2018 Reading Goals Check-In: How did I do?

I love doing end of the year/beginning of the new year blog posts. I always find it really interesting to think about what I predicted I would read over the course of a year versus what I actually did read, and I like seeing what I can learn from that to read more widely/more enjoyably in the future. I’ve already posted my most anticipated books for the first half of 2019 (here and here if you missed them; I ended up doing two posts since I left out a bunch in my initial post), and today we’re going to delve into the reading goals that I set for 2018 and whether or not those turned out to influence my reading over the course of the year.

Before we get started, I will say that I may have forgotten about my reading goals post for a good portion of the year, and definitely did not continue to refer back to it over the course of 2018. So, um, that didn’t exactly help.

Read at least one Catherynne M. Valente book. I did this! I read Space Opera in November and absolutely loved it. I will say that Space Opera was NOT the Valente book I had in mind when I set this goal, though; I specifically mentioned Radiance, Deathless, and Palimpsest. Spoiler alert: they’re on my 2019 TBR. But technically, I did accomplish this goal.

Read at least one Octavia Butler book. Failure. I mean, over the course of my reading life, I’ve read 5 Octavia Butler books, so it’s not like she was an author I’ve never read before, but I didn’t read any new-to-me books by her in 2018. This is one of the goals that I completely forgot I set for myself. That being said, I’ll absolutely continue to read more from Octavia Butler in the future; I just didn’t this year.

Read at least one Margaret Atwood book. See Octavia Butler. I’ve read a ton of her books, but in 2018 I specifically had wanted to pick up Stone Mattress and/or Hag-Seed, and I didn’t. Those are both books that I know I’ll absolutely read, but haven’t been in the right mood for yet.

Get in Trouble: StoriesThe Color MasterChildren of the New WorldThe Dark and Other Love Stories

Read more short story collections. I read 5 short story collections in 2018: Get in Trouble by Kelly Link, The Color Master by Aimee Bender, The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis, Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein, and The Merry Spinster by Mallory (who now prefers to be called Daniel) Ortberg. I think this is around the same amount that I read last year, but I don’t really count it as a fail, since I still read a decent number of short story collections. And I also read 2 nonfiction essay collections, which I place into a similar category.

The Haunting of Hill House

Read more than one classic. Fail. I read one book that I think would be considered a modern classic (The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, pub 1959), which I really didn’t enjoy. Besides that, the oldest book I read in 2018 was Bellwether by Connie Willis, which was published in 1996.

House of LeavesThe Bone ClocksObsidio (The Illuminae Files, #3)

Read big books. This is a continuing goal, mainly because I really enjoy giant novels but struggle to put them on TBRs because I’m worried I’ll somehow miss out on reading other, shorter books. In 2018, the biggest books I read were House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (709 pages; this book has been on my TBR for literally ever, so I was really glad to finally read it) (and then I ended up really disliking it, but oh well), The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (624 pages), and Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman (615 pages). I did read a bunch of books that were between 400 and 500 pages, though, which sort of counts. Ideally, I’d like to have read more big books in 2018, but I did OK.

Read more diversely. This is sort of an ongoing goal that you can’t really pass or fail at, since there is always room for improvement. In 2018, I did consider carefully what books and authors I was picking up, and tried to read more from authors of color while maintaining my mostly-female author ratio.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanI Crawl Through It by A.S. KingFuryborn by Claire LegrandEliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Find some new great YA authors/books. Definitely a success! Several of my favorite YA series were ending this year, so I had wanted to find new YA favorites to take their place. And I found a bunch! In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, I Crawl Through It by A.S. King, and Furyborn by Claire Legrand were my favorite YA reads this year, but I also read first-in-series Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody and The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, and I’m planning to read the sequels to both in 2019. I also enjoyed standalones Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia and Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. Overall, it was a great reading year for me YA-wise.

An Unkindness of GhostsThe Bone ClocksThe Lonely Hearts Hotel

Read the ten books from my “Top 10 2018 TBR” list. This is probably the worst of my goal failures. I had chosen 10 books that I definitely wanted to read in 2018, and I only ended up reading 3 of them (An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, and The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill). I was also hoping that the books on my top 10 TBR list would be 5-star reads, wheres the three that I read ended up being 4 or 4.25 star reads instead.

#readmyowndamnbooks. A success! The vast majority of my reading this year was from books on my physical TBR shelf (around 68 out of 98 books, according to my rough count, since I haven’t done my stats post yet).

 

Overall, I didn’t do too badly, but there’s definite room for improvement in 2019. How did you do on your reading goals for 2018?

December Reading Wrap-Up

December ended up being a busier and less reading-heavy month than I anticipated, but that’s okay, since I did finish the two books that my goal was to read and review. I celebrate Chrismakkuh, which means that there are generally a lot of holiday-related things going on throughout the month of December–even more so this year, as Hanukkah and Christmas were so far apart. But overall, it was a good reading end to 2018, especially as I managed to sneak in one last book from my top 10 TBR for the year as my last book for 2018.

Stats:

Total books finished: 5

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 0

ebooks: 0

A Very Large Expanse of SeaThe Nine (Thieves of Fate, #1)AutonomousThe Similars by Rebecca HanoverThe Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

Reviews:

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (4.25 stars) – The Lonely Hearts Hotel follows simultaneously lucky and unlucky orphans Rose and Pierrot, who are artistically gifted but coming of age in Montreal during the Great Depression. It follows them through their childhood at a harsh orphanage, their separation and descent into different aspects of Montreal’s underworld, and path toward their dreams of a show together. I had mixed feelings throughout a lot of this book, but I ended up really loving Rose’s character and her arc, particularly towards the end. I thought that the writing was fairytale-esque and often beautiful, but sometimes became almost too silly, so that took away from the rating a bit. But there’s a lot of really wonderful aspects to this book, and I’d recommend it overall. It’s definitely difficult to read at times, especially due to the instances of child abuse, but it exposes a lot of essential truths that are often difficult to articulate.

The Nine by Tracy Townsend (4.25 stars) – I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this unique fantasy novel, which features tons of action and plot twists along with unique and morally grey characters. I did a full review of The Nine here.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (3 stars) – Autonomous imagines a future where crime seems to revolve around pharmaceutical piracy, as prescription drug costs have skyrocketed and only the rich can afford to live long and healthy lives with the aid of medication. We follow Jack, a pirate whose distribution of a reverse-engineered drug reveals the fact that the original drug is deeply flawed and causes deadly addition to its consumers. As Jack flees the authorities tracking her down, she’s also trying to find a cure for the dangerous drug she unwittingly distributed. I thought that the premise of Autonomous was really interesting, and the scientific aspects were well-thought-out and detailed, but the actual plot left something to be desired for me as it was mainly an extended chase that focused alternately on Jack and her pursuers.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (3 stars) – I’m a huge fan of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series so I was really interested to check out her contemporary YA debut. A Very Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a Muslim teenager who has just moved to a new town and a new high school a few years after 9/11. While pursuing her passion of breakdancing, Shirin is forced to deal with rampant prejudice from the people around her. I absolutely loved Shirin as a main character. I loved that she was complex and passionate, with a bunch of diverse interests and hobbies (breakdancing, sewing her own clothes, art, journaling) yet she finds it really difficult to connect with other people due to the racism she experiences on a near-constant basis. I would have been happy reading a book entirely focused on Shirin, her family, her breakdancing crew, and her opening up enough to make friends, but unfortunately the book focused much more on her romantic connection with Ocean, the star of her school’s basketball team, who I found to be a much less interesting character.

The Similars by Rebecca Hanover (3 stars) – I received an ARC of The Similars at BookCon, and will be posting a full review within the next week. Essentially, I really liked the book’s main character, but I had a lot of issues with the plausibility of the plot.

 

How was your reading in December? Are you already looking ahead to your reading in 2019, like I am?

Another Most Anticipated 2019 Book Releases List

So…yeah. A few weeks ago I patted myself on the back for being all ready to post about my most anticipated 2019 book releases, and I really liked the way that the post turned out, because at the time it contained all of the books at the absolute top of my list for the first half of next year.

And then.

Then I started hearing about more and more fantastic-sounding book releases that I somehow missed hearing about before I posted that blog. I was debating whether I should go back and add to the original post, but organization-wise, I really hate that thought, so here we are.

It’s another list of highly anticipated 2019 book releases! Overall, I’d say I know less about the books on this list than on my previous one, because a lot of those were sequels and books from authors I already know I love, whereas these are mainly books I don’t know a ton about and most are from new-to-me authors. Because of that, I probably won’t have quite as much to say about them.

In order of release date, here we go!

The Water Cure

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (release date January 8th) – Ways to get me to put a book on my TBR include releasing a blurb like this one, from Goodreads: “The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Virgin Suicides in this dystopic feminist revenge fantasy about three sisters on an isolated island, raised to fear men.”

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard (release date January 8th) – I honestly don’t know how this one got left off of my original post, because it’s a) a short story collection and b) from an author I really like. I’ve read two previous books by Kat Howard (Roses and Rot and An Unkindness of Magicians) and loved her creative concepts and strong female characters in both. According to Goodreads, this collection focuses on stories about “the lives of women untold and unexplored.” OK, 2019, just take all of my money.

The Last Romantics

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (release date February 5th) – I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this book from the publisher, and it sounds really intriguing. From Goodreads, “A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories—how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future.”

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy #1)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (release date February 5th) – I’ve already been hearing so much hype about this book, the first in a new fantasy series by Man Booker prize-winning author Marlon James, and since I’ve been looking for a unique new fantasy series to dive into, I’ve got my eye on this one.

The Test

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel (release date February 12th) – all I know about this one is that it’s a Tor.com novella about a citizenship test that turns out to have deadly consequences. That’s really all I need to know. I did read Neuvel’s previous book Sleeping Giants, which I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away by, and I’m not sure if I’m going to continue with that trilogy, but I’m on board for this novella.

Gingerbread

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi (release date March 5th) – Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching ended up being one of my favorite books of 2018, so I’m definitely looking to pick up more from her next year. From Goodreads, “Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories–equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can–beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

If, Then

If, Then by Kate Hope Day (release date March 12th) – From Goodreads, “The residents of a sleepy mountain town are rocked by troubling visions of an alternate reality in this dazzling debut that combines the family-driven suspense of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere with the inventive storytelling of The Immortalists.” Alternate reality visions? Yes.

Never-Contented Things

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter (release date March 19th) – Great cover. Great title. Dark, fae-related YA fantasy. I’m into it.

Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy #1)

Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan (release date April 2nd) – I’m always here for a dark YA fantasy. I honestly don’t even need to know much about this one; it’s happening.

The Right Swipe (Modern Love, #1)

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (release date July 2nd) – Technically I’m breaking my rule about only posting about books being published in the first half of 2019 with this one, but it’s close, so I’ll let it slide. 2018 was the year I discovered the fantastic Alisha Rai after seeing her speak so eloquently on a panel at BookCon about the problem of toxic men in romance novels, and I’m really looking forward to whatever she writes next. From Goodreads: “Alisha Rai returns with the first book in her sizzling new Modern Love series, in which two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom.” Of course they are!

 

Seriously, guys. SO MANY good books are coming out in 2019, I have no idea how I’m going to read them all, let alone my current TBR backlist. But hey, I’m going to have a great time trying 🙂

Did any of these make your most anticipated list for 2019? What books have I still forgotten? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The Nine by Tracy Townsend

Book Review: The Nine by Tracy Townsend

4.25 stars

            I’d like to start off by saying that this relatively lesser-known low fantasy adventure was a completely surprise to me, and in the best way possible.

The Nine is set in the city of Corma, at the heart of an empire that centuries ago decided to merge science and religion together and now adheres to scientific principles with religious fervor. In this city, humans coexist—sometimes peacefully, oftentimes not—with treelike creatures called the lanyani and also with ogrelike beings with their eyes on the heels of their feet called the aigamuxa. The story follows a large cast of viewpoint characters: Rowena Downshire, a young girl working as a somewhat illegal courier in order to pay off the debt that holds her mother in prison; her employer Ivor, the sadistic head of the courier operation; Bess, a courier attempting to escape her trade and work her way upward; Rare, a skilled and admired thief and her sometimes-lover, Anselm Meteron, a retired mercenary turned criminal entrepreneur; Haadiyaa Gammon, the somewhat moral and somewhat corrupt chief of police; the Alchemist, a mysterious former mercenary and current purveyor of knowledge and possibly magic; and Philip Chalmers, a reverend doctor (a sort of religious scientist) researching arcane and potentially earth-shattering aspects of the world they exist in. These characters all connect with the emergence of a mysterious Book that promises to hold answers to questions that humankind has been asking for centuries, and for that reason, the Book is something that many people would kill for.

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, but I was completely caught up in the story of The Nine from the very beginning. The book’s frenetic pace and constant perspective-switching makes it an addicting story to read; new reveals come as quickly as constant plot twists. If you’re more of a fan of character-driven fantasy than plot-driven fantasy, like me, I also think you’ll love this book because its cast of characters is so broad and filled with a lot of depth. I think that fans of Game of Thrones in particular might be drawn to this book not because they’re similar in plot (they’re definitely not, plus I liked this book a lot more than Game of Thrones) but because all of Tracy Townsend’s characters, like George R.R. Martin’s, are morally grey. It takes a lot of courage to create a cast of characters who aren’t exactly “good guys” by any stretch of imagination—they’re criminals, opportunists, and even cowards—but as a reader, you root for them anyways. Well, you root for some of them—although this story may not have good guys, it definitely has bad ones.

Townsend’s skillful writing and creative worldbuilding also help carry you through a world that might be initially confusing—it did take me a little while to understand the motivations of the different species in play, and to understand the organization of science as religion, but once I was on board, I was really impressed with how Townsend kept all the moving pieces of the book’s plot cohesive and yet surprising at the same time. It’s a world that I didn’t want to leave when the book ended, and I’m so glad to have received an ARC of the second book in the Thieves of Fate series, The Fall, which I’ll be picking up soon so that I can dive back in. I’d highly recommend The Nine to fans of original fantasy worlds with a lot of action and unique characters.

I received a free copy of The Nine from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Most Anticipated 2019 Book Releases

Here’s the thing about one year ending and the new year beginning: I tend to get caught up in all of the year-end bookishness (lists of favorites, yearly wrap-ups, etc) that sometimes the next year’s releases fall by the wayside and I miss hearing about some of the wonderful new books that will be coming out. But not this year! I’m trying to stay more on top of new releases so that I can focus on picking up books I’m really excited about in 2019 (while still prioritizing reading my physical TBR and backlist a good percentage of the time). Also, the fact is that 2019 is shaping up to be an AWESOME year in terms of books, and I am very, very excited. So many of my favorite authors are coming out with new books this year, and I’m sure I’ll soon be overwhelmed with all of the amazing new-to-me authors coming out with books as well.

I will say that this list probably has a lot of limitations: obviously it’s skewed towards my personal reading tastes, and a lot of the books on here are sequels, because those are the releases I tend to hear about first. It also out of necessity focuses on new releases for the first half of 2019; I think I might post a follow-up preview for the second half of the year (maybe after BookCon! I just bought my ticket). But I hope that you can all find some intriguing books on here as well, or maybe check out some of these authors’ backlists too.

So here, with no further ado, are my most anticipated book releases for the first half of 2019! They’re listed in order of release date.

 

In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4)

In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children #4) (Release date 1/8/19) – I’ve been loving this YA novella series about children who enter fairytale worlds and then find themselves back in reality since the first book was released, and it’s really not a series that can get old, considering the number of different worlds that McGuire has already laid down the foundations for. Apparently, this one is set in a goblin market. I pre-ordered this one, so it’s probably going to be one of the first books I pick up in 2019.

The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air, #2)

The Wicked King by Holly Black (The Folk of the Air #2) (Release date 1/8/19) – I enjoyed The Cruel Prince much more than I thought I would (I gave it 3.5 stars), and I’m definitely interested to see how things play out in the fairy world in the sequel. I haven’t pre-orderd this one, though, and I may wait awhile before picking it up, since it’s not necessarily one of the new releases on this list that I feel like I have to get to RIGHT AWAY.

Mouthful of Birds: Stories

Mouthful of Birds: Stories by Samanta Schweblin (Release date 1/8/19) – I’m a huge fan of weird short story collections, and I absolutely loved Schweblin’s Fever Dream, which was a short, intensely strange novel that was one of my favorite reads in 2017. Also, the cover of this book is ridiculously gorgeous and colorful.

99 Percent Mine

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne (Release date 1/19/19) – 2018 ended up being the year I discovered contemporary romance, and one of my favorites that was responsible for this reading trend was Thorne’s The Hating Game. Because of that, I’m super excited to read more from her, and I’ve already pre-ordered this one. I believe it’s about a woman who’s in love with her twin brother’s off-limits best friend, who she has to flip a house with. Sounds fun! The book, not the house-flipping.

The Dreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (Release date 1/15/19) – I’m going to go with the Goodreads blurb for this one, by the author of The Age of Miracles, which was a sort of beautiful and slow-moving pre-apocalypse type of novel I read last year: The Dreamers is “a mesmerizing novel about a college town transformed by a strange illness that locks victims in a perpetual sleep and triggers life-altering dreams…for fans of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.” Since the two books it’s compared to are two of my favorites and I found The Age of Miracles very promising if not awesome, I’m pretty interested in this one.

The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders (Release date 2/12/19) – I first heard of Charlie Jane Anders when she was the editor of io9, which used to be one of my favorite sources of SFF news and book recommendations; I’ve seen her speak on panels at BookCon, where she wowed me with her brilliance, and I now religiously listen to her podcast with Annalee Newitz, which is called Our Opinions Are Correct. I liked but didn’t love her first novel, All the Birds in the Sky, and I really like the sound of this new one. Again, we’re going to turn to Goodreads for some help on this one since I don’t know too much about it:

Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace — though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below. But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet–before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence.”

Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2)

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse (The Sixth World #2) (Release date 4/23/19) – I was lucky enough to get a free copy of Roanhorse’s debut, Trail of Lightning, at BookCon, and fell in love with her post-apocalyptic world and strong female protagonist. I can’t wait to hear more about where things are going in this unique, creative series set after climate change has decimated what was once the United States and strange powers and monsters out of Navajo mythology have awakened..

The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient, #2)

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient #2) (Release date 5/7/19) – Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient was probably my favorite contemporary romance of 2018 due to its sweet, sexy romance and smart writing. I’m really looking forward to picking up more from Helen Hoang; The Bride Test follows Khai, a character we met in The Kiss Quotient who is autistic, and the potential bride his mother brings back for him from Vietnam who falls for him.

Middlegame

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (Release date 5/7/19) – I’ve loved Seanan McGuire for a long time; I’ve enjoyed her October Daye, Indexing, and Wayward Children series, and am intrigued by this new, stellar-sounding standalone about twins with strange powers aspiring to become new gods. From Goodreads:

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story. Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math. Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet. Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own. Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.”

 

Kingsbane (Empirium, #2)

Kingsbane by Claire Legrand (Empirium #2) (Release date 5/21/19) – I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Legrand’s Furyborn, which ended up being one of my favorite YA reads of the year, and am very excited to see where she takes the series. The Empirium series follows two young women, the Sun Queen and the Blood Queen, living a thousand years apart in a land torn apart by magic and angels, and Kingsbane is hopefully going to give us some intriguing answers into how the world came to be this way.

Rage (Stormheart, #2)

Rage by Cora Carmack (Stormheart #2) (Release date 6/11/19) – I picked up Roar, Carmack’s first book in the stormheart trilogy, my first time at BookCon, because I love when books involve weather magic. I ended up really enjoying the YA fantasy world that Carmack created, and I’m looking forward to seeing Roar, a princess on the run, hopefully come into her own in the second book.

 

Other 2019 books that I’m excited about but that don’t have firm release dates yet, and/or covers, and/or are happening too far in the future to go into detail yet: Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews (Book 3.5 in her science fiction Innkeeper Chronicles series, focused on the main character’s formerly missing sister and a space vampire, unknown release date); Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews (book 1 in a new trilogy following Catalina, the younger sister of Nevada from the Hidden Legacy series, release date 8/27/19); Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (book 1 in a new series focused on Yale secret societies, release date 10/1/19); the second book in Ilona Andrews’s Iron Covenant trilogy (no release date yet); Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell (Simon Snow #2, no release date yet). Again, I’ll go into these more in probably May/June with another Most Anticipated Reads List for the second half of 2019.

 

Are any of these books on your most anticipated lists as well? What books are you excited for that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

November Reading & NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

November was a rough month on the reading front, as I was devoting a lot of my time to NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar, that stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is an event that encourages you to writing a 50,000-word short novel in the month of November. There’s online interaction and in-person write-ins that give you encouragement, in addition to famous writers posting inspirational essays throughout the month. This was my second time participating, and I was able to write about 30,000 words (which definitely isn’t 50k, but is still a ton for me!).

I was working on the first draft of the fantasy novel that I started writing last year, and I’m finally, finally nearing the end! In addition to getting done a bunch in terms of actual word counts, I was able to really map out the plot for the remainder of the book. I’m really hoping to finish the draft by the end of the year so that I can start editing in 2019, but I’m anticipating December being a super busy month, so I’m not sure if that’s realistic. We’ll see!

In terms of reading, I was only able to finish 4 books this month, which is the lowest so far this year. But! I definitely wasn’t anticipating a big reading month due to NaNoWriMo, so my expectations were low, and I ended up loving 3 out of the 4 books that I did get to read this month. And I’m not mad about a low book count if I’m getting quality over quantity. So here’s how my reading went:

Stats:

Total books read: 4

#readmyowndamnbooks: 3

Audiobooks: 0

ebooks: 1

Get in Trouble: StoriesDiamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5)Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha, #1)Space Opera

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (5 stars) – Get in Trouble by Kelly Link is an amazingly creative short story collection that blends genres and concepts into unsettling, profound, thought-provoking tales. In the hands of another writer, one aspect of one of Link’s stories could fill an entire novel, but in Link’s hands disparate ideas and worlds are explored in 40 pages to a perfect level of depth while still leaving the reader room for interpretation.

A few of my favorites were:
– “The Summer People,” which at first seems like it’s about a sick girl abandoned by her alcoholic father, except then you learn about the neighboring house where the fairies live
– “Two Houses,” about a group of astronauts telling each other ghost stories while in the backs of their minds they can’t forget their own ship’s twin, which mysteriously disappeared decades ago
– “Secret Identity,” about a girl lying about her identity to a man online in a world where superheroes and supervilains are a common sight

No two stories are anything alike, and I was perpetually stunned by Link’s bottomless reserves of unique ideas. If you like weird, genre-blending fiction, I highly, highly recommend picking this one up.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (4.5 stars) – I really wasn’t expecting this book to be as wonderful and impactful for me as it was. It’s about an intergalactic singing competition designed as a way for newly discovered species to prove their sentience, and Earth is up next. It’s quirky and hilarious, with every sentence packed full of metaphor after metaphor, and although humor in books is tricky because not everything works for everyone, this style was perfect for me. The book goes from hilarity to a profound degree of emotional depth near the end, and I was crying as I finished the book. I think it’s great for fans of Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series, because both are more positive science fiction works that deal a lot with interpersonal relationships, and also for fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I actually didn’t like very much but I can see how you could easily jump from that book to this one. This is the third book I’ve picked up from Valente and I want to read her entire catalog of work.

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors in general, and my favorite UF/PNR author in particular, so every time she starts a new series I am very excited. This was a novella bridging the gap between the Hidden Legacy trilogy, narrated by private investigator Nevada Baylor, and a new trilogy narrated by her younger sister Catalina, who has also grown up working in the family’s P.I. firm and has a very unique kind of magic. It was a lot of fun and really got me on board with Catalina as a main character; I’m really looking forward to the first full book in her trilogy, Sapphire Flames, which comes out in 2019.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri (3 stars) – I received an ARC of Emprie of Sand from the publisher at BookCon. While a great premise, this book ended up being a bit of a disappointment for me. You can check out my full review here.

 

How did your reading/writing go in November? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
3 stars

Empire of Sand is the story of Mehr, the illegitimate daughter of a governor who serves the powerful Empire and a woman from a persecuted group of desert-dwelling people called the Amrithi. Growing up in her father’s household after her mother leaves, Mehr struggles to preserve the traditions of the Amrithi even as they are hunted down throughout the Empire. Her life changes rapidly when her actions during a magical storm bring her to the attention of the Empire’s spiritual leader and his mystics, and she is forced to confront harsh truths about the Empire she inhabits and the power she possesses.

I love fantasy novels centered around strong female characters, and I was so intrigued about this book when I first heard about it at BookCon. I think that Empire of Sand’s worldbuilding and its magic system are some of its strongest aspects; over the course of the novel, we are introduced to magical, mysterious desert beings called daiva who once walked the earth like humans but who now take on other forms; the magic stemming from dreaming gods; and Amrithi magic created through dance and sigils. Mehr is a protagonist you want to root for in her struggles against a corrupt, discriminating Empire, and I was fascinated by one of the side characters, Mehr’s friend and surrogate mother figure Lalita, an Amrithi woman who survived for years in disguise and supported herself as a courtesan. I also thought that Tasha Suri’s writing was quite good; I was able to easily visualize everything she was talking about, and her writing flowed nicely throughout the book.

There were also several aspects of Empire of Sand that I felt weren’t as strong. It’s not very long for a fantasy novel, but its pacing is very slow, and the plot is sparse. A great deal of the book involves repetition; the same concepts and actions are reiterated over and over again, which in my opinion wasn’t necessary to convey meaning and didn’t add anything to the story. I generally don’t mind books that are slower-paced and more focused on ordinary life than action, but in this case the structure really didn’t work for me. I also wasn’t a fan of the romance, which felt forced, and I wish that both protagonists had more charisma.

If you’re looking for a new, well-written fantasy series with a unique concept and setting, you may really enjoy Empire of Sand. Personally, it’s not a series I’m planning to continue with, but I’ll definitely be interested to see what Tasha Suri writes in the future.

*I received an ARC of Empire of Sand from the publisher at BookCon.

I write about nontraditional beach reads for nontraditional readers