If there is anything positive to come out of this quarantine, it is that I have been catching up on all the reading I have missed during my first quarter of classes. So I decided to recommend the top books I’ve read this winter, hopefully you can find something you like from the list.
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
Omg, if you are looking for a fun and cute story to lift your moods. Look no further, because this fits all the checkboxes. You can read the first volume for free here on the author’s website. The drawings are done digitally with a very smooth look reminisent of 2D animated movies. The story is so heartwarming; it’s all about friendship and acceptance and all kinds of love. The dragons here are cute creatures who can brew different kinds of magical tea. The landscapes are cozy and inviting and remind me of landscape paintings.
To be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers
This is a novella following a group of space explorers documenting new species from the different planets they travel to. It’s not action packed but it is full of adventure and wonder. I was actually surprised Chambers was not a scientist herself (coming from a person who majored in Biology) as she paid such an accurate homage to scientific process, a tedious and sometimes thankless process but the rewards of discovering something new are unmatched. I was utterly fascinated by the different species they encountered; she definitely played with our traditional ideas of how living things should be. This novella also gleans into the day to day life of a scientist albeit in space. You really get a sense of the loneliness and disconnect they have from Earth considering how little time passes for them versus on Earth. You also get glimpses of their backstories, what it’s like to leave Earth forever and what is happening on Earth as they are up there.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo’s first foray into a genre (mystery/thriler) other than fantasy was a huge success for me. I think she succeeded because she played up her strengths as a writer. This book, although being a mystery firmly set in contemporary setting and space, has a dark, foreboding sense of atmosphere. There’s also a fantasy element to the book–magic–which is something Leigh Bardguo excelled at writing more which I think traditional mystery writers would have a harder time executing. The magic feels like a lived in part of this world and I adored the history behind the magic and Yale and its societies as the center to all this magic. The main character is one of those millenial women fuckups that the media loves nowadays but I’m not complaining about it because Bardugo takes the time to write Alex’s history and it makes her story standout. The other characters are just as memorable. I was completely entranced and will be eagerly awaiting the next book.
Damsel by Elana K. Arnold – Winner of the Printz Honor Award
This book has a lot of mixed reviews on Goodreads and I can definitely see why even though I personally loved it. First of all, it’s not really a teen book for teens, it’s more of a teen book for adults, like Martin Scoresese’s Hugo was for adults. Its premise is an interesting one: every generation, a damsel is rescued from a dragon with no memory of who she was before. She must marry the prince and bear his heirs. The cycle repeats on and on. At first glance, it is highly blunt and ominous in its message, driving home the message of the insidiousness of rape culture. But the meat of the story is hidden within these metpahoric and symbolic lines. How does a woman find her voice in a world where she is not given a choice? The writing is a definitely a step up from a lot of YA books due to its focus on the character’s introspection so I’m not surprised it won the Printz.
Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg
Glass Town is a graphic novel loosely following the Bronte sisters and their fictional imaginary world of Glass Town. As with all books of this nature, this imaginary world is only reflective of what the characters’ currrent mindset is like and Glass Town in the book really reflects the sibling relationships and how each character deals with grief and death. Definitely a quieter, literary graphic novel for a rainy day. I completely adored their imaginary world. The fluid, sketchy art is not for everyone but I didn’t mind it.
The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski
I admit that although this was a solid first book, it falls a lot into the trappings of YA storytelling. She definitely overemphasizes and overdramatizes to hone in her point when it doesn’t need to be there. The worldbuilding is also quite lackluster. It follows a lot of common worldbuilding of a lot of older YA where the poor are enslaved and used for the rich’s use, with no sense of subtely. It reminded me of a lot of The Hunger Games where the rich people wear very garish, vivid colors whereas the poor wear drab clothing. All of them are vapid. Been there, done that. However, I will say the world has a lot of potential especially as Nirrim and Sid continue to unravel the mysteries of the magic system. I’m happy to say though that Rutkoski’s knack for slow burn relationships, sophisticated dialogue, and quiet storytelling is back and better than ever. I’m very excited to see where Nirrim’s and Sid’s relationship goes. I also thought Nirrim’s relationship with her abusive foster mother was also much more nuanced than many other YA books that tackle this. I also loved how Rutkoski explores different facets of lying and power different than in the Winner’s trilogy. I was so flippin happy to see mentions of the characters in the The Winner’s trilogy and I think Kestrel and Arin are going to play bigger roles in the next book. I’m very curious about their character development because one character’s perception of them in this book was less than stella. I’m hoping it’s just the character’s bias but it’ll definitely an interesting character arc so we’ll see.