2016: They’re good books, Brent.

Alright, book nerds.  It’s that time of year again. Namely, the end of it. And thank christ for that, right? What a nightmare.

⇑ 2016 ⇑

But as much as 2016 has fucking sucked in most ways, it’s actually been a pretty great year for me in terms of reading. (Oh and I also FINALLY got a librarian job, so OMGYAY for me, putting that masters to good use at last, guess I’m not a complete failure anymore, am I, world, am I??)

Anyway. Let’s dive in to the good books.

Robyn’s Year of Reading: 2016 Edition

NB: Not all of these books were published in 2016. I just read them in 2016. If you have a problem with that, get out.

Fantasy

I’m starting with my favourite genre, because I feel like genre fiction in general and fantasy specifically is still unfairly overlooked. And since we’re talking favourites, I might as well start with my favourite book of the year… *drumroll* City of Blades, the second book in the Divine Cities series by Robert Jackson Bennett, twitter god and author bae. I didn’t actually review the book on the blog, because I had Emotions that would not be wrestled into words (and also, we all remember what happened the last time I tried to review an RJB book, right?), but it has everything you didn’t even know you wanted in a fantasy: bad-ass characters that you love more than most of your blood relations (one of whom is a tough, one-armed, HBIC general that also happens to be a middle-aged woman, no biggie), a complex plot full of action and twists, and grim political intrigue that mirrors, sometimes uncannily, the hellscape that is our own world. It will make you think about war and its devastating cost on the people it touches, the very notion of civilization, and whether we can ever really forgive our fathers. It will break your fucking heart.

Oh, and Sigrud is back.

So yeah, City of Blades, a Very Good Book, 13 out of 10, would want to have with me on a desert island, READ IT, weep for 18 hours, then read it again.

crying feels matthew mcconaughey emotional interstellar

The other fantasy I liked was mostly YA, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, the sequel to Six of Crows, was as amazing and gut-wrenching and ship-exploding as I’d hoped. My poor sweet murder-babies. And I Darken by Kiersten White was a goddamn delightful storm of gender-swapping, history-rewriting, and unlikeable-protagonist meets Strong Female Character. Surprising no one, A Court of Mist of Fury by Sarah J. Maas gave me Feelings, and yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed far more than the first book, it gave me at least three new book boyfriends, and it was almost hot enough to be placed in the smut category.

“Literary Fiction” (so pretentious)

I read a few “literary fiction” (ugh ugh ugh) titles this year that I really liked, which surprised me because I’m not a pretentious dick usually a fan of this absurdly ill-defined genre. Ahem. But yeah, I really enjoyed Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and I finally got around to reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was great as everyone said it was (and is also probably more high-brow science-fiction but screw the shackles of categorization). Another retelling I liked was Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy, a modern interpretation of The Great Gatsby.

The best of the lit fic was undoubtedly Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno, a short story collection that I reviewed here. So good. I’ve been pushing on everyone who’s asked me for book recommendations (and quite a few people who didn’t). You should also probably read it.

Nonfiction

Not many this year. I had resolved to read two nonfiction books a month this year, but yeah, that… didn’t happen. Like the rest of the world, I fell in love with Hamilton and its creator, Lin Manuel Miranda, and picked up Hamilton: The Revolution. I was not disappointed. And I finally learned the words to “My Shot.” I also read Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown (and reviewed it here) – I didn’t love it, but in hindsight, I learned a lot about chess and have been using those juicy knowledge tidbits to impress potential lovers at the many dinner parties and high society soirees which I most definitely do attend on a regular basis.

New Girl season 5 jake johnson funny face nick miller

Moving on.

Poetry

movies wes anderson poetry moonrise kingdom smartass

If you’re on tumblr, and espeicallly if you’re on the book part of tumblr (booklr, I kid you not), you have seen a hundred thousand artfully-lighted pictures of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, probably placed on a table made of reclaimed hipster wood, probably with a cup of coffee ruined by ‘latte art’ somewhere in the frame. Despite all of this, it’s actually a great collection of poetry. I even cried a bit.

Romance

the addams family raul julia morticia addams anjelica huston gomez addams

I didn’t actually read that many romances this year, because love is an illusion and men are pricks I think I read too many last year and was kind of sick of being reminded of my perpetual spinsterhood. HOWEVER. One of my favourite books of the year happened to be a romance: Act Like It by Lucy Parker. Absolutely delicious. I recently reread it and it was EVEN BETTER, which I didn’t think was possible because it’s actually perfect and makes even my cold, stone heart a little swoony. Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game was another good romance – both it and Act Like It feature the incomparable Enemies to Lovers to trope. So basically:

love flirting swoon swooning

On the YA front, I finally manged to read Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You. Sweet, light-hearted, clean romance.

Which brings us to…

Smut

I may not have read that many romances this year, but god help me, I read a metric fuck-tonne of smut. And most of it was fucking. awful.

Two that I am not embarrassed to admit that I read, though, were Mr. President by Katy Evans and Royally Screwed by Emma Chase. The former I read over that hellish nightmare of a week that preceded the American presidential election, so it was smutty *and* surreal, while the latter features a sexy prince. Need-I-say-more-I-think-not-you’re-welcome.

Cookbooks

Whatever, cookbooks totally count. Best of the year was Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & Beyond by Olia Hercules. Do you know how hard it is to find cookbooks with Eastern European recipes? And do you know much harder it is to find cookbooks with Eastern European recipes that are also pretty and written in English?? Very hard. I’ve made a couple things from this book and they’ve turned out wonderfully. This 1/4 Ukrainian girl is very satisfied. (And also, 10 points to Olia for naming her cookbook after a made-up Slavic dance from The Addams Family. Hero.)

And that’s it. My best of 2016. What a year.

I’m currently reading The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky, and I should it finish it before the year is up. If the last 40 pages are as good as the previous 396 have been, it’s definitely one of Good Books of the year. So yay.

Oh, here’s Titus.

Not that anyone asked me, librarian, but *my* Best Book of the year was Felines of New York: A Glimpse into the Lives of New York’s Feline Inhabitants, as told by the felines of New York to a human man, Jim Tews. It was a fascinating look into the lives of modern metropolitan felines, a subject, I NOTE, that has been sorely underrepresented in your own list.

Ha ha, thanks, T!

Well, guys, all we have to do is survive these last two days of 2016 and then the nightmare’s over.

Here’s to 2017. May it be full of good books.

xoxo -R

Strike the harp and join the chorus!

WHAT IS UP, MY SCRUMPTIOUS GINGERBREAD PEOPLE? It’s Christmas time, and you know what that means…

Books. Everything, always, forever, is books. Duh.

So to celebrate this festive season, here’s a list of my all-time fave Chrimbooks. (Christmas = Chrimbo, + books. Chrimbooks. Whatever, it’s a thing. Or it will be. Deal.)

Ok, hold on to your santa hats, let’s get this festive list started!

1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Duh. I mean, aside from the fact that I’m basically Ebeneezer Scrooge pre-Christmsa Eve revelation, I genuinely love this book. I’m sure you know the story, so I won’t summarize, but if you haven’t read it, do. It’s short, it’s a classic, and it will tug at those heartstrings. And then when you’ve read it, watch what is quite possible the best film adaptation of any novel ever: A Muppet Christmas Carol.

2. My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins

This is a collection of twelve short stories by some amazing YA writers, and it is festive af. I love almost every story, but I think my favourites are Rainbow’s Rowell’s story about a string of New Year’s Eves and an evolving friendship, “Krampuslauf” by Holly Black, about a truly magical and slightly monstrous Christmas party, and “The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link, which is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read, and includes embroidery magic, which is awesome.

3. A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas

Fluffy romance novella from one of my favourite historical romance writers. This is also a kind of bonus epilogue to Kleypas’ Wallflower series. I really enjoyed the way the central romance, as well as the focus on Victorian Christmas traditions. Also, festive smut is the best smut (see below).

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Another classic – the opening chapter oozes Christmas – the March girls dreaming of their most coveted Christmas presents, the grand Christmas breakfast give to the less fortunate Hummell family. It’s all goddamn delightful. (Also, dibs on Christmas Ooze for the name of my Death Metal Christmas album.)

5. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

According to my great uncle Danny (okay, and a lot of people), O. Henry is one of the foremost writers of the short story in any language. If any story stands out as the must-read of his oeuvre, it’s this one. It was written in 1905, but the story feels incredibly fresh. (Bonus – it’s available to read for free online here!)

6. A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd

Jean Shepherd is the god of my favourite sort of writing, the mundane epic, in which schoolyard fights become legendary battles and a Red Ryder BB gun is more precious than the Holy Grail. This collection of essays was the inspiration for the best Christmas movie ever made.

7. The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol

Christmas, Nikolai Gogol style. Funny, dark, and weird. The devil makes an appearance, of course.

8. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by *gasp* unknown!

The “Christmas game” is what sets the whole business off, so I’m counting this as festive enough for this list, fight me.

9. Sharpe’s Christmas by Bernard Cornwell

Two stories featuring everyone’s favourite sexy rifleman bastard as he thwarts the French not once, but twice. Oh, Sharpe.

10. Silent Night by Deanna Raybourn

A novella entry in the excellent Lady Julia series. I recommend reading the rest of the series first, as they’re all excellent, but I really loved this one and wished it was longer. (I also really hope we get more of this series in the future.)

11. A Very Russian Christmas

I almost started crying actual tears of joy when I found this at Type Books in Toronto. I love Christmas, but I LOVE Russian Christmas. An eclectic mix of stories by some well-known and some lesser-known Russian writers.

12. A Very Russian Christmas by Roxie Rivera

Christmas smut is good. Russian Christmas smut is even better.

 

13. Every single Harry Potter book

Christmas at Hogwarts. Is there anything better? No, no there is not.

 

Well, that’s it, reindeers and reindarlings. I hope your Christmas Eve will be as pleasant as mine. I plan to spend it curled up in bed with a good book and a sleepy cat and a steaming cup of tea.

Oh, here’s Book Cat, who’s gotten into the Christmas spirit.

Your heart’s an empty hole, your brain in full of spiders, you’ve got garlic in your soul. You cruel, cruel Librarian.

May your Christmas be lovely and bright and warm. Best wishes from me & Titus!

xoxo Robyn

Singing Crying in the rain

What’s the word, book nerds? Yes, I’m back already. I need to cleanse the review palate after that last nightmare of a review.

So. Let’s dive into a wonderful book, which I discovered, as I do so many wonderful things, on blessed Tumblr, light of my life, fire of my heart. Ah, Tumblr, how I love thee!

Ahem. So anyway. It’s Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Behold the cover in all of its burnished glory:

So pretty…

The Deal: Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.

But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Robyn says: Guys. GUYS. This book is AMAZING. Amaaaaaaaazing. I can’t even talk about it omigod shut up SHUT UP. Ugh, like, perfection. The writing itself is beautifully crafted. It’s freaking art. Art, I tell you. Ugh it hurts just talking about it. I mean–

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

DYING.

Plus, there’s character development and action and well-researched historical details and fantasy elements and a beautiful love story (that isn’t *cough* rapey as fuck *cough*). I really can’t even describe how lovely this book is. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read it. As always, tumblr was right. (I love you, tumblr.) Warning, though: this book will turn you into a fathomless pool of tears. It will break the cold, black stone masquerading as a heart inside your chest. It will DESTROY you. I’m crying right now, man. (No I’m not.) (Okay, maybe a little.)

Verdict: Learn from my mistakes and do not repeat my folly of ignoring tumblr’s wisdom! READ IT.

And then when you’ve read it, join me in haunting tumblr to swoon over the fanart and edits (#tsoa, fyi)

tumblr fanart and edits

Found on tumblr…

Best lines: Hard to choose just one. Goodreads has a great collection. I think this might be my favourite, or one of them, at least: “We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.” Isn’t that a perfect description of being in love? Ugh, so good.

Rating: 10 out of 10 broken hearts. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT: Sigh. Will anyone ever love me enough to slay a thousand men and eviscerate a powerful Anatolian city in my name? WILL THEY???

Oh, here’s Book Cat.

I’m too cozy to be witty. This fire has made me drowsy enough to let you pet me. In fact, you might say it’s my… Achilles’ heel. (Too soon?)

Oh, Titus. That’s cold, dude. Cold.

Stay warm, chickens!

xo, Robyn