Books I’m Excited For In 2018

2017 has been a great year for books. I haven’t read as much as last year, and I think that’s partly due to not setting myself a reading goal, which was kinda nice and relaxing. Plus, the amount of books you read doesn’t matter, it’s about what makes you happy. And what makes me happy the most is getting way too excited about the books that aren’t even out yet.

So, without further ado, here are the books I’m most excited for in 2018!

Circe by Madeline Miller

I’ve been trying to get my hands on an early copy of this for a few months now – but it seems that our fates are not aligned and I will have to wait patiently…a word not in my vocabulary. The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller’s debut novel, is one of, if not my ultimate favourite books of all time. I absolutely adore it with all my heart, and I believe it’ll happen again with Circe.

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Bright We Burn by Kirsten White

So, this has become one of my favourite series of all time. Unbelievable, because I remember reading And I Darken, which I bought on a whim, passing the Penguin stand at YALC back in 2016, and enjoying it but also being super frustrated by it. It hadn’t much hype, and maybe that was part of why I bought it, but what some of the characters did for the people they loved, tearing themselves apart for nothing in return, grinded my gears. But actually, looking back, and then reading Now I Rise as an e-arc made me fall head over heels for this historical story which is a RETELLING OF VLAD THE IMPALER BUT AS A TEENAGE GIRL. This story is fantastic, and I cannot wait for the finale. Blurb for And I Darken (so you’re not spoiled) is here!

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novak

I read Uprooted on a long car drive from Bavaria, Germany back to England in one sitting. I was told by people that it’s generic, that it was boring, that it was formulaic. I can’t argue that it wasn’t a typical fairytale like fantasy, but boring it was not. It was fun, interesting, and I’ve come to realise that I love fantasies set in places that aren’t generic woods. I like my fairytale to have it’s setting and worldbuilding rooted in real countries and old stories with culture. Uprooted was set in an Eastern European/Polish feeling place, and I assume Spinning Silver will be a new place but with the same writing I hold dear.

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

Look, all future V.E. Schwab novels should be on this list, but the next one up that actually has a set date is Vengeful, the sequel to Vicious, that tells the story of two best friends from college who gain powers; one becomes the hero and one becomes the villain. SOUNDS AMAZING DOESN’T IT? And finally, we are getting a sequel and I’m so excited to return to this world after giving my heart over to The Shades of Magic series. The blurb for Vicious is here!

Record of a Space Born Few by Becky Chambers

I seem to have a pattern here. All the books I’m excited for are either sequels, or novels by authors I already love. It seems there’s no difference here, but there’s a good reason for it.

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All of Becky Chambers novels are standalones. It means that her last two books, while set in the same universe, you do not have to read one to understand the other. You can go into Record of a Space Born Few without listening to me harp on about how I’m excited for ‘this installment’ without spoiling anything for you. Becky Chambers’ books delves into the understanding of humanity as another species with their human-like customs, as well as unpacking what we know as humans through fictional non-humans. It’s incredible and such an interesting way to question ourselves.

What books are you excited for this year? Let me know in the comments!

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Publisher: Walker Books
Publication Date: April 2017
Rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
Goodreads

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. 

I hate to say what almost every single review of this book has said, but I’d rather say it now than talk about it at length. This book is important. I’ve used it to describe books before and I’m kind of getting sick of it. It does it’s job, but at the same time, is that all this story is good for? Of course not. Stories are important, of course, but I don’t think people should feel like they have to read it because it’s important. It should be read to have a better understanding of what’s going on in the U.S. today, and why it needs be written about.

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I loved The Hate U Give, for many reasons, but none of them were because this book is important.

I loved this book because it was different. I love looking for new stories to devour that aren’t the same old same old that we see cover the shelves at Waterstones. This was a story that I had only seen in the news; twisted and manipulated by the media to only show us one perspective. While this story is a work of fiction, it’s very real and and no doubt accurate. It was a change, and refreshing.

I loved this book because it was entertaining. I loved Starr’s family dynamic and the relationships she had with her parents, her siblings, her boyfriend, and her friends. The community she lives in that, while riddled with crime and neglected, still gave me a warm, familial feel that showed us that family stretched further than the walls of your house. Starr’s personality shone from the page, even when she was going through such devastating events. She wasn’t a ‘strong female character’, she was a real female character.

I loved this book because of the impact it will have. As a white woman who hasn’t even set foot in the U.S., I’ve seen my fair share of black stereotypes, and often it was odd for me to read depictions and passages and dialogue and not think it racist. I think, if this were written by anyone else, it would have been deemed questionable, but you cannot question the experiences of a black person about black culture. This was one depiction, but it was a true and experienced depiction (obviously not word for word, The Hate U Give isn’t an autobiography). But the thing is, I was thinking about it along the lines of ‘white people are going to read this and think all black people talk/act like this in this ‘ghetto way’ oh no’. But to be honest, this book isn’t really for them if they’re going to read it and come away with that rather than any of the other very explicit messages in this story. And plus, this story was written to inform yes, but mainly, to represent. There are so many young POC who love to read and yet all they get to read about are people they cannot relate to, about people who wouldn’t listen to them if they tried to share their story. So to have The Hate U Give depict one of the frank and honest and accurate depictions of being black in the U.S. today to black teens who are living this shit is by far a better thought to come away with than what white people may think about it.

You may be wondering why I’ve only given it 4.5 stars after raving about it for so long. I’ve literally just taken away half a star just because this wasn’t a book that I was glued to. I was easily taken out of the story because a lot of the dialogue I had to go back and read because I wasn’t sure if I’d ingested it correctly. I’ve had this with other books before that are either written with a dialect or even in phonetic speech (damn you Trainspotting!) and so that was a pain. But thankfully, it didn’t take away from the story and I was still able to enjoy despite being a slow reader!

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The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins)
Release Date: 27th June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

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Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

So this book was not what I expected, which, is kind of disappointing. But it doesn’t stop it from being a really fun adventure that made my need for LGBT+ Historical YA to sore through to the sky.

Judging from the synopsis, I imagined a ‘romp’. I think maybe that word was used once or twice in one lined reviews slapped on some promotional material. Yeah, ‘romp’ and ‘raucous’. I love, and I mean LOVE, cheeky male characters with soft hearts and giant smiles, and that’s definitely what Monty was in the beginning, in the very beginning, however. He’s just woken up after a huge piss up and he’s seeing the antiques from the night before. But, while I understand that character development and change are a thing in books where the character has to learn a lesson,I was disappointed that Monty was kind of carried through by his sister and his best friend, Felicity and Percy.

I expected a lot more laughs and silliness from a rather naive-to-the-world rich teenage boy going on a Grand Tour (which were quite an important thing for a young man before he became ‘responsible’), but what we got was a lot more serious and a bit boring.

Things I did love; Percy and Felicity defying expectations, stereotypes, and social norms of the time. Considering when you read historical fiction, authors don’t bother including POC characters at all and only have female characters as speaking mains if it’s a bodice ripper and they’re sleeping with a king/prince, so it was nice just to have them there, with plots and personality and futures! Oh my!

I did thoroughly enjoy this novel, despite the fairly critical review, and the fact that it took me a while to even write one. But, I think the synopsis could be worded a little differently just so you’re not surprised that you’re not laughing as much.

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Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #2) By Kiersten White

Publisher: Corgi Children’s (Penguin Random House)
Release Date: 6th July 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Lada Dracul has no allies and no throne. After failing to seize the crown she believes is hers, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting her what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed, the sultan she might have been in love with, brings little comfort to her thorny heart. She left him before he could leave her.

Lada needs her brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople as his reluctant spy. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself, but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

I received an eARC of Now I Rise from Penguin Random House via Netgalley in an exchange for an honest review.

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So when I first read And I Darken, I wasn’t really sure how to rate it. I could not put it down, I ate up every word, I loved all the characters. But at the same time, the story had infuriated me. This can be in any case where you find a character that makes bad decisions. I didn’t like where things were going, and even though I had fallen in love with everything else, I still gave it four stars out of bitterness.

But this time? This time I could not do it.

Who am I kidding? Giving this series four stars when it takes all of my attention and forces me to keep the book open? No, I don’t know why I was holding myself back just because the decisions of one character were pissing me off. To make the one star drop even more unnecessary, the character with the bad decisions is my favourite character, so he can make as many bad decisions as he wants; I’m still gonna love him. Even if I am suuuuper disappointed in his actions.

Now I Rise continues from And I Darken, the story of Lada and Radu Dracul, the children of a weak king whose land is taken from him as they are taken to be raised by Sultan Murad in the Ottoman Empire. In the second installation, they have parted ways as Radu become the right hand man of newly appointed Sultan Mehmed II and Lada gathers together an army to take back the kingdom that is rightfully hers.

coverI am in no way a history buff. I barely listened in history class and gave it up at fourteen as quickly as I could, but I’m definitely starting to find a new found love of historical fiction, especially ones that actually take from historical events rather that just have a court with women in pretty dresses and romance drama. While this story is not wholly accurate and still called fiction, it’s still really hard to not google ‘Constantinople’ and spoil myself. I had an idea of what would happen, but it’s nice to know that my lack of history knowledge is finally paying off.

I love Radu and Lada in so many different ways. First there’s Lada, a headstrong, rage-fueled solider who is mot definitely going to become a tyrant. She’s blood thirsty and cruel but also incredible. I would not cross her, and I want her to succeed so badly. Then there’s Radu, my sweet summer child, the softest man in the Ottoman Empire who just wants love and appreciation and honestly? Now I Rise we finally get to see him as a protector of people who love him just as much as he loves them. I’ve never been infatuated with someone before, and it’s clear that the events from the first novel are still deeply ingrained in Radu… hence earlier when I talked about a fave character making bad decisions. I love him, but sometimes I just wanna bang his head against the wall. YOU HAVE LOVE, RIGHT THERE READY FOR YOU. But what I do know that un-loving someone is hard, and I really hope book three turns out the way I want it to, without looking at Wikipedia impatiently.

I could never decide whose story I liked best because I loved them in different ways. I loved Lada’s story; her soldiers who are loyal but also have the best banter, her cruelness and determination, the way she does not understand other women and yet they are of utmost importance to her, her realization that allies may not be allies at all.

I loved Radu’s story; his loyalty slowly breaking away from Mehmed, his realization that good and evil are not black and white, his innocence shattering. NAZIRA AND CYRIAN TOO. What powerhouses.

If you’ve been umming and ahhhing about And I Darken, please give it a go. And if you’re still on the fence afterwards, then know that this will be the book that will get you utterly obsessed with this trilogy.

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The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
Goodreads

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Apparently this year’s running theme is ‘being disappointed by my anticipated reads’. Because boy, am I getting disappointed by my anticipated reads.

I came across The Love Interest and begged every single gatekeeper to give me an early copy. Not only was it LGBT, it also seemed to be a funny self-deprecation at the genre and how many YA novels have the same romance tropes which are tired and clichéd.

When I was ignored, I waited for the Kindle edition and impatiently downloaded it on the release day (for £6.50, for God’s sake). I prepared myself for a full day of reading the whole thing; just me and this book, which I already knew I loved.

Oh. My. God.

This book is bad, which I hate to say about a book that I had such good expectations for. It does not read like a polished, traditionally published novel by a top publisher where editors have fine tooth combed it to perfection. This is a book that was clearly not looked at enough. Not read out loud to understand truly how badly structured and paced this whole thing is.

We’ll start with the writing, which I can only describe as written as bad stage directions. Every single thing is described, things that do not matter to the plot whatsoever. It’s not even purple prose, it’s just listing everything a person does or what a place looks like to the point where we are forced to shut down our imagination because everything is covered. But there’s no creativity; it’s just straight up describing and explaining. Here’s one mind numbing paragraph:

“”If it’s not too much trouble, can you chop up this celery for me?” A gigantic piece of celery is sitting on a wooden chopping board. I walk toward it and pick up the silver knife. I cut off the head, the slice the body into thin slivers.”

Apparently a reader cannot possibly know what chopping celery is, and so is taken through every step the main character goes through in order to fully understand this scene. Now, imagine this throughout the entire book. I felt like I was being talked to like an idiot. The protagonist walks into a room, the character smiles and breathes in and then breathes out. He then walks 30cm to the North West of the room and reaches for a pen, he picks up the pen……and it goes on. There is even a scene where two characters are out for a meal and nothing happens. We just get told that they lift up their forks and put food in their mouth and chew. AM I GOING CRAZY? I KNOW WHAT EATING FOOD IS.

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The dialogue is also just…not dialogue. It doesn’t sound authentic or real. I’m not expecting a book to write speech so accurately that it becomes a transcript, but to have characters talk as if they’re reading from a teleprompter is so bizarre. They don’t pause for breath, they just keep saying ‘oh also,’ and ‘anyway enough about that’ and just keep going. They have answers without thinking about things, like they’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. And even though the love interests in the novel do sometimes have rehearsed lines, not everyone does! They all sound like robots! The only way I can explain it is if you and a mate got the book and acted a scene out. Hear the dialogue out in the open, and then you’d realise it sounds like a bad amateur play.

The characters? I don’t know. Caden, from the beginning, we are told does not feel like he is a Nice because he doesn’t fit the mould. He says he’s selfish and is out for himself, and I understand it’s supposed to be a commentary on unrealistic characterization and that real people aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ but more of a mixture of the two with some leaning more one way than the other. I got that. But Caden isn’t much of anything? He says that he thinks a certain way but we don’t actually see it? He’s just a bit of a wet mop. They all are; even Dylan, the ‘bad’ who at first came across as a manic pixie dream boy, but then becomes like that character Summer from 500 Days of Summer. He’s wishy-washy and both of them just stand around and say stock sentences.

The premise, the plot that there’s this place where they create perfect people to be spies and make target’s fall in love with them is…I get it. It’s a sci-fi aspect to the common tropes in YA. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I physically couldn’t. There’s not enough exposition for this concept to land properly. We’re not given enough. After reading this, and someone asked me to explain exactly what the Love Interest Compound (LIC) is, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Is it a prison? Is it a nice place? Is it awful? How do they find love interests? How do they raise them? Why do they kill them? Where has all this money come from to spend on giant robots and cool holograms that people can conjure up with a flick of a finger? If they deal in secrets and information from their targets, how has that information not caused world war three? Or the collapse of society? I DON’T KNOW. I felt like it could have been something a lot smoother and polished and clever, but instead there just wasn’t enough. You were in there, and then suddenly you were made to forget about it and plopped into a YA contemporary, where the threat of death is still there but no one is that bothered. It doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I’m so disappointed. If this was a gripping story with humour mixed in with a thoughtful message, it would have been so much easier to look past some of the hammy stuff. But a badly written book is a badly written book, and I hope that the author continues to write and gets better editors.

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Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 2013
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
Goodreads

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with a boy who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

In all honesty, this book was not what I expected.

41rr-qkuy2blWhile it was funny and romantic, I did not expect a genuinely thought out message which you don’t normally find in an LGBT story; the actual label of being ‘gay’ and how people perceive you as a person, even if it’s a positive perception. While the message does get tossed back and forth and Rafe’s opinion and thoughts about what he’s set out to do change throughout the book (ergo, a plot), I did find myself struggling with a lot of things that he was made to accept just because she should be ‘grateful’ that he as cool and welcoming parents.

A lot of the things that Rafe asks of his parents do not slide with them and, though that may be the case, they still should be accommodating even when they do not think that is the right thing for him. They express their concern, but still go out of their way to make Rafe uncomfortable. He’s a teenager; not only are things super uncomfortable and embarrassing for him anyway, going against someone’s wishes regarding their sexuality or identity opens a whole other can of problematic worms. But, because ‘other people have it worse’, he’s made to embrace it which, if I were him, would not slide. This is about Rafe, and his parents often made it about them.

However, I loved the dissecting of male friendships and relationships while Rafe is at the all-boys boarding school. I have read stories with male protagonists with male friends, but I hadn’t really read something that felt so organic and true (despite not being male with male friends). It can be a toxic environment, and Rafe definitely sees that dark side to being surrounded by just guys, but also sees the joy and openness of it, especially when it comes to Ben and how they both do away with toxic masculinity to just be themselves without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I’ve heard some not great stuff about Openly Straight’s sequel, Honestly, Ben. But if you’ve read it please tell me what you think!

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‘I’m Going To Read It Anyway & See What I Think’

As a blogger, I read book reviews almost daily. Whether it be here on WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram, or Goodreads, I use them as a guide to find out whether a book I’m thinking of reading is really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to use them, and I’ve often dived into a book without knowing what it’s about or what people have said about it (it’s one of my favourite things to do), but hey, reviews are useful!

As a book blogger, I also write them, and while I don’t write reviews of books that I just stopped reading after a short while for no particular reason, I do write reviews of books that I did not like and also include, if necessary, warnings about scenes or chapters that some may find triggering and/or upsetting. I want my reviews to, if positive, entice readers into picking up the book and sharing the joy that I felt. But I review the books that I did not enjoy to make aware to my readers and others who are browsing the reviews on goodreads of why I don’t think said book is worth your time.

However, at the end of the day, I cannot decide for you whether or not you read a book; my opinion may contribute to that decision, but reading tastes are reading tastes and my opinion will not be the same as yours. And that’s ok!

Whether or not a reviewer likes the book or not is very different to a reviewer stating the problematic issues in a book.

Vocal debates on this topic have been surfacing around once a month about these two definitions and how they’ve been overlapping. While the same issues happen with disabled bloggers, LGBT+ bloggers and Muslim bloggers, it’s specifically POC bloggers who are constantly being harassed online for their reviews of books that they have stated have racist content and therefore should be at least called out on to make others aware.

The problem does not lie in bloggers making readers aware of racist content, what is worrying are the many (white) people who respond to these criticisms with ‘I’m going to read it anyway and see what I think’.

In my scenario, where I give a book two stars because I didn’t enjoy it, that’s where a statement like that would be ok. Books are subjective, and ‘the writing style is poor’ is an opinion that another reader may not share. However, when POC review a book and say it’s racist, a white person cannot then decide to ‘see what they think’, because here are your two outcomes:

Outcome 1: You read the book and agree yes, it is racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if there’s does not mean anything unless you’ve waved in on it.

Outcome 2: You read the book and disagree, it is not racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if you can decide what does and does not clarify as racism.

I think the crux of the matter is people don’t like it when they are told not to read a book. Of course, when someone tells you not to do something, you kind of wanna do it, right? But here’s the thing, racism is not an opinion. That book, whether you read it or not, dislike it or not, has racist content. So, you cannot ‘read it and see what you think’. And when these bloggers/reviewers are asking you not to support these books, they are not trying to restrict your reading, they are trying to let publishers know that books like these cannot slide, that they are problematic and should not be getting published in the first place. Institutional racism is deep and ingrained and small justices can make large waves. Read the books if you want, but keep aware, and support the voices who are hurt by racist, homophobic, and ableist content.

You see a person stepping on another person’s foot without realising. They walk away. The person whose foot has been stepped on is hurt and rubbing their foot. They come up to you. “Did you see that? That really hurt.” Would you then question if that actually hurt them? Or would you have to find out for yourself and step on their foot too?

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