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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Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Rating: 
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pub date: Nov. 13, 2018 (read Nov. 2018)
Series: Nevermoor #2

Happy Pub Day Wundersmith!

Hachette Book Group was so kind as to send me an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. And all I can say is that this book is WUNDERFUL!

I heard some really great stuff about Nevermoor, the first book in this series, so I read it a few months ago and absolutely loved it! It’s a middle grade book that I can’t help but compare to Harry Potter. They have a lot of similar elements, but are still quite different. In my opinion, Nevermoor incorporates all the features that made Harry Potter a phenomenon and I feel like it’s the series I’ve been searching for since Harry Potter ended.

Over the last few years, Throne of Glass has been my go to series, but it’s over now and now I just can’t stop thinking about Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor. The second book in a series is super important because author’s can often get the second book blues after a really successful first book, and the chance to prove to your readers that you’re not just a one-book phenomenon. After finishing Wundersmith, I am totally on the Jessica Townsend bandwagon and even MORE obsessed with this series.

First of all, the covers are gorgeous and I think they perfectly capture the whimsical nature of these books. Just to give you a quick synopsis, Nevermoor is about 11 year old Morrigan Crow. Because of when she was born, she’s spent her entire life as a cursed child, being blamed for all the misfortune that happens in her town in the Wintersea Republic. Until one day, red-head Jupiter North shows up on her doorstep and invites Morrigan to move to the mythical city of Nevermoor to compete in the trials for the Wundrous Society.

Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead for Nevermoor if you haven’t read it, but I will keep the rest of the review spoiler free for Wundersmith.

At the end of Nevermoor, Morrigan is successful in passing her trials and is invited to join Wunsoc. However, she is shocked to discover that she is a Wundersmith. The last Wundersmith in Nevermoor was Ezra Squall, who committed such evil acts that he was forever banned from Nevermoor. For this reason, Wundersmiths are not well liked or accepted and Morrigan is forbidden from learning the arts of the Wundersmith or from telling anyone her talents. But when strange events start taking place in Nevermoor and she is bullied by her classmates, she questions whether all Wundersmiths really are bad,

This book was everything I wanted from the sequel. It had all of the whimsical elements that the first book had, while continuing to test Morrigan, introduce new characters, and deepen the plot. I said in my review for Nevermoor, and I’ll reinterate here, that what I like so much about this series is the gradual world building and the fact that you can tell this world is going to have so much more depth than what has been revealed to us. The entire book is a plot within a greater story. What made Harry Potter so good was Rowling’s ability to tell one story, while simultaneously building on that larger story arc. Our questions are not always answered in a single book and the story continues across the greater series. I loved Rowling’s foresight in Harry Potter and her ability to craft her arcs and mysteries in advance of writing each book and then weave them together over the course of the novel and series. I can’t be sure because we’re only two books in, but I suspect Townsend is following a similar format.

I think it takes a very accomplished author not to rush through their world building – to tell a fun and fascinating story, while still withholding enough of the secrets to keep us coming back for more. There can be a tendency to overload your reader with information about the world you’re creating, but slowly introducing parts of that world is a much more effective way to draw your reader in and not overwhelm them. I keep learning more about Nevermoor, yet it already feels like a fully formed place. I don’t feel as if Townsend is trying to explain her world to me, but rather is gradually building that fully formed world around me. It’s hard to explain, but it makes for a really enjoyable reading experience.

The Harry Potter feels continue in this book and I feel like Townsend is setting us up for a substantial series. Morrigan enters the Wunsoc society in this book and we get to know the 8 other students that make up her unit (unit 919). Wunsoc parrots the belief that your unit is your family and that you must learn and grow together. A success or failure on behalf of one person is a success or failure for the entire unit. Morrigan’s initial draw to the society was the opportunity to have 8 ready made friends, something she never had as a cursed child. But she soon learns that Wunsoc is not as perfect as she believed and that trust, respect, and friendship are still things that will need to be earned.

Morrigan is tested in this book. Wunsoc is essentially a little Hogwarts type world where she will attend school for the next 6 or 7 years (can’t remember exactly how many), before pursuing greater endeavors. Her classmates are all signed up for fun and interesting classes, but as a secret Wundersmith, the society is a bit at a loss for what to do with Morrigan. She is forbidden from learning how to use her talents as a Wundersmith, but as wunder keeps gathering to her, her talents can no longer be ignored.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot, so I’ll just say that I loved the mystery element to this book and I loved the characterization. Hawthorne is just as fun in this book as the first book and I really liked getting to know Cadence a bit more in this book. It was a little hard at times to keep track of all 9 of the Wunsoc students as 6 of them are brand new characters to us, but I’m really excited to get to know them better as the series progresses. We’re also introduced to the Scholar Mistresses at the school in this book and I can’t wait to see where the next book takes us with the two different streams of study at Wunsoc. Townsend builds on the relationships of the folks living at the Hotel Deucealion. Jupiter continues to be an elusive, eccentric, Dumbledore type character and I have a lot of questions about what he’s really up to. Fen continues to be one of my favourite characters and I hope to see more of her and Jack in later books.

In conclusion, I still highly recommend this series and I loved every part of this book. My only regret is reading it too fast and having to wait too long for the next book!

August Summary

Okay, August was the best! Well, for books anyways. The wildfires in BC are totally out of control and the air quality was atrocious, so I didn’t do quite as much outdoor stuff, which is one of the reasons it was a great month for books! But also, my August monthly challenge just totally re-vitalized me and got me out of my reading slump!

I was getting a bit hung up with my monthly challenges and the pressure to read specific books, so in August I just set myself the challenge to read pretty much whatever I wanted by trying to read as many of my existing books as possible. I have a lot of un-read books, so it left me with lots of selection to choose from and I finally read some books that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Here’s my summary:

Books read: 11
Pages read: 4,208
Main genres: Young Adult
Favourite book: Nevermoor and Women Talking!

I started off the month with Leah on the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli’s newest book. I’ve heard really great things about this one and I’ve been meaning to get to it for a while, but unfortunately I didn’t love it. I’m really hit or miss with Albertalli’s books and I’m finding myself counter to popular opinion on her books. I liked but didn’t love Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda (but I LOVED the movie) and I really liked The Upside of Unrequited, which I would say is her least popular book. But I didn’t like this one either. Leah kind of rubbed with the wrong way and while I still loved all the diversity in this book, I found parts of it problematic.

After that, I decided to participate in the 25infive readathon, which challenges people to read for 25 hours over the span of 5 days. I didn’t quite finish the challenge (I read 23 hours over 4 days), but I read 4.5 books, so I was super pleased with myself. I started with Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. I totally flew through both books and I am not slightly obsessed with Nevermoor. Nevermoor is totally Middle Grade fantasy at it’s best and I confirm that the comparison’s to Harry Potter are valid and that everyone should read this book because it is just so much fun! I also loved Radio Silence, which is about the struggles of senior year and the pressure to go to University, and I will definitely be reading more of Alice Oseman.

I followed up those with Ten by Gretchen McNeil and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. I pretty much hated Ten and found it problematic and kind of offensive, but I thought To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was really cute. I was only inspired to pick this one up because the new Netflix movie looked really cute (can now confirm – it is cute). Lara Jean seemed like the type of YA book that I gave up long ago, but I loved that this was more a story about sisters than it was about boys and I thought it was really cute. I also read the sequel this month though, P.S. I Still Love You, and unfortunately I thought it was no where near as strong as the first book and basically unnecessary.

While I did read P.S. I Still Love You in August, it wasn’t part of my 25infive reading challenge. The last book I tried to squeeze into the challenge was Uprooted (I got halfway through during the challenge). Uprooted was a challenge for me. It’s a well written, traditional fairytale type story, but I found it so slow moving that it was really hard for me to get into it.

I interspersed my reading of Uprooted with The Last Time I Lied, which was definitely the opposite in terms of pace. This was my first Riley Sager book and it wasn’t quite as scary as I was anticipating, but I really enjoyed it. It was a solid mystery thriller book about a girl name Emma whose 3 friends disappeared at summer camp when she was 13. She’s returned to the camp as an adult and 3 more girls disappear, forcing her into a race against time to figure out what really happened 15 years ago. I was convinced that I had the mystery figured out and I was thrilled to find out I got it totally wrong and didn’t see the twist coming at the end at all.

I had one book that I had to read in August, which was for my book club, was Circe by Madeline Miller, the new fantasy book that came out this year and has super good reviews. I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with this one, similar to Uprooted. I thought the story was really good, but it was a slow read for me and the reading experience overall wasn’t great, even though I did like the story.

I read Women Talking by Miriam Toews towards the end of this month and it was definitely one of the best books I read this year! It’s a fictional account of the true story of a community of Bolivian, Mennonite women who were attacked and raped in their sleep over the course of 4 years. After the crime is discovered, the women meet to discuss what to do about it and the whole book is basically a group of them talking about whether they should leave the community or stay and fight. The writing in this book is wonderful and the content is so thoughtful. I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone and everyone.

Finally, I finished the month with a re-read of The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J Maas, which is the prequel to the Throne of Glass series. I am a bit obsessed with this series and with the final book coming out in October, I’ve decided to re-read the whole series! The Assassin’s Blade was just as good as I remembered and I can’t wait to jump into the rest of the books in September!