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Best Books of the Year…So Far

Wow, halfway through the year already! I’m a little behind on my reading goal of 100 books; so far, I’ve read 45. However, that’s not a big enough gap for me to worry. I think I’ll still make my goal.

Also, I’ve only given 2 books 5 stars this year! By the end of last year, I’d given 8 books 5 stars. Hmm. Maybe that means I’m going to read some really awesome books the rest of this year?

Here are my 2 lists: my top five reads published in 2017, and my top five reads of the year so far regardless of publication date.

Top 5 Published in 2017

Book Cover of Exit West by Mohsin HamidBook Cover of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine ArdenBook Cover of The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Refugees, war; magic doors, love. A must read for the year.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. I read this last year, but it was published in January. Features fairy tales set in historical Russia, with a rebellious protagonist. Atmospheric and fun.

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. Space! Except, not space. Rather, a psychological study of astronauts in a simulation to Mars. Very interesting. I preferred it to The Martian because of the character depth, but it’s supposedly a similar read.

Book Cover of The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories

Book Cover of Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. A collection of short stories about — you guessed it — djinn! And no, not like in Aladdin, though a few do come out of lamps. Some of these stories still haunt me, even though I read it early this year.

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages. Short stories with subtle hints of magic. Most of these feature YA characters, but can be enjoyed whatever your age.

I’ve only read 12 books published in 2017, so not that many. All but Exit West came from Netgalley. Since I work at a used bookstore, I tend to be a year or two behind recent releases. However, I have 5 queued up in Netgalley (and many more requested), and there are 3 more I know I’m going to want to buy, and I can’t wait to read. I will at least double that number by the end of the year.

Top 5 of the Year So Far, Regardless of Publication Date

Book Cover of Century of Struggle by Eleanor Flexner

Book Cover of A Monster Calls by Patrick NessBook Cover of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States, Enlarged Edition by Eleanor Flexner. A history of women’s suffrage in the United States. Broad in scope, and very informative. The first of my 5 star ratings.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. A YA novel that made me cry A LOT! Magical and wise, and the illustrations by Jim Kay are great. I still haven’t seen the movie, but the book’s so good I’m not really that interested in the movie. This is the 2nd of my 5 star ratings.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. A fairy tale set in 1920s Alaska. Beautifully written. Ivey is now on my ‘read everything she writes’ list.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin.

Both of these 2017 reads made this list too! But will they make the end of the year best of list???

What have been your favorite books of the year so far?

Book Review of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


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Title and Author: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Publication Date: January 10th, 2017

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fairytale Inspired

How I got it: Thanks to Netgalley and Random House/Del Rey for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

The Bear and the Nightingale begins with a fairy tale, told on a cold Russian night around the warmth of an oven’s fire, to a little girl named Vasilisa and her brothers.

Some fairy tales can become reality.

Illustration by Ivin Bilibin in the illustrated “Vasilisa the Beautiful”

Born in the heart of winter, from the day Vasilisa Petrovna, or Vasya, is born, her family knows she’s different, though they still love her with a fierce devotion. Vasya’s mother Marina dies during childbirth, bequeathing Vasya her mystical powers. Wanting a mother for his children, Vasya’s father travels to Moscow where he finds a new wife, Anna, a relative of Marina’s. Anna, like Vasya and Marina, has the sight. They can see the chyerti and domovoi — guardian spirits and creatures from Russian folklore — that grace the Russian landscape, though when Anna sees them she believes them to be demons, while Vasya sees them for what they truly are.

Illustration by Boris Zabirokhin

When Father Konstantin becomes their village priest, Anna confesses to him that she sees demons everywhere, and the Father knows what he’s meant to do in this backward village — abolish the demons and bring the people back to God. The best way to do this, he believes, is through fear. Threatening God’s wrath, he convinces the villagers to stop leaving food out for the domovoi. However, instead of saving the village, he gives power to the evil bear god. Only the god Winter and Vasya can save the village.

Another one from Ivin Bilibin, from the illustrated “Morozko”

The Bear and the Nightingale blends a variety of Russian folklore with history from the Middle Ages. While I’m no expert at Russian folklore, I did pick up on a few fairytale references, like the fairy tales “Vasilisa the Beautiful” and “The Death of Koschei the Deathless“. In an interview, Arden also mentions the firebird, “The Twelve Months,” and “Morozko.”

Vasya is a fun perspective to read from. She’s impulsive and independent, and her interactions with the chyerti and domovoi are the most engaging aspects of the novel. Many reviewers have issues with the portrayal of the Christian priest as a villain. I didn’t necessarily have issues with that aspect, though all the characters would’ve benefited from a bit more nuance. While I like and dislike the characters I’m supposed to, a part of me feels like no one is all villain or all hero. However, that’s a legitimate way to tell stories, and keeps with the fairytale tradition.

Another minor quibble, I wouldn’t want to count the number of times Vasya is compared to a horse (this is especially annoying when her father does it. I understand it when she’s being objectified, but he’s supposed to be different, more of an ideal father).

However, overall The Bear and the Nightingale is a magical and fun read.  If you enjoyed Uprooted by Naomi Novik or Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (both Eastern European, historical fairytale novels), or The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, you’re likely to enjoy this as well. It lacks the darkness of Valente and the romance of Novik and is faster paced than The Golem and the Jinni, but it’s along the same lines.

I wonder if this is going to be a series? I would definitely be willing to pick up where we left off with Vasya. She’s got to have some more adventures, and I want to read about them.

Rating: 4/5