TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books That Surprised Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly discussion hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl (and formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), and this week’s topic is the top ten books that surprised you (in a good way or a bad way), and I’m going to go with the more positive route, because usually if books are surprisingly bad, I just stop reading them or choose to forget about them (unless they’re legitimately awful. And that’s pretty rare).

My list will focus on the top ten books that surprised me in 2017, so it’s functioning sort of as a recap for last year’s reading as well, since I was a little lazy and perturbed by the lack of functioning keyboard to have any desire to write anything. Anyway, this list is not in ranking order, but in order from when I read it in the year, from the beginning of 2017 to the end of the year.

  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin. I think I read this many, many years ago when I was much younger and much less aware of what science fiction could do in terms of exploring humanity and culture instead of merely exploring space. Ai, the main character of this book, is at first unsettled by the sense of duality and ambisexuality on Gethen, and this unsettled feeling is a direct exploration of how gender functions in our own society (granted, in 1969, the much-broadcast definitions were a little different than the conversations we’re having today, so some of it feels outdated). However, a lot of it feels so relevant, and it made me think and it made me wonder, and I think that’s what some of the best science fiction should do. “It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness… how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one. A shadow on snow.”
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Ever since I got my hands on an ARC from the table at work, I’ve been telling everyone I know to read this book. It’s relevant, it’s nuanced, it’s heart-wrenching. Though often hilarious and heartwarming at times, Thomas’s novel further reveals to us the consistent, prevalent institutional racism and broken criminal justice system in America in which so many people (without consequence!) continue to violate the civil rights of thousands because of the color of their skin. It will break your heart; it will make you angry. Read it. “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
  • The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley. I read this book a year ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s sci-fi just how I like it. It’s gross, it’s visceral, and it’s an angry yell into the void of space. I mean, don’t you want to read about asexual ships that give birth to whatever the ship needs, cannibalistic women who eat their deformed young, and womb/uterus/placenta references (with all of the associated fluids) all over the place? Yes, you do. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot or the characters because half of the enjoyment of this is getting to discover that for yourself. Just read it. ASAP. “When you understand what the world is, you have two choices: Become a part of that world and perpetuate that system forever and ever, unto the next generation. Or fight it, and break it, and build something new. The former is safer, and easier. The latter is scarier, because who is to say what you build will be any better?”
  • The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu. The thing I liked most about this collection of stories, aside from Liu’s deft skill at writing and blending several different genres, is that so many of the stories focus on the idea of storytelling and what that means for us as people and as a society. In the collection, you’ll read about the ways in which species across the universe record their stories for the present and the future (“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”), the ways in which society tells us stories to keep us controlled and how difficult it is to break the illusions (“Perfect Match”), the literal power of words (“The Literomancer”), and the literal preservation of memory to be “read” and its upsides and pitfalls (“Simulacrum”).  “Time’s arrow is the loss of fidelity in compression. A sketch, not a photograph. A memory is a re-creation, precious because it is both more and less than the original.”
  • Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. Moby-Dick functions best for you, dear reader, when you are familiar with the history of the novel. I think I read this at a pertinent time in my life. Had I read it before I learned the history of the narrative, the novel, the American novel, religion and its function in the American novel, the personal life of Melville (and by extension Hawthorne), and postmodernism (and one can argue whether or not this novel is considered postmodern, but it’s different than anything else I’ve read from the time period and knowing how postmodernism works in a literary setting adds to my own consumption and enjoyment of the novel on some level because its lucidity is very much like James Joyce’s style), I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it as much as I do now. It’s a hefty novel, a undertaking, but it’s so incredibly worth it. It’s a love story, and you will wonder whether or not you are chasing your own white whale. “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”
  • The Whole Art of Detection, by Lyndsay Faye. I am so particular about my Sherlock Holmes pastiches. It’s so difficult to capture the essence of Doyle’s original stories while simultaneously making it new, and Faye does this with exemplary flair. All of these stories feel at once rooted in time and timeless, and Faye manages this with her effortless, captivating writing. If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes in any capacity and love a good historical mystery, read this right away. Dust and Shadow, a mystery in which Holmes and Watson discover the true identity of Jack the Ripper, is just as engaging. “In the broad light of day, I could not give his tale nearly so much credence as I had granted it when sitting rapt before a midnight fireplace whilst the tempest without erased the natural world.”
  • Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer. This is one of those cerebral post-apocalyptic dystopian novels that will linger with you long after you finish it. This standalone novel from the author of the Southern Reach trilogy explores how humans abuse science and nature for technological or monetary gain, and Borne shows us the aftermath of that greed. The novel also explores what it means to be a person, what it means to love and then to let go of love, what it means to live and then to die, and what it means when one finds beauty in the midst of so much chaos. VanderMeer manages to pack so much description, emotion, and longing into such a short novel, and it’s a novel that will make you reread passages and sentences again and again because of their beauty and complexity. The companion novella, The Strange Bird, is just as compelling. “He was born, but I had borne him.”
  • Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen. This is a supernatural Western, and it’s AMAZING. This follows Nettie Lonesome, a half-black half-Comanche young woman, who sets out to discover herself, her identity, and her place in the world only to discover that there are monsters lurking everywhere. This is steeped in Native American folklore with a hefty dash of that Old West mythology. Nettie is resilient, disguises herself up as a man and takes on a new name or two in order to get what she wants out of life, and begins to use her skills for the betterment of herself and others once she realizes she has the capacity to do so. It’s also a fantastic story with so many twists and turns, and you won’t be able to put it down, because I certainly couldn’t. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series. “Your heart is not a rock that stands unchanging. It’s like water. It flows, it moves, it allows neither boulders nor canyons to stand in its way. It hardens and softens and expands to fill new spaces. You are still becoming yourself. And you have a lot to learn.”
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I really didn’t know what to expect from this when I received it as part of BookSparks’s summer reading challenge, but I didn’t expect to read a heartfelt story of a woman of color navigating that man’s world called Hollywood. It was such a breezy, gossipy (but deep) read, and it’s about Evelyn Hugo coming clean about her life and owning up to her flaws and essentially wanting to become real after being put on a pedestal her entire life. It’s about coming to terms with the reality that behind someone’s “perfect life” is a person who struggles with themselves and their daily lives just as much as the rest of us. I don’t really cry at books, but this one got me teary-eyed more than once, and that’s saying something. “They are just husbands. I am Evelyn Hugo. And anyway, I think once people know the truth, they will be much more interested in my wife.”
  • The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang. I have so many feelings about this book (and this series), and all of them are good. SO GOOD. If you like -punk genres, you need to read this. If you like stories exploring identity and gender and what it means to be a person, you need to read this. If you just like engaging fantasy, you need to read this. In Yang’s Protectorate, gender is chosen (or not) by the person and sexuality is fluid, and it’s such an amazing exploration on those subjects. It made me feel less alone on the subject of presentation, and I think it’s one of those books that will make other people feel less alone on so many fronts. The second part is just as moving, and I am eagerly awaiting the third. “The saying goes, ‘The black tides of heaven direct the courses of human lives’. To which a wise teacher said, ‘But as with all the waters, one can swim against the tide.'”

After compiling this, a majority of the books have a similar theme: identity, discovery, and what it means to be yourself, and for me, 2017 was a lot of that, so it’s interesting to note that the books I read last year that have stuck with me reflect that theme as well.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Best (so far) of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme thing hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is best reads (so far) of 2017! As of writing this post, I’ve read 65 books this year, and here are the ten that I think absolutely shone. Some were released this year, but not all of them! These are also not in any kind of order!

  1. The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher. I think, like a lot of people, I regret not having read any of Carrie Fisher’s writing before her death. This memoir is one of the funniest memoirs I’ve read in a while, and she writes with an openness and a frankness I someday aspire to have.
  2. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. It’s Gaiman. It’s Norse mythology.
  3. The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. A really lovely, atmospheric fairy tale with bits of Russian and Western fairy tale essences woven in. I’m really excited for the followup because so much excitement of the story seemed to happen in the last third.
  4. Moby-Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville. Uh, if you would have told me a couple of years ago that Moby-Dick would become one of my top favorite novels of all time, I might have laughed in your face. But seriously, my dudes. This is a classic case of learning about the history surrounding a novel and then diving into it, because it makes the experience all the richer. I devoured this monstrous beast of a novel in mere days. DAYS.
  5. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. So heartbreaking, so touching, so relevant. I’ve been telling everyone to read this book.
  6. The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley. I pitch this to people who are looking for new science fiction to read like this: Do you like military-esque, dramatic sci-fi? Do you like weird sci-fi? Do you like gross sci-fi? How do you feel about womb-punk? (What? they often ask.) I respond with a: this book is like a birth-is-war and war-is-birth kind of thing. I generally get one of two responses: I’M SOLD OMG and YOU READ SOME WEIRD SHIT, MEG. Read it, now.
  7. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu. THIS JUST WON A LOCUS AWARD and has a lot of other accolades. The stories range from fantasy to sci-fi and are all well written and full of life. It’s just a good anthology, period.
  8. The Whole Art of Detection, by Lyndsay Faye. I don’t think I can stop babbling about this or thinking about this collection of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. They’re just so well done and evoke Doyle’s atmosphere so well while at the same time being fresh and modern. I’ll read anything Faye writes, and she’ll always be at the top of my recommendations lists.
  9. Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer. Flying bears? A blobby, morphing person-thing? Examinations on what it means to be a person? Yes, yes, yes. This feels like an Atwood extension that’s thoroughly VanderMeer’s stuff. If you’ve read his Southern Reach trilogy and liked it, why haven’t you picked this up yet? It’s dystopian, but it’s not an in-your-face one. Everything is centralized, and the characters are so well developed.
  10. Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen. THIS ONE CAME OUT OF NOWHERE?? I’ve seen lots of writers I like mention this and blurb for it, so when it was a Kindle daily deal, I bought it. I didn’t start reading it until a bit later, and it was everything I needed at that moment: a protagonist dealing with gender identity and expression, the old west, MONSTERS and creepy things, AH so many things that I’ll get into in a proper review soon.

THIS CONCLUDES THE TEN. I’m thinking I’ll do a ten best for the second half of the year and then do a final post narrowing those twenty down to the overall best ten of 2017!

Have you read any of these?

TOP TEN TUESDAY :: WHAT MAKES A MUST-READ?

Every week, The Broke and the Bookish hosts a top ten list with a bookish theme, and this week’s theme is Ten Things That Make You Instantly Want to Read a Book! I feel like I read across a variety of genres and reading levels, but I am also always drawn to specific things, too.

  1. An amazing cover. This probably is a no-brainer for me because I’m always attracted to shiny things. For the most part, a really fantastic looking cover is often the first and major initial draw to a book. With so many books out there to read, I am more likely to reach for an amazing cover before anything else. I also tend to buy editions with prettier covers even if it’s a little bit more money because I know it’ll look nice on my shelves and I’ll enjoy reading it a little bit more with a nicer cover!
  2. Complex, well-written villains. I don’t like my villains to be evil for evil’s sake. I want them to have as much depth as the “hero,” and I want to feel for them. Characters that toe the line between good and bad and live in that morally grey area are my favorite.
  3. Complex, well-written characters in general. I want for female, male, and non-binary characters to be well developed and as well rounded and not forced into a stereotypical, list-checked box.
  4. Space travel and alien cultures. If I’m reading a story about characters in space, I want the main characters to be at least slightly alien, and I want the main characters to explore alien cultures. Give me all of the weird stuff!
  5. Fairy tale, folklore, and mythological retellings. Especially Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast retellings, and I wish there were more retellings of Rapunzel and the Little Mermaid, too. I like retellings even more if they subvert the familiar stories, too.
  6. Historical fiction. I feel like I grew up on historical fiction. After reading series like Dear America and The Royal Diaries, I just consumed whatever the local libraries had. I’m really partial stories set in the Regency era, Wars of the Roses, Victorian + Edwardian eras, WWI, early America, ancient Egypt, and ancient Greece.
  7. London. Honestly, if it’s set in London, I’ll most likely gobble it up. It’s one of my favorite cities, and I miss it so much.
  8. Castles and the Gothic. Give me all the things set in ancient, spooky castles, and throw a few thunderstorms, a full moon, a lot of rain, subversion, and a woman out of her time, and I’ll be the happiest.
  9. Epistolary. I love stories and narratives created entirely through letters sent between characters. Even if it’s more modern with text messages and emails and social media posts.
  10. Libraries and author histories. Lately, I feel like there are a lot of books out being released that are set in libraries or revolving around libraries, or even about the (fictional) histories of books and authors. I love fictional accounts of famous authors’ lives, and I feel like it better fits this subheading than historical fiction!

What things make you want to read a book?

TOP TEN TUESDAY: 10 Books I’d Buy if Given a Fully-Loaded Gift Card

Top Ten Tuesday

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is all about those books you’d buy immediately if someone gave you a massive gift card to your favorite book store. This is barely touching the tip of the iceberg, but the following are the ones I’d buy today!

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The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen: This has been featured on tables at work even before it won the Pulitzer, and I keep seeing it around Twitter and Goodreads, and because I try to read award-winners, this one’s on the list.

The Romantic Egoists – Matthew J. Bruccoli: I’m entirely fascinated by the Fitzgeralds’s lives and photographs of eras gone by are one of my favorite things, so why wouldn’t I want a photo scrapbook of their lives!? I also want it for research purposes.

My Best Friend’s Excorcism – Grady Hendrix: It’s set in the 80s, all of the chapter titles are 80s songs, and it was recently featured on a “What to Read After Stranger Things” list so yes, please, I need this in my life.

Penguin’s Little Black Classics: I have the box set of the first 80, but I’m a collector and a completionist, so I’d get the rest and this totally counts as one.

The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows: Family secrets that a writer uncovers while on a project for the New Deal’s job in the Federal Writer’s Project? That sounds like something right up my alley. Plus I rarely see anything in historical fiction set in West Virginia.

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Amy Snow – Tracy Rees: Someone on Goodreads called this a mix between Dickens and suffragette, and it’s historical about the relationship between two women with letters and secrets. And it’s a debut novel that apparently won some search for the next big novel in the UK? I forget what it’s called, but all of it sounds interesting and I need it now.

The Dark Forest – Liu Cixin: I read the first of this trilogy for my science fiction book group (which got rescheduled and I couldn’t attend the rescheduled meeting), and I really enjoyed it. It’s Chinese sci/fi, and I really enjoyed reading about traditionally sci/fi topics and tropes from an entirely different perspective and history. I think the third is being released in hardcover later this year!

The Beast Within – Emile Zola: Honestly, this is just the first in the Pocket Penguins series Penguin’s released this year (and will be releasing in the weeks and months to come). I’ve already ordered one (oops), but this will probably be the next on my list of things to-buy (and the rest, like the Little Black Classics. Why must Penguin release all of the things I want??).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Illustrated Edition) – J.K. Rowling: I don’t know why I don’t have this yet…

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo: So, I’ll admit, I’ve had the ARC of this for a long time. But I want the hardcover because the black edged pages are  so pretty. I also didn’t want to read this until I read the Grisha trilogy, and now that I’ve read the trilogy, I can give myself the go ahead on this, right?

What’s on your list?

Top Ten Tuesday; Spring 2016 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) features our Spring 2016 TBR! I chose the five books I have left to read from Netgalley and five books I chose out of my TBR tin! The first five are from my Netgalley dashboard. I want to get to that 80% threshold, and I’m going to do it this spring!

  1. The Swans of Fifth Avenue – Melanie Benjamin
  2. Love, Lies and Spies – Cindy Anstey
  3. Once Upon a Dream – Liz Braswell
  4. Grayling’s Song – Karen Cushman
  5. A Stolen Kiss – Kelsey Keating
  6. The Great Mortality – John Kelly
  7. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  8. Blameless – Gail Carriger
  9. A Secret Atlas – Michael A. Stackpole
  10. Flappers – Judith MacKrell

I’m actually really pleased with the five I picked from my TBR tin! I have the Penguin Drop Caps copy of Jane Eyre to read (even if I’ve already read it, it’s time to read it again!), and I’m in the planning stages of writing something involving a young girl from the Twenties, so Flappers will fall into some of my research! I tried reading the first in Disney’s Twisted Tale series but didn’t like it, so I’m hoping I like Once Upon a Dream based on Sleeping Beauty!

What’s on your Spring 2016 TBR? Have you read any of these?