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Overlooked favorite books

 

Since reading and reviewing A Spark of White Fire, I’ve really been thinking about books that are a bit overlooked but that I really enjoyed.  Of course “overlooked” can be hard to quantify. What if my corner of the internet vocally adores a book, but the public at large never picks it up? So I made a list and then checked it against the number of Goodreads ratings–even though this isn’t a truly scientific approach, it gives a broad sense of the size of a book’s audience. Here are ten books published in the past two years that I loved and think more people should pick up (links go to my reviews where applicable).

 

Company Town by Madeline Ashby: A futuristic scifi thriller that also manages to be extremely progressive. And despite the gritty backdrop, the main character is competent and engaging. 

Peas & Carrots by Tanita S. Davis: Oh, I loved this realistic YA about two foster sisters who struggle to get along. Davis has a great ear for voice and Dess and Hope leapt off the page for me. 

Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall: A marvelous surreal fantasy for the middle grade crowd. I don’t know how many people will get this reference, but if you loved The Children of Green Knowe, it has a bit of the same sense of wonder and danger and beauty all combined. 

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig: The first in a trilogy, this YA fantasy takes the rebellion/revolution theme that’s so common in YA and really engages with what that would mean. The narrative style is unique and really cool, and I appreciated the representation of mental illness a lot.

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana: I will just quote my original review: ” Essentially, this book takes an SF premise, the discovery of Terra Nova, and uses it to tell a quiet, thoughtful story of family, friendship, and identity.” I loved the way Khorana uses SF as a backdrop for a story that digs into some deep themes. 

Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon: I read this book, thought to myself, “I bet a bunch of reviewers on Goodreads called Rilla unlikeable” and I was right. So if you’re a fan of books about unlikeable girls who are good at things, fraught friendships or sibling bonds, and learning to write your own story about yourself, check it out. 

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna: I’ve been talking this one up on different platforms a lot so I won’t go on and on here, but basically it’s a fantastically twisty political scifi/fantasy genre-bending YA with gods and curses and a really awesome, competent main character. 

The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier: I’m a fan of Rachel Neumeier’s books anyway, but this one was sharp and clear with a fascinating political and social dynamic. It’s another twisty political fantasy that asks big questions about family relationships and the limits of agency. I also loved Oressa a lot–she’s a resourceful and strategic character. 

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera: This is a sweeping story, narrated by an older version of one of the main characters. It’s the kind of book that looks seriously at fate and love and how much of our lives we choose for ourselves. It’s historical fantasy but not quite as I usually think of it. I have the sequel out right now and I can’t wait!

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar: I’ve been shouting my love for this book from the rooftops since I read it in 2017, but it literally has everything I love. Amazingly beautiful prose, a really thoughtful and deep look at history and politics and religion all cast through the lens of women’s voices and experiences. It is rich and dense and layered and I cannot stop thinking about it. 

Persona by Genevieve Valentine: I love all of Genevieve Valentine’s novels a lot, but Persona stands out because it takes an interesting near future premise and uses it to say interesting things about public facing personas, the intricacies of identity, and what it means to be perceived as powerless. The follow-up book, Icon, is also great. 

Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein: I love Elizabeth Wein’s books, as probably any long-time reader of the blog knows. And here she wrote a middle grade Star Wars book giving us Rose’s backstory before The Last Jedi! It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and has a fantastic Leia moment in the middle. 

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Favorite books of 2018

Like last year, I’m not going to try to say exactly what I loved about each of these books, although I’ll link to reviews when I wrote them. If I had to pick one favorite out of the whole year, it would be Tess of the Road, without a doubt.

Middle Grade

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

The War I Finally Won by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi 

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

 

Young Adult

Spinning by Tillie Walden

Shadowhouse Fall by DJ Older

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

 

Adult

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Murderbot: Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol & Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Bo Bolander

Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott & Lisa Barnett

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

 

Non-fiction

Becoming Madeleine by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy

Border by Kapka Kassabova

 

Bonus Category: Did I Like This Book? I Still Don’t Know!

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

Sick by Porochista Kakhpour

The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Sadie by Courtney Summers

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Books I added to my TBR: August 2018

Not quite as many books added as last month, but I’m trying something new. All the titles with an * are the latest (or latest I know about) by authors I already have read and liked, and I’m linking back to the reviews that convinced me to add the books where applicable.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

The Cobbler’s Boy by Elizabeth Bear and Katherine Addison  (via Liz Bourke) *

Arcanos Unraveled by Jonna Gjevre (via Jenny)

The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran (via Colleen Mondor)

Annex by Rich Larson (via The Book Smugglers)

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (via The Book Smugglers) *

Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay (via The Book Smugglers) *

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (via Miss Print)

The Million by Karl Schroeder (via Liz Bourke)

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (via The Book Smugglers) *

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YA covers featuring flowers

Looking through my Goodreads page, I realized that a lot of YA covers feature flowers in some form. While there are so many quick cover art trends that disappear after a couple of months, flowers and foliage seem to be more timeless. This makes sense, since they can be a powerful and versatile image in books. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but a few that caught my eye. Do you have a favorite YA cover that features flowers?

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Upcoming Workman books I’m intrigued by

Once a month, I talk about some upcoming titles from a specific publisher’s catalog. This month it’s Workman’s Fall/Winter 2018 catalog.

Because Workman is a relatively small publisher, there aren’t a lot of titles here. But I wanted to feature a catalog that wasn’t from the Big Six (Five? I’m still unclear on the Penguin/Random House merger and its effects.)

non-fiction

Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water’s Edge Susan Hand Shetterley: I just think seaweed is cool, and I’m excited to maybe learn more about it. August 7

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid: This seems like a really cool concept and the illustrations featured on Edelweiss are gorgeous. September 18

Young Adult

(Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation about Mental Health ed. by Kelly Jensen: This is a non-fiction anthology that collects a number of different voices on mental health. I’m including it here because it’s a topic I care about and it’s edited by someone who I know is very thoughtful about mental health and mental illness.  October 2

A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma: There’s a new Nova Ren Suma! I had no idea! That’s exactly why I find looking through catalogs really valuable–it’s a great way to find books that aren’t getting as much of a social media buzz. Anyway, I love Nova Ren Suma’s books and I’m super excited that she has another one coming out. September 4

 

 

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Favorite biographies

I have a type of biography that I love and it is: thoughtful biographies of complex and difficult women. I think that they’re ways I learn to understand myself better. In the biographies that I love, I see parts of myself but also lives I don’t know and can’t understand, ways of engaging with the world that are not mine and yet help me to see my own life more clearly. Some of these books have changed my life so deeply that I can’t even bring myself to truly write about them. (The Tiptree bio and Savage Beauty in particular.) A good biography can be just as emotionally effective as fiction, if not more so! (I cried HEAPS over Lady Byron.) Anyway, I love these books and continuing to talk about them feels like laying my heart bare.

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm

The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville by Clare Mulley

Lady Byron and Her Daughters by Julia Markus

Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of a Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters

James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice B Sheldon by Julie Phillips by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy

Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

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A guide to Martha Wells, for Murderbot fans

As someone who has been a fan of Martha Wells’ books for at least six years now, it’s been a lot of fun to see new people discovering her work via Murderbot. I love the Murderbot novellas, and I’m so glad that other people do too. (Also that we’re getting a novel! Yes!) But Wells has written a lot of awesome books, so I thought I’d put together a list of places you might want to start, depending on what draws you to Murderbot to begin with.

Let us begin where I did, with The Wheel of the Infinite, a secondary world fantasy featuring a protagonist who really would prefer not to. Maskelle is a middle-aged woman who is jaded and weary but also very competent and appealingly snarky.

Or, if you’d rather, you can try The Wizard Hunters, the first in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. I love Tremaine, one of the two protagonists for this series, a lot; she reminds me in some ways of Julie Beaufort-Stuart, but if Julie was deeply depressed and didn’t like people all that much even though she also cares about them. Bonus: this series has weird magic, accidental travel to other worlds, friendships, and a very prosaic romance.

I am also very fond of the other Ile-Rien books, particularly The Death of the Necromancer, which I described back in 2013 as “a bit like Les Miserables, if Jean Valjean was a burglar and he teamed up with Javert to fight sorcerous crime.” (A description which instantly makes me want to reread the book, if I do say so myself.) However, I stand by the suggestion to start with Element of Fire if you’re planning to read Death of the Necromancer, for maximum feels. These are the least like the Murderbot series in some ways, but they do have some pretty excellent politics and machinations going on.

Finally, I am still working my way through the Raksura series, which starts with The Cloud Roads. Like the Murderbot stories, these feature non-human protagonists–in this case the Raksura, who are winged shapeshifters. The main character, Moon, is also an outsider in his own culture, which makes for some interesting conflicts.

I personally have most often reread The Wheel of the Infinite and The Wizard Hunters, but I’ve truly enjoyed and recommend all the books here!

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Books I added to my TBR: July 2018

OH BOY OH BOY there are lots of books coming out that I want to read!! Plus all the books that are already out that I am just now hearing about. I didn’t include the reason I’m interested in these, since they seemed fairly repetitive and boring. BUT I will highlight the fact that ZEN CHO HAS A NEW BOOK COMING OUT! and that EK Johnston’s The Afterward sounds amazing for me & my reading interests.  (After the war/quest stories are one of my favorite things.) Also The Widow Queen is a translation of a Polish book and I’m hoping it is wonderful and/or reminds me of Nicola Griffith’s wonderful Hild. 

Recipes For Love and Murder by Sallie Andrew

America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

The Widow Queen by Elżbieta Cherezińska

The True Queen by Zen Cho

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

The Afterward by EK Johnston

The Poppy War by RF Kuang

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Opposite of Always by Justin A Reynolds

Dealing in Dreams by  Lilliam Rivera

What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson

The Girl King by Mimi Yu

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Upcoming Macmillan titles I’m intrigued by

Once a month, I talk about some upcoming titles from a specific publisher’s catalog. This month it’s Macmillan’s Fall 2018 catalog.

Adult

Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction ed. by Irene Gallo: I mean, I generally really like Tor.com’s short fiction, and it’s smart to collect the first ten years or so, when it wasn’t quite as widely distributed. I’m exciting about revisiting old favorites and hopefully finding some new ones as well. September 4

The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K LeGuin: I am definitely lacking in a lot of UKL’s backlist and this is a perfect opportunity to read one I’ve missed! September 11

Vengeful by V. E. Schwab: I have the first book checked out right now, and while I am not always 100% on Schwab’s books, I do really want to read this take on the superhero genre. September 25

Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang: So, this has actually been on my TBR for a bit. I think it was originally self-published, or published by a small press. Either way, I’m glad it’s now in a more accessible form! October 2

Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells: MURDERBOT. The summary is stressful! MURDERBOT!! October 2

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen L. Carter: This biography was written by Eunice Hunton Carter’s grandson, and I mean! What a story. Also, I love a good biography and it’s been a bit since I’ve read one. October 9

The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera: I liked the first book in this new historical fantasy series and I’m curious to see where the story goes in this one! October 9

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi: Truthfully, I’m kind of so-so on Scalzi at this point, but space opera is just catnip to me and I know he generally writes fast, fun stories. While this isn’t, like, the highlight of my reading year, I will probably read and enjoy it. October 16

City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender: Sometimes, honestly, it’s just that the premise sounds cool, and that’s the case here. November 20

Middle grade
The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis: I loved this first book a LOT so heck yeah, I’m excited for this one!! November 6

Young Adult
A Blade So Black by LL McKinney: I’ve heard some good buzz about this one on Twitter, so I will give it a try even though Alice in Wonderland is generally not my favorite. September 25

Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore: I like her books a lot and this one retells a favorite fairy tale! Sold. October 9

Home and Away by Candice Montgomery: Sometimes I’m just in the mood for a character-driven contemporary YA, and this sounds like the perfect book for that itch. October 16

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Books I added to my TBR: June 2018

What did I add to my TBR list in June? These books!

 

The Witch’s Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag – Leila liked it, and it’s a fantasy graphic novel which I’m always intrigued by. Yes please.

The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer – I don’t know, the themes and plot sounded interesting, and while Charlotte wasn’t sure if this one works well for adult readers, I figured I’d give it a try.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers – I was pretty so so on The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but Liz Bourke sold me on this one. I guess that means I need to read book 2?

The Lost Book: The Scroll of Kings by Sarah Prineas – I like Sarah Prineas’s books, especially her middle grade stories, and both Charlotte & Brandy loved this one.

City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault – It just sounds like a very cool fantasy!

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding – I am always–literally always–down for a great teen romcom.