New year, new content! But first, I have one more loose end I have to tie off before I leave 2018 behind for good. I’ve got to tell you about all the books I read in December.
During the final month of 2018, I read four short stories, two short story anthologies, five novels, and two poetry collections. In total, I read thirteen full written works. That sounds like a lot, but most of them were shorter pieces.
However, the quality of these works is overall pretty good. I can only consider December a win. And now, it’s time to talk about why.
Here are my thoughts on everything I read in December:
With the release of Queen of Air and Darkness mere days away, I knew I had to start the month by finally catching up on the Ghosts of the Shadow Market stories. I read them in chronological order, so I started with “A Deeper Love” by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson.
Tessa Gray and Catarina Loss are working as nurses in London during World War II. Meanwhile, Brother Zachariah’s search is interrupted by warriors from Faerie. When Brother Zachariah is poisoned, he turns to the only person he trusts to save his life: Tessa.
This story is really well-written. I like how the Shadow World and the mundane world are melded together. Of course, the main reason I love this story is because of Jessa. I love them so much. This installment is easily the most emotionally moving thus far. I had to give it five out of five stars.
As soon as I finished that one, I went right onto the next GOTSM story. A collaborative effort with Robin Wasserman, this one is called “The Wicked Ones.”
Celine Montclaire, the newest Circle member, is sent on a mission with Stephen Herondale and Robert Lightwood to catch a couple rogue Shadowhunters. Madly in love with Stephen and desperate to prove herself, Celine will do anything Valentine asks… even at the cost of Shadowhunter lives. Meanwhile, Brother Zachariah is hot on the trail of the lost Herondale’s descendant. Will his decades of searching finally be at an end?
This was a really good installment! For most of this story, I thought it was worth four stars. But Celine and Valentine’s characterization really impressed me. I love that morally corrupt shit. Plus, this story has more amazing Jessa content. I gave it five stars.
The next GOTSM story I read was “The Land I Lost,” which Clare wrote with Sarah Rees Brennan.
Alec Lightwood is summoned to Buenos Aires to help re-establish the Shadowhunters still recovering from the Dark War. However, he learns from the Buenos Aires Downworld and a precocious orphan that tensions have never been higher. Meanwhile, Jem and Tessa are barred from the Shadow Market and their search for the lost Herondale is at a standstill. Can Alec bring harmony to Buenos Aires and help Jem and Tessa on their quest?
This was yet another great installment! It’s also one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read— and the cutest. It’s utterly surreal seeing characters from The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments interact so much, but awesome as well.
I really like getting to watch Alec slowly grow into a leader and can’t wait to see where the story takes him next. “The Land I Lost” really reminded me why he’s always been my favorite TMI character (well, tied with Simon). I also gave this installment five stars.
Finally, I reached the last GOSTM story that’s been release so far. Another piece written with Wasserman, this one is called “Through Blood, Through Fire.”
Jem and Tessa are nearly at the end their search for the lost Herondale. When Jem receives a distress call from the boy’s mother, he and Tessa run to her aid. Now they must find her son before his enemies do, and time is of the essence.
I didn’t love this story as much as the last few. It reiterates a lot of the same themes and internal conflicts from “The Land I Lost.” It also loses all its dramatic tension because the reader knows how it will end, provided they’ve read Lady Midnight.
On the other hand, this story has some beautiful Jessa moments. More specifically, THEY’RE HAVING A BABY. I’M SO HAPPY. Weighing all of this, I decided to give this story 3.5 stars.
Then it was finally time. I took a deep breath and picked up the absolute behemoth that is Queen of Air and Darkness.
Since this is the conclusion to The Dark Artifices, I don’t want to spoil too much. The series follows Emma Carstairs and the Blackthorn family, as they are thrust into yet another war. However, this war is cleverly hidden behind political machinations. Meanwhile, Emma and Julian break the Law by falling in love as parabatai. This series is dark and heavy. Overall, I still maintain it’s Clare’s best yet.
Unfortunately, I found this conclusion to be disappointing. It lacks character development and seems more focused on canonizing relationships and setting up The Wicked Powers. The story is good and I still love these characters, but Queen of Air and Darkness is missing that special something that made Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows so fantastic.
All that said, I still really enjoyed this book. I laughed, I cried, I shook with fear. Queen of Air and Darkness made me feel so many things. If you’d like more details, check out my review. Ultimately, I gave this book four stars.
Then I moved on to another release I’d been excited for, Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor.
Again, because this is a concluding novel, I don’t want to give too much away. The series follows Lazlo Strange, an orphaned librarian who has been fascinated by the mysterious city of Weep for years. One day, soldiers from the lost city arrive in his town asking for help in returning the sky to Weep and removing the citadel. Lazlo offers his assistance eagerly.
When he gets there, he meets Sarai, a half-blood child of the gods. As Lazlo gets to know Sarai, he learns that it’s not just the citizens of Weep still living with the trauma of the Mesarthim and their demise.
I loved this book so much. The writing is lyrical, the characters are fascinating, and the world-building is immaculate. In every possible way, this book blew me away. I think my favorite part, however, is the way in which Taylor handles the conflicts. It makes for such a beautiful story.
Put it this way, there’s a reason Muse of Nightmares made by Best Books of 2018 list. If you’d like to know why, check out my review. I, naturally, gave this book a well-deserved five stars.
I decided I wanted to knock one more book off my year-end TBR, and I decided on a poetry collection I’d been interested in for a while. This collection is Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey.
This poetry collection is remarkably feminist and tackles topics of double standards, sexual assault, and more. In order to make her points more palpable, Hall Gailey uses fairy tales and pop culture figures to tell her stories. I found this collection to be every bit as inspirational and moving as everyone says. My copy is filled with tabs of my favorite poems. I gave it four stars.
After that, I read the highly recommended Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand.
On Sawkill Rock, girls have been mysteriously disappearing for decades. The paths of three girls cross shortly after another disappearance. Marion is new to the island. Weighed down by tragedy and responsibility, Sawkill offers her a chance to grow into her own and find the love she’s pretended not to need.
Zoey is a pariah, the subject of gossip and ridicule. After her best friend disappears, she is determined to find out what happened to her and put a stop to the disappearances for good. Val is a queen bee with a dark secret. Bound by a promise made a century before she was born, Val’s is a life of blood and lies.
There is a vicious evil on Sawkill Rock, hungry for freedom. No one has dared fight this insidious beast. No one… until the Sawkill Girls.
Legrand may just become another autobuy author for me because I’ve loved both her releases this year. In fact, I think this book has been my favorite so far. This story is eerie and fascinating, serving as a metaphor for the harsh reality that is a woman’s life. It’s also about taking back your power and standing up against the status quo.
I didn’t realize how much I’d grown to love these characters until they were faced with danger. Marion, Zoey, and Val are each so distinct and each so lovable. That’s not to say that they’re always likable, but that I love them because and in spite of their flaws.
This book is also incredibly diverse. Marion and Val are both sapphic, though they never use specific labels. Marion talks about being attracted to guys and girls, so the implication seems to be that she is bisexual or pansexual. Val dates popular guys because it’s expected of her, but seems to only be genuinely attracted to women. She’s most likely a lesbian. The only character to use a label is Zoey, who is asexual. Zoey is also half-black. Marion is chubby and plain.
There is a F/F relationship in this story that I both love and can’t fully believe. The girls have genuine chemistry and it’s clear why they have feelings for each other. But, because of the actions of one of the characters, I just don’t believably see them working out.
This leads me to the main themes: forgiveness and culpability. What can you forgive a person for? What can you hold them responsible for? Sometimes this is handled really well. Other times it doesn’t make sense.
One scene involving this that I really respect is one where Marion says something very ugly to Zoey, while reeling from grief and loss. She immediately apologizes and makes a conscious effort to make sure she doesn’t use her mental state as an excuse. She fully admits and accepts that what she said was awful and feels really horrible for having said it, even if she didn’t mean it and doesn’t believe it.
Zoey acknowledges this but is still rightfully upset and angry. Even after a near-death situation, she still isn’t ready to forgive Marion just yet. So many books use the whole “We went through something terrible together, so now all is forgiven” trope. The problem is that doesn’t actually solve the original issue. Legrand makes sure Zoey forgives Marion on her own terms, and not just because they survived something together.
I just don’t see this forgiveness extending to Val, at least not the way it does in the book. What she does is not at all on the same level as what Marion does. Knowing her circumstances doesn’t really change her involvement.
I also don’t know how I feel about the Hand of Light and how the supernatural activity on Sawkill Rock is broadened to the whole world. It makes the story feel too big. The events and characters on Sawkill Rock are the story. It doesn’t need to be any bigger than them.
The Hand of Light feels like a very heavy-handed stand-in for traditionalism and the patriarchy. The group feels almost cartoonishly misogynistic. It really affected my overall enjoyment of the story.
Overall, I still really enjoyed this book. That said, I hope it remains a standalone. There’s no more story that needs to be told. If Legrand ever decides to add more, it won’t fit the overall tone of the story. But yeah, great book. I definitely recommend it and gave it 4.5 stars.
Nervous as I was, I knew I finally needed to just take the plunge and read City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab.
Cass is the daughter of two world-famous ghost hunters. But that’s not what makes her life so unique. You see, Cass has come back from the dead and can see ghosts. When her parents are offered a television show, the family— and Cass’ ghostly best friend Jacob— travels to Scotland. There, Cass meets a girl named Lara who can also see ghosts.
Lara tells her that, as In-betweeners, it’s their job to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Before Cass can decide if she wants to accept that mantle, she must first stop the child-stealing Raven in Red. But will she survive the final battle?
I was hesitant to read this book for two reasons. First of all, it’s a middle grade book. While there are well-written middle grade books, I find I typically don’t enjoy them. It’s much harder to connect to characters in that age range and the writing is far below my reading level.
My other concern is that I don’t always like books Schwab has written for younger audiences. I love The Archived, but was vastly underwhelmed by Monsters of Verity. I knew I would be taking a huge risk if I decided to try Schwab’s first big middle grade release.
Fortunately, I really liked this book. It’s a really cute story. I appreciate how it doesn’t talk down to its audience, allowing them to confront darker themes in an honest way. I can feel Schwab’s voice in this novel the way I do in Shades of Magic, Villains, and The Archived.
Moreover, things I usually critique in adult and young adult books actually work to the book’s advantage here. Schwab finds a nice balance between weaving Cass’ backstory into the action and pausing the story to spell it out. Though the faster pace lacks some detail, it keeps the story action-packed. This book is intended to keep kids reading so they can absorb the underlying message. Through the fast-paced action, the character development is earned.
I’m so glad I set my nervousness aside and gave this book a chance. This is the exact kind of book I’d love to see kids reading. I gave it four stars.
After battling my Muse of Nightmares hangover for so long, I decided to read Laini Taylor’s story collection Lips Touch: Three Times (featuring illustrations by her husband, Jim Di Bartolo).
Being a story collection, I’m going to discuss and rate each story separately and then offer a brief statement and rating on the work as a whole. There are three stories in this collection, so don’t worry. I won’t talk your head off.
The first story is called “Goblin Market.” A retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “The Goblin Market,” the story follows outsider Kizzy who wants nothing more than to have a boyfriend. When a new boy comes to her school, he is instantly infatuated with her. But things may not be what they seem. If Kizzy doesn’t heed her late grandmother’s warnings about the goblins, she may be their next victim.
I really did not care much for this story. It throws away all of its potential in favor of annoying tropes, including the “I’m not like other girls” trope. Kizzy is probably my least favorite protagonist of 2018. All she cares about is dating a cute boy. When she’s not whining about boys not liking her, she’s talking about how weird and embarrassing her family and culture are.
It should be noted that her people are never given a name, but they seem to be inspired by Romani people. I should also warn readers that this story uses the g-slur a couple times.
The ending of this story pissed me off so much. First of all, I don’t know if it was supposed to be a twist, but I saw it coming a mile away. Secondly, Kizzy’s willfully stupid choice at end infuriated me.
This story also lacks the usual lyricism of Taylor’s writing. Everything about it feels weird and wrong— nothing like Taylor’s work. I gave this story two stars.
The second story is called “Spicy Little Curses.” In colonial India, a demon and the ambassador to Hell are in constant battle over souls. To save a school full of children, the ambassador agrees to curse a young girl. Any sound the girl makes will instantly kill anyone around her.
After remaining silent for years, the girl falls in love with a British soldier. It’s more difficult than ever to keep her tongue. She may finally have to test the curse that has kept her trapped her entire life.
This story is definitely a step up from the first one. Taylor’s signature writing style is back. In fact, everything about this story feels like a Taylor story.
“Spicy Little Curses” is in large part an epic love story, which is just another thing at which Taylor excels. The romance in this story had me withering.
Though I don’t love the characters, I do love the things the protagonist does toward the end of the story and how things come full circle. I only wish I could remember their names. I gave this one three stars.
The last story— which I’d argue could be considered a novella— is called “Hatchling.” This story follows a mother and daughter— Mab and Esme respectively— on the run from a mysterious race of creatures. When Esme’s eye turns silver, Mab knows the Druj have found them.
But it isn’t just the enemy on their tail. Mihai, an exiled Druj, will do everything in his power to protect them. He has a plan that will change the Druj forever, and he can’t do it without Esme. Told through multiple perspectives over different time periods, this is a fascinating tale about bodily autonomy and what it means to be human.
If Taylor ever decided to expand this novella into a full-length novel, I would willingly read the whole thing again. This is the Laini Taylor I know and love. The world and mythology at play here are so unique and interesting. The characters are well-written and intriguing. I desperately need to know what happens to them next.
Ms. Taylor… Ms. Taylor, please. Please write more in this world. I am begging you. Because this is a five-star story.
Taking the work as a whole into account, I’d say I was mostly disappointed by it. The only story that really struck me was “Hatchling.” After averaging out my individual ratings, I gave this collection 3.5 stars.
After some contemplation, I decided I should read one of the ARCs I’ve been hoarding. I chose Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliot.
This book is essentially a biography of Joan of Arc told in verse. Using records from her Trial of Condemnation and Trial of Nullification, Elliot pieces together the life of a would-be saint. I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This was a really great read! Joan of Arc is a historical figure who’s always fascinated me. It was interesting hearing her story told not just through her eyes, but through the eyes of the people she touched. Even inanimate objects waxing on about her makes sense here.
My only real complaint is the heavy use of repetition here. It’s an effective poetic tool, but I didn’t feel like it added anything here. I know Elliot was emulating the poetry of the time, but it just didn’t work for me.
Overall, this was an amazing read. I gave it four stars.
With only a few days of the year left, I decided to focus on finishing a book I’d had on pause for a while. I chose The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
A reimagining of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, this is the story of Nobody “Bod” Owens. After his family is murdered, infant Bod is taken in by the denizens of the local graveyard. With the Owens as parents and Silas as a guardian, Bod is protected from the man who killed his family.
As he grows up, Bod finds himself on several misadventures. He is kidnapped by ghouls, he befriends the ghost of a witch, and he dances the Macabray. It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story that is accessible to people of all ages.
The first half of this book was decent, but it’s the second half I really loved. Seeing Bod develop agency in his own story and grow into a young man was amazing. My eyes stung with tears at the ending. This was my first Neil Gaiman book and I can’t wait to read another. I gave this book four stars.
I finished The Graveyard Book with a couple days to spare, so I decided to pick up a book I thought would be a quick read. I decided on a Buffyverse anthology called Tales of the Slayer.
In this collection, several authors come together to share the stories of Slayers long buried. From Ancient Greece to Victorian London to modern Sunnydale, these stories allow fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer more insight into the history of the Slayers and the Watchers who guided their way.
I wasn’t expecting much from this book. I assumed it would be geared toward the lower-end of YA, but a quick read with which I could close out the year. But every single one of these stories is so well-written. These worlds are vivid and the characters fascinating.
It’s incredibly interesting seeing how different women react to being the Slayer, how they interpret their role and destiny. I really enjoyed this collection and would definitely be up for reading more. I gave this anthology a full five stars.
What books did you read in December? Tell me about them in the comments!
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