For 2019 we’re mixing up the standard monthly wrap ups and instead I’ll be posting four seasonal wrap ups for the books I read in Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. With each season I’m going to go through each book organised by my rating, and end with my top three books of the season. So without further ado, let’s jump into Spring (even though it’s felt like Winter…).
For the first three months of 2019, I’ve read a total of 13 books: 4 adult fantasy, 1 YA fantasy, 1 children’s fantasy, 4 fiction, 2 YA and 1 poetry collection. The children’s fantasy, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, was an audiobook, whilst the rest were physical books. The longest was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and the shortest was Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill. The book which was an unexpected favourite was On the Come Up by Angie Thomas.
The Three Stars
I think it’s a pretty good month where the lowest rating I gave a book was three out of five stars. The books that received this rating from me were Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst and Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill. Neither of these reads were bad, but nor were they stand out books for me. Fire and Heist is a YA fantasy where there are shapeshifting wyverns in the real world, living a socialite-style life. The book was great fun to read, and easy to finish within a couple of days, but for me it didn’t feel developed enough. When reading YA, it’s obvious that the characters will be young, but whilst I greatly enjoy plenty of YA, Fire and Heist came across as too young for me. There were funny moments and overall it was an easygoing, fantasy romp, but the predictable plot points and under-developed world made this a three stars for me. Fierce Fairytales, on the other hand, was a completely different experience. I went into this poetry collection expecting to really love it, and instead found it repetitive and in parts it felt as if it didn’t go far enough. Hugely quotable, the feminist retellings of classic fairytales had very strong ideas, but they were either not taken far enough – ie not much was actually being said – or they were completely overdone, where the author didn’t allow any room for interpretation as she spelled out exactly what she wanted the reader to take from it. Whilst there were certainly poems I thought were especially strong, as a whole collection I was left a bit uninspired and felt as if there were three or so motifs that were done at least 3 or 4 times each.
The Four Stars
I rated six books with four stars, and each of them are so different to each other. The YA contemporary The Truth About Keeping Secrets is a debut novel from Savannah Brown. It read like a thriller and touched on subjects of grief, love, bullying and LGBTQ+ issues, making it an ambitious, powerful read that I truly enjoyed. Spinning Silver is a fantasy written by Naomi Novik, whose Uprooted and His Majesty’s Dragon series were firm favourites of mine when I read them. Spinning Silver for me was a difficult one to place, as I personally found the beginning quite slow paced as Novik built the world and the various threads from all the different perspectives she delves into. Had the ending not been as perfectly woven together as it was, this book might have been three stars, but I was so happy with how she finished and tied everything off that it had to be four stars for me. The other four books are all fiction, and all vastly different. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson was so excellently written that I couldn’t read at my usual speed with how much I was concentrating – a powerful retelling of an intense Greek myth, told in Johnson’s wonderful style. My main taking from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was its sheer size, and whilst it was written with such fantastic prose, I found I was more relieved than anything else when I finished it and didn’t have to lug it around with me anymore. In contrast, If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin was as light as a feather, far shorter than I had expected it to be. A poignant story of love, hope, and the still-prevalent issue of race and discrimination, all framed around one family’s story, beautifully told. The Binding by Bridget Collins was another great read from this Spring. I definitely felt far more engaged halfway through after the slow start – overall an entertaining read, even though I found the plot predictable.
The Five Stars
Not including my top three, I had two other five star reads. The first of which, and the first book I finished in 2019, was The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. The second in her Winternight trilogy, I truly adored this book. Arden’s writing is so magical and sweeps you into the story so firmly that you won’t want the book to ever end, so tangible is the atmosphere and setting she creates with characters that tell such an incredible story. I could never tell where the plot was going, something which I appreciate greatly, and Arden’s ability to pick up the pace at such speed halfway through meant that I had several late nights unable to put the book down. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J K Rowling was a very different experience as I listened to Stephen Fry telling the story in the audiobook. As someone who has never read the books, getting to this one truly illuminated how much the films didn’t cover, and if anything only made my enjoyment of the series and franchise that much better.
The Top Three
As I previously mentioned, one of my unexpected favourites was On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. Powerful, inspiring, and so brilliant that I kept wanting to cheer whilst reading. We need this book not just for all YA readers to enjoy, but for everyone to pick up. I feel that I don’t have words adequate enough to describe how important this book is, so all I can reaffirm is that Angie Thomas is a brilliant author and you should all read it.
What won’t be unexpected is my second top favourite of Spring, given how much I’ve shared by adoration for the rest of the series, and that is the final in Katherine Arden’s trilogy The Winter of the Witch. What more can I say about this series that I haven’t already? It’s one of my favourite ever fantasy series with its sweeping Russian landscape filled with fantastic characters, from a tormented priest to a frost demon and most importantly the heroine of the tale, an unassuming girl who is flawed enough that she isn’t boring to follow in her adventure. Arden’s captivating language and turns of phrase make this a series that anyone can enjoy and appreciate, whether they read historical fantasy or not.
My final favourite of Spring was a book that I had on my list to pick up for several months, and boy was I glad that I did. The Poppy War by R F Kuang is an adult fantasy that reminded me of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir along with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. What I found wonderful about this book is that it felt like two different stories in one, so when I reached what I had assumed would be the end of the first book only halfway through I was overjoyed. The world Kuang creates is just fantastic and so immersive, touching on Chinese history to further develop the book. I did not for one second guess what would happen in the end, and I cannot wait for the sequel to publish. Could not recommend more highly for those who like fantasy, as The Poppy War is one of the very few in-depth adult fantasy books that had me hooked.