/Contemporary

Check, Please! – Young Adult/Contemporary/Graphic Novel

Smash it! by Francina Simone – Young Adult/Contemporary

Series Review: Beyond the Four Kingdoms by Melanie Cellier

Can you tell I have been hyper fixating on this author? This is the sequel series to The Four Kingdoms that following some of our familiar characters to explore new lands and expand relationships beyond the Four Kingdoms after a storm clears to reveal a pass into a heavily populated continent. The books are a companion series of fantasy retellings. Similar to the prequel series, we rotate through the kingdoms and young royalty as they go through their individual tale.

My Review: This series is highly magical and the fairy tales are much more quest based with romance thrown in to the stories. Still enjoyable, but a very different reading experience, especially by book 2. I think that the retellings were more inventive but I really missed how much relationship building and politics were present in the first series. This series was very romantic with high stakes. Personally, this was less my taste than the original series. On average this series was about 3.8 stars! If you have read this series, let me know what you thought!

Genre: Fantasy Romance that all focus on a general quest or curse.

The Books:

A Dance of Silver and Shadow (Twelve Dancing Princess)

A Tale of Beast and Beauty (Beauty and the Beast)

A Crown of Snow and Ice (Ice Queen)

A Dream of Ebony and White (Snow White)

A Captive of Wing and Feather (Swan Lake)

A Princess of Wind and Wave (Little Mermaid)

Favorite Retelling: One thing that I think was a bonus about this series was how inventive the retellings got. My personal favorite was Snow White or a Dream of Ebony and White. I don’t think I had ever experience a Snow White tale get this deep or political before. I liked how Snow White had to become a real political threat to the throne and a ruler in her own right. This was also the only retelling I have ever read that held the King accountable for some of the catastrophe that comes to kingdom and it was weirdly satisfying. The found family was a happy bonus.

Favorite Couple: Teddy and Isla (A Princess of Wind and Wave). This is my favorite version of a Little Mermaid couple I have experience so far. I like that they actively had to fall out of love with idea of each other and in love with the person they got to know. This was the couple that grew the most together throughout their story. Close second is Lily and Jonathan (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). They are so similar and dutiful. It lead to a fun back and forth of admiration and angst.

Favorite Kingdom: Eldon. I liked the more rigid and traditional kingdom more than I expected. Even though it ended up getting them more trapped in their curse than anything else I found the shift to be a nice change of pace.

Favorite Family: The Duchy of Marin (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). We didn’t spend as much time with them but the three sisters competed (and deserve a short story of their own) and the brother, Jonathan, is the featured love interest. The family is heavily featured as they are the ones who invited the Princesses from the Four Kingdoms to the new land. They are so sweet together and genuinely try to levy their roles as diplomat in every scene they are in.

Favorite Book: A Tale of Beast and Beauty. I think there was a great balance of the relationship and understanding the curse that was on the Kingdom of Palinar. There was a lot of misunderstanding when it came to the Beast (Dominic) and Sophie, but I loved how the relationship developed and that you got to see the type of rulers they would both be. Second place, A Dance of Silver and Shadow. I have loved Twelve Dancing Princess retellings since the Barbie Movie, but I thought the competition was a great introduction. I loved the balance between competition, getting to know a new land and new characters, and an incredibly tense romance.

Spring Wrap Up

I didn’t make it to everything from my Spring TBR (approx. 40%). My workload drastically changes plus I got COVID which sucked, and lead me down a few different roads reading wise. Specifically, I read a lot more middle grade and significantly shorter novels than I have previously leaned towards. I read 54 books this spring and enjoyed most of them! Definitely diversified my reading more than normal into different genres and was pleasantly surprised. The average rating of the season was 3.89 stars. What was your favorite book you read this spring?

Genre Breakdown:

Age Breakdown:

Age Range# of Books
Children4
Middle Grade15
Young Adult17
Adult18

Most Read Author: Mellanie Cellier (7 books across the Beyond the 4 Kingdoms series and the Return to the 4 Kingdoms series)

Standouts:

Anna K by Jenny Lee

Eva Evagreen: Semi-Magical List by Julie Abe

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Beartown by Fredrik Bachman

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Pride Reads – Recommendations

Happy pride month! For this month I wanted to highlight some of my favorite books and series that feature LGBTQIA+ characters and stories. Let me know what you are reading to celebrate Pride!

Fantasy

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic by F.T. Lukens

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Science Fiction

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Pet by Awaeke Emezi

This Is How You Lose a Time War by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Contemporary

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

George by Alex Gino

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Graphic Novel

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Series Review: The Twelve by Cindy Lin

The Twelve duology is an own-voices middle-grade fantasy series by Cindy Lin. In this world those born with Zodiac powers need to stay hidden in fear of death or being taken by the Dragonlord, a dictator that has torn apart the land. Personally, I think this is an older middle grade as there is significant brutality mentioned as well as both books are around 400 pages. We follow Usagi, born a wood rabbit, who after losing those closest to her must recognize her own power and realities of the her world. It is an adventurous story of community and rebellion.

The World: The magic that one is born with depends on the coinciding for the timing of ones birth in an element or a sign of the zodiac. We did get significantly more world building in terms of geography, species, and variation of powers in book two which I wish we could have seen more of in book one. Overall there was a lot of variety and it felt like a real country with history, economy, and culture. There are a magic bullet catch-alls called the “Treasures of the Twelve”; while these can magically save the day most are missing and our heroes don’t have access to them.

The Characters: There was a pretty large cast of characters, but we only followed one point of view, Usagi’s. Each character is traumatized from their world and still growing up. Our heroes all have reasonable character flaws and conflicts. While redemption arcs do happen they are not offered to every character that was ever liked during any point during the series. I found that nice to see especially in a middle grade series.

The Verdict: This is a darker middle-grade (TW: mass death, betrayal, neglect, indoctrination). I do think that it is worth it to read. The culture and characters are well developed and unique to a lot of other middle grade fantasies. In my opinion, there is a good split between nuance and good versus evil. It was a solid 4 star series and if there are ever any spin-offs in the world I will be first in line to read them.

My Spring TBR

Happy Spring! I hope you are all enjoying warmer weather and will have access to vaccines soon! I wanted to have a more targeted TBR for the season and make some progress in the books I own. These are all books I own that I just haven’t been making time for and want to get around to reading this spring. If you have read any, which should I get to first?

Fantasy

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile by Shannon Messenger

Each of Us a Dessert by Mark Oshiro

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

Literary Fiction

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Punching the Air by by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Possessing of a Secret Joy by Alice Walker

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Mystery/Romance

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Non-Fiction

Pooh and the Philosophers by John Tyerman Williams

My Favorite Books of 2020

So I read a lot this year, like a bunch, most of which due to the early pandemic. I read 140 books this year (woohoo!). For the most part I read a lot of wonderful books that were delightfully written. However, few had the extra spark of a favorite with any emotional or potent connection.

Honorable Mentions

  • Check Please: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu : This is the conclusion to a graphic novel series about hockey, baking, and love. It is incredibly sweet and has multiple healthy romances.
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge : I am not really one for non-fiction but I really enjoyed how this broke down argument. I stayed in each topic and was totally engrossed from the history of race discussions to the personal stories.
  • Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce : This is the 7th book in the Emerlan world by Tamora Pierce. To be truthful Tamora Pierce’s books always feel a little like home to me so it’s cheating a bit. I really liked the growth of the characters and class structure. I liked all new magic and it was a well-written kind of creepy.
  • A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos : This was one of the most unique fantasy worlds with family magic and deep blood feuds. We follow Ophelia in an arranged marriage to a distant ark, called the Pole. It’s a magical political game.
  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow : This is an urban fantasy that focuses on sirens and black women. Tavia is a young siren who hides who she is with the help of her best friend, Effie. When the murder of siren is again justified due to “credible fear” things begin to change for them. It is smart, scary, and powerful.

Top 10

10. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: This a middle grade historical fiction novel that wrecked me. Two children escape their abusive mother in the London evacuations of WWII. They find themselves staying with a woman who has closed herself completely off. It is a really hard, but beautiful story about recovery and family.

9. A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy : This is the most slept on fantasy. The magic system is intricate. The politics are ruthless. There are two princesses pitted against each other and a protagonist that is scared to survive. Please read it!

8. The Deep by Rivers Solomon: This is a book about mermaids and generational trauma. I don’t know how to describe it better. It is a must read with an incredibly unique and powerful story.

7. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I resisted for a while the hype of this romance. If for some reason you have missed it, this is the story of the first son of the United States and the Prince of England. I believed in Henry and Alex. I believed in their families. It is a one-sitting, heart-warming, edge-of-your-seat read.

6. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This is possibly the most high concept book that follows two families down generations. We open with half-sisters Effia and Esi in Ghana. Effia is married off to an English colonizer who owns one of the slave ports and Esi is imprisoned and sold into the Atlantic slave trade. Each generation was so beautifully written and despite following almost 20 different characters each voice was unique and impactful.

5. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin : Really the whole Broken Earth trilogy is stunning and grim. It is a a masterful work of storytelling and world building. It was a really satisfying conclusion. The world also expanded in a way that was astonishing but not blindsiding which I feel is a hard line to walk. Highly recommend, if you like fantasy even a little.

4. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I cried at a work event reading this book. We follow twins which I love, in a dual timeline which I LOVE. There is so much about grief, love, and art. It is just took me in fully into the emotional rollercoaster of Noah and Jude (the twins).

3. Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi : This is written like a fairy tale. Whichwood is so darkly and whimsically atmospheric. Laylee is fated to wash the dead as the mordeshoor after her father abandoned her following her mother’s death. There is suffering, friendship, prejudice, failing, and ghosts. I think about this roughly once a week.

2. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: Suffragettes and witches. That’s the whole pitch. I just want to talk about this book and these sisters. We follow three sisters that have been exiled from their family home and find themselves trying to make their own way alone when they find each other again. In addition, the chemistry between the two main couples could set a person on fire.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune : I think this will end up on so many favorites list this year but truly it made my heart swell. It is a beautiful story of magic and family. A social worker is assigned to an isolated group home to determine if the children there can be trusted or will bring about the end of the world. I CANNOT oversell it!

Books about Found Family

As we head into the holiday seasons. We find us spending more and more time appreciating the family we have whether they are the family we are born into or the family we chose. I thought I would highlights books about families that aren’t born but ones are created.

The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce (Middle Grade) : This series revolves around 4 children, who find themselves alone in the world, discovering strange powers and finding a home at a school of magics.

The Twelve by Cindy Lin (Middle Grade): After Usagi’s sister is taken by the most recent round-up by the Dragon Lord to capture all those with Zodiac powers. She teams up with others to learn the history of her powers and save her sister.

The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi (Young Adult): Séverin is a hotelier in late 1800s Paris. He has spent most of his life looking for a way to reclaim his birthright within the Order. The is given the opportunity to do so but only by completing the impossible. This is a crew that have known each other their whole lives and it reads like it.

A Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (YA/Adult): Rosemary Harper needs to escape and she finds her path off her planet on a crew of the Wayfarer. The crew takes on the dangerous but lucrative job to tunnel wormholes in the galaxy. It’s a really exciting and heartfelt space adventure.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (Adult): Linus lives a quiet unassuming life in the middle of a hectic city. He works as a social worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He is sent on a mission to evaluate a home that is housing 6 “dangerous” children. Linus is supposed to determine whether the children and their caretaker, Arthur, are a danger to each other and the world.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Adult): Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced by the Bolshevik court to a lifetime imprisonment in the Metropol hotel. Despite never having worked a day in his life, he develops deep bonds with the other staff and guests over the years.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book Tag!

This tag was created by A Clockwork Reader on YouTube. As I just finished my rewatch of Avatar and am making my way back through Korra and loving it, I thought this was a cool time for this tag. I loved this tag and thought the questions were really fun. What type of bender would you be? I would for sure be a fire bender.

Water


1.) Katara and Sokka: The Best Sibling Relationship

For this I am going with the Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall. In the first book we follow Roselind , Skye, Jane, and Batty who are on summer vacation with their father. They are such a sweet family. The say they care for each other and the frustrations they have with each other are so real and grounded. I love that they each got their own path.


2.) Yue: Favorite Star-Crossed Lovers

The Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds: I’m not sure there is a correct way to define this love, but star-crossed seems close enough. I loved this story and it did in fact bring me to tears more than once.


3.) Blood Bending: A Book With A Disturbing/Unsettling Content

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett: This books place in a dystopian community where girls are banished for a year when they are 17 to rid themselves of the “magic” that corrupts the men in the society. It follows through in all the ways this can be interpreted the vulnerable year of banishment and how a society throughout it’s years places blame on young women for corrupting.

Earth


1.) Toph: A Character Whose Strength Surprised You or The Other Characters In The Book

Jude and Noah from I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson. We follow these twins three years apart and through the story it is slowly revealed just how much weight they were carrying.
2.) The Tales of Ba Sing Se: Best Short Story/Poetry Collection

There are a lot of really good ones. I think the one that has the most stories that stuck with me is Paper Cities edited by Ekaterina Sedia. Each story is a fantasy set in a city whether real or fictional. I really like most of the stories and loved the way setting was used as the common thread.


3.) Kioshi Warriors: Best Warrior Character

This answer is only ever going to be Paks from The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. She starts as a sheepfarmer’s daughter and joins up as a foot soldier. Then… everything else happens but she is always a warrior at heart.

Fire


1.) Zuko: Best Redemption Arc

In general I don’t think these are well done. Zuko tends to be my number one example. I feel like the best example I have is Alabaster from The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and it still doesn’t totally count. Also spoilers…


2.) Iroh: Wisest Character

Elodin from The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. He is the Master Namer at the University. It is literally his job to have an understanding of things as to name them. He is also an incredible teacher and his patience while people are taking in his learnings is unmatched.


3.) Azula: Best Downfall

Xifeng from Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao. This is a East Asian inspired Evil Queen (ie. Snow White’s step-mother) origin story. So we go in knowing it’s going to end badly, however Xifeng’s descent and how far she is willing to go to get what she wants is so spirally and good.

Air


1.) Appa: Favorite Fictional Animal/Pet

Gleep! The purest little dragon in the world from Myth Adventures by Robert Asprin. He is a baby dragon and he would think you are wonderful.


2.) Aang: Purest Cinnamon Roll

Chestnutt from Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia is the first one that comes to mind. Not only is she the softest character (personality wise and literally) but she reminds me a lot of Aang. Chestnutt wants to help people but struggles with being seen as capable.


3.) Avatar State: A Stubborn Character/ A Character That Struggles With Letting Go

Stevie Bell from the Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson is incredibly stubborn. Yes, she is smart and passionate, but she is so stubborn. Stevie has a hard time letting go of a puzzle and initial perceptions of people. She makes a lot of mistakes when she can’t let go of the reins and let someone else take care of it. Super fun character to read though.