Favorite Books of 2019

Lucky for me, there’s 5 Mondays this December, which allows an excellent chance to look back at the pile of books (36! Huzzah for me!) I’ve had the privilege to read in 2019!  Here’s a few of my favorites from this year:

Favorite Book On First Read

650Without a doubt, my favorite book this year was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you are a fantasy or a history buff, you should read this absolutely exquisite work. It’s so good that I don’t even feel jealous of the author, just ever so grateful I was able to read the book. 100%, totally recommend. If I hadn’t already given away my copy in earnest effort to get someone to read it, I’d give you mine.

Pro tip, though: get an e-book version. The binding on the paperback is a little weird and can make your experience slightly less enjoyable.

If you allow re-reads, I would have to say this book is competitive with Ancillary Justice, which I still think is probably on of the best books I’ve ever read, but perhaps less fun that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Favorite Indie Book

This feels like such a dangerous category to even have! First, let me say that so many of my fellow bloggers have written great books. More so than anything, what I’ve found to be important in finding a great Indie Book is to look at how dedicated the author is to the craft. A good blog/website is HIGHLY indicative of a good book to follow.

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That being said, I think my favorite Indie Book this year was Diane Wallace Peach’s The Melding of Aeris. While many books could boast powerful storylines and well-written prose, what continues to stick out about Aeris is the extraordinarily clever world and detailed magic system. The feel is post-apocalyptic, but it doesn’t go into detail as to why the world is such. I had a lot of fun reading it and would recommend to those looking for a way into the indie book scene.

I feel like if I do runners up, I’d just be listing off a bunch of bloggers’ books!

Favorite Series

One of my goals this year was to read more series, and I’ve read several. However, I’ve got to limit my choice to just one!

And, no doubt in my mind, it was the Robert Remini Andrew Jackson trilogy. This trilogy is a fantastic set of biographical works that incorporates both feelings from back in the day when everyone was racist and ideals from a more modern, critical era. Though Jackson was a lunatic, Remini shows you his charisma, wit, and drive in such a way that he becomes more coherent. I’ve always enjoyed studying Jackson, though, so I’m inevitably a bit biased.

Also I’ve read this series in the past, so I feel like I cheated a bit by choosing them here. A good runner up would be the Imperial Radch trilogy, but I think it suffers from having a weak second entry.

Favorite Classic

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t read too many true classics. For that reason, I’m including somewhat recent science fiction and fantasy classics.

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Even so, I’d have to go with Dracula by Bram Stoker. I didn’t go in expecting much from this book, but I was pleasantly surprised by the tension, the depth of character, and creativity with the subject matter. I think it’s a great read for anyone interested in expanding their experience with fantasy and classics. Don’t be afraid of it just because of the Twilight craze!

A Couple I Explicitly Didn’t Like

I don’t want to talk about Indie books I didn’t like. If you want to see me rip Indie books, you’ll have to go to my Reviews Page and find them yourself. Part of this is my belief that Indie Books, if done right, should explore niches traditional publishers are afraid to go down – niches that might not be for every reader.

I was sad that I didn’t like Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I thought the premise looked really cool, and I very much enjoyed some of the short stories she’d published in other places. I thought the book didn’t explain itself well, and I could never root for the main character. It also came off as tone-deaf in a post 2016 world. 100% worst thing I’ve read this year.

Without anything coming close to Trail of Lightning in terms of sheer dislike, I moved on to thinking about disappointments. Though I enjoyed the book by the end, I was disappointed with The Warrior’s Apprentice. After having read two other novels by McMasters-Bujold, I expected more from this book. I also got more from the books following The Warrior’s Apprentice in the series. I think she tried to fit too much in the novel, and it ended up being an overwhelming tapestry of exciting stuff. It was also her first publication, so that inexperience probably didn’t help.

 

 

Book Review: Talamk an Eisc: Nordic Landing

Sometimes, I’ll see threads on Twitter where people will advertise their books.  I’ll go through these lists of indie books and see if anything strikes a fancy.  And let me tell you – I’ve clicked on HUNDREDS of those book links, and I’m still pretty picky about what I choose.  This one looked very interesting.

The Book

51dqwgwwmtlTalamk an Eisc: Nordic Landing
Author: K.D. Carter
2017
Amazon Link

I was on a major history-obsession bender when I saw this being promoted by the author on Twitter.  I’m not really sure, beyond the historical backdrop, why I bought this – I think the title is actually pretty terrible, since non-English words are usually a turn-off for me (they don’t tell me much about the contents of the book).  Still, it looks pretty action-packed, and I hope the author pressed a lot of love and research into the pages.

Non-Spoiler Review

Eh… I wasn’t as impressed with this as I had hoped.  Perhaps I had too high expectations going in. Perhaps I felt mislead by the summary on Amazon.

  1. Big issue #1 is this book contained no fantasy elements. I’m fine with that, but it shouldn’t have been teased in the summary if there were no fantasy elements.
  2. So, you’re now thinking this was historical fiction. Thing is, it’s not very well researched. For instance, THERE WAS TEA. LOTS OF TEA. How was there tea?  The first westerner to discover tea was Marco f*cking Polo. Also, the book had coexistant Celts, Irish norsemen, and churches, but that doesn’t actually work out well from a history standpoint. It depends on the definition of Celt, I guess.
  3. The war and cool stuff in the Amazon summary barely comes up in the story. The enemy who is trying to stir sh*t doesn’t seem necessarily bad, just lucky to have ended up with a literal gold mine.  I could never bring myself to believe the good guys were actually good and the bad guys truly bad, not when the good guys were just as into rape and murder.
  4. This felt like a story someone wrote based on their AD&D: Vikings Edition game.  The summary describes them as “a Farmer, a Merchant, a Warrior and a Thief,” but you might as well say “a Barbarian, a Fighter, a Bard, and a Rogue.”  No single character was followed closely enough to make me like them, and the team was so dysfunctional I liked them about as much as I liked the Fantastic Four.
  5. The plot contained a whole bunch of traveling. Oh, and see the spoilers for more plot issues.
  6. The formatting wasn’t great.  There were several editing issues, and the line spacing and indentations were all over the place.  I know it’s minutia, but I find things like that usually indicate the overall quality of the piece.
  7. No Oxford commas.

Discoball snowcone ratings on indie books I didn’t like show up only long after my book review posts are ‘dead.’ I do not leave review with low star ratings on Goodreads or Amazon unless there are already 20+ reviews.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Ok… I’m just going to summarize the plot, beginning to end.  You decide if I have a reason to dislike it. WAIT FOR IT.

The regent calls farmer Bas to complete a mission with master swordsman Scaran. Declan, enemy of the regent, has a lot of gold and a new, destructive weapon: a black powder that burns. Bas and Scaran must stop Declan from pursuing more power.

The regent demands they take Elise, the traitor who brought intelligence about the weapon, along on the mission. To prove her claims, Elise convinces master thief Raven to show the burning powder to the regent. While doing so, Raven is discovered as a murderer and also pressed into service against Declan, the enemy duke.

They then hate each other and travel for about 50% of the book. Scaran gets a letter that his boss is murdered, but it’s too late and he can’t go back. All that matters here is they eventually get to the town where Declan lives.

While Bas and Raven scout, Scaran threatens to kill Elise. She escapes him using a sleeping potion, then immediately gets captured by Declan and is threatened with being raped to death.  Lucky for her, Raven finds out that Declan plans on raping Elise to death, so she gets mad and starts killing soldiers as a distraction. During the distraction, Elise poisons Declan, theoretically killing him. We still don’t know why Declan was worse than their own regent, save for the fact he has money. The four escape on ponies and seek refuge in a church. (Note: this is about 80% of the way through.)

Waking in the middle of the night, Scaran declares, “I know who murdered my boss!”

They then travel back to where they started, hunt down Correigh (who hadn’t been mentioned by name before as far as I remember), and kill him for murdering Scaran’s boss.  Once they figured out it was Correigh, they had to entrap him and make sure it was him, then definitely kill him rather than bring him to the king for justice. The party then broke up, and everyone went their own way. Raven changed her name to Brenna.

Did you catch what I disliked? If not, here it is:

  1. The main problem was swept under the rug quickly
  2. The plot changed on a dime with a guy waking up and remembering a problem that had barely been mentioned before
  3. Tons of needless rape and murder that didn’t really add to the plot

Next week:

Next week I’ll be reading A. Rinum’s The City of Saints, a sci-fi tale about cyborgs! Good times!

Paints of Peace

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“Dance well.” I stroke my fingers across my son’s cheeks, drawing symbols to praise the creator. “Please the gods and praise their creation.” The white paint of peace applied, I clean my fingers then swirl them in a blue paint made of crushed berries and buffalo fat.  This will remain smooth through the day while the white clay cracks and falls. I hope my paints strengthen him throughout the ceremony.

“It is excellent, mother.” My son in his ceremonial clothing exits the tent.

A white soldier frowns and, through the translator, growls, “Why are you painted up for war?”

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This was written for the June 27th Carrot Ranch Prompt, paints. What I was going for here was the misconception/falsehood that native Americans used paint only for war. How many times, do you think, white people used that as an excuse to perform evil? I shudder to think.

I would credit the photo, but it technically isn’t required and the username was… well, it wasn’t very nice, haha!

Consumption Chic

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The princess awoke amidst heraldry and cushions. Her red lips and flush cheeks were perfection straight out of bed. She put no hensbane in her eyes, as they were already bright.

She coughed into a handkerchief as she stood and found blood left behind. Such is the price of beauty!

(50 Words)

***

As part of my series where I showcase different prompts across WordPress, this was written for 50 Word Thursday.  In addition to the photo, Kristian and Teresa gave this quote:

“Her lips were red and perfectly shaped, her cheeks blushed prettily when she spoke.”
– Neil Gaiman, Stardust.

If you’re looking for a flexible prompt, look no further than 50 word Thursday!  You can do anything as long as you write in increments of 50 words.

My response was inspired by the fashion trend in the Victorian era to look like you had consumption (or tuberculosis).  People would do things like dilate their pupils to look pretty, or give themselves that healthy flush that was indicative of certain stages of the infection.  Consumption chic was so popular, in fact, that it actually delayed diagnosis of tuberculosis in many women who followed the trend.  CRAZY.

Elizabethan

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Sweet sugar of lead
Stain my face alabaster
Strike fear in their hearts

***

This was written for the Ronovan Writes #254 challenge: heart and sweet (bolded).  The other inspiration for this was Elizabeth I, famous for being respected abroad during her relatively peaceful reign.

Also inspirational is one of my (weirdly?) favorite YouTube channels – English Heritage.  They put out a video of Elizabeth I’s makeup that, for some reason, I watched.  HER MAKEUP WAS MADE OF LEAD WTF.  And so, with lead sugar being a thing, I wrote this haiku.

A Trip to the Well

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Sally lugged the bucket of water up from the well.  Her hands stung from the day of labor, but the taskmaster wouldn’t ease up.  She picked up the pail and carried it while the foreman fiddled with his whip.

Struggling to remain standing, Sally tripped and spilled half the water in the bucket.  She chanced a look at the foreman, hoping emptily that the foreman hadn’t noticed.

Scared of the whip, she dumped the bucket and ran towards the foreman.  She placed the empty bucket over his head, punched him in the gut, and took off for the Railroad.

***

This was written for the March 21st Carrot Ranch Prompt, ‘Bucket of water.’  I thought about how so many people, especially women, are enslaved to carry water – even today.  I chose to take a Southern slavery setting because it’s been most well taught to me, but it’s disturbing that so many people have to struggle and hurt for something I get to have so easily.

Picture by Hansben on Pixabay.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

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“All dis for jus’ a speakeasy.”  Detective Banks spat, surveying the grisly scene by the garage.  “Deez gangsters are despicable.”

A beat cop with Tommy gun in hand nodded.  “Yeah, all four of the shooters had to’ve been real bad guys.”

“All four of ’em?  Where you pullin’ that number from, kid?”

The beat cop shrugged.  “Nowhere.”

“Old ladies in the ‘partment cross the street says four cops did it.  You know anything ’bout that?”

“No.”  The beat cop sneered, held his Tommy gun a little higher.

Detective Banks spat again.  “Case looks unsolvable.  Now, clean this mess up.”

***

This was written for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction challenge for February 14th, Valentine.  And what can be more Valentine’s than the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, save for the martyrdom of saints? 

Historical Info: On February 14th, 1929, some of Capone’s south-side gangsters teamed with a couple corrupt cops to slaughter 7 enemies in the North Side gang.  Though there were suspects in the murder, none of them were ever arrested due to lack of concrete evidence.  In this flash, I make the connection between rampant police corruption – which Chicago had at the time – and the unsolved mystery.  

Alabama Highway

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Trees, killed and cut, lined both sides of the road.  The road, as far as Stomping Beaver knew, hadn’t been there a week ago.  The white army might as well have posted a sign mentioning their intent.

“They move fast.”  His teenage son tossed a few twigs.

“Faster now they’ve built this road.”  Stomping Beaver removed his shoulder bag and tucked it beneath one of the felled logs.  “Stay here.  Have my food – this bag will only slow me down.”

He’d be too late.  The road was several days old, and the fort was only two days march away.

***

This was written for the February 7th Carrot Ranch Prompt, signs.  I’m giving away that I’ll be reviewing some history books soon – last night I finished reading about the Creek Wars, which were a subset of wars in the War of 1812.  This tale was a fictional figment inspired by what I read.  

Bonus points to anyone that figures out who’s the subject of the biography I’m reading!

Corncobs and Mulberries

Modlin was making her final trip.  The old girl had done several Transatlantic trips in her long history, and I knew she had it in her to make it across the channel.

Gold Beach was still bloody when I brought her in.  I scuttled Modlin for the war effort, and she became a breakwater for the Mulberry harbour.

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***

This was written for the Weekend Writing Prompt #83 – Breakwater.  I had no idea how to use the word until I went down a WWII Wikipedia binge. 

The Steppe Resistance

Retreat was always the deadly part.

The generals had decided that the battle was lost, and I could agree with them.  When I noticed the chariots on our flanks, I knew the Steppe tribesman had us beat.  Their expertise on horseback – how could any man ride like that?! – as well as with the bow made them a fearful power to behold.

I marched with all my power.  My sword was in its sheath so I could go faster, but I didn’t want to leave my cousin Nahim behind.  He moved more slowly as he carried his bow.

An arrow hit me in the leg.  I fell, and the men behind me parted – but not well enough.  A couple tripped while I cried out.  A man on horseback came immediately after.

He aimed between my eyes.

***

This was written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend writing prompt, ‘Arrow.’  This was also inspired by the Dan Carlin podcast, “Kings of Kings,” which was about ancient middle eastern warfare.  I was impressed at the defensive capabilities of the Steppe tribesmen and their legendary use of cavalry and bows.