Reviews of books, movies, and more
As this year comes to a close, it’s time for me to look back and select my favorite books that I’ve read this year. Here they are, in the order I read them.
Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine
I am a sucker for any and all Phantom of the Opera retellings. Apparently the only time I can tolerate a love triangle is when one of the suitors is a mad genius living in the basement. However, this beautifully written yet gory novel does stand on its own. Wen is a doctor’s daughter who has recently moved to a factory town haunted by a “Ghost.” She finds herself caught between the system made up of the factory workers, her father, the evil boss, and the mysterious Ghost.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The last class I needed to take in order to graduate with my degree in History was a senior seminar on the Holocaust. While planning to write my final paper on Dutch rescuers, I realized that I had never read Anne Frank’s diary. She was an extraordinary gifted writer and at the same time, very much a precocious teenage girl. I don’t have anything else to say about her that hasn’t already been said a thousand times, but I was very moved. When I had finished the book and read the epilogue, it felt to me as though she had died yesterday.
Note: I read the copy I had bought a number of years ago. While doing some additional research on Anne, I realized that I had read the edition edited and censored by her father.
Stone in the Sky by Cecil Castellucci
This sci-fi novel is the sequel to Tin Star, where the young Tula Bane finds herself abandoned on a remote space station entirely inhabited by aliens. This duology gets lots of points for originality. At first it may seem a little like the show Firefly, with settlers from Earth heading out into the galaxy. However, whereas Firefly had no aliens whatsoever, this series is all about the aliens. Unlike most other sci-fi franchises where there are humans everywhere, Earthlings are considered pretty low on the intergalactic totem pole. That in itself makes for some interesting scenarios as all the different species jockey for influence and resources.
The particular writing style of this book also gives Tula a unique voice. The narrative is very plain-spoken and straight-forward but stops short of being stilted. It perfectly encapsulates how Tula finds herself distanced from her human emotions and origins.
Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Like Stone in the Sky, this is the second book in a duology I read this year. This sequel to Seraphina centers around a group of half-dragons trying to carve out their place in the world and prevent war between dragons and humans. The detailed world-building and diverse cast of characters are a delight. Hartman is an incredible storyteller, and anyone who thinks YA is badly-written and unoriginal needs to read her books. My only disappointment was the way the personal relationships of Seraphina herself were resolved (or rather, not resolved), but that aside, it was a satisfying conclusion.
Fire and Thorns Trilogy by Rae Carson
I read the three books in this series back-to-back-to-back and loved all three. They are rather odd and unique books, but very well done. The setting is a sort of alternate Iberia, with a system of magic/religion that mirrors Catholicism. Elisa is a princess and her generation’s “chosen one” who is supposed to accomplish some great work in her lifetime. However, that doesn’t stop Elisa from struggling with self-esteem and feeling unloved by her family, especially when they marry her off to a stranger. That’s just the beginning – Elisa eventually learns to play to her strengths as she uses strategy and political maneuvering to her advantage. I’ve never encountered an overweight protagonist in a YA fantasy novel before, so it was refreshing to have a heroine who deals with both magical problems and more mundane things like body image issues (even if she does eventually somewhat overcome them).
The Martian by Andy Weir
I tried to pick this one up a year ago, but was put off by the swearing and scientific descriptions (despite being a sci-fi fan, I was an English and History major). After I saw the movie and thought it was marvelous, I was ready to give the book another shot. The imagery of the movie helped me to better picture what was going on in the book, so I’m glad I did things in this order. The book manages to both be hilarious and a real nail-biter at times. I appreciate that the author went with this approach instead of trying to make the story into some grim, psychological novel. The book contains even more danger than the film, especially in the third act, so I liked still being in suspense about how Watney was going to solve these new problems.
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novak
I had thought my “dragon fantasy” phase had ended by the time I started high school, so imagine my surprise at having read not one but two superlative novels concerning dragons this year. His Majesty’s Dragon takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, when a British sea captain finds himself the rider and caretaker of a valuable, newly-hatched dragon. Novak’s novel combines the grand scale of detailed historical fantasy with the more intimate story about the growing bond between a man and his dragon.
Out of these 10 books:
6 were physically borrowed from the library
2 were digitally borrowed from the library
2 are owned by me