We interrupt the sequel to Trickster Gods to bring you this special post! A Year in Books! Featuring favorites, recommendations, and more!
That’s right humans of Earth! I bring to you a chronological, historic epic of my reads! This post is inspired by Drizzle and Hurricane Books, you can check them out by clicking on the link! There have been a lot of exclamation marks thus far, haha. There we go, a period. Much more tame.
Anywho! (uh-oh, here we go again)
How is it I can chronologically tell you all about the books I’ve read this year? All thirty-six of them? Easy answer: Goodreads. Goodreads is the social media site for book dragons! Not book worms, book dragons. Let’s make it a thing. Goodreads will catalogue your Reads, your To-Reads, and you’re Currently Reading and whatever else you wanna categorize! You can make friends or not make friends, but the best thing about Goodreads is that if you take photos, make lists, and tell your friends about all the books you want to read, you can transfer all of those books to your To-Reads shelf! Currently, I want to read 861 books, and last I counted I own 99 of those 861 books.
I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM! I know so! I’m down to double-digits. So there.
And I managed to read some of those books this year. I have no idea what my to-read count was at the beginning of the year, but we’re gonna pretend it went down at least thirty books.
Before I begin my reviews, I would like to offer a disclaimer: my opinions on these novels I’ve read are just that. Opinions on novels I’ve read. If something didn’t vibe with me, by no means is that the end-all-be-all for that book. It just personally didn’t work for me. And, just because I didn’t vibe with a writer’s work doesn’t mean my review is about the writer themselves. I, too, am a writer, and I understand the hard work that goes in to crafting a book. By no means would I disparage a writer simply because their book didn’t work for me. The book and the writer can be two different things. I acknowledge and respect this. 🙂
So! Without further ado! My year in books!
I read 7,947 pages across 36 books.
The first book I read in 2017 was Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz.
That was my first review of the year as well, which was: “Meh.” I bought Blue Bloods when Boarders was still around, so I had it for a while before I pulled it from the jar. (Check out my Instagram to learn about the book jar) Blue Bloods is a series, the title of the series being the title of the first book. Blue Bloods definitely had some good ideas in it, the author played off a sanguineous epigenetic past life among vampires, for instance. In all honesty, I stayed through the book to see what the author would do with that, but aside from the past lives component, it didn’t catch my intrigue. I stopped after book one.
Following Blue Bloods, I read a collection of poetry by Mary Szybist titled Incarnadine.
If you’re not familiar with the word (I know I wasn’t) look it up. I love it. I first discovered Mary Szybist by happy accident. I went to a poetry reading while I was at Berkeley, featuring Berkeley staff. I didn’t know there would be a guest poet there, but let me tell you, the moment she graced the mic with Invitation I knew she was the poet. She was a poet who taught, not a teacher who wrote poetry. But that night I didn’t buy Incarnadine. I talked to her for a moment, I remember being sick at the time, and learned that she’d have her own reading a few weeks later. It was when I went to her solo reading that I bought Incarnadine, had it signed, and fell in love. I read each poem in her voice (if you can YouTube her, do so. Her voice is soothing) and gave her my first rating of the year: Five stars.
I began the Elemental Witches series by Anya Bast.
It consists of four books, all of which I read and enjoyed. Elemental Witches is a romance series starring a different witch each book. As one may have guessed, the witches (the term includes both male and female genders) have the power of one element (earth, air, fire, water). The series has healthier relationships than many romance novels, which I appreciated, and there’s equal parts romance, action, and female “don’t tell me what to do” attitudes. I dug it. Overall, fun reads.
The shortest book I read was 39 pages: 3arabi Song by Zeina Hashem Beck.
It is a collection of poems paying “tribute to the Arab world and Arab singers, to refugees and refusal, to hope and home, to sorrow and song,” so say Rattle (an LA-based poetry journal) editors. I loved it. My review: “So beautiful it made me cry throughout. I think this is a wonderful selection of poems to read, especially given what’s going on in the world. Provides beauty in perspective.” I recommend this collection to anyone looking for some perspective, for hope, for home.
I was given 3arabi Song with my subscription to Rattle, as Hashem Beck won the chapbook competition Rattle hosts. With that being said, I read Rattle #53 after 3arabi Song. Treating Rattle like a series, I read three Rattle journals this year. If you are interested in poetry, supporting upcoming artists, and/or supporting independent presses, I recommend subscribing to Rattle. A one-year subscription (four journals) is only twenty dollars! You can subscribe here. For any poets looking to get their work out and into the world, Rattle hosts many contests, and (to my knowledge) they are always accepting submissions. However, I recommend reading the journals before submitting, just to get an idea of the journal’s personality.
Now, we’re getting into my research books. 😉
For those of you who don’t know, my novel The Coffin-maker’s Basement, is based in Russia. Naturally, I read a lot of novels about Russians, by Russians, about Russia, for Russia, etc. The first research book of the year was Eight Pieces of Empire by Lawrence Scott-Sheets.
Eight Pieces of Empire is aptly named, as it follows the split of the USSR after the Soviet collapse. The book spans over twenty years. For anyone interested in the USSR, its respective holds in other countries, or Russian history, I recommend this book. Though Scott-Sheets was a journalist, he doesn’t fill the book with jargon or doubletalk. The book very much reads like a nonfiction, as opposed to an academic text. (If you’d like to know more about my book, or writing check out these posts: So You Want to be a Writer?, Baba Yaga, Yin Yang Myths Part Three: Life and Death, Pushkin’s The Fisherman and the Golden Fish)
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
I was told to read this book time and time again. Bulgakov’s posthumously published manuscript comments on life in the USSR under the reign of Stalin through his characters, The Master, Margarita, and the Devil. It is a fantastic read. Bulgakov is clever, having characters disappear from the novel without a trace to demonstrate the actions of the KGB at that time. No wonder Bulgakov told his wife to hide the book under the bed once he finished writing it. People were stoked to find Bulgakov had another piece of work for them to read. They thought they read them all! I think anyone interested in a good story, and has a taste for dry humor, would love The Master and Margarita. You can check out the 50th Anniversary Edition here. I love this edition, it’s beautiful and comes with an insightful forward about the author and a glossary of historic events for those unfamiliar with Russian history.
Short Stories by Alexander Pushkin
I discovered this book by happy accident as well. I was talking with my Russian professor (you bet your bum I took that class for research!) about my novel, and while the conversation was one I would never like to have again, I found out that Pushkin had a short story called The Coffin-maker! I had no idea! An absolute design of the stars, I tell you! And so, I found a collection of stories by Pushkin that included The Coffin-maker. I enjoyed most of the stories in the collection, some more than others, The Coffin-maker being one of the stories I liked (though I may be biased). The stories reminded me of fairytales, so for anyone who enjoys short stories, fairytales, or Pushkin, I recommend this collection.
Ploughshares is a literary journal housed at Emerson College. Emerson College is among the top schools for creative writing, so naturally, Ploughshares has won some awards. Unlike Rattle, which is strictly poetry, Ploughshares publishes poets, creative nonfiction, and fiction writers. I read two issues of Ploughshares. If I’m being honest, subscribing to lit. journals doesn’t work for me. Reading so many different voices and stories can feel a bit like channel flipping. There are definite gems, but I don’t feel fulfilled by the end of a lit. journal. I think it’s because I move ahead if a story doesn’t catch my attention, so it can feel like I’m flipping more than I’m reading. BUT! With that being said, Ploughshares Winter 2017, the second Ploughshares I read, was incredible. I loved it! Best overall journal I’ve read. There were few –if any!– stories I skipped. For their Regular Subscription you get three books a year, a download of the issue delivered, an annual edition of their Omnibus collection, and free online submissions. All for 35$! And yes, you got that right. Ploughshares accepts submissions.
Russian Fairytales by Albert Bates Lord
This book was given to me for my twenty-second birthday. In other words, a year and a half before The Coffin-maker’s Basement began to sprout in my brain. It may be hard to tell, but fairytales are my jam. This book has color illustrations, gold title font set on a red leather binding. It’s a good looking book. Don’t read it all at once. There are so many Ivans in Russian fairytales, that I started to call them Bob, Eddy, Winston, just to break up the Ivans. And the Vasilisas. I suggest reading this book a few stories a time, as opposed to reading each story like a chapter. It’s a lot to take in otherwise. (If you’d like to read some posts I have on Russian fairytales, check these out: Pushkin’s The Fisherman and the Golden Fish, Baba Yaga, Yin Yang Myths Part Three: Life and Death)
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin
Let me start off by saying, don’t read the back of the book. It does nothing for the content of the novel, in fact, I remember telling someone that the people who did the blurbs either didn’t understand what the book was about or they marketed the book the way they did because “erotica” would sell more than “a genius take on life, philosophy, and sin”. BUT HOW WOULDN’T THE LATTER SELL?! This book is incredible. I gave it five stars and the author really is a genius. I couldn’t read this book when I was sleepy, otherwise everything the author was saying would go right over my head. I cannot stress enough how brilliant Pelevin is. I want to read more of his work, and this is coming from someone who is immersed in Russian literature, Russians in literature (believe me, there were moments where I was begging for a small town girl who was crushing on the popular guy. Those stories never get old. They can be so wholesome, haha). If you consider yourself a philosopher, a theorist, a thinker, a wonderer, a ponderer, read this book. Just read it when you’re wide awake. And no, of course I didn’t pick it up because I thought, “Oh, a modern, popular Russian novelist who wrote an erotica. That’s a nice change of pace!” Psssssh. It was said to have commented on present day Moscow accurately. Duh…
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Do I really need to review this book? It was the most popular one I read this year. 952,693 people read it. Here, lemme just: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.” READ. THIS. BOOK. It will romance you with its language and make you feel hella uncomfortable all at the same time. Just as art should.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
I was so happy to have read this book for research that I wrote a blog post on it! Yin Yang Myths Part Three: Life and Death Deathless is a modern retelling of the Russian folk tale Marya Morevna. Set in WWII Leningrad, the book tells the story of a young woman named Marya Morevna who catches the eye of one of Russia’s most evil fairytale villains: Koschei the Deathless. If you like stories about women who answer to no one, read this book.
Do-It-Yourself Coffins by Dale Power
This book is what it sounds like. It’s a woodworker’s guide to crafting coffins for pets and for people. Naturally, since my coffin-maker, you know, makes coffins, I researched how to make coffins. Yeah, I’ve been reading a lot of book about the USSR, death, coffins… I’m fine. *cough*That was the last research book I read for the year.*cough* For anyone who woodworks or is curious!
The Book of Flying by Keith Miller
My uncle gave this book to me when I was in Turkey. (You can read a little something about that here: Gallipoli) I loved the author’s details, and there were some profound statements. “The writing of poetry is a chancy business, it’s currency solitude and loss, its tools coffee and too much wine, its hours midnight, dawn, and dusk, and unlike other trade the hours asleep are not time off.” I enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it, however, it wasn’t among my favorites. And something really interesting about it is that it almost asks to be given away. Read it, when you get to the end let me know if you think the book was telling you not to keep it, but to pass it along. P.s. the author has done a lot of traveling. Those details show.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
I think everyone should read this book. If you’d like to know more about why, check out the post I wrote on Anne of Green Gables! I didn’t continue with the series, book one was good enough for me as we meet Anne as this imaginative child who grows into this smart, caring woman. The rest of the books follow Anne throughout her life, but given the first book’s timeline, I was satisfied stopping with book one.
Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I am IN LOVE with this series. I am currently reading volume 10, and I’m still swooning over the story. Favorite series I’ve read this year, I’m crushing on Sui Ishida as a result of this. Okokok, lemme back up. Tokyo Ghoul is a manga series (manga: Japanese comic book) about a boy named Ken Kaneki (who shares the same birthday as me, we’re about the same age, and majored in almost the same field. Me: English lit. Him: Japanese lit. so naturally, I’m beyond excited.) who lives in a world where ghouls exist. And these ghouls eat people. In the district Kaneki lives in, a binge-eater is on the loose and this shy boy gets pushed right into her path. Comic books and manga are must-reads for me. They’re relaxing and enthralling all at the same time. Because they are so easy to consume, you get the satisfaction of finishing a book, with the emotional fulfillment of reading an amazing story. I’ve read other manga before and Tokyo Ghoul trumps the rest. It’s also getting some good attention, so I’m stoked for Ishida. 🙂 Oh! P.s.! On Goodreads, volume seven is the highest rated book. That I read.
Tin House is another lit. journal. The edition I specifically read was #68, and it had some good, though-provoking stories in it. One I remember very well was “The Cat” by Jackson Tobin, it’s weird and it’s good. Unfortunately, I don’t remember other stories from that edition, but in all fairness I had read a lot of lit. journals this year. For four issues in both print and digital in the US, the price is 34.95$ Tin House publishes poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. To submit, click here. This was the last lit. journal I read this year.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
This is another one of those books I’m not sure I need to leave a review for, but I will! Garcia-Marquez is well-known for a reason, and so is this book. It tells the story of two unfinished lovers, who re-meet on the day of Fermina Daza’s husband’s funeral. The book then follows both lovers from the time Florentino Ariza first laid eyes on Fermina Daza, to the end of their days. Garcia-Marquez kept me drawn in throughout the timeline of these lovers’ lives, and while certain details seem strange at first, they comment perfectly on the changes age provokes. For anyone interested in classic literature, the scenery of South America, or the lives of lovers.
What Would Audrey Do? by Pamela Clarke Keogh
WWAD is a play-by-play biography on Audrey Hepburn. The book reads like a magazine article, so its tone wasn’t really my thing, but I liked the concept of learning about Audrey through these life scenarios. It was an easy read, and had some fun quiz/games interspersing the chapters like a magazine would. I recommend this book for any Audrey fan, a person who likes learning about celebrities, or someone interested in celebrity style.
The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand
A YA mystery novel, The River is about a girl named Veronica “Ronnie” Severance who discovers the body of a young girl eddying in the river near her home. And that’s just the least of it. No, really, that’s the least of it. This book has a lot going on to the point that I felt a lot of details, and even some plot lines, could have been omitted to provide a more cohesive and to-the-point story. It wasn’t a favorite, and while I finished the novel, it was to see what the author was going to do with her miscellaneous facts and details. I recommend this book for anyone looking for a little mystery and thrill, or a fun “junk food” book. I call certain books, like romances, and others “junk food” books because they’re sweet and can be devoured, but may not necessarily take you on the emotional ride other books can take you on.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The last book I read of the year, the longest book I read this year, and my favorite non-series book. It. Is. Incredible. I mean, love at first sentence. To think Morgenstern came to her agent with the book “all over the place” and it bloomed into something like this. I may not know what “all over the place” means in Morgenstern’s case, but it gives me hope to hear such an amazing author speak that way about the beginnings of her debut, New York Times Bestseller, novel. This book also has a lot going on it, so I can see why Morgenstern would get a little topsy-turvy in the first drafts, but each detail comes together so perfectly. Her writing is beautiful, her characters are charming, sweet, and mysterious. She put the circus in a light that I, as a former want-to-join-the-circus-er, truly appreciate. Read this book and fall in love, you’ll be so glad you did. For anyone interested in a magical page-turner. Here is my final Goodreads review for the year: “This book has a home in my soul and has made my soul feel at home. <3”
That’s it for my year in books! I hope you all enjoyed. Click on the links to discover the books for yourself. Don’t forget to support your local bookseller! When in doubt, try thriftbooks.com It’s your online secondhand bookstore. They also have an app!
Thank you all for reading!
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See you all next year!