Favorite Books Read in 2021

YA and Middle Grade:

Hold Back the Tide- Melinda Salisbury

A tragic, intense horror novel/rural fantasy–in a small Scottish village sometime in the 19th century, monsters attack from the loch. They are legitimately terrifying and vicious, but there are as many monsters in the village as coming from the loch. And they’re not who you might think fromt eh summary. Gripping and terrifying, but also uplifting in a strange way despite its sad ending. I loved Melinda Salisbury’s The Sin-Eater’s Daughter series and this was a worthy and skillful successor.

The Beauty of the Moment- Tanaz Bhathena

Susan, an Indian Christian brought up in Saudi Arabia, moves to Canada, where she tried to adjust and falls for a Parsi boy who was born there. Susan and Malcolm’s relationship is realistically imperfect, but hopeful, and helps them grapple with Susan’s parents’ divorce and Malcolm’s formerly physically abusive, now withdrawn, widowed father. Bhathena wrote A Girl Like That about a half-Parsi girl in Saudi Arabia ostracized by the community she wants so badly to be hers; this book, by contrast, is about finding community.

The Last Hawk- Elizabeth Wein

A young glider pilot in WWII is given the opportunity to help her country–or so she’s told. Living in Nazi Germany, our heroine is afraid her stutter will mark her out as intellectually disabled and thus a target of the regime (this is not made as clear as it could be in the novel, but people back then often connected speech impediments to intellectual disability). Instead, she’s swept up into the glamorous world of an older pro-Nazi female pilot, which gives her safety but also exposes her to the terrible truth about what the Nazis are doing with forced labor and concentration camp prisoners. She must decide what to do with this knowledge. There’s a delicate balance between self-deception and self-preservation in this one–the main character absolutely knows the disabled are being killed from the beginning, but she doesn’t see a way to do anything other than keep her head down and hope it’s not her next. As she grows in power both external and internal, she realizes she does have the opportunity and the duty to fight the regime, and that she can love her country while opposing it in wartime.

Adult:

A Passage to India- E.M. Forster

Let’s be real, I didn’t think a British person writing in the 1910’s and 1920’s could write something this good about India. There are flaws–the self-insert character who’s let off the hook morally for witness tampering in a rape case, the exoticization of Hindu customs–but as the story of good people struggling to connect in a system that not only discourages, but in Forster’s view makes impossible honest friendship across racial lines, it is a powerful indictment of colonialism written before its imminent collapse became obvious. Credit to the author for looking past what his society told him and writing this beautiful, horrifying book.

Poetry:

Deaf Republic- Ilya Kaminsky

When a city is occupied by enemy soldiers who kill a deaf boy, the whole city goes deaf in protest, communicating by sign language as part of their resistance. But will the resistance succeed, and to what extent is the cycle of violence corrupting? And even if resistance is futile…well, is it? Includes the much-quoted poem “We Lived Happily During the War” and a message in a multilingual sign language created for the book.

Five Most Anticipated Books of 2017

Happy New Year, all! Hope you had a great holiday season.

It’s time to look ahead to all the exciting books coming out this year, and here are five to get you started!

1. Poor Relations by Jo Walton

The acclaimed fantasist, author of Among Others and The Just City, makes her first novel-length foray into science fiction with this tale of an alien invasion of human-colonized Mars, loosely inspired on the Jane Austen novel Mansfield Park. (ETA: This may be a 2018 release instead!)

2. Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz

A debut starring the Night Witches of the WWII Soviet air force, as Valentina joins the all-female night bombers and has to use her flying skills to rescue a boy trapped behind enemy lines. That plus the epistolary style makes me think of it as an Soviet-set Code Name Verity.

3. The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Speaking of which, a prequel to Code Name Verity is coming this spring! Julie solves a mystery on her grandparents’ estate in Scotland–a murder for which local Travellers were framed.

4. Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

The second half of the notorious Mycroft Canner’s thrilling story will hopefully resolve the many mysteries of Palmer’s first book, a riff on the Enlightenment set in the far, far future.

5. The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury

The conclusion to the series that began with The Sin-Eater’s Daughter and continued with The Sleeping Prince. How will the supremely creepy Sleeping Prince be defeated? And who will die in the process?

plus one that I’m hoping for but that doesn’t have a firm release date yet

6. The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Following on from The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Baru is elevated to the high political class of the Falcresti empire. She’ll have to be more cunning than ever to succeed in dismantling the Imperial Republic from the inside.

The Sleeping Prince – Melinda Salisbury

26625494This sequel to The Sin-Eater’s Daughter features a new narrator in close, single-POV first, so it actually feels like book one of a series, until the new characters meet up with the old ones about two thirds of the way through. This neatly avoids a lot of middle-book-of-the-trilogy problems, or at least postpones them to the last third of the book.

Where The Sin-Eater’s Daughter took place in the gilded cage of a royal palace, The Sleeping Prince starts in a tiny, impoverished border town in the neighboring democratic country. Errin is just trying to get by and take care of her cursed and dangerous mother after her father died and her brother (Lief from book one) disappeared. When war approaches with the titular Sleeping Prince, a figure from the distant past returning to wreak havoc, Errin’s village is evacuated and soldiers arrive. Errin soon learns about the dark side of her country as refugees are abused and the border closed.

Desperate for a mysterious potion that keeps her mother’s curse at bay, Errin blackmails her only friend–and when she relents, he seemingly betrays her. Alone, Errin sets out on a cross-country journey that sees her meet up with Twylla, the previous book’s heroine, and find out about her brother’s true fate.

517qzv8wvzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_One thing I really liked about this book is that Errin is ordinary, heroic, and specific all at once. She’s a skilled apothecary, this interest rounding out her character and providing her a way to make a living, but she can’t create the potion that cures her mother. She survives a cross-country flight on horseback, but it’s clear to everyone she meets that she’s barely holding it together and that she’d do better to ask others for help. She’s also prone to attacks of anxiety, though somewhat too conveniently, she never freezes up when it would be inconvenient for the plot. When she does things like blackmail her friend, it’s clear she’s acting out of desperation, and she does relent. It feels like a real case of a good person brought to doing bad things, rather than an attempt to make the protagonist edgy.

I also love the darkness of Salisbury’s world. The villainous queen of book one is missing here, but there’s the chilling, sadistic Sleeping Prince instead. The epilogue, in particular, is nightmare-dark before it offers the reader some hope for the next book.

It was also great to see a realistic democratic country in a fantasy world, with all the same injustices we see in real democracies, but still better than monarchy.
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On the negative side, the Sin-Eater’s backstory as revealed in this book is too exculpatory–it makes her a bit boring compared to her earlier ambiguity. Also, a lot of information is crowded into the final third of the book, which I felt was not, until the very end, as strong as the first two thirds.

I can’t wait to see how it all ends in The Scarecrow Queen, due out next year.