Books Read in 2019: Five-Star Fantasy and Magic Realism

I meant to have this up sooner, but I got it ninety-five percent done and then stalled. My daughter is having anxiety-related insomnia and stomach issues and I'm having perimenopause-related insomnia, and sometimes they overlap, but even if they don't I don't feel good going to bed when she's awake, so I... am tired. I actually forgot the dog in the car for an uncomfortable number of minutes after picking her up at my mom and dad's after work today - happily she's not holding a grudge. 

My husband was due to leave for San Diego on Saturday, just as our twenty centimetres of snow started falling, which is par for the freaking course most of the time. Fate intervened on my behalf and delayed his flight until Sunday - he left for the airport just after the plow finally went by and he shoveled the plow ridge. Looks like my sacrifices to the snow gods paid off - *furtively hides chicken guts under pizza box*. 

Monday the elementary teachers were on strike, so the elementary schools were closed. I work in elementary schools but I'm in the secondary school union (I don't know why, the ways of unions are inscrutable to me), so I went to work but had no classes. It was a fine balance between relaxing and creepy. I got a ton of shelving and cataloguing done. I missed the kids. Today I had kids and I kind of missed the strike - just kidding. Right after my last class, the class stays in the library and gets taught dance by another teacher, so I always finish my shelving with a little bop and it's a nice way to end the day, even when you're a sleep-deprived zombie. Have I mentioned that my husband has restless legs, so often he gets up around four or five a.m. and goes down to finish the night on the couch? And now Eve wanders around trying to walk off her nausea and sometimes ends up on the couch? What I'm saying is, we need some anxiety medication or more couches. 

Okay, books. 


In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan. Synopsis from Goodreads: “What’s your name?”
“Serena?” Elliot asked.
“Serene,” said Serene. “My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle.”
Elliot’s mouth fell open. “That is badass.”

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.
Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.

My first read of 2019. I ordered this as soon as it came out because I adore everything Sarah Rees Brennan has ever written, including tweets. Then for some reason I kept not picking it up. I couldn't figure out why, until I realized that I was just saving myself a perfect book to begin the new year with. I think this is my favourite of all of her books, which are all my favourite books, so it's, you know, my favourite favourite. She has such an effortlessly smooth writing style, the dialogue is sparkling and spiky, and the characters are so real. There is so much in this story - coming-of-age stuff, political and diplomatic stuff, gender and sexual politics (at times flipped hilariously and enragingly on their head), family dynamics, relationship stuff - all handled gracefully. Sure, Elliot is a tiny bit dense at times, but the reasons for said density are understandable. I love it. I love her. I love this. My daughter stole it and started reading when I was only half done, so for the rest of my read there were two bookmarks and we kept stealing it back and forth. 

Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer #2) by Laini Taylor. Synopsis from Goodreads: Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.
She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise.
She was wrong.

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.
Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, has not yet discovered what she's capable of.
As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel's near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?
Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this astonishing and heart-stopping sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

Well, shit. I go willingly anywhere Laini Taylor leads, and once again she has delivered many times over. This was pretty much a wholly satisfying sequel/ending to Strange the Dreamer. Again with the wondrous, entrancing world-building. Again with the beautiful prose and the fabulous characters and the tense, thought-provoking moral dilemmas. I mean, the heroine is literally dead at the beginning of the novel - talk about setting yourself a challenge as an author.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire. Synopsis from Goodreads: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
This is the story of what happened first…
Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.
Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got.
They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.
They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Oh my goodness I adored this. I don't know if it was the archetypal twins and thus the stark and astonishing duality, or the world-building that was so vivid I could almost taste the air, but this seemed like an instant classic to me. The preamble with the horrible parents is brilliant. The story of the girls finding the portal is brilliant. The story of the girls on The Moors is brilliant, as is the tracing of the ways parental mistakes and gender expectations are worked out through the actions of younger generations. It's dark and melancholy and sad and strange and wonderful.

Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep #1) by Mira Grant. Synopsis from Goodreads: Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

I really just want to give it five. I started out with four. Fuck it, giving it five. How the hell does she do it? Grant/McGuire is like about ten years younger than me and she's written like thirty full-length novels in different series, plus standalones, plus a bunch of short stories, and many of these are among the best example of their genre that I've read - and I read a lot. I had just finished The Magic Mountain and a couple of other dense tomes and I needed something a little less heavy, but this was not light reading, or a fun beach read, or anything else that implies that it is slight or unimportant. First of all, the science research is solid and must have been fairly time-consuming. Rolling in the Deep was more of a confection, and I wasn't sure if this was going to be an expansion or a sequel, and I absolutely love what she did with it. Like in her Wayward Children series which has been suffusing my little beating heart with love and annihilating sorrow recently, this is a real story with complex, nuanced characters (except maybe Jason), which makes the mounting sense of suffocating dread that much harder to bear. And the sign language. And the dolphins, oh my god, the dolphins. Seriously. She must have a twin that she locks in the basement and forces to write all the time. Or she doesn't sleep.

Magic Realism

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson. Synopsis from Goodreads: With striking originality and precision, Eden Robinson, the Giller-shortlisted author of the classic Monkey Beach and winner of the Writers Trust Engel/Findley Award, blends humour with heartbreak in this compelling coming-of-age novel. Everyday teen existence meets indigenous beliefs, crazy family dynamics, and cannibalistic river otter . . . The exciting first novel in her trickster trilogy.
Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.

Another dark and brilliant book. Jared is the most wonderful, heart-breaking, layered, nuanced character, caught in the most horribly unfair circumstances. His story without any magical realism would be compelling enough, but the extra shading of indigenous mythology takes it to the next level. It was sad and terrifying and I couldn't stop reading. 

Whatever This Is

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Synopsis from Goodreads: Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world's great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

I think I first read this in university. I found it even more poignant read at this age - the half-cracked, hysterical, laugh-until-you-cry maelstrom of events untethered by linearity or consistency. It makes complete sense that some events are so hugely tragic that they render time itself meaningless, and yet every life eventually ends in the same way. So it goes. 


StephLove said…
I've read Catch-22, but not Slaughterhouse-Five. How does it compare?
Busy Bee Suz said…
I've never been a big fan of fantasy, but your list is intriguing! I might just be a convert.
I'm sorry that sleeping has been an issue in your home. Why not borrow some tricks from your 'sacrifices to the Snow Gods' and use those powers to sway the sleeping Gods. (You made me giggle with that one!)
Sending warmth and sleep to your neck of the woods.
Ugh on the sleep thing, that sucks :(

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