In Book Community Tradition, I’m bringing back the Mid-Year Check-In Tag for June! For those who aren’t familiar with this tag, this is the time we look back at the Year So Far and reflect on what we’ve read and what we want to read and generally celebrate books. You may also know it as the “Mid-Year Freak Out Tag”. This year, I’m changing up the name a little on my blog out of respect for the mental health community.
I will warn you ahead of time – I’m a little off on my reading this year. In the course of a month, I’m gone from three books ahead to one book behind on my annual goal of 100 books. Between work drain and studying for my aPHR Certification, I just haven’t been reading as much as I want to! I hope that changes in about a month. I sit for Certification on Saturday and with a little luck I’ll pass and not only be able to move forward in a new career direction, but be able to read recreationally again!
What is the best book you’ve read so far in 2022?
To be clear, when I quantify “best”, I am choosing the most enjoyable for me. It may not be the most important book (that would probably be This is My America by Kim Johnson) and it may not be “best” for someone else.
It’s been four years since I first read Graceling. I loved it, and would have picked up its companion novel Fire a long time ago if I hadn’t realigned myself to stop reading the stuff I was naturally drawn to and forced myself to be conscientious of the types of authors I’ve chosen. While that has worked out for me in many ways, it also means that sequels and companions by authors I love have often gone to the wayside. Fire was a wonderful read for me and as selfish as it may be, I’m glad I broke my own rule to read it.
As a fun aside to throw back to previous winners, I actually revisited Walk on Earth a Stranger a couple months ago and can confirm, it’s still as good to me. It’s nice when the ones I label as favorites hold up.
2021’s Answer: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley.
2020’s Answer: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson.
2019’s Answer: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim.
2018’s Answer: Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman.
What has been your favorite sequel of the first half of the year?
I’m removing Fire from consideration for this spot, because a.) it’s technically a ‘companion’ and not a ‘sequel’; and b.) I just gave it honors in the favorite book section. If not for these two things, it would have been a strong contender.
In the Serpent’s Wake is also out of the running because I haven’t finished it yet. To be honest, it would probably win otherwise… it is Tess of the Road‘s sequel after all and we know how I feel about that.
Of the three sequels I’ve read this year, The Bronzed Beasts was certainly the best. Some of the scenes in this book were standout incredible. There was adventure galore! I didn’t love the characters’ developments at times, but that is a ‘me’ thing and nothing to do with the quality of the book. It’s poetic, too, that The Bronzed Beasts is the favorite sequel when The Silvered Serpents took that spot two years ago.
2021’s Answer: Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson.
2020’s Answer: The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi.
2019’s Answer: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.
2018’s Answer: Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery.
Is there a new release you haven’t read yet but are really excited for?
Once again disqualifying In the Serpent’s Wake because I am currently reading it. Curse this state of limbo where the sequel to my favorite book ever isn’t qualified for recognition in any of these questions!
I haven’t been watching new releases as closely this year – not because I don’t care, but because I need to get a handle on my purchasing. I am out of space on my shelves and out of space in my house for more shelves. One of the very few books I’ve splurged on this year from the new releases stack is An Arrow to the Moon and I have high expectations! I really enjoyed Emily X.R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After and I expect that same magic from her newest book.
2021’s Answer: Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli.
2020’s Answer: The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton.
2019’s Answer: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.
2018’s Answer: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce.
What is your most anticipated release for the second half of the year?
Reiterating what I said in the last section – my awareness of new releases has been poor because I’m resisting buying new books and therefore not seeking out the new release lists. That said, I really wanted to answer this question, so I had a peek at July-December!
So, The Darkening by Sunya Mara sounds intriguing. The Wonderland Trials is very up my alley, because I do love a good Alice in Wonderland retelling! I’ve been watching for Emily Lloyd-Jones’s The Drowned Woods for a while now. Did y’all read Blood Like Magic? The sequel, Blood Like Fate, is due in August and that will be great, too! So clearly, a lot of good stuff slated for the latter half of 2022. Just added a bunch to my TBR (beyond what I shared here) – thanks Mid-Year Check-In Tag!
Of these, I’m going to give the award to Bloodmarked. After reading Legendborn, I’m utterly intrigued to know what happens next for Bree and Nick. I didn’t even realize this was due to release so soon!
2021’s Answer: The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi
2020’s Answer: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
2019’s Answer: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.
2018’s Answer: Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi.
What is your biggest disappointment so far?
I don’t know, y’all. We Set the Dark on Fire just didn’t work for me. I’ve been hearing about how good this book is for years, so it’s possible the hype fooled me. I also think I was unprepared for the setting – for whatever reason, I thought it was going to be more of a fantasy, and it isn’t. Finally, I found it really unbalanced. The first 80% of the book was drawn out and tedious, while the last 20% was all love stories and explosions and I got thrown by the change.
This is definitely just my experience. I think Tehlor Kay Mejia is still fantastic – I absolutely loved Miss Meteor last year which was co-written between her and Anna-Maria McLemore! It could just be that this trilogy was “not for me”.
What is your biggest surprise so far?
Without contest, my greatest surprise of the year so far has been Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. I didn’t remember putting it on my TBR, and I almost skipped over it when it reached the top of my Libby wishlist. I’m so glad I resisted my initial impulse to skip over “yet another serious book written by a diverse author because I’m trying to read more diversely regardless of whether or not I think I’ll like the book”. Also, full honesty, I need to be generally better about choosing books that are both by diverse authors AND that I think I will enjoy (instead of one or the other).
Before the Coffee Gets Cold was so interesting. The characters were complicated and I enjoyed hearing their stories, learning their desires, and picking apart the magic that made the coffee shop special. While they’re all technically short stories, the whole book ties together nicely with a central thread. There are two other books in this line, and I’m really looking forward to them.
Who is your favorite new-to-you or debut author?
Xian Jay Zhao. I really enjoyed Iron Widow. I had high expectations for their debut, and this book met my expectations. There were a lot of aspects that were worthy of noting… and sure, there were some flaws. What book doesn’t have flaws? But Xiran Jay Zhao created a protagonist that is so driven by anger and so willing to proudly, knowledgeably make the wrong choices… it was a bold decision to create an irredeemable main character in a debut. It takes skill to make readers root for that character despite those wrong decisions.
I’ll be watching for Xiran Jay Zhao’s next book Heavenly Tyrant next year. I want more of this character and their brazen style.
Other things I respect? The sheer quantity of research that went into the world behind Iron Widow. Well-researched books (yes, even fiction!!!) have so much depth and as an historian, it’s important to me. Also… the author photo. Xiran Jay Zhao promised their friends an author photo in a cow costume and they delivered.
What is your favorite love story this year?
I just read this one and really enjoyed picking apart the yes/no/maybe flirtations and confusion and general love story development in the last month-ish. Favorite love story so far goes to (SPOILERS) Aeuden and Iseult from Windwitch. This relationship is in the early stages and slowly still developing, but developing at kind of a reasonable rate considering that it’s an enemies-to-lovers trope.
There are two notable moments here for me. First, the closest I’ve ever seen to a “run through the airport to catch them before the plane takes off” moment in fantasy. Extra points for it being reversed roles. Finally, the uncertain dance between the two at the very end of the book. Why yes, loves, you are on the same page but it’s so adorable to watch you both dance around saying “please stay”. Also what an interesting group? Looking forward to the continuation of that story to be sure.
Original Question: Who is your favourite fictional crush from this year?
Who is your favorite character?
Gemma Doyle is a delight. I remember adoring her in A Great and Terrible Beauty and she is just as excellent in book two of the series. I like Libba Bray anyway, so I do expect quality characters from her… but Gemma Doyle may be my favorite. She has the right balance of snarky and sweet, flawed, and just generally so full of personality… there’s not much to say other than “I like her”.
I suppose Gemma’s characterization is bit of a trope for sci-fi/fantasy fiction set in Victorian Era England. You see steampunk heroines who are similar to her… but there are moments where Gemma is so deeply in her socialite life that make feel her unique. Libba Bray is excellent at reminding the reader that her characters aren’t just “adults we’re saying are 18 so we can publish the book as YA”. I think I’ll see even more of this with Gemma’s debut in the third book.
A book that made you cry?
Gosh darn it Ashley Schumacher. I swear, if you want a good, wholesome cry you need go no further than Ashley Schumacher’s books. Amelia Unabridged had its moments as well, but it was nothing compared to the sucker punch that is Full Flight.
You know what? I can’t even tell you why this book made me cry because it’s such a big spoiler. It will ruin the entire book.
Imagine someone you trusted ripped open you chest with their own feral claws and wrenched your still-beating heart from the cavity and ate it. Gruesome, yes, but accurate. Full Flight is a book with a nice cover and characters that pretty much just… are what you expect from page one. UNTIL. Until the big spoiler. Respect to Ashley Schumacher for taking a book that at first I thought was mediocre and shoving it full of emotion when I least expected it.
A book that made you happy?
Our Way Back to Always is the only cute, lighthearted contemporary book I’ve read this year. And, yes, I say that having also read P.S. I Still Love You. That book was filled with too much angst to be considered a cute, lighthearted contemporary.
Two people a little bit lost nearing the end of their senior year find each other and step out of their comfort zone. Then make the girl a bit a nerdy and put the love interest next door and give them history? C’est magnifique. This is another book that had the audacity to be entirely not what I expected in the best way. Reasons why you should not trust a book by its cover (I’m sorry, this is not my favorite cover)! Not only is there a lovely love story, but there’s also deep themes. And golden turtles. And biker bars. You know, all the good stuff you expect in a YA contemporary romance.
Favorite adaptation so far?
I know I haven’t done a book vs. movie (or in this case, stage musical) post on it yet… but far and away Wicked is my favorite adaptation of the year. I won’t do anything on it until I re-read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, but I just love this musical. There are REASONS why it has been so successful.
Also, if I’m remembering correctly, it is a deep departure from the book. Elphaba is far more political in the book, for one. I think I like the musical better than the book, but found the book deeply interesting. Don’t quote me on that – it’s been about a decade since I read it. Wicked is a good story that humanizes the Wicked Witch of the West and I highly recommend it if you can catch a show in your town. I was lucky enough to catch it on tour in Boston this month and it was excellent. Very good cast this tour!
What is your favorite post on your blog this year?
I never know what to say for this one. I’m always torn between posts I’m passionate about (like this one about coffee shops) or ones I worked really hard on (like the Serena Joy reflective piece I’ve had in my drafts for years) or the ones that have been fairly successful (I guess I’m not the only one who has feelings about ARCs).
In a complete departure from anything sensible, I’m going to say my Book Vs. Movie: Alice in Wonderland (1951) was my favorite post, at least in a general sense. I liked returning to Wonderland on my blog, and the post was a last-minute switcharoo driven by interest. It also combines Disney (where I’ve been a lot lately) and books so it’s a balance of things I enjoy. In addition, I had a great time picking apart the movie and analyzing it… probably more deeply than it was ever intended.
2021’s Answer: Why I Keep Planning Vacations (Even Though Travel is Uncertain)
2020’s Answer: Indie Bookstores Need You Right Now
2019’s Answer: Integrity in the Community: Do We Really Like Things, or Are We Praising Because We Want Free Stuff?.
2018’s Answer: The 90s Kid Book Tag.
What is the most beautiful book you have purchased so far?
Please appreciate the cover of Queen of the Tiles with me. This cover was designed by artist Leonardo Santamaria.
First of all, the color palette on this is gorgeous. It’s simple, contained, and a soft touch. I also really like the illustration style and the beautiful use of light and shadows on the character. There’s subtlety in the character expression, giving her depth beyond a two-dimensional image on the cover of a book.
I also love the sense of movement on the cover. We get this in a couple ways. First, the cyclone of ethereal Scrabble tiles floating around Najwa makes her look powerful. Then we have the shifted perspective on the text which you almost never see on covers!
Extra points for the choice of red and the ghostly elements. This is, after all, a murder mystery. Santamaria also did a piece for The Queen’s Gambit for The New Yorker and the style matches beautifully. It’s a great nod, considering Queen of the Tiles has been marketed for fans of The Queen’s Gambit.
2021’s Answer: Skyhunter by Marie Lu (Aurora Parlagreco).
2020’s Answer: Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Sarah J. Coleman).
2019’s Answer: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (Maggie Stiefvater).
2018’s Answer: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton.
What six books do you want to read before the end of the year?
I’m in a place right now where I’d just like to be reading anything – energy and time-wise. I’ve got a weird variety in my hardcopy TBR and I went a little overboard and bought a bunch of books I can’t fit on my shelf, so I have them in a stack on my dining room table. Just another day in the life of a bibliophile.
Here are some I’m hoping for, but we’ll see!
2021’s Answer: Steelstriker, Bad Girls Never Say Die, Waking Gods, Anne of Windy Poplars, Shadow Scale, Before the Devil Breaks You.
2020’s Answer: Trickster’s Choice, The Bell Jar, The Bone Houses, Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Kingdom, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
2019’s Answer: Rebel Girls, Steel Crow Saga, Who Put This Song On?, Shadow Frost, Scars Like Wings, The Good Luck Girls.
2018’s Answer: Catch up on the 2018 Debut Author Challenge