Flamecaster

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: Apr. 2018 (read Jan. 2020)
Series: Shattered Realms #1

I read the Seven Realms series about a year ago and loved it, but I knew something bad was going to happen at the beginning of this series and I couldn’t face it after becoming so attached to the characters in the first series, so I didn’t jump right in.

After returning from my 5 week vacation, I wasn’t feeling super motivated to read, so I decided it might be easier to return to a world I was already familiar with. It was a great choice because Flamecaster gripped me right from the first chapter! I found the Demon King pretty slow and it took me a while to get into it, so I was expecting a similar experience with Flamecaster, but Chima had lots of action packed into the first few chapters and I was immediately drawn in to the story.

Flamecaster is set in the same world as the Seven Realms, but a generation later. Our protagonist is Adrian sul’Han, or Ash, son of our heroes from the previous series. When something bad happens at home, Ash feels forced to flea and takes up residence at Oden’s Ford, learning to be a healer and wizard. In another part of the realms, Jenna is forced by the Arden Empire to work in the mines in Delphi. Her hatred of the king motivates her to join the rebellion, but a strange magemark on the back of her neck draws the attention of those she’d rather stay away from and she finds herself hunted for it.

I don’t want to say too much else about the plot for those that haven’t read the first series. Everyone warned me that you must read the Seven Realms series before the Shattered Realms series, but I disagree. This book is easy enough to understand without having read the first series, I’m just not sure why you’d want to skip the first series. The Seven Realms series is great, as is this one, so why not read them in order!

I really liked falling back into Chima’s writing. She’s definitely an accomplished writer and I enjoy how smart her plots are. I’ve read some reviews that this is a slow burn book, which in a way it is, but I was never bored and I loved the natural progression of both the plot and the characters. I love how you’re not sure how you’re supposed to feel about some of her characters and that her questionable characters are just as intriguing as her protagonists. Lila was a real favourite for me in this book and I’m dying to learn more about Destin Karn. We get a glimpse at the end that there’s something else going on with him and I can’t wait to learn more.

The only part I didn’t totally love was the romance. There’s not a lot of romance in the book, but I think the romance that is present came on a little too fast. I do enjoy a bit of romance in my fantasy books, but tension is key. I like watching the natural progression of a romance throughout the course of a novel or series, and the anticipation and build up. This book had very little romantic tension and I really struggled to buy into the characters attraction.

But otherwise, this book gave me the perfect amount of resolution and intrigue at the end. Luckily for me I don’t have to wait a year for the next book, but had I read this when it first came out, it would still have been a satisfying ending. Can’t wait to see where Chima takes this in the next book!

Dual Citizens

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Alix Ohlin
Genres: Literary Fiction, Canadian Lit
Pub. date: Jun. 2019 (read Feb. 2020 on Audible)

Dual Citizens is one of the those weird creations of Canadian literature that I ended up really loving, yet wouldn’t necessarily recommend to everyone. It’s a bit of an artsy story with a meandering plot, but it’s ultimately about family and sisterhood and that really resonated with me.

Lark and Robin are sisters that grew up in Montreal and received little attention or praise from their young mother. So they instead look to one another for support and long for the day when they can branch out on their own. Lark is shy but very studious and does well in school, earning herself a scholarship for a college in the States. Robin learns to play the piano and has a natural talent for it. She is dismayed when Lark leaves her behind to go to school and within the year she runs away to live with Lark.

Eventually Lark discovers a love for film and Robin is accepted to study piano at Julliard. But the pressure of music school gets to her and as Lark dives further into her film degree, the sisters begin to grow apart. The separation between the two sisters was jarring and upsetting for me. They were all each other had and I felt as set adrift by the separation as Lark did. The sisters are very different and Lark struggles to understand why her sister suddenly distances herself and they begin to grow apart, each caught up in their own struggles and insecurities.

Lark spends a lot of time working in the film industry and is quite successful, but she reads like a character who just moves through life without actually engaging in it. She is passive in every scenario and I really felt like part of her was missing during her estrangement from Robin. I’m not really an artsy person and I don’t care for film, but I really loved the storytelling in this book. I just felt this ache throughout for the relationship that Lark and Robin once had and the strain and impact that the loss of communication had on Lark. The feeling of incompleteness while the two were separated and the tenseness that continued between them even once they were reunited. It’s scary to watch two people that were so close become disconnected to the point that they don’t really know who the other person is anymore.

It really reminded me of the feelings of nostalgia and sadness that you get when you return home and realize that the people you loved and spent so much time with have all changed. The feeling of moving on, but thinking fondly of the experiences you once shared, but the sadness of realizing that some experience meant more to one person than the other.

It’s hard to describe, but Lark’s longing for both motherhood and a renewed relationship with her sister were so authentic. It’s a slow moving story with little driving the plot, but I related so keenly to Lark. I think Ohlin captured a very flawed, but real relationship, and I felt really invested in Lark’s life. I don’t think it’s a story for everyone though and I’m not sure I’d want to read it again because of the emotional toll, but I’m glad to have picked it up and thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook. A great story with a lot of depth!

Bookish Academy Awards 2019

I did this tag for the first time last year and really enjoyed it, so I decided to do it again this year! It’s basically a list of all the awards at the Academy Awards, but for the books I read in 2019. I’ll be picking my winners from all the books I read in 2019, not just the ones that were published in 2019. So I have a total of 91 books to pick from and you can see my full list here if you’re interested. I’ve done my best to avoid selecting the same book for multiple categories, but in some cases I felt the same book really was the best pick for both awards. Here we go:

Best Male Protagonist (Best Actor)

Winner: Han Allister from The Demon King

Reason: Street Lord turned wizard and hero! Han is clever and quick on his feet, but also kind.

Runner ups: Trevor Noah from Born a Crime

Best Female Protagonist (Best Actress):

Winner: Jo March from Little Women

Reason: Jo is stubborn and has a wild temper, but she’s also brave and tenacious and ready to make her own way in the world!

Runner ups: Raisa ana’Mariana from The Demon King, Jane Sinner from Nice Try Jane Sinner, Kamzin from Even the Darkest Stars

Best Male Sidekick (Best Supporting Actor):

Winner: Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings

Reason: Sam is a hero masquerading as a sidekick. One of my all time favourite characters in any book!

Runner ups: There are no runner ups, there is only Sam

Best Female Sidekick (Best Supporting Actress):

Winner: Beth March from Little Women

Reason: It’s impossible not to love Beth March with her quiet and caring demeanor and big heart!

Runner ups: Melissa Yule from Lands of Lost Borders, Nisha from Ember and the Ice Dragons

Best Writer you discovered for the first time (Best Director):

Winner: Cinda Williams Chima

Reason: Cinda knows how to write a clever plot and a large cast of engaging characters.

Runner ups: Andrea Gibson (Lord of the Butterflies), Candice Carty Williams (Queenie), Angie Kim (Miracle Creek), Mary Beth Keane (Ask Again, Maybe)

Best Plot Twist (Best Cinematography):

Winner: Verity by Colleen Hoover

Reason: Verity is a wild and messed up ride. I didn’t see the plot twist coming and it completely blew my mind!

Runner ups: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware, Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Best Action in a Book (Best Visual Effects):

Winner: Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Reason: I re-read the series in 2019 and there is really nothing quite like the final action scenes in Return of the King.

Runner ups: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black, The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

Best Book Cover (Best Costume Design):

Winner: All the Wandering Light by Heather Fawcett

Reason: I have a thing for starscapes on book covers and the covers of this series are just perfection and match the fantasy world perfectly!

Runner ups: Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris, Ember and the Ice Dragons by Heather Fawcett, The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Best Audiobook (Best Musical Score):

Winner: Full Cast in Daisy Jones & The Six

Reason: You couldn’t ask for more from a full cast! This is a masterpiece in character development and the voice actors do a stellar job!

Runner ups: Trevor Noah in Born a Crime, Shvorne Marks in Queenie, Full Cast in The Golden Compass

Most Unique Plot/World (Best Original Screenplay):

Winner: The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Reason: A fascinating world where people have daemons, can walk between worlds, and there are armoured polar bears and witches!

Runner ups: The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett

Best Book to Movie Adaptation (Best Adapted Screenplay):

Winner: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Reason: It’s been a few years since I actually read the book, but the movie captures all the same hilarity without the awkward plot points at the end, which I preferred!

Runner ups: Little Women

Best Graphic Novel (Best Animated Feature):

Winner: Book Love by Debbie Tung

Reason: I admit I didn’t read many graphic novels this year, but Book Love was a cute find!

Runner ups: The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

Best Novella or Short Book (Best Short Film):

Winner: Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson

Reason: Gibson is an incredible spoken word poet and this anthology is an important commentary on identity and social justice.

Runner ups: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Best Historical Fiction (Best Documentary):

Winner: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Reason: A moving story about a little known Korean island and an important part of history.

Runner ups: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Best Standalone (Best Picture):

Winner: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Reason: A layered and nuanced story about culture, immigration, disabilities, motherhood, and more, presented as an intriguing courtroom drama.

Runner ups: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson

Bloodlust & Bonnets

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Emily McGovern
Genres: Graphic Novel, LGBTQIA+
Pub. date: Sep. 2019 (read Jan. 2020)

I’m a little bit delayed with this review, but I picked up Bloodlust & Bonnets at a bookstore in New Zealand because I liked the colourful artwork and thought it looked like the story might have a Nimona-style brand of humour. I was correct on both fronts!

Bloodlust & Bonnets is set in Victorian times and tells the story of Lucy, Byron, and Sham, a bunch of “queer misfits” looking for an adventure in the form of destroying Lady Travesty, the leader of a vampire cult. Their adventures take them all over Britain, with each character struggling with their own personal hang-ups while they all try and get used to being part of a team.

It’s the kind of hilarious, feel good, nonsense that despite all its shenanigans, still has a ton of relevant social commentary buried in it about gender norms, identity, and equality. It made me laugh out loud, but I also loved it for its portrayal of kick-ass female heroines, suave male poets that also like to wear fancy dresses, and gender non-conforming vampire hunters that just need to learn to trust other people. It’s a romping good time!

Top 10 Books of 2019

I recently got back from a 5-week trip to New Zealand… and I didn’t read a single book while I was there! I’m shocked too, but I did a lot of hiking and adventuring, as well as writing, so there wasn’t a lot of time for reading. So my posts might be a little scattered over the next few weeks.

More importantly though, it’s already February and I haven’t posted about my favourite books from 2019 yet! Since I read a lot of new releases, I usually do 2 posts. This one is about my top 10 favourite books of 2019 that were published in 2019. And I’ll do a follow-up post about my top 5 reads of 2019, that were published in other years. Not sure why I started doing it this way, but apparently that’s just how I do it now.

10. The Stories You Tell by Kristin Lepionka

This is the 3rd book in Lepionka’s mystery series about private investigator Roxane Weary. The first book is called The Last Place You Look and I can’t recommend this series enough! Roxane is a rough-around-the-edges, but well meaning investigator that somehow keeps landing in the middle of criminal police investigations. Despite her past record of solving cases and helping out the department, her support is unwelcome at the station and she’s forced to run her own investigations on the side. Lepionka’s writing gets better with every novel and I think her stories provide the perfect blend of mystery writing and personal drama, making each book more than the sum of its parts.

9. The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Honestly, I’m a little surprised at myself including this one on the list. Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy has been taking the YA world by storm, but I didn’t love either of the first two books in the series. I stuck with it though and found myself surprisingly excited for the final book in the trilogy. Once I started reading this book it totally consumed me and I could not put it down until I finished! It’s a delightfully nasty book about Faeries that’s full of murder, deceit, and romantic intrigue. It’s definitely not literary fiction, but it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat!

8. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Another book that I’m a little surprised to see on this list. Queenie has gotten pretty mixed reviews, mostly I think in part because of its hard-to-love protagonist. Queenie has just split up with her boyfriend and she is really struggling to move on. She is distracted at work and has little respect for herself, seeking to escape through bad sexual relationships. She’s worn down by casual racism and micro aggressions and struggles with her mental health. Parts of the novel are funny, while other parts are frustrating. It’s hard to watch Queenie continually make bad decisions, but her struggle is so relatable and authentic that despite her flaws, you really want to see her succeed. It’s a book about learning to love and take care of yourself and seeking forgiveness.

7. The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

Will Marchetta ever write a book that I don’t love? The Place on Dalhousie is the third novel she’s published in the Saving Francesca universe, though you can read any of the three books as a standalone. Like all of Marchetta’s books, this is a story about friendship and the characters carry the story. Rosie and Martha are both grieving after the death of their father and husband respectively. Martha married Rosie’s father Seb after the death of her mother and the two have never gotten along. After Seb’s death they find themselves fighting over who inherits his house on Dalhousie Street. At the same time, Jimmy Hailler has been running away from his life and lamenting that he never really had a family. A chance run in between him and Rosie changes their lives in ways neither of them anticipates.

6. Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

I read Jean Kwok’s other book, Girl in Translation, a few years ago and really loved it. Everything about Searching for Sylvie Lee appealed to me – literary family drama with a mystery element – count me in! Searching for Sylvie Lee is about a Chinese-American immigrant family whose eldest daughter disappears when visiting family in the Netherlands. Sylvie was always the star child of the family and her younger sister Amy is distraught and flies to Amsterdam to look for her. But she starts to discover that Sylvie may not have been the perfect sister she thought she was and was harbouring secrets of her own. This is a character driven novel with a strong plot behind it.

5. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

I’m starting to sense a bit of a theme with this middle section of the list. Ask Again, Yes is another character-driven family drama that tells the multi-generational story of two families living in suburban New York; the Gleeson’s and the Stanhope’s. The families have had a somewhat tumultuous history together, but their children become good friends until one day a tragedy occurs that splits everyone apart, resulting in consequences that shake both families for decades to come. It’s a story about friendship, family, mental health, and forgiveness. It explores whether one event can have the power to shape our entire lives or whether we have the power to influence how we let it change us.

4. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

This book was so close to being my number one pick of the year, but it doesn’t have a strong ending, so I had to knock it down a few spots. Despite the ending though, it’s one of the most memorable books I read in 2019 and I think about it a lot, even though I read it over a year ago now. The Island of Sea Women is about a matriarchal island in South Korea and the female Haenyeo that make their livelihood diving for sealife. I thought the Haenyeo were fascinating on their own, but the story also centers around the friendship between two girls during the 1930’s and 1940’s when the Japanese colonized the island. The girls have a close friendship but come from very different backgrounds. Life becomes increasingly hard leading up to WWII, culminating in a dark event and choice that drives a wedge between the two friends that may never be healed. The story had so many layers and so much emotional depth, on top of being a really interesting historical account of the island. Like I said, it has a disappointing ending, but it’s a story that sticks with you long after reading.

3. Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson

I will remember 2019 as the year I discovered poetry – and Andrea Gibson’s 4th anthology was the shining highlight of the discovery. I’m still learning how to read poetry and I really liked Gibson’s work because I thought it had an incredible amount of depth, while still being super accessible to people that don’t necessarily read poetry that often. Gibson won the first World Slam Poetry competition in 2008 and is well known in the LGBTQIA+ community. They write on all kinds of social topics that are extremely relevant in America, including identity, gun control, mental health, substance abuse, and the justice system.

2. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

I can’t remember what inspired me to pick up Angie Kim’s debut novel, Miracle Creek, because on the outside it does sound like it has a bit of a random plot, but I ended up being totally enthralled with the audiobook! Miracle Creek is about the Yoo family, who treat patients using a hyperbaric pressure chamber called HBOT, which allows patients to breathe in pure oxygen. One day though someone leaves a lit cigarette outside the chamber, blowing it up and killing two people. What follows is a courtroom drama investigating who was responsible for the explosion and what happened leading up to that moment.

This is one of those books that is more than the sum of its parts. In addition to the courtroom drama, Kim introduces us to all of her characters and their struggles and flaws. Everyone is facing a different struggle, from the challenges of immigrating to America, to raising autistic children, to making a marriage work. Kim develops a very nuanced cast of characters while still carrying the question of who is ultimately to blame for the accident? Everyone is flawed and makes mistakes, but who is just flawed and who is a criminal? Listened to it as an audiobook and could not stop listening until I was finished!

1. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The top two books on my list were actually both audiobooks! Taylor Jenkins Reid became really popular from her last book, the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (which I would also hugely recommend) and I couldn’t wait to read her latest book, Daisy Jones & the Six, about a rock band in the 1970’s. It’s formatted in a series of interviews from all of the band members that reads like a VH1 music documentary about how the band got together and then later breaks up at a concert in 1979. And Damn is it ever compelling. Part of what makes the audiobook so strong is that it’s narrated by a full cast, so you really get the personalities of all of the individuals coming through and it honestly reads like a real life documentary. So much so that it’s hard to believe that none of the band members or their music is actually real.

The story has a subtle brilliance because it takes place in current day – so all the events are actually 40 years ago and everything is recounted slightly differently by each of the band members depending on how they remember and experienced the events. So it’s hard to know what’s truth and what’s exaggerated and it’s really up to you as the reader to draw between the lines to what you think the truth is. Reid takes the time to develop all of her characters and each one is incredibly nuanced and flawed. Her characters completely walked off the page for me and felt like real, living, breathing people. Kudos to the author for a well written story and to all the voice actors for their flawless execution. The audiobook is really a work of art.