Once and for All by Sarah Dessen
Keywords: contemporary YA, weddings, funny, sad, sweet
First sentence: Well, this was a first.
Last sentence: And this time, I’d say yes.
Once and For All would be shelved as “fluffy contemporary,” but that doesn’t get across what I want to say about it. What I want to say is that this book is fun (see quote below), but the writing and the story is never frivolous or empty. It covered a huge, serious topic that I don’t think I’ve ever read about in another fiction book.
Wanted: a word that captures both the lightness and the deepness of a good YA contemporary book.
“People never believe me when I tell them this,” Ambrose replied, folding his arms on the table. “But I’m not trying to annoy her. She’s just very sensitive.”
“You really think that’s the issue?” my mother asked.
He nodded, somber. “Always has been.”
“I heard your mother sent you here because she was so frustrated with dealing with you.”
“True,” he agreed. “And I wrecked her car. But in my defense, she is also very sensitive. I think it’s a genetic thing.”
Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianne Wynne Jones
Keywords: hard to describe, just read it please, thank you very much
First sentence: In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.
Last sentence: “Besides, it’s raining out there in Market Chipping.”
Sidenote: So, about the covers. There are multiple editions for so many of the books on this list. I decided to include all of them. Some are very similar, and some are beyond different, like those two of Howl’s Moving Castle. My copy has the cover on the left (the covers I had are always going to be the picture on the left in this post). If it had the one on the right, I don’t know if I would have read it.
This was a reread. The first time I read Howl’s Moving Castle, I didn’t really get it. Not because it was hard to read, but because, you know, I don’t even know. I just didn’t get it. It wasn’t until I accidentally read the second book in the series and liked it that I went back to read the first book again. Howl is now a book I would put on my favorite books of all time list. It’s so good. So good, I tell you.
I love the characters, by themselves and together. They crack me up and oh my goodness, Sophie and Howl and Calcifer are great. I clearly remember this moment near the end when things clicked and I went. If you’ve read the book, it’s the part where Howl arrives and Sophie sees him and thinks a thought, but the wrong thought, and a line from earlier in the book makes sense and it’s so sweet and so good and ahhhhh.
“You look wonderfully rich and stately!” Michael said to her.
“She does me credit,” said Howl, “apart from that awful stick.”
“Some people,” said Sophie, “are thoroughly self-centered. This stick goes with me. I need it for moral support.”
Howl looked at the ceiling, but he did not argue.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Keywords: multi-generational story, Korean immigrants in Japan, family, struggle, conflict, complicated
First sentence: History has failed us, but no matter.
Last sentence: Kyunghee would be waiting for her at home.
When it came out, Pachinko was everywhere and on all the lists. It was one of those “take over the internet” books. I don’t think I loved it as much as some people did, but I though it was good. The book was real and very raw. It was hard to put down too. Also, I feel like I know a bit more about Korea and Japan than I did before reading it.
The story covers four (kind of five) generations, which means there’s a lot of characters, but it’s not confusing. Months after reading this book, they’re still very distinct in my head. And, because it’s linear (wait, is it? Actually, there might be some flashbacks. Aaaah I don’t remember. Let’s just pretend it is.), you get introduced to a few people at a time. It’s not like in some fantasy books where you get a mob of names thrown at you.
The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston
Keywords: Canada, dragons, bards, dragon slayers, small town, present day, school, teenagers
First sentence: Before the Thorskards came to Trondheim, we didn’t have a permanent dragon slayer.
Last sentence: And it is more or less true, but you can believe whatever you want.
At first the cover made me a bit skeptical, but I knew by the first chapter that I was going to like it. I think this book was the most realistic portrayal I’ve read of what life would be like if magical creatures existed on Earth. (Haha, I don’t know why, but I was about to write “if magical creatures still existed on Earth.”)
Also, you know how in some YA books the teenagers don’t seem to have anything to do with school? Well, this book isn’t like that. It includes them in school/doing homework/talking to their parents about college/carrying their backpacks around/having to be given an extension on a paper because a dragon burned it. All around very relatable stuff.
Sidenote: this book almost made me cry.
Another sidenote: The author of this book also wrote Exit, Pursued by a Bear.
Another another sidenote: Which is an amazing title.
The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Keywords: London, agencies, cookies and tea, ghosts, rapiers, hilarious, a mystery and a murder case
First sentence: Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.
Last sentence: Bearing a tray of slightly squashed doughnuts, I climbed quickly out of the darkness toward the warm, bright room.
As a rule of thumb, I don’t like books with supernatural/paranormal elements- ghosts, vampires, werewolves. (At least I think those are supernatural/paranormal elements. I know ghosts definitely are, I’m pretty sure about vampires, but I’m not confident about werewolves. Well, that’s how I categorize them in my brain. Sci-fi is aliens and AI and spaceships; paranormal is ghosts, vampires, and werewolves; fantasy is basically everything else.) Anyways.
I also don’t like mysteries- especially not murder mysteries. But, this book was SO GOOD. This is one of the very few (if not only) mystery books that I’ve liked. I think it’s because mystery books are usually more on the plot driven side, but with this book, it was the characters- Lucy, Lockwood, and George- that were the stars of the show. They’re so funny. The three of them are absolutely the best part about this book.
A smiling boy, no more than ten years old, held out a little cone of chestnuts as we approached. “Gift courtesy of Rotwell’s,” he said. “Go safe tonight.”
“We’re not having any,” Lockwood growled. “George, I want you just to walk on by.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Tough. You’re not walking down the street with one of those cones in your hand. I would be a crime to advertise a competitor.”
He ignored the boy and stalked on past. George hesitated, then took the cone and popped it in his pocket. “There,” he said. “Nicely out of sight. I say it’s a crime to refuse free food.”
See what I mean?
And here’s another quote explaining a brilliant idea of theirs.
Oddest of all was the kitchen table and its great white tablecloth. This cloth was half-covered with a spreading net of scribbled notes and diagrams, and also drawings of several Visitor subtypes- Wraiths, Solitaries, and Shades.
“We call this our thinking cloth,” Lockwood said. “It’s not widely known, but I located the bones of the Fenchurch Street Ghoul by sketching out the street plan here, over tea and cheese-on-toast at four o’clock in the morning. The cloth lets us jot down memos, theories, follow interesting trains of thought…It’s a very useful tool.”
BRILLIANT, right? When I grow up, I would love a thinking cloth for my kitchen table.
I’m also going to include the next few lines of this conversation. It’s not about the thinking cloth, but it’s further proof of how funny this book is.
“It’s also good for exchanging messages when a case hasn’t gone well and we’re not talking to each other,” George said. He stood by the cooktop, tending the evening stew.
“Er, does that happen often?” I asked.
“No, no, no,” Lockwood said. “Almost never.”
George stirred the stew implacably. “You wait and see.”
Emma by Jane Austen
Keywords: a classic, family life, romance, mundane,
First sentence: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
Last sentence: The happiness of this most happy day received its completion in the animated contemplation of his worth which this comparison produced.
In my opinion, there are classics that are confusing (ahem, Shakespeare) and classics that are boring (my friends would place The Scarlet Letter or The Count of Monte Cristo in that category), but for me, Emma doesn’t fit in either of those camps.
Even though there were some sections that I had to read twice and even though it’s about people with very normal lives (well, as normal as it’s going to get in a book), it never lost me in either a “I just read every word on that page but still have zero idea what’s going on” or a “nothing is happening, I’m going to go eat some ice-cream now” kind of way.
Emma might be a non-thriller, non-mystery book whose storyline flows from social call to social call, but it had a serious plot twist that I never saw coming.
Also, I really liked Jane Austen’s writing. I would describe the feeling I got reading it as being similar to the how nice it feels to have a paper copy of something at school instead of an electronic version. It’s slower in tempo than a lot of contemporary books, but it felt good to read- kind of like being outside and talking a walk (in nice weather) after a very busy week. Okay, I’m done with the metaphors now.
In conclusion: I liked Emma. It was a good book.
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (just Robert Jackson Bennett in general)
First line: As Sancia Grado lay facedown in the mud, stuffed underneath the wooden deck next to the old stone wall, she reflected that this evening was not going at all as she had wanted.
Last line: <IT IS TIME TO STOP HIDING.>
Keywords: friends, lies, truth, loyalty, magic, heists, noble houses
At first, I was a bit disappointed with this book. If it was another author, I might’ve stopped, but because it was by Robert Jackson Bennett (author of the Divine Cities trilogy and maybe my favorite fantasy series), I was sticking with it. The beginning was just action action action, and it wasn’t that interesting, but then around page fifty, it got good. Just like his other books, the plot is crazy, the writing is amazing, and the dialogue is so good. And of course, the plot twists. I knew there was one coming, but I still didn’t see it coming. Also, that cover is beautiful. I am so excited for the next book in this series! Hierophant is supposed to be released on August 22, 2019.
Here’s a quote from Foundryside.
All things have a value. Sometimes the value is paid in coin. Other times, it is paid in time and sweat. And finally, sometimes it is paid in blood.
Humanity seems most eager to use the latter currency. And we never note how much of it we’re spending, unless it happens to be our own. -King Ermiedes Eupator, “Reflections Upon Conquest”
And here’s one I like from City of Miracles, the third and last book of the Divine Cities.
Ivanya Restroyka feels a little ridiculous as she makes four pots of tea for her guests. It’s not that she’s unused to making a lot of tea for company. It’s just that she never expected to be entertaining a bunch of godly children and a dead woman- or at least, not all at once.
Finally, some other very good books I read this year that I will not be writing further about, not because they’re less good, but because I do not want to write any more: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills.
Which one was your favorite first and last line? My favorite first line is Howl’s Moving Castle’s, but I love The Screaming Staircase’s and Pachinko’s too. Favorite last line would either be The Story of Owen’s or again, The Screaming Staircase’s.
Good books you read this year?
P.P.S The picture of the literary Christmas tree is from literature is my utopia. Also, good books I read last year.