Top Five Surprise Favorite Reads of 2019

I was going to make this my top five favorite reads of 2019, but as I looked through my five star reads from 2019, trying to narrow them down to a top five, I noticed a few things. One is that I need a new rating system. The generic star rating system sucks at helping me decide on which were actually favorites.

So, I started thinking about which books stuck with me the most. Which were the ones I was still thinking about and recommending to others? That’s when I started to realize that the books I’d given five stars to fell almost neatly into two stacks: five star books that I expected to be five stars, and five star books that I had not expected to love as much as I did.

Since the previous post was about disappointing reads, I thought it made sense to make this one about the opposite. These are the books that I didn’t think I was going to love, but ended up raving about to anyone who will listen.

  1. Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews — By far the most surprising hit of 2019. I was expecting a book about magic, witches, vampires, and werewolves with a romance. What I got was that with a sci-fi twist and some staggeringly creative world-building. I can’t wait to catch up on the rest of this series.
  2. The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst — A common complaint about YA fantasy is that authors pull punches so there are wars and somehow no one dies or even gets badly injured. The world in this book is dangerous. The heroine isn’t the best, she’s merely the most determined, and there’s a real reason for that title. Beloved characters die. More than just a few. It’s brutal, and I loved it. That may be why I’m starting this year by reading book two in this series.
  3. Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente — I’ve talked about this book a lot. I did not expect to like it because it was being compared to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I didn’t like. I know. But where the Hitchhiker’s humor didn’t really work for me, the humor in this book was calibrated perfectly to my taste. The audiobook narration made it even better. Surprise hit!
  4. Dryland by Sara Jaffe — Books that feature swimmers or swimming as a sport are very hit or miss for me. I was not expecting this one to be a hit, but it was. It may have been the added bonus of being “historical fiction” that takes place in Portland in the 1990s. It could also be the unique structure and narrative voice. I liked this way more than I thought I would.
  5. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern — I kept my expectations really low for this one, which may contribute to the “surprise hit” factor. But, I wasn’t expecting the story within a story structure of this book, and it really worked for me.

So, what are the books you read in 2019 and raved about? Let me know in the comments if you have one that you think I should check out based on this list.

Most disappointing reads of 2019

All right. Let’s get this post out of the way. I hate talking about things I didn’t like because writing books is hard work. Publishing books is hard work. Truly bad books are just not that common. Problematic books are much more common, but that’s a different topic. Every year I argue with myself over whether or not to do this post. But, after looking through the books that received the lowest ratings on my spreadsheet, I decided to put this out there because the books that made my list really had very little to do with the quality of the writing and everything to do with my expectations going in.

Before I get into my list, I wanted to mention (in light of the ongoing drama with RWA which is in itself a hugely disappointing read after all the progress I thought we were making and further erodes my faith in humanity), my most disappointing reads of 2019 were all books I read as a judge for the RITA awards. They were all traditionally published books, and at least five of the seven contained at least one, if not more than one, problematic element that had me cringe reading and made me have to rethink how far the romance genre has actually come in recent years. Then again, I may have way too optimistic a view on how far we’ve come due to the fact that almost all the romance books I read are written by authors of color and/or queer authors.

With that said, let’s focus on books that were objectively fine books, just ones that I found disappointing. This is a truer representation of “disappointing reads” for me because I chose to read these books, they weren’t assigned to me.

  1. Vengeful by V. E. Schwab — My most disappointing read of 2019 because of how much I loved Vicious (still my favorite book by V. E. Schwab) and how much I was looking forward to reading this sequel. I didn’t even rate it that low. It was good. It just wasn’t the book I wanted. As I wrote in my recap, I would have preferred it if the book focused on the newly introduced (mostly female) E.O.s and if Victor and Eli were just side characters.
  2. Mercenary Instinct by Ruby Lionsdrake — I really wanted to like this one, but… nope. I’ve been searching for a sci-fi romance to love and a sci-fi romance author to follow to the ends of time, but this was not it. As I wrote in my recap post, all the men were constantly threatening to rape the women (because mercenaries, I guess?), and the plot was a convoluted mess. Still looking for a great sci-fi romance if you want to recommend one.
  3. Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole — My second most disappointing read because I LOVE her Reluctant Royals series which is contemporary fiction and this is sci-fi, which is much more in line with what I usually read. But I think this would have been better if it had been written as a YA book. Instead, we’re supposed to believe the main characters are adults when they keep behaving like teens. That disconnect really took me out of the story. If they’d all been aged down to high school students, this book probably wouldn’t have made it onto this list.
  4. I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells — I’m a huge fan of the podcast Writing Excuses and have grown to really like the author of this book through his work on that podcast. This was the first book I’d read by him, and I anticipated great things. While I enjoyed the paranormal and thriller aspects of this book, this one had the opposite problem from Radio Silence. The main character in this book is supposed to be a teen but read like an adult. Some of that might have to do with the fact he is supposed to be a sociopath, but still, his narrative voice (it’s written in first person) made it hard for me to get immersed in the story.
  5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, J.K. Rowling — All right, so this one had less to do with my expectations and more to do with the content. We’ve cancelled JKR, right? I mean, I have a warm place in my heart for the original Harry Potter series, and I always will, while still acknowledging it as a problematic fave. But the stuff that’s been published outside of the original series seems to just double down on all the issues, if not create new ones. Many of the descriptions of creatures and even the clarification of what made one a “beast” just didn’t sit right with me. I cringed while listening to this on audiobook, repeatedly. Ugh.

I always feel dirty after writing posts where I talk about things I didn’t like. Do people even enjoy reading this sort of thing? Is it worth doing it? I just don’t know. If you have thoughts on this, let me know in the comments. Meanwhile, I’m going to go write my “favorite books read in 2019” post so I can enjoy raving about things I loved.

Reading List: Powell’s Books staff’s best books of 2019

It’s up! Powell’s just posted their Staff Top 5 Picks of 2019! Since it has become an annual tradition of mine to crunch the numbers* on the staff picks, I couldn’t resist doing it again this year. (Click any of these to see previous years’ posts: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.)

The results are in. Below is the consensus top ten list of the books most mentioned in individual lists. Presented in order of most to least total points, the top ten highest rated books of 2019 according to the staff at Powell’s Books (in Portland, Oregon) are:

(Links below take you to Powell’s, because that seemed appropriate.)

  1. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (memoir)
  2. Lanny by Max Porter (lit fic)
  3. Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer (sci-fi graphic novel)
  4. Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (fantasy)
  5. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (lit fic)
  6. Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev (memoir)
  7. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki (contemporary fiction graphic novel)
  8. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (non-fiction)
  9. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (lit fic)
  10. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (memoir)

The thing that surprised me most about this year’s list is that Sorcery of Thorns landed on it, and ended up in the #4 spot. I’ve been hearing a lot of mixed reviews about this one from BookTubers and elsewhere online. Now I’m even more curious to read this for myself. It is the only one on this list that was already on my TBR.

Least surprising were the number of memoirs on the list. I’ve come to expect interesting memoirs to be top picks from the staff at Powell’s. But, after last year, I’ve really started trusting their taste in memoirs. Some of my favorite non-fiction books I read in 2019 were memoirs recommended by Powell’s staff.

If you want to add these books to your TBR, I’ve added them to a Goodreads shelf called PowellsBestof2019. If you do add any to your TBR, let me know in the comments which you plan to read. Alternatively, if you have already read any of these, let me know what you think/recommend in the comments.

* In case you’re interested, here’s how I came up with the total points… I did some good old “copying and pasting” of all the lists into a spreadsheet. Then I assigned points to each mention of each book based on where it appeared in each list (5 points for first place, 4 points for second place, etc.). Then I made a pivot table and sorted the results by total number of points in descending order. There was an obvious cut-off after the first ten books. So I capped the list at ten books.

Disclaimer: I don’t work at Powell’s Bookstore. I have no financial affiliation to Powell’s Bookstore. I get no money from doing this post. I only do this because I have a tendency to like the books their staff recommends and because I like top five lists and crunching numbers. Enjoy! 🙂

Bookish Things I’ve Changed My Mind About (#Top5Wednesday)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Top 5 Wednesday post, and the topic this week works pretty well with something I’ve got on my mind. So, let’s do this!

This week’s topic is: “Bookish Things I’ve Changed My Mind About.” I’m going to get pretty specific here because I just finished reading a sci-fi romance book that disappointed me and got me thinking about how I’ve changed as a reader over the last 10+ years, specifically since I started writing books.

I like romance in my sci-fi and fantasy stories. It doesn’t have to be a major plot point, it could be a sub-plot. But I’ve struggled to find a sci-fi / fantasy romance book or series or author that I love. That got me thinking about why. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are just some things that didn’t really matter much to me as a younger reader that will completely turn me off on a book now.

Here are the top five things that I’ve changed my mind about when it comes to reading sci-fi and fantasy romance:

  1. Diversity — I never used to notice when a future / fantasy world was homogeneously straight and white, but this has become one of those things that immediately pulls me out of a story. Once you recognize that the real-world population isn’t homogeneous, you realize that if a future and/or fantasy world is homogeneous, there better be a damn good reason for it. Ideally, I want to see positive representation on every axis, but at the very least with regards to race and sexual orientation.
  2. Consent — Sci-fi and fantasy romance can be pretty negligent when it comes to showing consensual romance. Again, this is not something I noticed as a teen, or even in my twenties. This was never okay, but my tolerance for it has definitely changed. If a modern hero is “taking” a heroine (or another hero), there better be a verbal “yes” in there before things get steamy. And power dynamics complicate things. If one character is another’s prisoner or subordinate, you better put them on an even playing field if you want me to get on board with the romance.
  3. Plausible Science — I don’t think I ever considered this until I started writing novels. Sci-fi and fantasy are full of crazy creative ideas that are not possible in our contemporary reality, and I love it. Give me all the magic and FTL space travel. Space ships and colonies on planets in distant galaxies are cool. Aliens and magical creatures are awesome. But these days I lose my ability to suspend disbelief when there aren’t consistent rules and limits to a magic system, or when the science fiction elements demonstrate no understanding of basic science and technology and don’t even offer a hand-wavey explanation as to how/why it works.
  4. The Smurfette Principle and/or the Strong Female Character Trope — This is a big one that I used to take for granted because I was a boy-crazy teen / young-adult and was just happy there were *any* point-of-view female characters in my SFF books. But now these tropes make me so angry I want to scream. If the leading lady is the only female character in the book, or if she spends the whole book trashing other women and has no female friends, I’m probably going to DNF the book. If she’s determined to show how “different” she is from “other girls” by being super tough and never wearing dresses, I’m done. And, if the heroine does have a female crew and immediately drops them to get with the hero, I may throw the book across the room.
  5. Plot is Linked to the Speculative Elements — I’m sure that I never even considered this before I started taking my writing seriously. I love plot, I always have, and it’s really hard for me to get into a book without a solid one, regardless of how much I like the characters or the world. But, if I can take the plot of a book, change the setting, and have the story still work, then I’m probably not going to want to finish reading the book. Plot and world and characters all need to be linked. This is the most frequent thing that fails to win me over when I’m reading a sci-fi and/or fantasy romance book. It’s a bummer, but I can’t turn off my writing brain when I’m reading.

If you have book recommendations for me that avoid these pitfalls, please PLEASE let me know in the comments. And if you’re curious what book set me off on this topic, stay tuned for my April reading recap post tomorrow.

Top Five Wednesday: Favorite SFF Creatures (#T5W)

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday blog post prompt is: favorite creatures from science fiction and fantasy books!

Here are my top five:

  1. Dragons I really like dragons. Dragon shifters are okay, but they’re not my favorite. I prefer stories where dragons are sentient creatures who bond with humans. I don’t really think dragons should talk, but I’m cool with them communicating telepathically. I don’t have any favorite dragon books, at the moment. Lately, I’ve been really digging the idea of tiny dragons, like the adorable dragons in The Tea Dragon Society (which I got for my niece for Christmas).
  2. Elves / Fae–I suppose I should clarify that I mean elves like Lord of the Rings elves, not like Santa’s little helpers. I’m lumping elves and fae together here because I’d be hard pressed to draw a line defining the difference between elves and fae. The way that most authors handle them, the two types of creatures usually end up seeming very similar. As for favorite books featuring fae or elves, I really like some of the stories in Robots vs. Fairies, and I liked the world-building in An Enchantment of Ravens and The Cruel Prince. And, I also really like my own books. 😉
  3. Robots (like Murderbot) The other half of Robots vs. Fairies also make my top five list. That’s another reason I like that collection of short stories. I especially like robots when they’re done like Murderbot in All Systems Red. I suppose the droids from the Star Wars movies would also fall into this category. I love it when an author can manage to pull off cool autonomous, sentient robots who have personalities, but still have some real-world, logical science behind them.
  4. Mutants (like X-Men)–I love humans with superpowers. I love all the freaky and cool ways that mutant superpowers manifest in the X-Men comics.I also like stories that include humans with mutant-like super powers, like in Anne McCaffrey’s Talents series. (Side note: I’m planning to do a re-read of that series at some point because I want to see if it lives up to my memories of how much I loved those books, starting with To Ride Pegasus and going all the way through the spin-off series featuring The Rowan and her children and their children.) I’d also lump the Bene Gesserit (from the Dune series) and the Jedi (from Star Wars) into this category as well. Basically any time you have a human who is able to do super-human stuff, but not including alien superheroes like Superman and (some of) the Avengers. They have to be (essentially) Earth-humans that have mutated or evolved to do things “normal” humans can’t do. I also like this because these stories can play with that whole “what is normal and who gets to decide what’s ‘normal’ anyway” theme that I love.
  5. The Stone Eaters This one is pretty specific because it’s only been done in one series (that I know of), but N. K. Jemisin’s creatures who look like humans but are made of stone are super cool. I love how they can move through the earth’s crust and communicate with the obelisks. The back-story that you get about these creatures in book three makes them even more interesting. They’re so unique that I think they’re probably my favorite, at the moment.

What do you think? Which creatures are your favorites? Let me know in the comments what I missed, or if you also like any of the ones I listed!

Top Five Wednesday: Independent Ladies (#T5W)

This week’s Top Five Wednesday is all about our favorite leading ladies — specifically the ones who aren’t distracted from getting shit done by their love interest. This doesn’t mean there can’t be a romantic plot or sub-plot. It just means that for these characters, priority number one is kicking ass, saving the world, and getting shit done. Oh yeah. Let’s do this!

  1. First on my list is Sassinak, the title character from Anne McCaffery and Elizabeth Moon’s book of the same name. (And if you didn’t guess this already, you probably haven’t been reading my blog for very long… Welcome!) This book opens with Sassinak and her childhood best friend having a blast at a festival just before planet pirates descend on their colony and kill all the adults and enslave all the children of a manageable age (old enough to fend for themselves, but young enough not to fight back — basically pre-teens like Sassinak). Through the rest of the book we get to see her grow up and fight for her dream of becoming a Fleet Captain and getting her own ship to hunt down planet pirates. Along the way she has several liaisons with various side characters, but she never loses focus on her goal. Sassinak was my first favorite “strong female character,” and she maintains a special place in my heart to this day.
  2. Next up is Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series (first book is A Study in Scarlett Women). This series is set in the original Sherlock Holmes time period (Victorian England?), but in this series Sherlock is actually a woman named Charlotte, and she’s delightful. Of course, because this is the “bad old days” of the patriarchy, she has to hide her genius behind a pseudonym (Sherlock). Some people may think she’s cold and calculating or just plain “odd,” but she is in love with someone. Regardless of her feelings, nothing gets in the way of her desire to solve all the mysteries (and eat all the cake). I LOVE this series. Charlotte is my favorite version of Sherlock (yes, even better than BBC Sherlock). At some point, if we ever do a T5W of characters we’d like to be friends with, she’d definitely make my list.
  3. Now, let’s talk about two independent ladies who I love that appear in a book I did not like: Alice and Julia from The Magicians series by Lev Grossman. There are many reasons I didn’t like these books (and yet I LOVE the TV show), but the biggest reason is the awful way these two characters are treated in the books. For starters, Alice is smarter than everyone and completely focused on achieving her goal, even with the distraction of being the love interest of the main character, Quentin. (Oh how I hate Quentin as a main character in the books. The TV show did a much better job with his character.) But then, at the end of book one, (*spoiler alert*) Alice dies for sort-of no other reason than to enhance Quentin’s plot. The author “fridged” her. I could have accepted what happens to Alice, but then, just as we begin to realize how bad ass Julia is, and start to love her at least as much, if not more than Alice (*spoiler* Julia didn’t get in to Brakebills, but that did not stop her from learning magic and becoming at least as good, if not better at it than the others), the author doubles down on his awful treatment of female characters with an ending to book two that is completely unforgivable. It nearly made me DNF the series. I’m still not over it. Guys (and I do mean guys because it’s mostly male-identifying authors who keep doing this), please quit it with the rape as a plot device. I’m not even going to apologize for spoilers here because you should be warned about this ending. It’s not just rape, it’s rape that is supposed to somehow “inject” (literally) our female main character with god-like powers. Nope. No thank you. Alice and Julia are awesome. I’ll keep enjoying them (and Margo) in the TV show, and pretend the books never happened.”
  4. My next top five favorite independent lady is a classic, and possibly the original independent lady, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. In a time period where the only realistic goal for young ladies was pretty much “find a rich and tolerable man and marry him,” Elizabeth Bennet was determined to marry for love. She turned down an “advantageous” proposal from a cousin who was set to inherit her father’s property when he died. She even declined Darcy’s initial proposal because he was behaving like an ass. Hers is a “quieter” independence. She’s not out killing monsters, learning how to wield magic to save the world, or having any other dramatic adventures. But she’s still a risk taker who stuck to her principles and went after what she wanted, and for that she’s earned a spot on my list.
  5. Last, but most definitely not least, on my list of favorite independent ladies is definitely Kiva from John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire. Kiva was hands-down my favorite character in this book. She’s smart and crafty, and she’s out there, making stuff happen. One of the coolest aspects of this character is that she gets to have casual hook-ups with any willing partner the way that a male main character would. No shame. No moralistic repercussions. She’s just out there doing her thing. I love it and can’t wait to see what happens next for her, and the other characters in this series.

That was fun. Now I better get back to the writing cave and work on writing the adventures of my current independent leading lady in my Modern Fae series. Let me know in the comments if you agree / disagree with my selections, above, and tell me who’s on your list.

Top Five Wednesday: Nostalgic Ships (#T5W)

This week, for Top Five Wednesday we’re talking about the first fictional couples we ever got butterflies over and the couples we used to be really into when we were younger.

“Younger” for me encompasses a pretty large swath of pop culture. So, for this post, I’m going to focus on the couples I swooned over at any point prior to graduating college.

I had a hard time coming up with examples from books. Almost all my nostalgic ships are from movies or TV shows. Maybe there weren’t many ship-able couples in the books I read.

  1. Meg and Calvin (A Wrinkle in Time) — As an inch-thick-glasses-wearing smart girl with not-quite-curly and definitely-not-straight hair, I identified with Meg so much. Calvin was the best pre-teen hero I’d ever seen in a book because he appreciated Meg for who she was and loved her without her having to have some stupid makeover that gave her contacts and made her hair magically straight (I’m looking at you, Princess Diaries). My favorite books in this series are the ones with Meg and Calvin, or the ones that feature their daughter, Polly. I loved that when the series continued with the next generation of Murry-O’Keefes we got little glimpses of Meg and Calvin’s grown-up happily-ever-after. They were #RelationshipGoals before hashtags were invented.
  2. Han and Leia (Star Wars) — “I love you.” “I know.” Why in the hell does that get me every time? I love their banter. I love their opposites attract relationship. They were probably the first on-screen couple that I was completely invested in seeing live happily ever after (only to fast forward forty years and have their stupid son Kylo go and ruin their HEA). Regardless, their relationship is probably what gave me my soft spot for “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder(s)” and rebellious princesses who get shit done.
  3. Sarah and Jareth (Labyrinth) — Honestly, what fantasy loving teen didn’t ship these two? I loved this movie so much that I can still recite her little speech about “dangers untold and hardships unnumbered” by heart. The masked ball scene alone is super swoon-worthy. So she doesn’t exactly end up with him at the end of the movie. You know she’s going back now that her baby brother is safe and all the goblins love her. “If you miss us…”
  4. Andie and Duckie (Pretty in Pink) — I know. He basically stalks her for the entire movie, and she turns him down repeatedly. It’s not exactly a good example for “no means no,” and I can see that now. But back when I, as an impressionable pre-teen, watched this movie at a friend’s sleepover party, Duckie was my instant fave. His whole lip sync was irresistible to pre-teen (and teen) me. Meanwhile, Blane always came off as a douchebag, even when I didn’t really know what that meant. I always thought he was a preppy jerkface who just didn’t get Andie the way that Duckie did.
  5. Rogue and Gambit (from the X-Men Comics) — I started reading the X-Men comics in college. I didn’t really know where to start, so I just picked the relationships I wanted to follow and then followed characters and pairs around through all the relevant comics where they appeared. Rogue and Gambit were a pair that I loved. I tried to read everything I could get my hands on that had them in it. I know they’re planning on making a Gambit movie at some point in the future (maybe), and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get some more Gambit and Rogue at that point (if they ever decide to make that movie).

I hope you have enjoyed this trip back in time to 80s and 90s nostalgic romantic pairings in pop culture. I’m sure there are some I’ve missed. So, I’m looking forward to checking out everyone else’s posts and BookTube videos. Let me know in the comments if you did a T5W post this week that you think I should check out.

Top Five Wednesday: Top of my TBR (#T5W)

What’s this? Another TBR post? Well, as it turns out, the topic for this week’s Top Five Wednesday discussion is sharing the top five books on your TBR. As I explained in my post earlier this week, I just created a pretty ambitious TBR for the first half of 2019 that includes over thirty books! I’ve already read a few so far this year, and I have a few more in-progress. So, what I focused on for this post are the top five that I plan to start next.

The top five books on my TBR are:

I currently have I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara and The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas out on digital loan from the library. I haven’t started either, and I can’t turn my Kindle off airplane mode until I finish reading them. So those two are definitely at the top of my TBR.

But the very next book I read will likely be, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (aka the second book in The Queen’s Thief series). I think my reading buddies will be ready to start this one any day now. I’m looking forward to this re-read because, as I realized while re-reading the first book, I’ve forgotten a lot of what happens in this series.

I also want to get started on at least one of the six books I put on my Kindle backlog bust reading list. I think that’s probably going to be Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne. I thought I might want to start with Vengeful, but my attention is very scattered at the moment. So, I think I’m going to put that one off for a bit longer and read something shorter and fluffier instead. Brightly Burning is billed as “Jane Eyre in space,” and while I’ve never read Jane Eyre, I think an angsty YA space opera sounds pretty good right now.

Last, but possibly most important, I have to keep up with my RITA reading. As I said in my previous post, I have seven books to read in seven weeks. I’ve finished one already. But rather than wait, I’m going to keep plowing through them so that I don’t get behind. I’m awful at keeping secrets, and it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut about what I’m reading. But, I’m a professional, so that’s what I’m going to do. My lips are sealed.

There you have it. The top five books on my TBR. Are any of you also doing a Queen’s Thief re-read before book six comes out in March? Or are you planning to read any of the other books on my list? Let me know in the comments!

Reading List: Powell’s Books staff’s best books of 2018

Powell’s just released their Staff Top 5 Picks of 2018! As I did last year (and in 2016, and 2015), I’ve crunched the numbers* in order to calculate which books were most mentioned and determine a “consensus” top ten list.

Presented in order of most to least total points, the top ten highest rated books of 2018 according to the staff at Powell’s Books (in Portland, Oregon) are:

(Links below take you to Powell’s, because that seemed appropriate.)

  1. The Alehouse at the End of the World by Stevan Allred (fantasy) — This was the clear winner with 18 total points and was mentioned by five of the staff in their lists, but somehow I never heard of it before I saw it here. I immediately clicked over to my library to reserve a copy, but they don’t have it. I have library cards at three different libraries, and none of them had it (or at least not on digital). So, I requested they go buy it, and I moved on to the next on the list.
  2. Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (memoir) — I don’t usually read memoirs. But, when I read the description and saw that it was about a woman growing up on Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest, I read the glowing reviews and saw it was a really short book. So, I looked it up and found out that my local library had this one available for digital loan. Then I borrowed it. It’s now on my Kindle.
  3. Educated by Tara Westover (memoir) — This wasn’t only a popular staff pick, but it was also included on their “picks of the season” gift buying list. Again, this is a memoir, so not my usual jam. But…the description intrigued me. A woman who was born in rural Idaho with no birth certificate but then later left that life. I was interested enough to go add this to my holds list as well.
  4. There There by Tommy Orange (lit fic) — This is a novel written by a Native man and takes place in Oakland. The sheer amount of glowing reviews, blurbs, and best of lists that are mentioned on the page for this book make it hard to find the book description. Apparently, it’s really good. So, I decided I’d better check it out (from the library) and added it to my hold list.
  5. Circe by Madeline Miller (fantasy) — Finally! One that was already on my “to-read” list. I haven’t read her Achilles book. I’ve heard enough good stuff about this book that I decided I’m just going to read this first. Since I already had my library Overdrive open, I clicked over and added this to my hold list as well.
  6. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (spec fic) — This is a near-future speculative fiction book that sounds like it would be a big hit with fans of Margaret Atwood, especially the ones who enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. That includes me, so I figured I should probably add it to my hold list as well. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t heard of this book, but I think it may be due to the fact that, assuming I saw it at my local bookstore, the cover and title gave no clue about what this book is about. Marketing fail.
  7. Heavy by Kiese Laymon (memoir) — It seems that the staff at Powells like memoirs. I thought I’d finally found one that maybe I wasn’t interested in reading. But, this is one of those books written by and about a life and experience very unlike my own. So of course I had to add it to my holds list.
  8. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (true crime) — This is one of those serial killer true crime books that should never ever end up on my to-read list. Even the reviews say it’s super scary. But, by this point in the list, I’d committed myself to reading all of them. So, now it’s on my Kindle (there wasn’t a wait list for the hold at my library). I’m going to need to read this alongside something a lot fluffier. And in daylight, surrounded by other people.
  9. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (lit fic) — The description of this book sounded almost like a cross between The Signature of All Things and Homegoing. I really enjoyed both of those books, so this got added to my holds list as well.
  10. The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg (lit fic) — This one’s a novel with an interesting premise. Grieving widow goes to Havana after her husband dies in a car accident, then she sees him at a museum. See? Interesting, right? By the time I’d got to this book, I’d already maxed out the available holds at my local library. So I had to put this one on hold at a different library.

When I started crunching the numbers for this post, I definitely did not think I was going to walk away with ten new books on my library hold list. The only thing I can attribute this to is the fact that I haven’t been reading much “lit fic” or non-fiction, lately. I think maybe my brain is searching for new material to chew on. Whatever it is, I’m going to go with it and see where it leads.

I try to avoid trash talking the publishing industry, but I have to say that nothing about the covers (or titles) for any of these books would have made me pick them up in a bookstore. I wander through my local bookstore almost weekly, and I’ve probably walked past most, if not all, of these books *many* times. Maybe I’ve spent too long immersed in the romance and sci-fi / fantasy genres where everyone is all about the covers and the titles. But, it seems like the non-fiction and lit fic folks have never heard of #bookstagram.

Seriously, if these books are really as good as the staff at Powells thinks they are, then I think maybe the non-fiction and literary fiction arms of the publishing houses may need to up their marketing game. I have Goodreads friends (and IRL friends) who read these sorts of books more than I do and only half (five) of these books had been added to any of their shelves. And only two of those books (Educated and Circe) had actually been read by any of my Goodreads friends. That’s really unfortunate for these authors.

If you want to add these books to your TBR (and maybe read some along with me), I’ve added them to a Goodreads shelf called PowellsBestof2018. If you do add any to your TBR, let me know in the comments which you plan to read. Alternatively, if you have already read any of these, let me know what you think/recommend in the comments, and maybe add me as a Goodreads friend. 🙂

 

* In case you’re interested, here’s how I came up with the total points… I did some good old “copying and pasting” of all the lists into a spreadsheet. Then I assigned points to each mention of each book based on where it appeared in each list (5 points for first place, 4 points for second place, etc.). Then I made a pivot table and sorted the results by total number of points in descending order. There was an obvious cut-off after the first ten books. So I capped the list at ten books.

Top 5 Wednesday: Most Anticipated 2019 Releases (#T5W)

It’s time for another Top 5 Wednesday blog post! This week’s topic is “most anticipated 2019 releases.” There are so many good books coming out in 2019!

These are the books coming out in 2019 that I am most excited to read right now (listed in increasing order of excitement, with #5 = most excited!):

  1. Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee — Release scheduled for January 2019. This is a middle grade book, but it’s written by the author of the Ninefox Gambit series and is part of this new, expanded Rick Riordan multi-cultural universe. I really liked Ninefox Gambit and have been trying to get to the rest of the series for months now. But this book looks so damn good, I’m willing to try yet another middle grade, even though we’ve already determined that rarely ends well because I’m no longer in touch with my pre-teen self.
  2. The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi — Release scheduled for January 2019. I’ve yet to land on a favorite book by Roshani. I like her writing, but my absolute favorite story of hers isn’t one of her books. It’s a short story she wrote called The Vishakanya’s Choice that I read in volume one of the Booksmugglers’ Quarterly Almanac. I think it’s because she leans more poetic in her writing, and I love a good plot. This one is a treasure hunt with a secret society and being comped to National Treasure. So, it sounds like something I’m going to love.
  3. Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells — Release scheduled for July 2019. I was lucky enough to read an early version of this manuscript because I met Rebecca at a writing workshop (Madcap) and offered to be a beta reader for her. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of this book so I can see the final version and get back to this world. If you like dragons, you have definitely got to add this to your TBR.
  4. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern — Release scheduled for November 2019. It’s no secret that I LOVE The Night Circus and that I’ve been patiently waiting for another book by this author. I barely read the book blurb before adding this to my TBR on Goodreads. I have a feeling this is going to be #1 on my Christmas wish list next year.
  5. The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner — Release scheduled for March 2019). Another author and series that I LOVE is The Queen’s Thief series. I still haven’t had a chance to read book five (released last year) because I’ve been meaning to do a full re-read of the series. I guess that means that re-read will be happening starting in January. Who’s with me?

I’ve created a spread in my bullet journal to keep track of all the awesome new releases… as well as the 2019 Book Riot Read Harder tasks.

Yep. That’s right. I’m thinking of participating in #ReadHarder again this year… Stay tuned for a future post on my 2019 reading goals. I’ve been thinking about what I want next year to look like in terms of reading and everything else. At some point between now and the end of the year, I’ll formulate my thoughts into a blog post.

Let me know in the comments if you know of any new releases that you think I’d love and that I should add to my 2019 new release BuJo spread. And let me know if you’re up for a Queen’s Thief series re-read (or if you plan to read it for the first time to get caught up before March).

Happy reading!