Tag Archives: Franny Billingsley

Favorite books from the beginning of 2017

I’ve been reading a lot more than I’ve been writing here, so I thought I’d do a round up of my favorite books from the first quarter of 2017. These are just books I read in January-March.

middle grade

Ratpunzel by Ursula Vernon: Harriet Hamsterbone continues to basically be the best. Mother Goethel here was genuinely creepy (something I feel Rapunzel retellings often fail to pull off). This series really manages to tackle some big, complicated issues in thoughtful and kid-appropriate ways. So good!

Lumberjanes vol. 5: Band Together: FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX! (someday I will start a Lumberjanes review with something else) (jk, that will never happen) Look, this volume has mermaids, and also lots of confusion about how an underwater mermaid rock band is even possible, and it contains the immortal line, “I don’t want to die confused” so yes.

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis: This book is just so comforting (much like a cup of chocolate). While this might sound like faint praise, it’s really not–comforting things are really necessary, and books that lie at the crossroads of smart and comforting are harder to pull off than they look. It’s a unique take on dragons, and I loved Aventurine and her determination.

YA

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour: Okay, I will say upfront that the premise of this book is a bit implausible, BUT please accept it and move on because it is full of LaCour’s most mature, rich writing to date and so many feelings. There’s this feeling that’s common to many young adults of being out of place, of not knowing who you are or how exactly to find out. This book is quiet and specific in its characters and setting and it feels so textured and beautiful.

The Hate U Give by A.C. Thomas: Any praise I have here will be slightly superfluous, but oh this book. I wanted to reread it as soon as I finished. It is so amazing on so many levels, but Starr herself really stood out for me. This is a book about her finding her voice, but at the same time, even on the first page she shines.

The Swan Riders by Erin Bow: To be honest, I delayed reading this one at first because even though I trust Bow, I wasn’t sure how anything could follow The Scorpion Rules. But this one did. It starts small and quiet, but the tension and the implications build until it becomes an incredibly heartbreaking exploration of identity and love and what it means to be a person. I love sequels that dig deeper into the world of the first book, and that’s just what this one does.

Chime by Franny Billingsley: I reread this one at the beginning of the year, and it was just what I needed. Learning to tread new brain paths, learning to love and be loved. Living in the tension between the old and the new. This book is just a LOT in all the best possible ways.

Lucy & Linh by Alice Pung: I realized as I was typing this up that Lucy & Linh (aka Laurinda in its native Australia) has a lot in common thematically with We Are Okay: growing up and moving to a new place, complicated friendships, feeling unsure of yourself and who you are. But Lucy also deals with class and privilege and race, which tie back into the theme of identity and friendship in really interesting ways.

adult

The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley: I’ve discovered that I love good biographies of complex, difficult women, and this one is a great example. “Christine Granville” and her life make for an incredible, infuriating, and achingly sad story.

A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand: While I basically just love all of Laura Florand’s books, this one really hit me in a personal place. It’s a quieter story, more intimate, full of the weight of the past–both family history and historical events. It’s about learning to acknowledge that weight without letting it bind you. And, on a lighter note, I really enjoy the setting and descriptions of the countryside as well.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl: I talked about this one quite a lot already, but I’ve found myself thinking about it regularly ever since I read it. The approach to the story is so inventive and thought-provoking, and the sense of what-might-have-been is both inspiring and heartwrenching.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: Math and magic IN SPACE, and family, and culture, and diplomacy, and explosions, all in one short novella that doesn’t have that frustrating too-short-and-too-long feeling that some novellas do. It just makes me happy whenever I think about it, and I can’t wait to read Home.

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Summing up

I’ve been doing too much book reading and not enough reviewing, again. And so, though I dislike doing it, I’m going to go all Inigo Montoya (“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”). I feel like I’ll be doing a disservice to some of the books I talk about by not going on at more length. Here we are anyway.

1. The Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee: I first heard about this series from Leila when she posted about the making of the covers. I looked at them and, being a bit of a costume history buff, was gleeful. Accurate clothing? On a cover for a Victorian book? YAY! So I went in with high hopes. And I wasn’t disappointed. The book is light on the one hand, although it’s also clearly written by someone who knows her stuff. On the other hand, it doesn’t shy away from talking about the tragedies of Victorian life. AND I absolutely loved the fact that the characters, even the ones with somewhat radical beliefs, didn’t feel like modern people shoved uncomfortably into the past. Their reactions felt of a piece with their times. And isn’t the cover gorgeous?

2. Factotum by D.M. Cornish: Third book in the Foundling’s Tale/Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy. I’m constantly amazed at the breadth of vision in these books. I felt like I could reach out and touch the Half-Continent. I found myself thinking a lot about influences with this one. In some ways it felt very European–the whole baroqueness of it–and in others it’s not at all what I’d expect from a European based fantasy.* I suppose this could be related to the fact that Cornish is Australian. I did find myself a bit sad at the end, but it was the kind of sadness that felt right, and I can’t quite imagine another possible ending. I do hope we get more stories from the Half-Continent though.
* By this I’m referring more to setting than to nationality of author.

3. The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley: Here is as pretty a case of mis-marketing as you could mention. From my initial glances at the front cover, I expected something sort of young and cute. That’s not the case at all. Instead, the story is shadowy and haunting, the writing absolutely gorgeous. It needs a new cover to market it to the YA crowd, because I didn’t find it juvenile at all, but the cover says that’s what it is. Definitely one for the Patricia McKillip fans out there.

4. A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth Wein: And then I went on an Elizabeth Wein re-reading kick. I left out The Winter Prince, which I’d re-read quite recently and which always feels like it’s only tenuously part of the series anyway. (I don’t mean that as a criticism at all–just that I’m in a different mood when I read it than when I read the rest.) I love Goewin, who continues to be a fantastic character. The sense of being trapped between bad decisions and trying to find a way through them is very strong here. And, finally, Camlann makes me sad. (Authors are mean people. I may have mentioned this before.)

5. The Sunbird by Elizabeth Wein: The main focus switches from Goewin to Telemakos in this book. And I love Telemakos. I love this book too, in a way I think I didn’t the first time I read it. The political tensions, the relationship between the plague and salt, the characters. There are so many echoes back to the first book, which made me think about the characters in such a new way. Probably my favorite of these is when Telemakos tells Medraut that the salt looks like snow–the brief description there had such a vivid ties to the description of the snow in The Winter Prince, and it provides a glimpse into Medraut’s mind that we’re lacking at that point in the story.

6. The Lion Hunter by Elizabeth Wein: Here are my notes for the first part of this book, verbatim. “Telemakos! I love you! And I kind of want to smack every adult around you, even though usually I love Medraut-well, maybe not Goewin.” Yes, a lot of Telemakos love here. I mean, how could I not love a small, sneaky Aksumite/British prince? As with The Sunbird, I really noticed the many moments that resonate with earlier books, especially Winter Prince. As I finished this book and went on into the next I thought about the fact that Abreha is like Medraut, and wondered if he was also like Artos, since Medraut often reminds me of his father.

7. The Empty Kingdom by Elizabeth Wein: The answer to my question: yes, Abreha is quite a bit like Artos, punishing but also forgiving (and the parallels to Eugenides are somewhat startling, yes). Given Abreha’s demonstrated admiration for Artos, it makes sense. This is one of those books where I know that I’ll never be in Telemakos’s exact situation, and yet I felt like I learned something. Favorite line: ”borne down by the weight of his name”–oh, I love that. After the re-read, I wanted more. I could be content with the series as it stands, because they are all fantastic books and in fact are one of those rare series that gets better as it grows, but I’d also love to have more of Telemakos’s story. It’s pretty clear that there’s more to tell, and I’m a greedy reader.

8. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold: I love what I tend to think of as historical fantasies, at least when they’re done right. Basically, it’s any sort of fantasy with some historical background in our world. This is possibly my favorite type–the kind which takes the feeling of a particular time and place, more than the specific historical details. And the characters are great. Cazaril was a likable and believable protagonist and Iselle and Beatriz were just lovely. So another win from Bujold.

9. Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold: I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I mean, yay Miles, as always. My Barrayaran prejudice continues; I enjoyed the story, but felt that the heart of it came at the end. Speaking of which WAAAAH. I even knew it was coming, thanks to an accidental spoiler in Wikipedia, but I still bawled quarts. Especially at Gregor’s bit. (Have I mentioned that my massive literary crush on Miles tops my massive literary crush on Gregor by only a little bit?) So obviously, I’m hoping for a Barrayaran book as the next one. Speaking of which, I do feel that the end of this book could really rival the beginning of Memory in terms of changing the tenor of the series.

Proper reviews on a few more coming soon!

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