Year in Review – 2017

courierIt’s been quite a year! Goodreads says I’ve read 89 books this year, which is my best yet! That’s 29,011 pages, which is actually just shy of 2014 (29,761). I started this blog in the last few months of 2013, so that makes sense. I read a lot in 2014.

This year I’ve been participating in the Read Canadian Challenge, and I’ve read eight books so far set in Canada or written by Canadian authors. The challenge goes from July to July, so I have a few more months to finish! I think my favorite so far has been The Courier, but Next Year, For Sure was a pretty hard hitter, and That Inevitable Victorian Thing was a fun piece of fluff. americanwar

I’ve also been trying to diversify my reading, with titles like Tears We Cannot Stop, Radio Silence, and A Hundred Veils.

I’ve read a few dystopias, the best being American War, but Station Eleven and The Courier fit the bill, too.

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I finally got around to reading a few books from Leigh Bardugo’s acclaimed Grishaverse, and I definitely see what everyone was so excited about! Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were EXCELLENT. I also read her take on Wonder Woman, which was another good book. (I’m a Wonder Woman fangirl.)

I found a lot of fairy-tale retellings, between Never Never, Alice, Girls Made of Snow and Glass, and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. I’m sure there were more that I’ve missed.

And now my Best Of The Year! An American Family by Khizr girlsKhan is a standout winner. Other favorites include the aforementioned American War, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, This Common Secret, and Girls Made of Snow and Glass. Tears We Cannot Stop and On Tyranny should probably be in this category, too.

I’ve read a lot this year, and next year I plan to read even more. Tune in Tuesday for my 2018 goals and the challenges I’ll be participating in!

Book Review: American War

americanwarAmerican War
by Omar El Akkad
Alternate Future Dystopia
333 pages
Published 2017

By now you probably know there are a few things I tend to enjoy in novels. Dystopias, Fantasies, Debut Novels, and Diversity tend to peak my interest, and American War is a dystopian debut novel by an Egyptian-Canadian author.

And it’s FANTASTIC.

El Akkad did an absolutely amazing job of weaving together the North/South rivalry of the US, climate change, the changing nature of energy generation, and US wars in the middle east to write an all-too-plausible novel about the US, seventy years from now.

Alternating between narrative chapters following his protagonist, and “historical documents” about the time period, he masterfully tells the story of how a terrorist is made. Because that’s what Sarat, his protagonist, is. Let’s make no bones about that. She is a terrorist. But she is a terrorist whose reasoning makes sense to us. Perhaps because the territories and the peoples are familiar to us, perhaps because we see how she grew up and what drove her to it – but the end result is a terrorist act on an unheard-of scale.

I’d like to think this book would make people look at refugees and terrorists in a new light – with more understanding and compassion and maybe with ideas to help actually combat the attitudes and circumstances that lead to terrorist acts. But I doubt it. I doubt this will change any minds that don’t already understand the underlying reasons.

My only quibble with this book is while he manages to weave together so many other issues facing our country right now, he doesn’t really wrap in racism. And I have a hard time believing our country is past racism 70 years from now.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find the protagonist is a bisexual, gender non-conforming woman of color. How awesome is that? And her bisexuality isn’t mentioned, it’s shown, her one on-screen sex scene (and it’s only barely on-screen) being with a woman. (She’s also attracted to a man in the book.)

The author was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, and lived in Canada, earning at least one award for his investigative reporting while working at The Globe and Mail. He’s one of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s 17 writers to watch this year, and I see why. American War is definitely one of my favorite books of 2017.

My other Read Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. this book
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of American War:

In this fiercely audacious debut novel, Omar El Akkad takes us into a near future in which a politically polarized America descends into a second Civil War – and amid warfare, a family fights to survive.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted, and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustices around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Narrated by the one person privy to Sarat’s secret life, American War is a hauntingly told story of the immeasurable ruin of war – in a nation, a community, a family, an individual. It’s a novel that considers what might happen if the United States were to turn its most devastating policies and weapons upon itself.

Book Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass

girlsGirls Made of Snow and Glass
Melissa Bashardoust
Fairy-tale Retelling
372 pages
Published 2017

WOW! I received an ARC of this book through Goodreads and got to read it before the release date (September 5th! Today! GO GET IT!) and I was SO excited to read it. It did not disappoint! This is her debut novel, and the story is absolutely fantastic. It’s billed as a “fantasy feminist fairy tale” and I think it lives up to that pretty well. There are no princes in this story. There are a couple of men – the King, the Queen’s father, and the Huntsman, but they are not who the story is about. The story really is about the Queen/stepmother and her stepdaughter, the Princess.

It’s hard to talk to much about the plot without giving things away, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a GLBT relationship, and one that was treated pretty matter-of-factly. It’s really lovely to see someone take a medieval-ish fantasy setting and make GLBT relationships a perfectly normal thing. Too often medieval fantasy comes with a big dose of bigotry because “that’s the way things were!” ignoring that this IS YOUR FANTASY WORLD WITH MAGIC IN IT so why on earth can’t things be different?!

There was definitely a bit of stilted dialogue, and early plot events were a little cliche, but it’s her debut novel and I’ll forgive that for how outstanding everything else about the book was. It flips back and forth between the Princess’s viewpoint and the Queen’s, and early in the book it also flips between current events (the Princess’s viewpoint) and many years ago (the Queen’s viewpoint, before she became Queen and stepmother to the Princess). It was a little jarring the first time, before I realized it had also jumped backward in time, but after that it was smooth.

All things considered, I love this book. I think it’s probably one of my favorite books of 2017. I am SO happy I own a physical copy of the book! I’ve been getting most of my books from the library recently, so it’s pretty awesome to own a copy of a book I enjoyed so much. I highly recommend this one.

From the cover of Girls Made of Snow and Glass:

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone. Her heart has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that normal – she never guessed that her father had cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Winterspring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: Win the King’s heart, become queen, and finally know love.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: A magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do – and who to be – to win back the only mother she’s ever known.