When Things Are Hard: Our Personal Comfort Reads

We are entering month two of quarantine and social distancing for us at the Library Ladies, and it’s hard to deny that it’s wearing us down. It’s hard not to be able to see dear friends and family in person, and it’s hard to deal with uncertainty as to what the future holds with this pandemic. But we will do our best to persevere in difficult times, and one of the best ways we know how is to revisit books that bring us comfort. Here are our list of personal comfort reads that bring us joy and a little bit of hope.

Serena’s Picks

41424Book: “Beauty: A Retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast” by Robin McKinley

I know I’ve highlighted this book before in other lists, and we even read it as a bookclub book at one point, but this wouldn’t be an honest representation of my comfort read books without including it. This is one of those feel-good books where practically nothing bad happens at all, and even the few things that seem bad turn out happy in the end. It’s my all-time favorite fairytale retelling made all the better for being a reworking of my all-time favorite fairytale. I literally have zero complaints about this book and whenever I’m feeling down, it’s one of the first that comes to mind for a quick pick-me-up. The romance is everything I like, there’s a library, there’s a horse. Really, I couldn’t ask for more. If by some bizarre chance you haven’t read this book, do yourself a huge favor and do it now!

school-aged-readersBook/s: “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling

Unlike “Beauty,” I’ve mostly resisted listing “Harry Potter” on any lists. I mean, there’s no way someone hasn’t heard of these books, and many of our lists are formed around the goal of introducing books to our readers that we think they may not have come across before. Never going to happen with this. But, again, a true comfort read lists for me wouldn’t be complete without this series. Unlike “Beauty,” these books do get dark, but the tears they bring on are of the cathartic type for me, and sometimes you just need a good cry. And, of course, Rowling is a master and never leaves you down long before the adventure, fantasy, humor, and, best of all, superb characters sweep you back up.

227443._sy475_Book: “Bridget Jones’s Diary” by Helen Fielding

So, we’ve had romance, we’ve had fantasy with some needed tears, and now it’s time for the comedy. There’s not another book out there that makes me laugh so consistently at this one does. I re-read it just this last year and was literally cackling outloud next to my husband in bed. I think he thought I was a mad woman. It so perfectly hits on the inner workings of so many women’s minds, and Bridget Jones herself has to be one of the most endearing heroines ever. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s loosely based on “Pride and Prejudice.” In fact, this list is aptly timed as my Jane Austen re-read is coming up on my review of the movie adaptation of this book. It differs in a few big ways, but I love that it, too, is hilarious and a comfort watch as well. Look for that movie review this Friday!

Kate’s Picks

33Book/s: “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

I grew up on “The Lord of the Rings”. My parents are both huge nerds, and introduced me to this world vis a vis the Bakshi animated film. They would also read me excerpts from the books and indulge me in make believe games in which I was a hobbit. I’ve read the full trilogy about five times, and have only not revisited it in full more because of other books on my pile. So whenever I am feeling low, I will undoubtedly return to Middle Earth to see a brave hobbit and his friends and allies defeat the ultimate evil. “The Lord of the Rings” is absolutely my favorite book series of all time, and the themes of triumph over darkness, hope, and friendship will always bring me joy. It especially feels all the more relevant right now, not necessarily because of fighting against an evil being (I mean, that’s a whole OTHER issue our country is facing right now), but because of the heaviness and weight of this moment. But like Gandalf says, ‘all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us’. Aaaand I’m tearing up just thinking about the beauty of this story and how much it means to me.

27712Book: “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende

Perhaps it’s strange that as someone who is constantly talking about how she doesn’t like fantasy, I have two fantasy epics on my comfort list. But I really had to include “The Neverending Story” here, because it is one that always makes me feel a bit more at peace after I’ve read it. The story of Fantastica and Bastian Balthazar Bux is one about the power of storytelling, of imagination, and the influence that we can have on the world, be it for good or bad. What better way to escape reality than by jumping into a book where luck dragons, racing snails, and Childlike Empresses exist? This was a tween years favorite of mine, and my love for it hasn’t diminished over the years.

763588Book: “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maude Montgomery

Anne Shirley is up there with Eowyn of Rohan and Jane Eyre for favorite literary heroines. The adventures of this imaginative and charming orphan as she finds her new home on Prince Edward Island are so sweet and fun, and the first book in the series continues to be my favorite. Anne is plucky and lovable, and even with all of her faults (I mean, they aren’t HUGE faults, but her temper is pretty bad) she is a relatable and endearing main character who has inspired me in so many ways. Her journey from orphan to well loved member of her own family and community is lovely, and it shows the power of love and family and taking a chance on people that you never expected to have in your life. Plus, she’s laugh out loud hysterical a lot of the time, and has overcome a lot of strife to become a confident and clever person who finds a place for herself. What could be more comforting than that?

What books do you turn to during difficult times? Let us know in the comments!

Highlights: April 2020

So. This is a very strange time to be alive, isn’t it? Here in Minnesota we’re on a shelter in place order for now, followed by continued social distancing. Walks around the block can be calming, and opening the windows too, though we admittedly miss the get togethers that come with spring. With all this time at home, we have plenty of time for reading thanks to digital collections at our libraries and local bookstores that are willing to ship! So here are the books we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

40944762._sy475_Book: “Chosen Ones” by Veronica Roth

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I haven’t read anything from Veronica Roth since the first two Divergent boos. That right there should say something: I only read the first two and didn’t even bother with the last one. Since then, I know she’s written a few other things, but I was never very intrigued until I say the description for this, her first adult fantasy stories. What happens after the chosen ones has defeated the villain? Such a simple question with so many potential answers. For Sloane, she’s not only a chosen one, but one of a group, all of whom have been scarred in different ways from their great battle that ended ten years ago. And now, when a new battle may be before them, Sloane must decide not only how to, but if she wants to pick back up that mantle.

51318896._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Body in the Garden” by Katharine Schellman

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I randomly came across this title while browsing NetGalley. I’m always interested in a new historical mystery series, and this one seemed like it might provide a breath of fresh air to a genre that can some times feel a bit predictable as far as its characters go. Lily Adler is a widow still suffering the loss of her beloved husband over a year ago. So when she returns to London society, she’s looking for more than a quiet home and a few social distractions. Instead she finds murder. And suddenly nothing seems more important than finding justice for the young man murdered and left forgotten by the police. With the help of a naval captain, Lily soon finds herself suspecting everyone, both friend and stranger alike.

51113661._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Ranger of Marzanna” by Jon Skovron

Publication Date: April 21, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Honestly, the first thing that struck me was the cool cover. Badass women on beautiful horses? Sign me up! This Russian-inspired fantasy features two siblings that end up on opposing sides of a war. The invading Empire killed Sonya and her brother’s father. Now Sonya, a ranger in training, will travel across the land to gain allies in her fight against her father’s killers. But her brother, a powerful sorcerer, goes another route and fights on the side of the Empire. As they each hone their skills, an ultimate confrontation brews. I’m not sure based on this description whether this will be an alternating POV story or not. Probably? It will be interesting to see how we’re supposed to sympathize with this brother who seemingly sides with his father’s killers?? We shall see!

Kate’s Picks

43261154._sx318_Book: “The Last Book on the Left” by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: While I’ve experienced a mixed bag of podcasts that write books, when I heard that the guys of “Last Podcast on the Left” had one coming out, I KNEW that it was going to be fantastic. Not only is it my favorite podcast, the research and delivery skills of Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel, and Henry Zebrowski are so on point that they will surely be translated to a book in perfect fashion. In this book, they do deep dives on a number of the most notorious serial killers the world has ever known. Given how seriously Parks takes his research, and how sly and clever Kissel and Zebrowski are in their commentary, there is no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a home run for fans of the podcast and true crime alike.

51285749Book: “The Book of Koli” by M.R. Carey

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I have greatly enjoyed a few of M.R. Carey’s books in the past, especially his last one “Someone Like Me”. So of course I was eager to see what he was going to do with a post-apocalyptic story that doesn’t involve zombies (as “The Girl With All The Gifts” did). Of course, that was before we started living in our own dystopic nightmare, but I’m still really excited to read “The Book of Koli”. After plants have started to take over and choke the life out of humans, mankind has retreated to village walls and are trying to survive as best they can. This is the only life that Koli has known, and doesn’t ever think about going outside the walls. Until, that is, he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Sounds unique and creepy, which is no surprise given that Carey knows how to capture those tones with ease.

44077284Book: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Grady Hendrix is one of my favorite horror authors writing right now, and that is because he brings such quirkiness to his stories! His take on demonic possession was great, his haunted Ikea-esque tale was entertaining, and his cursed metal band was brutal (in the metal linguistic sense). So I am, of course, VERY happy that he’s finally decided to take on vampires, AND that he’s melding it with a Southern Lady Book Club motif! Patricia Campbell and her book club friends are obsessed with reading about true crime and macabre things, and when a new neighbor moves into her neighborhood at first she thinks he’s a kindred spirit, as he too likes to read. But when children in the community start dying and strange coincidences involving the handsome stranger start to pile up, Patricia starts to wonder if he’s hiding something. But while she thinks he may be a serial killer, the truth is far more… supernatural. I’ve been waiting for Hendrix to create a vampire lore, and now that he has I couldn’t be happier.

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

Hunkering Down: Book Series For The Long Haul

So, given that a good majority of people may be staying at home and away from crowds for awhile (or even in quarantine), we here at Library Ladies thought that we’d recommend some books that could help pass the time. Because the thing about these recommendations is that they are multi-book series! Here are some of our favorites that will keep you busy and engaged for a long while. See if your local bookstore will deliver an order to you, or if you can find them as downloadable content from your local library! But please don’t physically go to your library if it’s open. And remember everyone: be mindful, practice social distancing (or just stay home), check in on your loved ones, and wash wash wash your hands!

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Series: “The Temperance Brennan” Series by Kathy Reichs

For fans of the TV show “Bones”, did you know that it started as a book series? Well, kind of. Temperance from the TV show is very different from Temperance from the novels, but if you are in it for the forensic anthropology based mystery of it all, this series is for you! Temperance is a forensic anthropologist who works in both North Carolina and Quebec, hoping to help identify the remains of people who may not be identifiable otherwise. And she also gets into some pretty hot water, and finds herself solving dark and engaging mysteries. I love Tempe and the crimes she tackles, and while sometimes her personal life can be exhausting, she is incredibly charming as a character. Plus, given that Reichs herself is a forensic anthropologist, there are a lot of great science-y tidbits within these books!

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Series: “The Dark Tower” by Stephen King

We all know that Stephen King is the king of horror, but he’s also dabbled in fantasy. His best known fantasy series is “The Dark Tower”, a dark fantasy about a gunslinger, a man in black, and multiple universes that are all potentially in danger. Roland Deschain is a member of an important order of knight like beings called Gunslingers, and his world seems to be falling apart. He hopes that if he can find a place called “The Dark Tower”, as it may be the key to saving not only his world, but also all the worlds in all dimensions. But, of course, there is a man who thrives on the chaos and violence of these universes, and a showdown between Roland and The Man in Black (aka RANDALL FLAGG!!) seems almost inevitable. This is what I like to call a ‘commitment’, as many of the books in this series are looooooong. Therefore, they will take up a lot of that time we will all need to kill while we wait out our social distancing measures.

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Series: “The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman

If you haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, a wonderful place to start would be with his epic comic fantasy opus “Sandman”. This epic fantasy series deals with Dream, or Morpheus, the being that controls sleep and dreaming and stories. This series is about him and his siblings, The Endless, and how they control and represent many powers of the universe. Part fantasy, part horror, part mythology, “Sandman” is one of the greatest comic series of all time, being  one of Vertigo’s first titles and beloved by many fantasy and comics fans to this day. It’s hard to really describe this series, in it’s eerie, ephemeral and philosophical leanings. But it’s captivating and lovely, and will no doubt take you to a world you never expected, and may not want to leave.

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Series: “Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan

Any epic fantasy fan is at least passingly familiar with Robert Jordan’s mammoth “Wheel of Time” series. In fact, Jordan was the OG Geore RR Martin when it came to complaining about an author not finishing their series. And in Jordan’s case, fans’ worst fears were realized when he passed away before finishing the 14 book series. Luckily, Brandon Sanderson, another beloved fantasy author, was able to pick up the notes that remained and bring a conclusion to this sprawling story. Not only are there 14 books, however, each book is also hundreds and hundreds of pages long. So if you like fantasy (especially of the high fantasy variety with swords, staffs, and unique world-building), this series should have you set for quite some time. Amazon is also currently working on developing a TV series for these books, so now is a good time to get a head start before it is released!

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Series: “October Daye” by Seanan McQuire

If epic fantasy isn’t your jam, there are a bunch of long-running urban fantasy series to check out. I’ve reviewed the “Mercy Thompson” and “Kate Daniels” series on this blog, so if you haven’t read those, they are also good options. But I wanted to shine light on another great series that I’ve been making my way through (though haven’t reviewed yet.) Like the two others, this series focuses on a young woman with connections to a secretive supernatural world. October Daye has one foot in the realm of fae and one in the human world. With her experience in both worlds, and as a knight with a liege in a fairy court, October solves mysteries and goes on adventures throughout this 13+ book series. However, while the story does eventually build towards a romance, it is much less heavily featured (at least right off the bat) than the central romances in the “Thompson” or “Daniels” series.

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Series: “Amelia Peabody” by Elizabeth Peters

Of course, no list featuring long book series could be complete without a nod to my beloved “Amelia Peabody” series. Fantasy lends itself well to long-running stories, so it’s a bit more challenging to find long series that don’t feature magical elements. But for those who enjoy mysteries and historical fiction, Amelia Peabody is the best of the best. Taking place largely in Egypt, Amelia and her family solve a range of mysteries and murders. But what makes this series really stand out is the hilarious narration of our leading lading herself! I’ve listened to a bunch of these on audiobook as well, so I recommend that option as well. Bonus, if your library has digital audiobooks available, you can listen to a bunch of these without ever leaving your house!

What are you planning on reading while spending time at home? Let us know in the comments!

Highlights: March 2020

March is that special part of year when Winter is (theoretically) on the way out, Spring is on the way, and the promise of Spring Break and St. Patrick’s Day are exciting distractions to get through. We have some books that we are looking forward to during this transitional month! 

Serena’s Picks

45047384._sy475_Book: “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

Publication Date: March 17, 2020

Why I’m Interested: The beautiful cover! Look at all those colors and that children’s-storybook-like artwork. Yes, this was the actual thought in my head when I clicked through to read more about what the book is actually, you know, about. But the story itself, of a middle-aged, quiet man who suddenly finds himself charged with the care of a bunch of bizarre orphans, sounded right up my alley. And when I say bizarre, I mean “Umbrella Academy” but on acid, bizarre. We have a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Pretty excited to check this one out! And all because I thought it was so pretty…

35530507Book: “A Murderous Relation” by Deanna Raybourn

Publication Date: March 10, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Obviously, I’m very excited for the next installment in the Veronica Speedwell mysteries. Particularly due to the events of the last book and wanting to see how that would play out in this book. I think it was also written as a potential last book in the series, though after some author stalking, it seems like there may be more to come. Which I’m totally on board with. Yet again, Veronica and Stoker are called upon for their excellent sleuthing skills. But this time, there is less a mystery to be solved than a scandal to be warded off. The story seems to also be incorporating some connection to “Jack the Ripper,” a seeming requirement for any mystery sent around this time period. I’m curious to see what angle this book will use to approach this much-used portion of history.

42074525._sy475_Book: “The City We Became” by N.K. Jemisin

Publication Date: March 24, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read from N. K. Jemisin. She not only amazing, original worlds, but she excels at peopling those worlds with nuanced and complicated characters. She is also an excellent example of an author using science fiction and fantasy to shine harsh lights on very tricky subjects without dumbing anything down or spoon-feeding the reader. The book description for this one is pretty vague. Something about cities, in this case New York City, having souls and five people having to come together to protect it. But, like I said, I’ve loved everything of hers that I’ve read (and the two series I have read are very, very different), so you can bet that I don’t need more details in the description to have me on board and ready to go.

Kate’s Picks

46354144Book: “The Return” by Rachel Harrison

Publication Date: March 24, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I come for the haunted hotel and the missing girl, and then I stay for the disintegrating friendships and the interpersonal drama. “The Return” has been hyped up as “Girls” meets “The Shining”, and if that doesn’t pique my interest I don’t know what will. After Julie goes missing in a national park, her friends, including her best friend Elise, can’t believe that she’s gone. So when she suddenly returns two years later, Elise is elated, and their friend group plans a weekend away as a reunion. But Julie seems… different. Strange things begin happening when the weekend gets underway, and Elise doesn’t know who, or what, Julie is anymore. Creepy and soapy is a combination that I can get behind, so “The Return” is high on my highlights list!

46371247Book: “The Deep” by Alma Katsu

Publication Date: March 10, 2020

Why I’m Interested: I loved, LOVED Alma Katsu’s Donner Party re-imagining horror novel “The Hunger”, so when I heard that she had another historical horror novel coming out, this time involving the sinking of The Titanic, I was very excited. Annie is a stewardess turned hospital attendant who survived the sinking of the Titanic and is now on its sister ship The Britannic as it transports patients wounded in WWI. She can’t forget what happened on the Titanic as much as she tries, especially since something unnatural seemed to be going on. So when one of her patients is a man who was also on Titanic, things start getting strange again. As if whatever was haunting the Titanic has followed to the sister ship. With historical characters and a lot of focus being on the doomed ‘unsinkable’ liner, “The Deep” is sure to be another eerie and beautifully written horror novel.

49223060._sy475_Book: “Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel

Publication Date: March 17, 2020

Why I’m Interested: Like many other true crime freaks/weirdos drawn to the morbid, I was totally taken in by the case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, whose mother Deedee scammed people into believing that her daughter was afflicted with a multitude of medical problems. As it turned out, Deedee was making Gypsy Rose ill, and Gypsy Rose ended up killing her. “Darling Rose Gold” is clearly inspired by this story. Patty was a single mother to Rose Gold, a girl who seemed to have chronic illnesses that made living a normal life impossible. But as it turns out, it was Patty who was making Rose Gold ill, and conning everyone about her condition. After Patty was convicted of abuse, she went to prison. After she is released, she reaches out to Rose Gold to ask if she can come live with her. Rose Gold says yes. But she may have plans for her mother and abuser. This has been getting some buzz, so I’m VERY excited to jump into it!

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

May The Books Be With You: A “Star Wars” Book List

Few forms of media have garnered the pop culture following that is the “Star Wars” fandom. Having spanned almost fifty years of tales from a galaxy far far away, it has been the obsession of fan boys and girls alike. Now that the last three movies of the so called ‘Skywalker Saga’ have wrapped up in the “Star Wars” universe, we thought that it could be fun to wax nostalgic and speculate about what kinds of books some of the characters from the saga would like to read. 

Luke Skywalker: “Dune” by Frank Herbert

“Dune” seems to have a lot that might appeal to former farm boy turned Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. The first is obvious: it’s about a chosen one who, against all odds, seemed to fulfill a role that wasn’t meant for him. Paul Atreides is a boy who trains as a Bene Gesserit, a social force within the “Dune” world that gives its followers superhuman abilities. Along with that, as the “Dune” books go on, Paul has to ultimately face the consequences of his rise to power thanks in part to these superhuman abilities, which leads to heartache, sacrifice, and guilt on his part. And the final point is perhaps one that Luke would have the hardest time with: so much sand! While Luke doesn’t hate sand as much as his father, Tatooine was a desert planet that had harsh conditions and harsh creatures, just like Dune itself.

Leia Organa: “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth E. Wein

Leia may have been raised as a princess, but she was also a military leader, politician, and spy for the Rebel Alliance, not to mention attuned to the ways of the Jedi. Her devotion to the Rebel Alliance at such a young age is why I think that she would absolutely love the book “Code Name Verity”. Taking place during WWII, spy “Verity” is taken by Nazis after her plane crashes in enemy territory, with her best friend and compatriot Maddie having to find a way to save her. The espionage and harrowing spy stuff is sure to be something Leia would see herself in, and unfortunately so are the torture scenes that “Verity” has to endure at the hands of her captors. But like Leia, “Verity” is dedicated and strong, and won’t break that easily. Both “Verity” and Leia have the guts and the strength to help take down Empires.

Han Solo: “The Gunslinger” by Stephen King

It was surprisingly difficult to come up with a perfect book for Han Solo. How do you find a book with enough layers to incorporate all that makes up this great character? There’s the sense of adventure, the loner tendencies, the buddy drama, the gruffness to cover a heart of gold, the “yes, he definitely did shoot first.” But I finally settled on “The Gunslinger,” leaning rather heavily into the cowboy/loner side of Han’s character. Roland, too, starts out on his own mission, tracking down the mysterious Man in Black. But as he goes, he finds himself gathering others around him, that begin to worm their way into his small sphere of things he cares about. Like Han, he begins to learn that perhaps being out only for yourself and your own mission isn’t always the best route.

Rey: “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson

On the other hand, there are a bunch of stories, especially in YA now, of young women following their own “Chosen One” paths. But after going through many lists, “Mistborn” seemed to be the best fit. It’s main character, Vin, is a young woman who has grown up on the streets, surviving through sheer will and scrap. That’s until she gets caught up with a rebel crew who are looking to take down an evil empire. And, of course, Vin too discovers that she has great power within her and, over the course of the book trilogy, she grows to be the strongest fighter in the group and a de facto leader. They each start off taking care of only themselves and soon find the fate of entire worlds resting on their shoulders.

Kylo Ren: “And I Darken” by Kiersten White

Kylo Ren was another toughy as his redemption comes only after sinking all the way to the bottom and can only end in tragedy. He’s not an anti-hero, even; he’s just a villain for much of it, even if there are bits you can sympathize with. So, finding a book with a character who is similarly torn between loyalty and love to family and their own ambitions was hard. But “And I Darken” fits the bill. It’s a fictionalized story of Vlad the Impaler, the thought-to-be origin of the Dracula legend, but re-imagined as a young woman, Lada, who early in life recognizes brutality as her only way forward in a world that will only put obstacles before her.

Rose Tico: “Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Rose Tico was definitely done dirty in “The Rise of Skywalker”, as she was basically erased from the narrative altogether. But what people love about Rose is that she is optimistic and filled with hope, even in the darkest times. This is why I think she would enjoy “Pollyanna”. Pollyanna is an orphan girl who has to go live with her uptight aunt, and while those around her are somewhat cold and dour, Pollyanna is filled with joy and optimism. She has a knack for spreading this joy wherever she goes, and instills it in those around her. And when tragedy strikes, it becomes a question as to whether she can persevere and continue to find that optimistic sense of the world. Given that Rose grew up in poverty and lost her sister during the fight against the First Order, one would think she would give up. But she never does.

There are so many other characters that we haven’t touched upon. What books would you recommend to those characters, or the ones that we covered? Tell us in the comments!!

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 5 through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

36510722#5: “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“Gods of Jade and Shadow” Review

I’ve only read two books by Moreno-Garcia, but both have made my top reads list. And yet, they are completely different stories! It’s truly impressive how versatile of an author she is, combining beautiful imagery, new magical systems, and jumping between cultures and time periods. This fairy-tale like story is set in the Jazz Age and travels from a small village in southern Mexico up through the country. One thing that really stands out about Moreno-Garcia’s work is the page time she devotes to her villains who are just as fun to hate (while also somehow still sympathizing with?) as her protagonists are to love. This book was gorgeously written and so unique and fresh with its setting. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for an original, non-European fairytale fantasy.

40698027#4: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher

“A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” Review

This book wins the award for “most recommended” read of 2019. I’ve given it as a gift to numerous people and recommended it to countless more. Not only is it a quality book in its own right, but its the perfect blend of so many genres that I think it appeals in some way to almost any reader. Thus, perfect gift book. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale but focuses much more heavily on the personal journey of the main character in search of a beloved, stolen away dog. Throughout the journey, more comes to light about the world itself, what went wrong, and how people are living now. But at its heart, it’s a very human tale and not so bleak as to be gut-wrenching or hopeless feeling, as many post-apocalyptic stories tend to be. If you have a reader in your family and you’re looking for a great Christmas book gift, this is a good option!

43575115._sy475_#3: “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

“The Starless Sea” Review

I think this is the most recently read book on this list, so it’s also one of the ones that’s still the most on my mind as I write. A couple of weeks past my first read now, I can remember fewer of the details of the exact plot of this story, other than it being a young man’s adventure into whimsy, sparkles, and shadow. More clearly, I remember the overpowering feeling of want that this book imparted. I wanted to be in this world so badly, wanted it to be real, even if I never went there. Beautiful rooms devoted to reading and stories. A magical kitchen that knows your every whim. And cats winding in between your legs as you traverse. Morgenstern’s return to writing was a triumph and this book was a masterclass.

36621586#2: “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden

“The Winter of the Witch” Review

It’s always particularly satisfying when a trilogy or series finishes and you now can rest assured that no, nothing will be irreparably screwed up or simply fall flat on its face there at the end. Even better are those series that seem to only gain steam as the go along, and that’s what I feel happened with this trilogy. “The Winter of the Witch” picks up immediately where the last book left off and yet, somehow, none of the predictions I had then turned out to be right. Maybe some vague ideas, but the paths that were traveled and the ultimate destination were completely unexpected. I love this series so much. I now own the complete set and will likely read them again soon as they are perfect winter reading material, in my opinion. If you’ve been reading this series so far and somehow missed this one (or were a bit gun shy about endings, I understand that!), never fear, this one was completely satisfying!

42201395#1: “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

“Sorcery of Thorns” Review

And lastly, this lovely book. For me, “Sorcery of Thorns” was the complete package. In every way, this is the exact type of book I most love. The main character was spunky, a bit foolish, loved books, and followed the call to adventure. The love interest was quippy but flawed, and, most importantly, only slowly developed into even being a love interest. The magic and world were uncomplicated, yet fully realized and detailed. There was adventure around every corner, action, female friendships. And, oh yes, warrior librarians and sentient books. As I was going through some of my top-rated books from this year, I always kept flipping back to this one based purely on the enjoyment I took in reading it. And really, there is no higher praise for a book than that: bringing sheer, unadulterated joy to its reader.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2019?

 

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 5 Through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, and I also realized that sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas” Giveaway! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

43263388Pick Number 5: “Trace of Evil” by Alice Blanchard

“Trace of Evil” Review

This procedural mystery perfectly combined a can do female detective, the baggage that she carries, and the secrets and dark sides of a small town. I loved Natalie Lockhart, the detective who is determined to solve a number of missing persons cases and who is pulled into the murder of her colleague’s wife. Blanchard created a realistic and relatable main character, and created a mystery that is sure to suck in fans of thrillers, especially if said fan also has a love for stories about witches and witchcraft. So, basically me. “Trace of Evil” kept me guessing and kept me interested, and I cannot wait to see where Natalie Lockhart goes next!

35887567._sy475_Pick Number 4: “On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas

Goodreads Info

This is the second book on this list that didn’t make it to the blog, and I’m thinking that I will need to start making exceptions for Angie Thomas. “The Hate U Give” was the book that became an instant YA phenomenon (and made it onto my list the year it came out), and “On the Come Up” was a fantastic follow up. Bri is an aspiring rapper who has dreams of following in her father’s footsteps. He was an up and coming performer when he was murdered. But Bri’s mother would prefer that she focus on her studies. And when her mother loses her job and some very real threats of homelessness and hunger start to loom, Bri becomes more determined to become famous to she can help her family, no matter what. Thomas has once again written a gritty, heartfelt, and emotional story, and it solidifies her as an incredibly talented author.

43263680Pick Number 3: “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo

“Ninth House” Review

This book took me by complete surprise this year, as I’ve had an on and off appreciation for Leigh Bardugo’s books over the past few years. I picked up “Ninth House” on a whim, and ended up being completely enthralled by it. Alex Stern is part of the Lethe House, a group at Yale that keeps an eye on the other Secret Societies, as the use of magic and rituals has gotten out of control in the past. Alex is a fish out of water at the prestigious school, but the offer of a free ride in exchange for her talent to see ghosts seems like a good deal. But, obviously it’s not as easy and uncomplicated as all that. Bardugo creates a fun twist to a familiar setting, and weaves in the themes of privilege and entitlement into her supernatural dark fantasy. Definitely the best horror/dark fantasy of the year for me!

29225589._sx318_Pick Number 2: “Bloom” by Kevin Panetta

“Bloom” Review

This is an example of a book that I gained more and more appreciation for as more time passed. When I initially reviewed “Bloom” by Kevin Panetta, I gave it some high praise, but held off on giving it my highest rating of a ten. Looking back, I really don’t know why I did that, because whenever I think of it I burst with joy. The love story between two young men that centers in a bakery is sweet and gentle and it was such an enjoyable graphic novel that I keep thinking about it months later. The anxious and big dreamed Ari meets his match in the low key and loyal Hector, and their slow building relationship has ups, downs, joy, and heartache, and I loved following every moment of it. On top of that, the illustrations by Savanna Ganucheau are done in such away that conveys the overall heart and gentleness of this story that they complement it completely. I loved “Bloom”, and imagine I’ll revisit it again and again.

40538634Pick Number 1: “Highway of Tears” by Jessica McDiarmid

“Highway of Tears” Review

My number one pick book of 2019 was also one of the hardest reads of the year. Albeit necessary. True crime is incredibly popular right now, with numerous books and podcasts and TV shows dedicated to the subject, and one of the worst cases in the history of Canada is the disappearance and murders of dozens upon dozens of Indigenous Women along Highway 16. “Highway of Tears” is a detailed and compassionate examination the disappearances and murders, the society and Government that has enabled racism and prejudice that adds to the unsolved status of the cases, and a heartbreaking story of many of the victims, stories that otherwise have fallen by the wayside. This was an emotional and important read, and I cannot recommend it enough, even if it will leave you feeling devastated.

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2019?

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 10 through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”

39603796#10: “The Wolf in the Whale” by Jordanna Max Brodsky

“The Wolf in the Whale” Review

This was one of a few books to make this list that were complete surprises for me. It was the debut book for the author and one that had very little buzz when I first received an early copy. But boy, did it blow me away. With its unique setting of early civilization in the North American Arctic region, its compelling and complicated leading character, and the sparse, but fantastic, use of mythology and fantasy elements, this book was firing on all cylinders the entire time. The story definitely had some dark themes, and it handles a love interest with a controversial past in what I thought was a smart manner. There was a lot of crying on my part, but this unique, confident fantasy novel definitely stuck out to me when looking back over the year.

44059557._sy475_-1#9: “The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” by Sherry Thomas

“The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” Review

I love fairytale retellings. This is a mixed blessing, as I see it. On one hand, there are a ton of them, especially recently. On the other hand, because I feel compelled to read them all, I end up being disappointed quite a bit. And “Mulan” has been one of those stories that has served up nothing but disappointment for a while now. And then this book came out and did every. single. thing. I wanted. It takes enough elements from my limited knowledge of the original tale to remain familiar, but also brings in new portions of the story that make it feel refreshing. It’s definitely not Disney’s “Mulan,” but that’s also a good thing in this case. The love story is sweet, the action is exciting, and the story addresses a wide range of themes including bravery, honor, and family. If you’re looking for a good fairytale retelling, or, like me, had been waiting for THE “Mulan” version that would really hit home, definitely check this one out!

35839460#8: “The Kingdom of Copper” by S.A. Chakraborty

“The Kingdom of Copper” Review

This book came out in the early part of this year, way back in January. And I’ve been waiting this whole, long time for the next one! And it’s still not here! But I shall work on patience and maybe just go re-read this one in the mean time. The first book in this trilogy impressed with its complicated world-building and engaging main characters who must tread almost impossible lines of grey. Here, all that was excellent from the first book was simply expanded upon. It was also one of the smartest uses of a time jump between books that I’ve read in a long time. I was truly surprised by the direction the book went and the very real ways our main characters had both changed and stayed the same between one book and another. It also ended on one heck of a cliff-hanger, so, yeah. Back to the fretting until…oof, June.

28876#7: “Temeraire” series by Naomi Novik

“His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Throne of Jade” and “Black Powder War” and “Empire of Ivory” Reviews

It seems like every year I end up with at least one favorite that isn’t just one book but a series of books that I’ve blown through over the year. And this year it was Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series about dragons during the Napoleonic Wars. I’ve been a fan of Novik’s for a while (in fact, I think her most recent novel, “Spinning Silver” was my top pick last year), but I’d always held back on reading this book because of its weird premise. I mean…dragons in the Napoleonic Wars. But silly me! It’s been awesome so far. I’ve been blowing through the series way too fast for my own good, but I find everything about them so engaging that its hard to stop myself! I love the language of the books, reading like great historical fiction. The action is exciting, new, and shockingly, incredibly believable. And on top of all of that, the characters of Temeraire and his captain, William Lawrence, are an incredible duo whom you can’t help but fall in love with. I’ve already read the next in the series, so that review should be up soon! But if you, like me, love Novik’s other books but haven’t checked this series out yet, definitely give it a try!

36524503._sy475_#6: “The Bones Houses” by Emily Lloyd-Jones

“The Bones Houses” Review

I love books like this. Not only this story in particular, but books that come out of complete nowhere and blow me away. I literally knew nothing about this story when I requested In fact, looking at the cover, I was suspicious that this was going to more a “Kate book” than one for me, so if anything, my expectations were on the negative side. Oops! I loved this lovely fairytale story (sort of a retelling of “The Black Cauldron”??). For one thing, it’s a standalone, which automatically shoots it forward in my rankings. But on top of that, it perfectly mixes whimsy and horror, all while exploring topics like loss, grief, and family. The romance is sweet, and the two main characters are each strong and compelling. There’s also a fantastic goat. If you haven’t heard of this one (it seems to be flying below radar, sadly), get thee to the library or bookstore!

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2019?

Kate’s Favorite Reads of 2019: Picks 10 Through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! Like past years I won’t be including re-reads, and I also realized that sometimes my opinion of a book could change and evolve after I had read it, so some surprises may be up near the top. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “Twelve Days of Christmas” Giveaway! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

41837243Pick Number 10: “Lock Every Door” by Riley Sager

“Lock Every Door” Review

It took a lot of mulling and hemming and hawing to decide which book was going to be the first to make the Top 10 of 2019. But the book that eventually got the honor was Riley Sager’s “Lock Every Door”, which means all of Sager’s books have been in my Top 10 in the years that they’ve been published. This book got the spot because it was compulsively readable, it had some delicious homages to the creepiness of the Dakota in New York and “Rosemary’s Baby”, and kept me guessing for a majority of the time. Sager still finds ways to surprise me and I greatly, GREATLY look forward to his books every year, and “Lock Every Door” was a wicked and paranoia inducing thriller that will make you question if you’re actually safe in your own home, and if perhaps someone is watching your every move.

38225791Pick Number 9: “Two Can Keep A Secret” by Karen M. McManus

“Two Can Keep A Secret” Review

Karen M. McManus is well on her way to becoming a YA mystery guru, with her debut “One of Us Is Lying” becoming a runaway hit and it’s sequel “One of Us Is Next” coming out early next year. And between those was the (as of now) standalone “Two Can Keep A Secret”, a YA mystery involving missing people, a small town with secrets, and intrepid twins who are new in town. “Two Can Keep A Secret” sucked me in and made sure that I was fully invested in twins Ellery and Ezra and their transition to the town of Echo Ridge. Ellery and her love interest Malcolm were some of the best YA characters I read in 2019, and their romance and tangentially shared traumas that involve a notorious tragedy came together and wove a story I was completely obsessed with. I still think that fans of adult thrillers would find a lot to like in McManus’s books, and “Two Can Keep A Secret” would be the perfect place to start!

42527866Pick Number 8: “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei

“They Called Us Enemy” Review

Being a “Star Trek” fan I was of course very interested in reading Takei’s graphic memoir about his time in an interment camp during WWII, and “They Called Us Enemy” became one of the best graphic novels I read in 2019 because of it’s scary timeliness. Takei recounts a traumatic and disgusting part in American history where American citizens were imprisoned because of their race and ethnicity, and he gives it a personal and vulnerable spin. Takei’s story is combined with how Executive Order 9066 came to be, and gives a comprehensive and easy to follow history lesson of one of our nation’s greatest shames. Given that there are internment camps along the border now in 2019, it goes to show that perhaps history isn’t so hard to repeat. “They Called Us Enemy” is necessary reading, and one of the most powerful memoirs of the year.

35133922Pick Number 7: “Educated” by Tara Westover

Goodreads Info

Ah ha, the first book of my Top 10 of 2019 that didn’t make it onto the blog due to time and theme! But I would be remiss if I left the fantastic “Educated” off my list. This memoir tells the story of how Tara Westover went from a fundamentalist and abusive home where her education and worth were thrown by the wayside, to becoming an incredibly educated and  independent woman free from her toxic family’s influence. “Educated” is a story that I couldn’t put down and read in one night, and Westover’s deeply personal tale was hard to read at times (from her mentally ill father who isolated the family, to her complicit mother,  to her abusive older brother and the violence he heaped at her), but at the same time it was completely inspirational as she did everything she could to escape. There’s a reason this was such a runaway hit. If you haven’t read “Educated” yet and were mulling it, do it. DO IT.

60931Pick Number 6: “Kindred” by Octavia Butler

“Kindred” Review

The speculative fiction/historical fiction/science fiction epic from Octavia Butler was the stand out book club pick of the year for me! I had always meant to read “Kindred” but hadn’t gotten around to it, but when we picked it for the club it was finally time. This story of a black woman sent back in time to an Antebellum plantation has been hailed as a classic of sci-fi, and it’s commentary on race, racism, and privilege is still resonant in the decades after it was first published. Butler isn’t afraid to tell violent truths about slavery in America, and she also finds ways to show how it still continues to haunt society in the 20th Century, and beyond (which she probably hadn’t intended, and yet here we are). “Kindred” is a hard read, but it’s excellent, and necessary if you want to see what speculative fiction can achieve when it comes to commentary on society.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2019?

12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

Happy holidays fellow book lovers! And in honor of this time of year when presents  giving is everything, we’re hosting our third annual “12 Days of Christmas” Giveaway. But, tricky us, it’s actually two giveaways, each one comprised of six books from our preferred genres. Read on to see what books are included in each prize package and enter for your chance to win! Both giveaways are open to U.S. residents only and end on January 4.

Serena’s Prize Package

“Jane, Unlimited” by Kristin Cashore (My review)

“To the Waters and the Wild” by S. C. McGrath (My review)

“Song of the Crimson Flower” by Julie C. Dao (My review)

“Flamebringer” by Elle Katharine White (My review)

“The Shadowglass” by Rin Chupego (My review)

“The Unbound Empire” by Melissa Caruso (My review)

Click here to enter!

Kate’s Prize Package

“Before She Knew Him” by Peter Swanson (My review)

“The Hunting Party” by Lucy Foley (My review)

“The Last Astronaut” by David Wellington (My review)

“Searching for Sylvie Lee” by Jean Kwok (My review)

“Last Things” by Jacqueline West (Goodreads Info)

“Joyland” by Stephen King (Goodreads Info)

Click Here To Enter!