It’s not my real name, but it’s the only one you’re getting. Things like names are important these days.
And it’s not so much that I’m Pet.
I’m a pet.
A human pet: I belong to the two Behindkind fae and the pouty vampire who just moved into my house. It’s not weird, I promise—well, it’s weird, yeah. But it’s not weird weird, you know?
The City Between series, consisting of five books with more to come, is W.R. Gingell’s most recent series and I think it is her best so far. It’s a great place to start if you are new to her work. I’ve read the first two and am looking forward to continuing.
Unlike her more traditional fantasy or fairy tale-inspired stories, this series is classic urban fantasy. There are vampires, werewolves, fae…and one human pet. Pet (we don’t know her real name) has been trying to get by, squatting in her old house after her parents are murdered there, when another murder takes place next door, and a strange set of investigators move in with her. The “Psychos” as she calls them consist of two Fae and one snarky vampire, and they end up adopting her as their pet.
There are some great fantasy elements, like umbrellas that are really swords, and some spine-tingling action and adventure parts with just enough intensity and mystery, but my favorite thing is just how full of character the stories are. From Pet’s regionalisms (like the author, she lives in Hobart, Tasmania) to Jinyeong’s sarcastic Korean, there are so many little details that draw you in and get you invested in the world and the characters. These are some of the most entertaining and page-turning stories I have read recently. They are also relatively short, easy reads.
Another year, more great books. In 2019, I read about 145 books, of which about 2/3 were Regency romances. The rest were from various genres, and I reviewed 17 of them here on this blog (you can check out the Book Reviews category to see them all). Here are some highlights.
I really enjoyed the Wayward Children series of novellas by Seanan McGuire, starting with Every Heart a Doorway. The characters and worlds of this portal fantasy series have stayed with me; read my full review here. I also enjoyed exploring the novel length version of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, which reads like an original fairy tale; read my full review here.
I read very little YA fantasy this year, and I what I did read was pretty average, nothing really outstanding. I’ve been a little disappointed with the quality of current popular series. Anyone have recommendations for recent must-read YA fantasy?
I highly recommend both the Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra comics by Kieron Gillen. If you only read one Star Wars comic, I’d recommend the Vader Down crossover issue, which features the OT characters as well as Aphra, one of my favorite new canon characters. It has everything you want: action, humor, great characterization.
I’ve been working through Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book of essays, We Were Eight Years in Power, since the beginning of the year. These are essays on various topics previously published in The Atlantic (including “The Case for Reparations”), compiled here with his reflections on each piece. It’s not light reading, but I feel like I’ve gained a lot of perspective, especially as we enter another election cycle. And I’m so glad I discovered Coates’ beautiful writing. I also enjoyed his run of Black Panther, and I can’t wait to read his novel debut, The Water Dancer.
As a relatively new mother I also enjoyed Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott. Everything she wrote rang so true to me! Plus she is just an entertaining writer.
Author of the Year: W.R. Gingell
Awhile back I raved about Gingell’s Masque, an inventive version of Beauty and the Beast, but this year I really started reading through her oeuvre, and the more I read the more I fall in love! Luckily, she now works full-time as an author and is continuing to release several new fantasy stories every year. So far, I’ve read her fairy-tale inspired Two Monarchies series (of which Masque is a part), her epic fantasy Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy, and her hilarious urban fantasy City Between series. I’m going to do some more detailed reviews of these in the coming months, but if you are looking for a quick, entertaining read, I highly recommend her work. Also, check out her blog and Facebook page.
Read from more genres. I tried really hard with this one and I succeeded. Some genres I read this year include: cozy mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, classics, historical fiction, memoir, non-fiction essays, short stories, poetry, comics, and YA. I also listened to some more audiobooks; though I still don’t love them, I started to use them in conjunction with ebooks to allow me to continue the story wherever I am.
Finish Heyer’s romances. I read Venetia, which is one of her best, as well as a mystery from her. I still have 2 more Georgian romances to read!
Read books I already own. Yeah…still working on that. Definitely a goal to continue next year.
Finish the books I started. I did get better about this! I finished most of the books I started last year, and while I still have a few I started this year that I’m in the middle of, I feel like it’s more under control instead of a revolving door of library loans. I did have a couple of DNFs this year; mostly they had some element of mental illness that I couldn’t handle reading about at the time.
For 2020, I want to focus on getting back to reading physical books instead of being on my phone and Kindle all the time, as well as reading all the books that are already on my shelves.
What were your favorite books of 2019? Do you have any reading goals for 2020?
Nothing like a spooky read to get into the Halloween mood!
The Near Witch was actually VE Schwab’s first published novel, now republished in a new edition containing a companion short story, “The Ash-Born Boy.” While it is not as strong as her later fantasy novels that I have read and enjoyed, The Near Witch had a wonderful atmosphere as well as some good characters and themes that were reminiscent of classic YA dark fantasy tales.
The story begins when a stranger comes to the village of Near, a place where there are no strangers, and soon children begin to be called away to the moors in the middle of the night. The main character Lexi must hurry to find the children and keep her sister safe, but to do that she must first unravel the mystery of the stranger and the local legend of the Near Witch.
There were many things I liked about the story, including the setting and the fantasy elements. The magic has a vague, fairy-tale-like quality. Lexi had some really good moments, and the villain is at once creepy and relatable. I really liked the theme of how fear of the unknown can hurt rather than help. Overall, the story brought to mind elements of The Hunger Games, CLAMP’s manga Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, the movies of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, and the stories of Diana Wynne Jones.
However, the book is not as epic or sophisticated as her later novels. I thought the plot meandered a bit, moving in fits and starts, and sometimes was a bit frustrating and repetitive. And while the romantic elements were sweet, it definitely is a case of insta-love.
I enjoyed the short story at the end as much if not more; it reveals the backstory of one of the novel’s characters. It has a slightly different feel but was a good addition.
So, if you’re looky for a spooky read this October, The Near Witch definitely fits the bill, but I wouldn’t call it a must-read unless you are a really big fan of VE Schwab.
I heard a lot of hype about this YA debut fantasy; its Arab-inspired setting was a huge draw for me. But ultimately, my feelings about We Hunt the Flame were complicated. In short, I’d probably give it 3 / 5 stars, and I’m not planning to read any future books in the series.
Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king.
When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.
The world building did end up being my favorite thing about this book. I loved the setting of Arawiya and its countries, based on ancient Arabia. We learn a lot about its government and culture, including food and rituals. The author drops in Arabic words frequently, which I liked. Some of the fantasy even ties into the cultural aspects with appearances by mythological creatures like ifrits.
The story was pretty engaging. Although a bit slow to begin, it really picks up about a third of the way in, once Zafira and Nasir meet on their quest. There are some nice twists at the end, several I saw coming and several I didn’t. The characters were all pretty interesting, but I can’t say I really fell in love with any of them.
The fantasy and romance aspects were fine, nothing really special or new. Zafira reminded me strongly of Katniss from Hunger Games because of her home life situation, her prickly personality, and her talents with a bow. The overall tone of the book as well as some of the fantasy elements reminded me of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series.
The prose was one aspect of the novel that did stand out to me, being rather pretty and flowery, even going almost into poetical forms at times. While it was nice, it also was not particularly easy to read. I frequently had to stop and re-read sentences or even whole paragraphs to figure out what had actually happened.
Occasionally, the writing seemed overly detailed in a confusing way. For example, one of the side characters I ended up liking the most was the young general Altair, but during his introduction scene I couldn’t get a read on him at all. He is described, all within about a page, as having a “cheery voice” and a “wolfish grin,” while “anger feathered his jaw” and he spoke “hateful words,” yet “he acted as if everything were a jovial affair” and had the “eyes of a hawk.” Huh?
Overall, I enjoyed We Hunt the Flame, but I didn’t feel that it really stood out among other current YA fantasy except for its setting and world building.
There’s nothing better than getting sucked into a series where you just want to keep reading book after book. But for every series like Girl of Fire and Thorns, where I found the second book to be a huge improvement on the first, there is also a series where the quality dips after the first, or the story goes off in a completely different direction. I read a couple of books recently that, while perfectly fine books, did not live up to their predecessors in my mind.
For a series where the first entry adhered almost completely to the plot points of P&P, the second book takes a hard left and, aside from the characters of the previous book and an occasional “sir,” has no relation to Austen or the Regency whatsoever that I could tell. The closest connection I could make is Northanger Abbey, both involving a visit to a mysterious house of secrets, but since everything that Aliza imagines at Castle Selwyn is actually true, the lesson seems to have been lost.
As much as I wasn’t crazy about the slavish adherence to P&P in the first book, without the Austen connection the sequel lost one of the things that drew me to the series and became just a decent generic fantasy. (I did like that it incorporates further mythological creatures instead.) Another issue is that without the P&P backbone, this story is not as tightly plotted and seemed like it was stretched out to make a trilogy. It takes the entire first half of the book for Aliza and Alastair to get where they are going, which seemed like a very slow start to me.
But as a last note, it does take a serious and mature look at some difficult aspects of married life that I think is great for a YA novel to explore.
Suitors and Sabotage
By Cindy Anstey
This YA Regency intrigue was entertaining but kind of forgettable. I discovered the first two books when I was on a Regency romance kick, and really enjoyed them, but I didn’t really feel anything special about this one. Perhaps the formula is getting old for me? (Though these 3 books are similar, they are more companion novels than a series; there is no overlap in characters and no overarching plotline.)
I think the level of tension and drama was not quite up to the level of the first two books. For comparison, the first book Love, Lies, and Spies begins with the heroine hanging off a cliff; this one starts with a lovely picnic among some scenic ruins. It was also less epic in scope, nothing to do with international espionage or even kidnapping, just some vaguely threatening events.
Overall, I’d give these two sequels 3/5 stars, while I probably would have rated their predecessors around 4 stars. While I enjoyed reading them, I doubt I’ll continue with either series, or ever revisit them in the future. On to better books!