The Fiction Fox
Quarter 1 Wrap-Up and Favourites
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
With the increasing number of books I read, and the decreasing amount of time I have to write about them, I’ve decided at the start of 2021 to make my wrap-up’s Quarterly (a.k.a. 3-monthly) rather than monthly. I will not only save myself some time, but also provide you guys with only the info about the books that I actually want to talk about. Each quarter I will be giving you some stats, as well as talking you through my favourites, my most disappointing, and all the new releases I read, as those tend to be the most requested. If you’d like to see what else I read, you can follow me on Goodreads where I track and rate everything I read, including my thoughts from day to day. Without further ado, let’s get into my Q1-wrap-up of 2021.
Number of Books Read: 30 Average Rating: 3.2 stars
The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
I feel like this series needs little introduction, as it’s a community favourite for sure. Set in a grim, Venetian inspired city, The Lies of Locke Lamora follows orphaned Locke and his ragtag group of friends, developing themselves into the Gentlemen’s Bastards; the most daring, flamboyant and chaotic clan of thieves you’ve ever met. Instead of lurking in the shadows, Locke and his friends pull of their high-stakes heists in style: with more theatre than sneak and, in Locke’s case, a lot more brain than brawl. Not only was this one of the most page-turning, action packed heist-stories I’ve read in a long time, it’s also a novel with a lot of heart, humor, found family and a fantastic cast of characters you come to love. Highly recommend it, and its sequels, which I read later during this quarter.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Bloody Rose – Nicholas Eames
The sequel to one of my 2020 favourites Kings of the Wyld. I can’t go to deep into the story, considering it’s a sequel, but I can say that I enjoyed this equally as much as the first book. Same great action, same hilarious humour and same great heart as its predecessor.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Sitting Pretty – Rebekah Taussig
In my search for good literature (both fiction and non-fiction) featuring disability I've come across many things: some nuggets of gold, some shiny things that looked hopeful, but turned out to be disappointing and a lot of unfortunate dirt... Still, it's those gold nuggets that make the journey worthwhile. Sitting Pretty is one of the best gold-chunks I've found among the bunch. Although we don't share our disability, the experiences she describes are universal enough to people struggling to fit in a world that wasn't always made with them in mind, that I found myself tearing up in recognition more than ones. Smart, insightful, full of character, and often hitting me personally right where it hurt: Rebekah Taussig has written the best piece of disability non-fiction I've read in a long time. I'm not sure if I will be able to "formally review" this, as it's maybe a bit to close to me, but if you take one thing from this review: Please pick up this book: Rebekah Taussig has a voice to be heard! Rating: 5/5 stars
My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell
My Dark Vanessa kicked up a lot of dust upon its release, riding the wave of the MeToo movement, and in my opinion: the hype was well deserved.
Profound, brave, insightful, nuanced and at times frighteningly relatable; Kate Elizabeth Russell explores the relationship between a precocious fifteen-year old and her charismatic but manipulative teacher, 46-years her senior. From the perspective of both teenage-Vanessa and her adult self, looking back, we explore the inner conflict, ruination and lifelong aftermath this affair brought. This was one of the most difficult novels I’ve read this year, but it’s also a stunning character study, a masterpiece of psycho-analysis and an arresting piece of literature that I keep thinking about on a regular basis, even months after finishing it. Although I truly planned on writing a review, I don’t feel like I can add to the myriad of articulate ones that have already been written, and I would highly recommend you read a few of those instead of mine. I do want to recommend it to as many people as possible, yet only if you’re in the right headspace for it, as it really made for a profoundly disturbing and hard-hitting experience for me. Rating: 5/5 stars
Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
Ninth House was Leigh Bardugo’s much anticipated debut into adult fiction in 2019, and was received with much hype and mixed opinions. It’s a supernatural thriller/fantasy with heavy Dark Academia influences, featuring a girl with a troubled past entering the world of secret societies and intrigue at Yale University. Although it’s premise (secret societies, ghosts, overcoming a traumatic past) sounded so up my alley, I had to DNF this book not once, not twice, but 3 separate times. Didn’t care for any of the characters, the story felt disjointed and all over the place and the writing style was honestly so pretentious to me, which I really wasn’t expecting from Bardugo. It was almost like she feared her normal style wouldn’t be mature enough for an adult audience, so she padded the story with additional grit for shock-factor and a generous helping of thesaurus.com. It really wasn’t what I was hoping, and life is too short to linger on books you don’t enjoy. Disappointed, but moving on.
Rating: 1/5 stars
Wider than the Sky – Katherine Field Rothschild
As far as 2021 releases go, Wider than the Sky was my first big disappointment of the year, and the only one of the bunch I cannot justify recommending to anybody. I still plan on writing a full review on everything wrong with this novel, but for now I’m going to stick with my most important points. We follow twins Sabine and Blythe during the aftermath of the death of their father after a mysterious illness. Each cope with the loss in their own way: Sabine by “poeting” (an uncontrollable quirk of bursting into poetry at inappropriate moments), and Blythe by obsessing over getting into MIT, their fathers alma mater. They come together in the search for answers about their dad’s life and his death: what mystery illness did he die of, who is the family friend Charlie and what does this mean for their family? The story is mainly told through the eyes of Sabine, which was probably my prime reason for disliking the book the way I did. I couldn’t stand Sabine. She is selfish, juvenile and shallow, and the way her “grief” is written is a joke to any teen who’s lost a parent. In fact, there’s barely any grieving done in this book: the author just glosses right over the death of a parent (!) like it’s nothing, so the characters can focus on their shallow lives, their petty insta-love romances and the “mystery” of their dads life, which can’t be called a mystery to anyone with half a brain to work with. On top of that, the representation in this novel is god-awful: shallow, oversimplistic and teeming with stereotypes. Had this book been marketed as a YA-contemporary romance, I might have given it a pass with a 2-star rating as it “wasn’t for me”. Yet as its marketing focussed so heavily on the representation, grief and mental-health aspects, I can’t let it slide that easily. 1-star: would recommend you steer clear. Rating: 1/5 stars
Disfigured: On Fairy tales, Disability, and making space – Amanda Leduc
An even bigger disappointment that hurt a bit more was Disfigured by Amanda LeDuc. I’m always on the hunt for quality literature (fiction or non-fiction) featuring the topic of disability, and had heard good things about this one. Unfortunately, this wasn’t that for me. Disfigured is a long-form essay and analysis of the way disability has been used to victimize and villainize, and the way this carries over into our modern day society. Although the topic itself is highly interesting and LeDuc presents some good points, I didn’t enjoy this work as a whole. I feel this justifies a more in depth review, and I plan on writing one soon, but my main issues with the work were repetitiveness, oversimplification, but also a narrative tone that may come off as preachy to some, and antagonize some parties that are integral in the discussion surrounding disability. Luckily, I have a great alternative to recommend for disability-non-fiction, in the form of Sitting Pretty by Rebecca Taussig, which made it to my favourites of Q1. Rating: 2/5 stars
The Wide Starlight – Nicole Lesperance
The Wide Starlight is a YA Magical Realism novel, weaving together the story of a sixteen-year-old girl coping with the grief over her missing mother with Norwegian fairy tales. If you know me, you’ll know that the combination of stories/fairytales and grief is to me, like a waving flag to a bull. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite meet my (admittedly high) expectations. What I loved most about this story was the rich imagery; wispy-ghostlike apparitions, northern lights in the skies, Narwals appearing in the Cape Cod Bay… Honestly: just look at this cover and you’ll get a good feeling for this books ambiance. What I didn’t love was the way the magical realism was interwoven into the story. Instead of drifting seamlessly into another, I found the transitions a bit jarring. Every other chapter would be a kind of short Norwegian fairytale, lightly connected to the events in the story. Yet instead of adding to the atmosphere I felt taken out of the story, and wanted to skip them to get back to the main narrative. Additionally, I never got a good feel for our protagonist Elise and her relationship with her mother. In a story centring around grief, this is essential to me, so this really hampered my enjoyment. I want to stress that I’m highly critical of books about the grief of a parent, as they’re so close to my own heart. I feel this is a great debut that a lot of teens will enjoy, hence the still fairly high star rating. You have to be okay with Magical Realism elements, and the switches between fairytale and real life though.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Amari and the Ghost Brothers – BB Alston
Amari and the Ghost Brothers was one of my most anticipated middle-grade novels of the year, and my first 5-star read. Amari, a young black girl, bullied for being from a “bad neighbourhood” has felt rather lost since the disappearance of her brother whom she adored. When she discovers a strange suitcase in his room, she has no idea how much bigger his disappearance - and the world around her - actually are. Enter the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, where Amari begins to train as a junior agent in a world where aliens, witches, dragons and way, way more exist. I don’t say this lightly, but this book reminded me of my experience reading the first Harry Potter. The same adventure, whimsy and friendship, in an introduction into a phenomenal world of witches, wizards, and much more. The one difference being: I think Amari and the Ghost Brothers is actually better. Everything that J.K. Rowling did wrong, BB Alston does right: this book is diverse, inclusive and has a very timely message which it doesn’t shy away from. If you want to experience that “Harry Potter-feeling” that my generation had (blissfully unaware of all the insensitivities and opinions of Mrs. Rowling), but brought to a new, more inclusive generation: this series is for you. I’ve already given this book and its Dutch translation as a gift to quite a few kids and pre-teens in my life, and have only heard back positive things. Can’t recommend this book enough: although it’s my first, I think this will be my middle-grade book of the year. Rating: 5/5 stars
Root Magic – Eden Royce
Staying in the same vein of inclusive middle-grade reads that address the topic of racism against people of colour, Root Magic is a historical Middle Grade novel centered around Gullah culture in the nineteen sixties. Jez and Jay, twins from the South Carolinian marshlands, are introduced to the art of rootwork, following the death of their beloved grandma. Root has protected their house from evil spirits, haints and boo-hags for generations now, and with grandma gone, it falls onto the twins to continue this work. Yet it’s not just dangerous spirits their family has to fear anymore: changing times and racial prejudice threaten their way of life, and they may need more than just root magic to protect them from that. Again: such an important and current middle-grade story that smartly weaves important lessons about prejudice, tolerance and acceptance of differences into a thrilling and accessible story. Highly atmospheric, poignant and entertaining for both middle-graders as well as adults, Root Magic is a masterpiece of its genre. This was one of those instances where I felt almost sad I’m not a kid anymore, so I could experience books like this through that lens, even though as an adult it was probably just as good. Highly recommend, especially since I’ve heard almost no one talk about this novel. Rating: 4.5/5 stars
The In-Between – Rebecca Ansari
Third and last of the middle-grade releases was The In-Between; a fantasy/mystery hybrid that had a lot more depth and heart that I anticipated it would have. Cooper has felt lost ever since his parents divorced three years ago. Between his mom working two jobs to support the family, his younger sister Jess navigating her life with diabetes, and feeling often invisible both in school and at home, there’s barely any time left to be a normal 10-year old. So when Cooper learns of an unsolved mystery his sister has discovered online, he welcomes the distraction. It’s the tale of a deadly train crash that occurred a hundred years ago in which one young boy among the dead was never identified. The only identifier: a strange insignia on his jacket. Soon after, the mystery literally comes walking into their backyard, in the form of a girl wearing the same insignia on her jacket. Jess and Cooper find themselves more closely related to this historical mystery than they ever expected… This is one of those incredibly accomplished middle-grade novels that manages to present a phenomenal and entertaining story, whilst seamlessly slipping in so many important lessons, representation and emotional maturity for those who want to find it. It’s one of those books that can be read on many levels, which makes it great for children of many different ages and levels of maturity. There’s the surface level story which is wonderful for everybody, but there’s also themes of bullying, divorce, abandonment, loneliness, chronic illness and many more for those kids who need it. Apart from being featured in Owlcrate Jr., this has been just as underrated as Root Magic, and I hope that my mention of it will be able to introduce a few more people to this hidden gem. Rating: 5/5 stars
The Forever Sea – Joshua Philip Johnson
On the never-ending, miles-high expanse of prairie grasses known as the Forever Sea, Kindred Greyreach, hearthfire keeper and sailor aboard harvesting vessel The Errant, is just beginning to fit in with the crew of her new ship when she receives devastating news. Her grandmother--The Marchess, legendary captain and hearthfire keeper--has stepped from her vessel and disappeared into the sea. But the note she leaves Kindred suggests this was not an act of suicide. Something waits in the depths, and the Marchess has set out to find it.
The Forever Sea immediately caught my attention, not just with its stunning cover, but also with its incredible premise, intricate magic system and wonderful worldbuilding. In all those areas it delivers above and beyond, and it was enough to keep me engaged throughout. It wasn’t quite enough to make me love this novel however, as it was lacking in some other aspects. As deep as the worldbuilding, so shallow remained the character development. I couldn’t get a feel for any of the characters, other than maybe the Kindred, and as a very character-driven reader that’s a big thig for me. Another way in which the novel shows itself to be a debut is the pacing, which had a few stumbles along the way, and became very slow during the middle. That being said: this book was worth the read for me for the setting alone, and I can’t wait to see what’s next from the mind that spawned this beautifully creative world. Rating: 3/5 stars
Ariadne – Jennifer Saint
I’m a simply girl: I see a Greek myth retelling: I add it to TBR. With Ariadne, Jennifer Saint gives voice to the titular princess of Crete, known mostly as a side character in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, placing her at the centre of her own story for once. The concept has been trialled and tested in Circe, The Silence of the Girls and A Thousand Ships, but Ariadne’s story is one that lends itself perfectly to the same treatment, as even in her original story she’s a female character with a lot of agency. As the brains behind Theseus heroic rescue operation, Ariadne dares to spin the threads of her own faith and stand strong and tall in a world ruled by man, Gods and monsters.
I didn’t immediately fall in love with this novel the way I wanted to. We start with a lot of setting up the scene, and for someone who’s already very familiar with original myth, it all felt a bit redundant and info-dumpy. During this same set up, there was some fairly heavy handed priming towards the clear feminist message that the book carries throughout, and I honestly was afraid that it would take too much of an aggressive approach to this. However, once the story got going, my hesitation and reserves went out the window. With stunning prose, Saint brings these characters (male, female, gods and beasts) to life in a way that I’ve only ever seen done in Circe. Not only Ariadne, but her sister Phaedra and many other forgotten women from these myths are brought to life in nuanced, complex and emotionally profound ways that will hit home to many of us, even centuries later. If, like me, you loved Circe and haven’t had quite enough of this style of myth-retelling that focusses more on character than story: this is one you can’t miss. It is “the next Circe”, but it’s also entirely its own. It’s contemporary, but also timeless. It’s a tragedy, but an absolutely joyous experience. Highly recommend.
Rating: 4/5 stars