Friday, 30 December 2016

Top Books of 2016 (& Diversity)

This hasn't been a particularly good reading year for me. On one hand, I read more than 80 books, but on the other, I had many reading slumps, many DNF books (not included in my overall read count), and it just didn't feel like I read much this year. Maybe because there weren't many books out of the 80+ that wowed me.

But yes...of the books I read this year, these were the favourites. I'm also going to include a sort of diversity count/check at the end, because one of my goals for next year is to consciously read more diversely and I'd like to look back at this post next year to see if I've improved on that.

I'm going to break this down into categories...

Favourite Book of the Year:

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

This book It's sitting on my all time favourites shelf right now, wedged between the likes of Melina Marchetta, Harry Potter and Code Name Verity. It's a beautiful story with beautiful characters and beautiful writing. I instantly bought the authors first book after finishing this one because if it's even half as good, it'll be amazing.

The Standalone Books:

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

This one is a lovely little story about a girl dealing with the death of her older brother. One of the things that really made me love the book though was that two of the POV's were done using illustrations instead (one of them with graffiti/poetry, the other like a comic). It made it really memorable.

The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Jennifer L. Armentrout is just really great at writing addictive stories and good characters. This one is about foster kids and one of the main characters is dealing with PTSD and anxiety and I really loved it.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This is a book about a girl dealing with the aftermath of her rape. It deals with abortion in a really positive way and it has A+ female friendships and parents who are actually present and part of the story. It should be noted that it's a very idealised story that won't be true for all victims of rape -- the main character is believed and supported by almost everyone, and any negativity towards her is shot down really well...that's often not the reality. But it's the way it should be, and it's an important story.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

This one is probably one of Rainbow's most underrated books. It subverts gender roles, it's cute and fun and just...dflvlsjfbvkj. I had so much love for this story and these characters. And I loved the little Cath/Levi cameo.

London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning

I was actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. London was practically a character
itself. It has French boys on mopeds and wonderful drag queens and a bad ass female character who realises that she deserves so much more than the crappy way her ignorantly racist, stuck up twat of a boyfriend treated her and it's just...I love the characters and the story was so cute and fun.

Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

This book wasn't perfect, but it left me desperately wanting a sequel and incredibly disappointed that there doesn't seem to be one in the works so it deserves a spot on the list for leaving me wanting more even months after finishing the book. It's an Othello retelling set in space, where Othello is a teenage girl.

The New Series:

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig 

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

These two are odd, because they have quite a similar premise. Teenage girls time travelling to save their mothers, both partially set on ships, but the execution was quite different for each.

I enjoyed Passenger more while reading (it got 4 stars), but The Girl from Everywhere stuck with me's one of those ones that got an average rating from me (3-3.5 stars) but I kept thinking about it and found myself desperate for the sequel.

Companion Novels:

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea is a companion novel to Between Shades of Grey, but it can be read on it's own. It's about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff at the end of WW2, the worst ship sinking in history (nearly 9500 people died).

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

It took me such a long time to get into this book, but by the time I finished it I loved it -- mainly because of Baz (both his character alone and his relationship with Simon).

The Memoirs:

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick 

Where Am I Now by Mara Wilson

I loved both of these. Anna and Mara are two wonderful human beings. Both of their books are honest and funny and feminist. Anna's has more focus on her adult life in the industry, while Mara's includes more detail about her childhood and what it was like to be a child star and dealing with the loss of her mother during that time and dealing with her own mental illness.

Picture Books:

Night Shift by Debi Gliori

This is one I was sent to review and it's beautiful. It's about depression and the illustrations portray depression as a dragon and it's's sad and lovely and true. The book will be released in the UK on January 12th 2017.

Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

And this one...again, kind of deals with mental illness. It's mostly about what it's like to be an adult and having anxiety and it's funny and so easy to relate to and I loved it.


Peter and Alice by John Logan

I don't read many plays, but ones like this make me wish I did. It is such a beautifully written and heartbreaking story. It's about the real Peter and Alice, the children who inspired Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. The two actually met once when they were adults, and this play is a fictionalised imagining of how that meeting might have went down. It was just lovely, and it weaves a lot of true facts about their lives into it that I didn't know (I didn't realise how much tragedy both had in their lives, particularly Peter).

Annnd that's all my favourites this year. What are your top books of 2016?

Diversity check:
Before I start, it should be noted that I have read other diverse books this year, it's just that not all of them made it onto my favourites list. And with this, some books will count towards more than one category:
Non-white MC: 6/16*
Neuro-diversity: 7/16*
Jewish MC: 1/16
Disabled MC: 0/16
Own voices: 9/18**

Anyway... I can definitely improve on the diversity of my TBR next year. And I want to be able to include less general categories next year too (e.g. instead of simply "non-white" I want to break it down and be specific, and with LGBTQIA+ to break it down to specific identities, etc.).


*With these two, I've included two side characters (one who is a lesbian, one who has bipolar disorder), because while they're not the POV characters, the characters did play a huge role in the stories and those aspects of the characters are very much present on the page. They're exceptions, there are other books on the list with a diverse cast of side characters but I haven't counted those.

**The count could be higher than I've put, because it's harder to know for sure with some things (i.e. not all LGBTQ+ authors who write LGBTQ+ characters are out, or if they are they're not always vocal about it online...same goes for authors who write about mental illness).

Friday, 2 December 2016

Dream a Little Dream & Dream On by Kerstin Gier

Dream a Little Dream
(& Dream On)
by Kerstin Gier

Summary: Mysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yes, Liv's dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially the one where she's in a graveyard at night, watching four boys conduct dark magic rituals.

The strangest part is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They're classmates from her new school in London, the school where she's starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But what's really scaring Liv is that the dream boys seem to know things about her in real life, things they couldn't possibly know--unless they actually are in her dreams? Luckily, Liv never could resist a good mystery, and all four of those boys are pretty cute....
I'm reviewing the first two books in this trilogy together because I read them back to back, and because...well, I just don't have much to say about them.

I liked both books a lot, but the first book is better. The second feels very much like a filler book -- there is a plot to it, but it's one of those ones where the actual plot is overshadowed so much by the characters and filler stuff to the point where it feels like nothing much happens. The first book had more of a balance.

I really loved Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red trilogy and this series, while not quite as good, has a lot of the same elements that made me love that series. It's cute and fun, with a great cast of characters. I love the sibling relationships, I love that it shows step-families in a positive light instead of vilifying them the way a lot of stories do...the only thing that would make me enjoy it a lot more is to have more good female friendships, but I've seen reviews that promise the third book delivers on that.

My main issue with the books, although it doesn't bother me that much, is that the main character seems to have way more chemistry with her soon-to-be step brother than her love interest, especially in the second book (which I don't think was intentional, it might even be something that came across differently when it was translated to English from German). I'm hoping so much that that changes in the final book.

To sum up: these books are really fun, quick reads that make me laugh and smile, and I have high hopes for the third and final book which is releasing next year. Kerstin Gier is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors to snap me out of a reading slump (perhaps not a good thing seeing as I need to wait for her books to be translated from German before I get to read them).

I'd rate the first book 4 stars out of 5, the second 3 stars.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Hungry Ghost Festival by Jen Campbell

The Hungry Ghost Festival
by Jen Campbell

Summary: The Hungry Ghost Festival concerns misremembered and strange things. It's about girls praying to The Angel of the North. It's about a mermaid born in the river Tyne. It's about Chinese lanterns, teenagers at the beach, and a family who run a sacred farm.

You pick my arms up and spread them outso we are matching. Our woollen scarvestouch our noses - catch our breath
like cloth balloons. We dig our feet into the soiland stamp down into the very deep.
Somewhere below, the river sleeps with a lady
screeching. She has arms that could carry boulders
to the edge of cliffs. We wait for herto throw us down...
I'm quite fussy with poetry. If I love a poem, then it'll stick with me, the lines of it rattling around my head and coming to the surface randomly for years to come. But there is way more poetry that I don't like than poetry I've loved.

And I had such high hopes for this collection. I was so convinced it was going to make it onto the small list of poetry I've loved. I've watched a few videos of Jen's where she reads/performs some of her poems aloud and I've adored them. I've read a few she's posted online and it was love at first line. I thought her poetry was exactly my cup of tea, so I expected greatness from this collection.

But...I didn't like it. There was only one poem I sort of loved (the one quoted in the summary). None of the other poems had any of the things that make me love a poem, or any of the things that made me love the poems of hers I'd read/heard before picking this up. I don't know if maybe it's because this collection came first and her style has evolved over time or if it's just that the themes of this collection didn't click with me or went over my head.

Quite a few of the poems were the type that make me feel stupid because I just didn't get them. I hate that feeling so much when I'm reading poetry. I couldn't even begin to interpret those ones or find a meaning in them (and I can forgive that obscurity in poetry, or feeling like the point went over my head, if I like the writing or find my own meaning in them but that didn't happen with those ones).

Some of them felt like maybe they might be beautiful had I heard them read aloud by the author who would get the rhythm of them just right but I stumbled over the lines clumsily in my head (worse when I tried to read them aloud) and got frustrated because it was more like tripping on stones in a stream than words flowing like water.

This is all just my long winded way of saying that this collection was not my kind of thing. I still think Jen is a wonderful writer and poet (and person, based on her youtube channel), but this wasn't the right collection for me. I just didn't get it, or find anything much in it to love. Hopefully the next book or poetry collection of hers will be more my kind of thing.

I'd rate it 2.5 stars out of 5. It wasn't bad, just not right for me personally but I've seen many 5 star ratings and reviews so I'm probably in the minority.



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