Top 5 Reads of 2018

This is the companion post to my Top 10 Books of 2018, which features my favourite reads of the year that were actually published in 2018. This post will feature my top 5 books of the year that weren’t published in 2018. This works out well for me because its hard to narrow it down to just 10 books and the majority of the books I read are new releases. So here’s my top 5 reads of 2018 in no particular order:

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

You know how sometimes you read a book and you really like it, but then the more time passes, the more unsure you are of whether you actually liked it as much as you thought? This book was the opposite of that for me. I really liked it when I read it, but the further removed I’ve gotten from reading it, the better I think I actually like it. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tells the story of Julia, the teenage daughter of Mexican immigrants, and how she deals with the death of her older sister Olga. I know some people aren’t a fan of this book because honestly, Julia is super unlikable and confrontational in the story, but I thought it was such an accurate portrayal of a raging, rebellious, grieving teenager. Julia is struggling with accepting the death of her sister, who was the perfect daughter in her parents eyes, and she acts out against her parents traditional Mexican values. She struggles to understand her parents and her parents struggle to understand her. It’s ultimately a coming of age story about grief and the struggles of immigrant families. I listened to it as an audiobook and I would highly recommend this format – the narrator was fantastic and the whole reading experience was super enjoyable, despite the heavy topics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This was probably my most unexpected read of the year. I set an informal goal for myself to start reading more classics. I tried some Jane Austen and wasn’t the biggest fan, but I found Wuthering Heights on audiobook for a really cheap price and decided to give it a go. I’m not sure whether to credit Emily Bronte or Joanne Froggatt (the narrator) for how much I liked this, but together they made me absolutely LOVE this book. I don’t always love classics because they tend to wane on too much about nothing, but I loved the drama of Wuthering Heights. Evidently I have a thing for unlikable characters because NO ONE in this book is very likable. I think most people are familiar with the plot, so I won’t get too into it, I’ll just say that it’s an inter-generational story about the cycle of abuse and the human ability to both love and hate. I’ll still give Bronte most of the props, but Froggatt’s narration definitely played a role in making me love this as she does a fantastic job with all the characters and accents!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation was one of the first books I read this year and while it was a slow-read novel, I really loved it. This book tells the semi-autobiographical story of 10 year old Kimberly Chan and spans about a decade in scope. Kim and her Ma are sponsored by her Aunt and move to New York from China. It’s based off the author’s experience immigrating to America and I thought it was such a well crafted story about the struggles immigrants face to build a new life and climb their way out of poverty. Kim and her Ma live in a run down apartment and work in her Aunt’s sweat shop sewing clothing. It’s technically Ma that works in the shop, but the workers regularly enlist the help of their children since they work on commission and it’s the only way they can make decent money. Kim attends school during the day and is driven by her desire to learn and get a job that will enable her to lift her family out of poverty. Like I said, it’s a quiet sort of story, but powerful and I really loved Kim’s character and perspective.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

I’m just now realizing that I read 3 of the 5 books on this list as audiobooks (this being the third), which is actually super impressive since I tend to dislike audiobooks a lot more than I love them. But I guess I found some real winners on Audible this year! The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 very different high school classmates: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. The biggest thing I can say about this book is: great representation. Grace is a fat, Christian girl; Rosina is a gay, Mexican girl; and Erin has Asperger’s. Grace is new to town and when she learns that the former resident of her bedroom was a high school girl who was essentially driven out of town when she claimed she was raped at a party the year before, she starts a secret club to do something about it. I really liked this book because it was diverse and it addressed relevant social issues that any teen girl can relate to. Plus, it has another great narrator!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I’ve been raving about this series since I read it back in August. I included the sequel Wundersmith in my Top 10 Books of 2018 post, and I have to include the first book in this list. I can not say enough good things about this series. It is the smart, fun middle grade book that I’ve been looking for since Harry Potter. It tells the story of cursed child, Morrigan Crow, who is whisked off to the magical land of Nevermoor on the eve of her death day by the enigmatic Jupiter North. There she participates in the trials to become a member of the prestigious Wunder Society, all while trying to hide the fact that she’s an illegal immigrant to Nevermoor. This book is so whimsical (it has a giant, talking cat and flying umbrellas), but what I love most about it is that it has depth. It’s so well written and crafted that this magical world pretty much builds itself. It’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the plot than Townsend reveals upfront and I think we’re in for a multi-layered, multi-book series that has the potential to be just as popular as Harry Potter. I really, really loved this and I can’t wait to see what Jessica Townsend publishes next!  

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Radio Silence

Rating: 
Author: Alice Oseman
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: Feb. 2016 (read Aug. 2018)

Okay, this was pretty fantastic. I cannot believe the author is currently only 24 FREAKING YEARS OLD! I opened up this book and caught a glimpse of her author pic and was like, omg this girl looks like she’s 12. But never underestimate young people because seriously, who can write teenagers better than someone who was basically a teenager when they wrote it.

There’s a lot of really great things happening in this book, but what struck me most is how honest these characters are. After I finished this I immediately picked up a copy of Gretchen McNeil’s Ten, which is a young adult mystery/thriller, and spoiler alert, the dialogue and characters are really bad. Coming out of this book, I immediately noticed that McNeil’s characters were more like caricatures of teenagers rather than actual teenagers. This isn’t a review of Ten, but it was such a contrast to Radio Silence, that it really highlighted to me how great the characters are in this book.

Radio Silence primarily features two teens, Frances and Aled. Frances is head girl at her school and has worked insanely hard her entire life with the end goal of getting into an English Lit program at Cambridge University. Likewise, Aled felt a huge pressure from his mom to succeed in life by attending a prestigious university and has been accepted to a program starting in the fall (he is one year older than Frances).

However, Aled’s secret is that he is the creator of a mildly popular science fiction podcast called Universe City. Frances’ secret is that she’s a huge fan of the podcast and posts fan art to Tumblr under an alias. Aled and Frances both feel pressured to be different people in their real lives than they are in private and Frances regularly acknowledges that she has a school persona and a real persona. When a chance encounter leads them to discover they both love Universe City, they collaborate on the project and develop a really close friendship.

This book features a super diverse cast of characters, both in racial and sexual identity. But my favourite part of the book was the platonic relationship between Frances and Aled. Oseman tells us from the start that this will not be a love story. It’s such a brilliant move because it acknowledges all of the different types of relationships that exist between people and that you don’t have to write a romantic relationship to write a good story. Frances and Aled genuinely both really cared about each other and I loved that this novel showcased that.

My second favourite part of this book was the realistic portrayal of the amount of stress society places on young people to go to university and succeed academically. I suspect there’s a large contingent of people out there that can’t relate to Frances and Aled’s need to be top of their class and the pressure to go to an ivy league university, but I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that don’t excel academically and are made to feel inferior by either not getting into university or not wanting to go.

In some way or another, I think everyone feels insecure in high school. Some people feel the need to excel in academia, others in sports or in the arts. Some people don’t care about any of that and just want a group of people in which to belong or an escape from their sometimes less than ideal home situation. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to those around us, especially in the social media age, and there’s a huge amount of pressure to fit in. There are not many novels written about college or the transition to college, and I thought this was a wonderful portrayal about that period.

In addition to Frances and Aled, Radio Silence features a wonderful cast of secondary characters. I thought Frances’ mom was wonderful and I loved how she supported Frances and in return, how Frances was always very open and honest with her. I loved how the friendships developed in this novel and how Frances eventually came to be close with both Daniel and Raine as well.

Overall I thought this was a fantastic book. It’s captivating in it’s honesty. Every character was portrayed so well and I had no problem believing in the authenticity of each of these people. Well done Alice Oseman, I’m excited to check out her new book, I Was Born For This.

Children of Blood and Bone

Rating: .5
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Genres: Fantasy
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (read May 2018)

I was so worried this was not going to live up to the hype – The Cruel Prince was a huge letdown for me earlier this year – but this absolutely did!

Children of Blood and Bone is the hottest new fantasy novel in 2018 and is particularly exciting because of it’s representation. Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American and this is very much a West-African themed fantasy novel. I loved almost everything about this. It is well written, has interesting and well developed characters, it’s not too romance heavy, it’s gritty and dark, and it had a fast moving plot that I actually cared about!

Children of Blood and Bone is set in the land of Orisha, which is a very lush and vibrant world. It has been 11 years since the King rid Orisha of magic and executed all of the Maji (the wielders of magic). However, he left the diviners, which are the children of Maji who have not yet matured enough to develop their magic. The diviners are identifiable by the white streak in their hair and the King continues to oppress them by increasing their taxes and forcing them to do brutal manual labour in the stocks when they can’t afford to pay.

Zelie is haunted by the death of her mother, who was a Reaper until the King destroyed magic and then strung up her mother with all of the other Maji. Zelie is a diviner, but her father and brother Tzain are not and she feels a constant threat to them. The attention drawn to her as a diviner puts the rest of her family at risk too. So she trains in the ways of the staff with Mama Agba in hopes of one day being able to fight back against her oppressors.

On the other side of the Kingdom, Inan and Amari are abused by the King in an entirely different way. They are his children, heirs to the throne, but he shows them no love as he tries to toughen them up and prepare them to one day take the throne. Amari is the younger child and her father has all but given up on her. He believes her weak and she hides from him with her friend and servant Binta. But when a rare magical artifact shows up that threatens to return magic to the Kingdom, her father threatens Binta and Amari makes a choice to steal to the artifact away and in a chance encounter, teams up with Zelie to try and bring magic back. Her older brother, Inan, is commissioned to hunt down Zelie and Amari and return the artifact by any means necessary.

Zelie, Tzain, Amari, and Inan are the main characters of the story and the novel shares narration between 3 of them. This would be one of my small complaints because I was curious why Adeyemi choice not to have Tzain narrate any of the story. I thought he was a fascinating character too and I would have really like to hear things through his perspective. We mostly only get his perspective through Zelie or Amari.

I thought Zelie was a fantastic protagonist though. She’s strong but vulnerable, a leader but still flawed. She makes mistake after mistake, but she is persistent and you can’t help but love her. I feel like the author took her character through the ringer in this novel and I loved that she wasn’t afraid to take risks with the plot. Parts of it were still a little predictable, but she throws in enough twists and turns and heartbreak that it doesn’t really matter. The stakes were high.

I loved Amari too. Inan is the dark, brooding villain who you just want to see the light so badly, but you never really know if he is capable of turning against the brutal upbringing that has been ingrained into him by his father. But Amari is soft spoken and timid and I love those quieter female characters who demonstrate different kinds of strength. She struggles to fight or kill, even though she’s been trained by her father her entire life, yet her love for her friend drives her to take the ultimate risk to steal the scroll. She had so many opportunities to turn back to her cushy palace life and even though she seemed weak to Tzain and Zelie, she never seriously considers abandoning them. I’d admired her tenacity. If I’d grown up in a palace I think one look at poverty, hunger, and violence would send me running back to my tower. I love bad-ass characters like Zelie and Celaena Sardothian and Katniss Everdeen. But I also really appreciate those softer characters who fight their battles through other means. Characters like Sansa Stark and Hermione Granger and Amari.

My other minor complaint would be about the romance. I liked that the romance wasn’t central to the story, but I also had a really hard time buying into the romance at all. I feel like I was supposed to be frustrated with Tzain’s views on the romance, but I actually think he had it completely right. I might have given this 4 stars in the middle of the book because of the romance, but I ended up liking some of the outcomes of the romance and how awry things ended up going, which I thought more accurate. So it gets the extra half star because I ended up actually being impressed with where the author took some of these relationships by the end of the book.

There will of course be another book in this series and I am definitely here for it! I can’t believe this is a debut novel and I will definitely be coming back for more!

The Nowhere Girls

Rating: 
Author: Amy Reed
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Oct. 2017 (read Apr. 2018 as audiobook)

Why aren’t more people talking about this book?!! This was so fantastic and such a great example of how much impact a YA novel can have!

I am on fire with reading audiobooks lately. I get one audiobook a month on audible and I had a huge backlog because I hadn’t used it at all since November, but this was my 4th audiobook in the last month and I’ve finally run out of credits and will have to go back to the library’s crappy audiobook selection now. I may have to buy a hard copy of this book too because the writing was just too good and sometimes I miss things on audiobook, so I’d really love to give this another read. (the audiobook narrator is still great though!)

The Nowhere Girls tells the story of 3 girls in high school: Grace, Rosina, and Erin. Grace is a self-identified, christian, fat girl who just moved to Oregon from the South because her mother, who is a pastor, was too progressive for their mega-church. Rosina is a gay, mexican girl who constantly fights with her mother over the excessive amount of responsibility she feels is placed on her and wonders if she’ll ever have a loving girlfriend. Erin has Asperger’s and struggles to make friends and relate with people. Her family moved to Prescott 2 years ago after an incident that happened to Erin and now her father is never home and her mother is overly obsessed with Erin’s health.

Erin and Rosina are each other’s only friends and they welcome Grace into their group when she starts at school. When Grace finds upsetting messages written on the walls of her bedroom, she discovers that her new home used to belong to a girl named Amy who claimed to have been gang raped at a party the year before. No one believed her and she was essentially forced out of town. Grace is upset by the cries for help etched into her wall and asks Erin and Rosina for more information on how this could possibly have happened and whether there’s anything they can do about it. They are apathetic at first, but eventually, the Nowhere Girls are born, a group for girls who want to talk about the unfairness of the world and the expectations that are placed on them as women, and do something to change it.

I’ve seen some comparisons of this book to Moxie, which I also read last year. Both books were published last year and a focus on combating rape culture and empowering girls. Moxie seems to have gotten most of the buzz, which is a shame because, while I liked Moxie, I thought this was a much stronger book. This is an exploration of rape culture, identity, diversity, and inclusion. Moxie was a great book too, but is a more white-feminist exploration of sexism and rape culture, this felt way more gritty and intersectional. There were some actions that the nowhere girls took that I kind of questioned (the sex strike), but Reed has her characters question those actions too and I liked the journey her characters took in trying to navigate the complicated world of gender politics. She did briefly feature one black girl who felt the Nowhere Girls was a group for white girls, and I wish she’d explored this angle a little bit more, but still a fantastic and thought provoking novel overall.

Amy Reed explored a lot of aspects of rape culture in this novel from a lot of different perspectives. I liked that she didn’t just focus on Grace, Rosina, and Erin, but that she also linked in a lot of side characters with little snippets from their perspectives. But I still thought all 3 of the main perspectives were very strong. I really appreciated that Reed included a christian perspective outside of the context of a christian novel. I can’t actually think of many examples of religious exploration in YA novels outside of specific christian fiction, which is often preachy and not that relatable. I liked that Grace and her family were down to earth and that they were able to find a way in which their faith and liberal mindsets didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. I liked that Reed acknowledged that it’s both okay to want to wait until marriage to have sex and to have no desire to wait. That saying yes is just as important as saying no.

I thought Erin’s character was really well done as well, although I’d be interested to hear from someone with Asperger’s if this was an accurate portrayal. I liked Rosina a lot too, but I struggled to understand her mom. This is the 3rd book I’ve read lately about a Mexican family and they all had similar themes of familiar conflict, but I thought Rosina’s mother had almost no humanity. I know she was frustrated with Rosina, but come on, Rosina is a teenager, she’s obviously going to act out and it didn’t really seem like her mom really cared about her all.

But these are small complains because I really did love this book. It represented so many different experiences, while also being really well written. I read The Authentics earlier this month and complained that it was just too feel good and the conflict lacked depth. The Nowhere Girls is the complete opposite of that and the reason I think YA books shouldn’t be afraid to really go there. Teenagers are complex and emotional people and authors shouldn’t be afraid to challenge their thinking. I would recommend this book to any teenager and any adult because it has some great discussions about rape culture and it will make you mad!

The Authentics

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Abdi Nazemian
Narrator: Kyla Garcia
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Aug. 2017 (Read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I am tearing it up with audiobooks this month! Granted this one was half the length of the audiobooks I usually listen to, but still.

I admit, after listening to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, I totally did a search on the narrator Kyla Garcia and found that she’d narrated another book on my TBR, which is the main reason why I decided to read The Authentics. Garcia did a fantastic job narrating this book as well, but sadly this was not on the same level as I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

This is young adult literature that definitely reads like young adult. I usually don’t have any trouble reading YA because there are some really great YA authors out there who tells stories that have a lot of depth and themes that are applicable to everyone, not just teenagers. This book definitely still had themes that anyone could enjoy, but the story felt pretty juvenille. It actually has a pretty surprising twist early in the novel that I would have been completely pissed about if I was Daria, but in my opinion this book was missing the emotion. It lacked tension and grit and I feel like the author was afraid to go there and instead wrote more of a “feel-good” family novel. There’s nothing wrong with “feel-good”, but I thought this story had a lot of potential and it just lacked impact and execution.

Daria is a 15 year old Iranian-American teenager. She was born in America and has never been to Iran, but she is very proud of her culture and her and her friends, who come from very diverse backgrounds, do their best to always “be authentic”. This all changes when their English teacher challenges them to do a presentation about their heritage and Daria learns something shocking about her family’s past. Daria begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself and her parents and finds it increasingly difficult to be authentic.

I don’t want to give anything more away about the story. There’s several different plots throughout the novel between Daria’s feud with her former best friend, her conflict with her family, and a new love interest, but I thought they were all mediocre and pretty surface level. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I like to give teenagers a bit more credit than I think the author does in this book. Everything about Daria’s fight with Heidi felt childish and the romantic relationship made me cringe. Teenagers have more depth than this and the whole thing just felt lacking.

That said, I really did enjoy the opportunity to read about Iranian culture and I do believe that diverse stories like this need to be told and are incredibly important. I just really wanted more from this. It may be unfair to keep comparing it to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, but it’s hard not to when they deal with a lot of similar themes (the daughter that can’t live up to their immigrant mother’s expectations) and the latter was so much better written and had so much more depth.