I smashed my Goodreads reading goal of 100 books earlier this month, finishing with a count of 114 books. I’ve reviewed a few through my Magic Monday series, but today I want to highlight my top ten favorite reads, as well as a few books I enjoyed rereading this year.
3 Books I Enjoyed Reading Again
3. Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart – and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon – and finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for.
I loved the Enchanted Forest Chronicles as a kid, and when I found the full series in a used bookstore this summer, I snatched them up to read again. Although I enjoyed the entire series, the first remains my favorite. With plenty of humor, adventure, and magic, this story is sure to capture the reader’s imagination and heart.
2. Birdwing by Rafe Martin
Once upon a time, a girl rescued her seven brothers from a spell that had turned them into swans. But one boy, Ardwin, was left with the scar of the spell’s last gasp: one arm remained a wing. And while Ardwin yearned to find a place in his father’s kingdom, the wing whispered to him of open sky and rushing wind. Marked by difference, Ardwin sets out to discover who he is: bird or boy, crippled or sound, cursed or blessed. But followed by the cold eye of a sorceress and with war rumbling at his kingdom’s borders, Ardwin’s path may lead him not to enlightenment, but into unimaginable danger.
I love the effortlessness of how Rafe Martin weaves fairy tale elements into the story, as well as paints a clear picture of a world where legends are beginning to fade. Ardwin is the perfect character for the story, since he’s balanced between both the world of magic and the world of man–his left arm, the one closest to his heart, is in fact a swan’s wing, a remnant of the curse laid upon his brothers by their stepmother many years ago. Ardwin’s yearning to return to the carefree days of his childhood is one I can empathize with. I loved seeing him change and grow as the story moves along and he overcomes his weaknesses and discovers his strengths. This is a coming-of-age story steeped in myth and lore, perfect for lovers of fairy tales and fantasy.
1. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.
I reviewed The Goblin Emperor earlier this year in my Magic Monday series. You can read my full review here. In brief, I love this book for its beautiful writing, its gorgeous setting, and the main character, Maia. Maia is sympathetic, yet flawed in multiple ways, and he tries his best to overcome his flaws and become an emperor he is proud to be. He strives to do this even when his intentions don’t match up with those in his court, especially those who wish to compare him to his father. I spent the entire book cheering for him as he faced obstacle after obstacle, some more life-threatening than others. I highly recommend this if you enjoy fantasy with a good dose of politics and compelling characters.
My Top 10 Favorite Reads in 2017
10. Wires and Nerve #1 by Marissa Meyer
When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers’ leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity.
The only graphic novel on this list, Wires and Nerve: Volume I was exactly what I would have wished for if someone had asked me, “What kind of graphic novel would you like to see written for the universe of The Lunar Chronicles?” Iko was one of my favorite characters from The Lunar Chronicles and I loved seeing more of her in this graphic novel! The artwork was lovely, which made it easy to fall into the flow of the story. If you aren’t familiar with this fairy tale retelling series, I highly recommend starting with Cinder.
9. Nightmare Stories by Matthew Dewar
Twelve young teens learn that happily ever afters only exist in fairy tales. Jessica has heard the rumours about drop bears, but are they real? What will Connor see on the prison tour? Whose old boot did Jack catch while fishing with his dad? Will Jane end up with a lump of coal in her Christmas stocking? Find out in these twelve creepy Nightmare Stories.
I reviewed Nightmare Stories earlier this year for my Magic Monday series. You can read my full review here. In short, there’s a ton of fright packed into these twelve short stories, from dropbears to witches to spiders. I read this book in one sitting, and Arachnophobia scared me the most out of all of them. Just as I was finishing that particular story, I glanced down to find a spider spinning a web from my arm. No, I didn’t shriek, but I did jump. A lot. And my heart was pounding for quite a while after. I recommend horror fans read this in the daylight…and beware of spiders.
8. The Aeonians by J.E. Klimov
Isabel Deran only wants to practice archery with the castle guards, and that is the last thing expected from an elegant Princess. Living in the shadow of her late sister, Victoria, she is next in line to receive the royal armlet that is embedded with four stones: an opal, a sapphire, an amber, and a ruby. It is a revered family heirloom with the power of the elements passed down from mother to daughter.
However, an evil, once thought to be sealed away in a prison in which time does not pass, breaks free with an army that swarms the castle and wrecks havoc over the kingdom in search for the magical armlet. They are known as the Aeonians. When they kidnap Isabel and place their hands on it, the precious stones vanish.
Isabel is now trapped in a race against time to locate her stones of power with the head of the Aeonian army, Bence Brechenhad, stalking her like a shadow. With the help of her trusty weapon, the sai, she fights her way through seemingly impossible trials and fearsome monsters in order to restore peace in her kingdom.
I interviewed J.E. Klimov earlier this year for her blog tour promoting her debut release, The Aeonians. This month, I finally had time to read it. (Thanks, holiday season!) The Aeonians is a fast-paced tale filled with magic, adventure, and a dash of romance. Isabel faces many trials as she tries to regather the gems lost from her royal armlet. Along the way, she comes to rely on the help of an unexpected ally with a troubled past. Though Bence is working toward his own goal, he swears to help Isabel find the stones and not harm her until it comes time for their final showdown. Although I liked Isabel a lot, Bence is actually my favorite character–I loved seeing his character develop over the course of the story. Isabel went through many changes as well, and she came out stronger for it. I can’t wait to read the sequel!
7. Halayda by Sarah Delena White
Betrayed by a trusted mentor, Sylvie Imanthiya hides on the fringes of society, caring for half-fae orphans and trading her alchemical creations on the black market. She lives for the one night each season when she can see her dearest friend—a man whose destiny is far above hers.
King Taylan Ashkalabek knows better than to exchange halayda vows with a mortal. Even their friendship is a risk; love is an impossible dream. Then a brutal alchemical attack poisons his realm, unearthing a dark power within him—and leaving Sylvie with the ancient mark of Faerie’s savior.
Manifesting unpredictable abilities and aided by allies with their own secrets, Sylvie and Taylan journey into the wilds of Faerie to heal the damage and confront Casimir, an invincible star-fae determined to claim the realm as his own. But only their enemy knows Sylvie’s true capabilities—and Taylan’s weaknesses—and how to use them in his vicious schemes.
Her fate is life. His fate is death. With Faerie in the balance, Sylvie and Taylan must stand together before reality as they know it is destroyed.
I loved this story! Not only does it combine two favorites of mine (fantasy and alchemy), but it has a cast of amazing characters (I love Sylvie so much!) and a well-built world (well, worlds, really). I could wax poetic about the world-building and everything else, but to be honest, I’d just start fangirling so I’ll leave it at that. I’m really looking forward to the sequels and I recommend this to lovers of fantasy.
6. Spellsmith and Carver: Magicians’ Rivalry by H.L. Burke
The disappearance of Auric Spellsmith’s mother has strained his relationship with his father to the breaking point. Now, after five years away at the Magicians’ Academy, Auric returns home, determined to prove himself to his father and claim his birthright.
Apprentice Jericho Carver has held Spellsmith Manor together in Auric’s absence. Now his master’s son is back, and if he can’t get rid of Auric, Jericho will forfeit his career and lose all hope of wooing the master’s enchanting daughter.
Neither man intends to back down.
But then Master Spellsmith vanishes into the mysterious Fey Lands. With Fey magic threatening the mortal realm, Auric and Jericho must work together to save the man they both see as father.
I love Burke’s stories and greatly enjoyed this book by her, which features a fun magic system that works in a similar way to coding (you write opening and closing symbols, with other symbols in-between to define the spell.) It’s definite the kind of magic I would want to wield if it were possible. I’d also love a magical, mechanical fox–Jasper’s my favorite character! Rill is my favorite human character, with Jericho a close second. Auric’s better-than-you attitude made me want to slap him a few times, but he grew on me as the story progressed. I especially liked watching the boys’ rivalry develop into something closer to friendship as the story progresses and they face many challenges together. The ending wraps the story up nicely, but leaves things open for the sequels; both of which I enjoyed reading as well!
5. The Martian by Andy Weir
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
People kept telling me to read this because it’s amazing. People were right. I was up until 2 AM in the morning the night I started it because I couldn’t put it down. Loved the main character’s humor, loved the various POVs, loved the science of it all! Weir is an amazing writer, and I need to check out his other stories.
4. Where Carpets Fly by Elise Edmonds
Restless teen Elina is bored of village life. When she starts magic lessons in the city, her only concern is exploring the sights with new school friend Kara. However, life takes a darker turn. Her magic teacher is hiding a secret, and odd happenings pile up, like unsociable Simeon’s shady dockside deals. But Elina’s questions go unanswered.
When Elina and Simeon develop a magical mind link, she suspects his involvement in foreign spy work. But an unexpected ship tour-turned-voyage throws her and Kara right at the mystery’s heart-in the volatile, dangerous country of Pallexon.
Alone and with no ID, things worsen when a terrorist act blows Kara’s cover. With her own freedom at stake, Elina must rely on her wits and magic to save her friend and unravel Pallexon’s secrets–before it’s too late.
I reviewed Where Carpets Fly earlier this year for my Magic Monday series. You can read my full review here and my interview with Elise here. In short, I loved every aspect of this book. The characters, the descriptions, the storyline, and the world-building (especially that magic system!) Everything flows together into a gripping narrative that kept me turning the page until I reached the end. Elina especially made this story shine–she’s a strong heroine who struggles to overcome her flaws. I loved watching her grow over the course of the story, and I can’t wait to read more of her adventures when the sequel arrives.
3. The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Shultz
Private eye Nick Beasley lives in a world where fairy tales ended a long time ago – where zeppelins now soar the skies instead of dragons, and where the first automobiles have taken the place of flying carpets. He’s made a name for himself across the Afterlands by debunking fake magicians and exposing fraudulent monsters. This is the modern age, after all. Magic and monsters are long gone.
At least, that’s what Nick believes. Until he gets magically transformed into a monster, that is.
The only person who may be able to help Nick is Lady Cordelia Beaumont, one of the last enchantresses in the Afterlands. But in order for her to cure him, they’ll have to retrieve a powerful artifact from a ruthless crime lord – who is also Cordelia’s father.
The fate of the Afterlands lies in the hands of a runaway enchantress and a monstrous ex-detective. What could possibly go wrong?
This book was awesome. To clarify, it mixes action and magic and humor with a good dose of snark and main characters who I’d love to have tea with (provided one is willing to use a metal tankard; I don’t want him breaking my teacups!) The flavor of the world and writing was also quite amazing; I have trouble describing it but as another reviewer said on Goodreads, it has an “old Hollywood feel”. I could totally see this being made into a movie…that would be awesome, in fact. I’d buy it in BluRay and get the author to sign the cover! If you love fantasy, fairy tales, and magic, definitely check this out. It’s a quick read–I read in one sitting because it was so. very. good. The sequels and short stories set in this universe are also amazing!
2. The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doué
Princess Lily, the eldest of twelve sisters and heir to a mighty kingdom, desperately seeks a break from her mother’s matchmaking. Tradition forbids marriage with the man Lily loves, so she would rather rule alone than marry someone who only wants the crown.
Fleeing an overzealous suitor, Lily stumbles into a secret underground kingdom where she and her sisters encounter a mysterious sorcerer-prince and become entangled in a curse that threatens the safety of her family and her people. Lily can free them, but the price for freedom may be more than she’s willing to pay.
This is an amazing fairy tale retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses–Lily and her sisters dance right off the pages, as lively as the antagonist of this story is dangerous. The world-building is amazing; I particularly like how Doué worked dragons into the world in all shapes and forms! This is another story I’ll start fangirling about if I keep talking, so I’ll simply say that if you like fairy tale retellings, definitely check it out, as well as its sequels (which are just as spectacular). I’m currently eagerly awaiting the arrival of book four of this series.
1. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule — but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her — even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
This was the second book I read this year, and it remains my favorite. Why? Well, I don’t normally write super long reviews for books, but I did for this one. Here it is, straight from Goodreads:
After reading Iron Hearted Violet, I picked up this book, without even realizing it was by the same author (I’d gotten them both from a bookstore and had been entranced by the covers and blurbs.) Hours, pages, and many emotions later, I lowered the back cover and stared at this book for a moment. I’d been expecting an upper middle grade fantasy story akin to a fairy tale, with a good dash of magic and adventure. That is, after all, what the cover and blurb advertise.
If I had to guess, I’d say the bookstore I bought it from mis-shelved it. Except that it’s marked as middle grade elsewhere as well. So not mis-shelved. But definitely not what I was expecting. The story was much deeper and more complex than several YA novels I’ve read recently, with characters that come to life straight off the pages.
The writing is beautiful, the story is tightly woven, and I loved the characters–Luna, Xan, Glerk, Fyrian… Glerk might actually be my favorite–the grumpy swamp monster who enjoys poetry and knows more than he lets on. Fyrian’s flightiness is endearing, too (he’s that cute little dragon on the cover).
The magic in this story isn’t simply magic from moonlight–it’s in the love-madness that brings paper to life and the sorrow suffocating a town and the strength of the ancient protecting the young… And it’s in the stories people tell each other, about the witch in the forest and the volcano beneath it and the wizards who once walked through it. Some stories lie, some stories twist the truth, some stories are painful truth…and some stories are pure truth.
Ultimately this story is about love, hope, and discovering who you are. I highly recommend it for fantasy readers, young and old.
There are just my top ten favorites; many other stories touched my heart and soul and imagination this year. What were some of your favorite reads of 2018? Any recommendations for me to find in the coming year?