My favorite books of 2018

At the end of 2017, I realized I’d read paltry few books (I think I counted 8?) and what a sad shame that was for someone who used to love to read. I decided to put excuses (and my smartphone) aside and read for half an hour a day, with a modest goal of reading about a book every 2 weeks, which I would track on Goodreads. Half an hour a day quickly added up and I hit my goal of 26 books in March. My total for the year?

67 books!! I’m still hoping to make it a nice round 70 before January 1st. 😉

Anyway, this is proof that setting a small goal for yourself can yield big results. Now I’m posting book reviews to my blog and contemplating the best setup for a book review podcast. My own fiction has also improved in the last year–pretty drastically, in my opinion–and I know a great part of that is simply that I’m internalizing good habits by reading great writing.

I also set a goal for myself to read more nonfiction (based on advice from Chuck Wendig that, again, proved to be great for my own writing). “More” than 1 or 2 nonfiction books a year was pretty easy to accomplish.

Additionally, I wanted to read 50% books by authors of color. That led to tracking some demographic information on a spreadsheet. Here’s a brief statistical breakdown of what I read:

Total books read: 66

Graphic Novels: 15, or 23%

Young Adult Fiction: 20, or 30%

Nonfiction: 15, or 23%

Audiobooks: 12, or 18%

Books* written or edited by women: 39, or 85%

Books* written or edited by POC: 19, or 41%

Most read authors: Mackenzie Lee, Grady Hendrix, and Victor LaValle

*graphic novels were not included in this calculation, sorry!

Keeping track of demographic information created a fine kettle of fish for myself. How to include graphic novels, which have multiple authors and artists? Could I reliably track author data (not everyone publicly reports their gender, race, disabilities, etc.)? What about anthologies–was one LGBTQ character in one story enough to qualify the entire book for a tick in the LGBTQ category, when the other 20 stories are about cisgender, hetero characters? Arg. This was an interesting exercise, but I’m not sure I’ll track the same statistics in 2019.

And now, the recommendations! I read a lot of books…so, which ones did I enjoy the most? Get ready for a genre breakdown! With links to my specific reviews.

Young Adult

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzie Lee, is perfect for you if you like swashbuckling action, period romance, and humor.

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton, is a lush, beautifully written fantasy novel for anyone who loves dystopian worlds disguised as utopias.

The Female of the Speciesby Mindy McGuiness, is not a book published in the last two years, but it was easily one of the best books I read in 2018, so it’s making the list. It’s my list, I do what I want!

More great books: Undead Girl Gang, Dread Nation, The Call

Horror

Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant, is about murderous mermaids. It’s the novel my 14 year old self has dreamed of for a long, long time.

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle, is every parent’s worst nightmare given form. LaValle’s writing is evocative and entrancing.

The Graveyard Apartment, by Mariko Koike, is a classic Japanese horror novel recently given a wonderful new translation. I couldn’t put it down.

More great books: We Sold Our Souls, Meddling Kids 

Nonfiction

Well, That Escalated Quickly, by Franchesca Ramsey should be required reading for anyone who wants to exist on the internet.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West, is the book you need if you, like me, are a fat white woman in her thirties.

More great books: What Every BODY Is Saying, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

AND NOW, MY FAVORITE BOOK OF THE YEAR! 

Drumroll please….

The Power, by Naomi Alderman, is technically science fiction, in the way Margaret Atwood novels are science fiction. I chose this book as my favorite for the year because it’s the one I find myself recommending to other people the most. It really resonated with me and my mind keeps returning to it, months later. I highly recommend the audiobook.

So, dear reader, what books do you recommend? What should I read and review in 2019? Will you listen to my podcast when I finally get myself organized enough to record some episodes?

Happy New Year! ❤

Review: Dark Currents

I should start this review by saying that Jacqueline Carey is one of my top-five favorite authors. Her novel Kushiel’s Dart and the nine-book series that followed it was a life-changing revelation for me. She’s also really lovely in person. (Me, name-drop? Never.)

Sadly, however, I didn’t enjoy Carey’s first foray into urban fantasy as much as I had hoped. Her novel Santa Olivia, about a girl whose father was a mysterious super-soldier, was an entertaining enough book, but certainly not a revelation. Being a big fan, I picked up the sequel when it came out, and found Saints Astray to be really disappointing.

Thus it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I picked up Dark Currents, Carey’s latest addition to the urban fantasy genre. I was a little hesitant because the description of the book mentions fairies and vampires and frankly, who isn’t a little True Blood-ed out where those are concerned?

I’m really glad, however, that I didn’t let my preconceived notions stop me from picking up this book. Carey has managed to successfully blend the poetic writing, compelling characters, and supernatural mystery of the Kushiel’s Legacy series with a modern setting and urban feel. Most importantly, however, she manages to do something new and interesting with a genre that has, of late, been a little worn-out with identical iterations of fairies and vampires and mermaids and other tropes of the genre.

The protagonist of Dark Currents is Daisy Johanssen, who is tall, blonde, and half-incubus (I’d cast Kristen Bell for the movie version or tv series; she’s petite but otherwise perfect for the role) . She lives in the town of Pemkowet, where the supernatural lives alongside humanity thanks to the blessing of the Norse goddess Hel, who lives underground. Literally. Hel has chosen Daisy to be her enforcer on the surface, granting her the title “Agent of Hel,” and giving her a magical badge only members of the eldritch community can see.

Daisy also works for the local police department. Mostly, she files paperwork, but when a student from a nearby college turns up dead in Pemkowet, the Chief of Police suspects eldritch involvement and partners Daisy with an officer who also happens to be both a werewolf and Daisy’s childhood crush. Cue romantic tension!

Urban fantasy sometimes suffers from lack of originality where supernatural creatures are concerned. The creatures that live in Pemkowet, however, are expertly drawn and multi-dimensional, from the B-movie actress who happens to be a lamia to the sexy Eastern European leader of the local “ghoul” biker gang. As you’d expect from Carey, there’s sexual tension all over the place, between Daisy and characters both male and female. My only complaint is perhaps that none of this tension is ever resolved, if you get my drift, but that’s how we get readers excited about a sequel, isn’t it?

Carey also keeps the tension in the book tight as a violin string by giving Daisy the power to bring Armageddon down on the entire world if she gives in to the temptation of her father. You see, the incubus who impregnated Daisy’s mother is a particularly powerful one, and thanks to a sort of paranormal legal loophole, if she doesn’t keep control of her temper she could accidentally summon him from across the barrier that separates the supernatural world from ours.

Oh and, did I mention that Daisy’s other inheritance from her father is a tail? This was, oddly, one of my favorite features of the book. Much like a dog’s tail, Daisy’s tail is subject to her emotions, and Carey never forgets to mention when it lashes in anger or curls between her legs in lust. Yeah, it kind of made me want one too!

All-in-all, Dark Currents is an excellent novel. It’s not going to blow your mind or change your life, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable and probably the best novel I read this summer.  I’ve already checked out the sequel, Autumn Bones, from the library, and I can’t wait to read it!