Middle-grade Gems, as Told by My Fifth Grader

My ten year old is an advanced reader who loves books. He can read anything, ability-wise (although Shakespeare might take a while), but he does have specific tastes. I thought it would be fun to write a blog post, talking specifically about his current favorites.

Randoms by David Liss

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Zeke Reynolds comes from a long line of proud science fiction geeks. He knows his games, comics, movies, and TV shows like Captain Kirk knows the starship Enterprise. So it’s a dream come true when he learns the science fiction he loves so much is based on reality—and that he’s been selected to spend a year on a massive space station. To evaluate humanity’s worthiness, the Confederation of United Planets has hand picked three of Earth’s most talented young people—and then there’s Zeke. He’s the random.

Unfortunately, Zeke finds life in space more challenging than he’d hoped. When he saves his transport ship from a treacherous enemy attack, he’s labeled a war criminal. Now despised by the Confederation, rejected by his fellow humans, and pursued by a ruthless enemy, Zeke befriends the alien randoms: rejected by their own species, but loyal to each other. But their presence in the Confederation may not be so random after all, and as the danger increases, Zack’s knowledge of science fiction might be the only thing that can save himself, his friends, and Earth itself. (Taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “It’s a good sci-fi for readers my age, and slightly older. It’s good for geeky nerds out there because it’s got a lot of funny references to sci-fi. There’s even some Serenity in there [I’m a huge Firefly fan]. Overall, it’s a really good book with great characters. Although it’s a more serious sci-fi, it has a lot of fun points and the characters are easy to relate to. The main character doesn’t really have that much going for him. I like how down-to-earth it is, even though it’s in space. ”

Gamer Army by Trent Reedy

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After Rogan Webber levels up yet again on his favorite video game, Laser Viper, the world-famous creator of the game invites him to join the five best players in the country for an exclusive tournament. The gamers are flown to the tech mogul’s headquarters, where they stay in luxury dorms and test out cutting edge virtual-reality gaming equipment, doing digital battle as powerful fighting robots. It’s the ultimate gaming experience. (taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “Best points: First of all, I liked the fact that it was a different setting that most sci-fi books that I’ve read. Everyone is living in virtual reality.
Secondly, I like how the characters evolved throughout the book, especially the main character.
Third, the action scenes were really cool and exhilarating.
Overall, Gamer Army is a fast-paced combo for both video game fans and action fans.”

Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan

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They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers, with their dark cloaksand shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied. . . (taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “I thought that the first Ranger’s Apprentice book wasn’t going to be that good when I saw how old it was, but once I read the book, I really liked it. The characters are nicely done and the action’s good. I like how accurate it is to medieval times while still having its own fantasy style. My favorite character is Will. He’s a great archer, and he’s fun and mischievous, and I like that. I like that they keep introducing new villains.”
Honorable Mentions:

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The Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann

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The Zodiac Legacy series by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong

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The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage

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The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

These are my fifth grader’s current favorites. I’m curious how this will change over the course of the year. I might have to interview him again in around six months.

Do you have young readers? Have they read any of these? What are their favorites?

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Non-boring Nonfiction

I’m not a nonfiction fan. At least, I haven’t read much nonfiction. I’m trying to branch out into more genres, and I’ve discovered something interesting: I like nonfiction. Not all of it, but I’ve read enough to say that, maybe, the genre deserves more of a chance. With that in mind, here are a few that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed:

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

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The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. (taken from Amazon)

This was absolutely engrossing. Prior to reading it, I had no idea how weird the genesis of the Oxford English Dictionary was.

A Gathering of Saints: A True Story of Money, Murder, and Deceit by Robert Lindsey

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The yellowed manuscripts threatened the foundations of the Mormon Church, and the elders were willing to pay millions of dollars to suppress them. But the documents were fakes, and their brilliant forger committed double murder to hide his crime. The sensational case of the 1985 Salt Lake City bombings exposed a master plot to topple the powerful Mormon empire. (taken from Amazon)

Having grown up in Salt Lake City, I naturally found this engrossing, although the events in the book happened when I was too young to remember. I devoured this book.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

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The bestselling author of Postcards from the Edge comes clean (well, sort of) in her first-ever memoir, adapted from her one-woman Broadway hit show. Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of “Hollywood in-breeding,” come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen. (taken from Amazon)

This book is brilliant. Equally hilarious and inspiring, this meant even more to me because I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was in high school. She handled her mental illness with grace and more than a bit of humor.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

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An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. “A fascinating look at the disease that . . . could have cost this vibrant, vital young woman her life” (People), Brain on Fire is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance that is destined to become a classic.

I found this utterly engrossing. Due to her symptoms, at times the author relied on others to tell what happened simply because she didn’t remember. It was a very interesting read.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Nineteen-year-old Greg Sestero met Tommy Wiseau at an acting school in San Francisco. Wiseau’s scenes were rivetingly wrong, yet Sestero, hypnotized by such uninhibited acting, thought, “I have to do a scene with this guy.” That impulse changed both of their lives. Wiseau seemed never to have read the rule book on interpersonal relationships (or the instruc­tions on a bottle of black hair dye), yet he generously offered to put the aspiring actor up in his LA apart­ment. Sestero’s nascent acting career first sizzled, then fizzled, resulting in Wiseau’s last-second offer to Sestero of costarring with him in The Room, a movie Wiseau wrote and planned to finance, produce, and direct—in the parking lot of a Hollywood equipment-rental shop.

Wiseau spent $6 million of his own money on his film, but despite the efforts of the disbelieving (and frequently fired) crew and embarrassed (and fre­quently fired) actors, the movie made no sense. Nevertheless Wiseau rented a Hollywood billboard featuring his alarming headshot and staged a red carpet premiere. The Room made $1800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. One reviewer said that watching The Room was like “getting stabbed in the head.”

The Disaster Artist is Greg Sestero’s laugh-out-loud funny account of how Tommy Wiseau defied every law of artistry, business, and friendship to make “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” (Entertainment Weekly), which is now an international phenomenon, with Wiseau himself beloved as an oddball celebrity. Written with award-winning journalist Tom Bissell, The Disaster Artist is an inspiring tour de force that reads like a page-turning novel, an open-hearted portrait of an enigmatic man who will improbably capture your heart. (taken from Amazon)

Tommy Wiseau is the most fascinating, mysterious person I’ve ever had the extreme pleasure to read about. This book is fantastic! After you read the book, look him up on YouTube and watch some clips of him acting. Just…Oh, man.

There you have it. If, like me, you don’t read much nonfiction, I suggest you give it a go!

Book Blogger Confessons/Book Tag

This is my first attempt at a book tag, so hopefully I do it right. Thanks for tagging me, fictionnochaser. Check out her awesome blog here: www. https://fictionnochaser.com/2019/01/11/book-blogger-confessions-book-tag/

Rules:

  1. Answer these questions truthfully.
  2. Once you’re done, tag 5 other book bloggers to answer these questions next.

    WHICH BOOK, MOST RECENTLY, DID YOU NOT FINISH?

    Mariah Mundi #1: the Midas Box by G.P Taylor

    I tried, I really did. But, man this book was boring! I honestly had a hard time remembering the character’s names, the plot was all over the place, so I ended up shelving it to try again at a later time. Maybe. It’s too bad: I love the cover!

    WHICH BOOK IS YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE?

    The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. I’ll be the first to say that the writing isn’t on par with, say, Patrick Rothfuss, and the “maybe it’s incest, but I can’t help it” thing is pretty disturbing if you think about it. I love these books, though! I think the big draw for me is the Shadowhunter world. It’s pretty stinking cool.

    WHICH BOOK DO YOU LOVE TO HATE?

    Um…probably the Twilight series. I found out, after reading the trilogy, that it’s actually four books long and I skipped an entire book without even realizing it. Obviously, that means the books weren’t for me. I think it was the third book I missed, but it might have been the second. I still haven’t felt the urge to remedy that.

    WHICH BOOK WOULD YOU THROW INTO THE SEA?

    The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. This was the worst book I’ve read in a very long time. I tried to find something positive about it…nothing. Trust me: skip this one.

    WHICH BOOK HAVE YOU READ THE MOST?

    The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I pretty much have the entire trilogy memorized. I reread them at least twice a year. They’re phenomenal!

    WHICH BOOK WOULD YOU HATE TO RECEIVE AS A PRESENT?

    Um, I don’t think I’d hate to receive any book as a gift, because it means the giver knows me well enough to know how much I love to read. I reserve the right to not read any book I’m given, though. I don’t read romance novels, so that would be a pretty useless gift.

    WHICH BOOK COULD YOU NOT LIVE WITHOUT?

    I’d be pretty bummed if I lost my copy of A Diversity of Dragons by Anne McCaffrey, Richard Woods, and John Howe. I’ve had it forever, and it’s a hard one to find.

    WHICH BOOK MADE YOU THE ANGRIEST?

    The book that made me the angriest recently is Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare. I hated it so much that it ruined my enjoyment of the previous two books. I’m pretty sure my opinion isn’t shared by too many people, though, so don’t avoid it based on what I thought of it.

    WHICH BOOK MADE YOU CRY THE MOST?

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky. This is another book I’ve read multiple times and I cry every single time. It’s heart wrenching and beautiful in its honesty. I love it so much. My favorite literary quote comes from that book:

    “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

    WHICH BOOK COVER DO YOU HATE THE MOST?

    I loathe any cover that’s a movie poster. If the book came first, I want a book cover!

    Okie dokie! I’m tagging

Surprise!

Right before Christmas, I was walking through the bookstore, when I noticed something that completely threw me:  a beautiful copy of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written by Alexander Dumas! I had no idea that the author of The Three Musketeers wrote the version of The Nutcracker that the famous ballet is based on.

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Since seeing it, I’ve been thinking about well known authors, and their less than famous works. I haven’t read Dumas’  Nutcracker yet, but here are some other books that have surprised me over the years:

*Louisa May Alcott: Not only the author of Little Women, there are also two sequels: Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. Of the three, my favorite is actually Jo’s Boys. I find Little Women to be a bit heavy-handed on the life lessons.

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*A.A. Milne: He’s famous for his Winnie the Pooh stories, and most people know about his poetry (Now We Are Six was included in my Pooh stories boxed set). In 2018, I read an adult mystery written by A.A. Milne. I didn’t know before then that he’d written for adults! I read The Red House Mystery, which was entertaining, though not fantastic.

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* Richard Adams: He’s most well known for Watership Down, but I learned a while ago that there’s also Tales From Watership Down, a collection of short stories written about El-ahrairah, the hero of the folk tales in Watership Down. It’s a very weird book. However, if you think about it, Watership Down is weird too. Good, but weird.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: He’s the author of the amazing Sherlock Holmes stories, which I love, love, love. He also wrote several other books, including some horror. I read The Parasite, a book about a nefarious woman who uses hypnotism to attract men, since she can’t seem to do it on her own. It was a truly terrible book.  I was very disappointed.

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*Anne McCaffrey: she’s most famous for Dragonriders of Pern (which I highly recommend, by the way), but I absolutely love A Diversity of Dragons. Co-authored by Richard Woods, this is a book about dragons in different cultures throughout history, as well as the evolution of the dragon in literature. With art by John Howe, this book is incredible. I’ve had a copy for years, and if I have my way, I always will have one.

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Have you read any of these? Maybe they’re more well known than I thought, and I just miss a lot. What are some other books whose authors might surprise me?

In the Shadows by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo

I thought I knew what I was getting with this book. I was so very, very wrong; and it was perfect!

First mistake: This is a fun, lighthearted story. This book tends more toward horror than any other genre. The atmosphere is tense and creepy throughout the entire book, and the illustrations (more on those in a bit) only add to the mysterious goings-on.

Second mistake: The illustrations are just beautiful additions to the storyline. The illustrations- done in a graphic novel style- tell their own story. Basically, there are two separate stories being told, but they compliment each other and end up meeting up for the culmination of the book.

Third mistake: This book is intended for a young audience. While, reading-level wise, my ten year old could easily read this book in a week, the subject matter and the way it’s written would scare the snot out of him.

The characters were well-developed, the graphic story only served to add to the deliciously creepy vibe Kiersten White achieved, and the writing was incredibly detailed. I highly recommend this book for a spooky evening.

Coming Soon

I tend toward pessimism, so I always assume the new year will bring doom and gloom, with a side order of disaster. However, this next year is looking pretty darn good as far as new releases go. Here are a few (only a few) of the books that I can’t wait to get my hands on in 2019.

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer- available January 15th:

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart after her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an offer: for her to come and live with him for a year. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, Echo discovers centuries-old secrets, a magical library full of books-turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up—otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. (taken from Goodreads)

This has a Beauty and the Beast feel to me, but only as a jumping off point. I hope it’s as mysterious and beautiful as it sounds.

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The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Choski- available January 15th.

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive. (taken from Goodreads).

There’s been a lot of buzz about this book, hopefully deserved. The description makes this book sound incredibly unique, and I don’t want to miss it.

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A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison- available Feb. 7th

Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger? … (taken from Goodreads)

This book just looks fun and lighthearted, just the sort of book to read in February (for some reason, February is always incredibly busy and I read less). It might be one that my ten-year-old would like too.

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The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare- available April 2nd

All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke.

Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that their romantic getaway has been sidetracked, demons are now dogging their every step, and it is becoming harder to tell friend from foe. As their quest for answers becomes increasingly dire, Magnus and Alec will have to trust each other more than ever—even if it means revealing the secrets they’ve both been keeping. (taken from Goodreads)

To be honest, I thought Queen of Air and Darkness was a disaster. I’m not going to go into that here, but it was excruciating to read. However, I adore Magnus, and Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter universe is fun to explore. If Magnus and Alec are the main characters, I’d say this book has major potential.

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Oddmire # 1: Changling by William Ritter- available July 16th

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are. (taken from Goodreads) 

I read William Ritter’s Jackaby series this past year and loved it so much that it made my list of best books of the year. Add the fact that there are changelings involved (Changelings are great!), and I can’t wait to read this one! It’s also another one that my oldest might really enjoy.

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The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern- Available Nov. 5th

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a strange book hidden in the library stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues — a bee, a key, and a sword — that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to a subterranean library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians — it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose — in both the mysterious book and in his own life. (taken from Goodreads)

Back in 2011, I read a book called The Night Circus, written by a new author named Erin Morgenstern. I fell completely in love with it. It’s in my list of top five books that I’ve ever read and I’ve read it at least twice every year since then. So to find out that, eight years later, Morgenstern has a new book coming out, is beyond exciting to me. I can’t wait to delve back into the magic that is her writing! This is the book that I’m most exited to read in 2019 and I’ll make sure to get my copy the second it’s available.

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There you have it. While there are many other books that I’m excited for in 2019, I’ve decided to stop myself here before the glazed look in my readers’ eyes becomes a nodding off. What books are you excited to read in 2019? I’ve noticed there are no nonfiction in this list: what are some nonfiction books are being released that I need to keep an eye out for?

2018: A Retrospective

As the year draws to a close, I’m adding my list of the best books I’ve read this year to the many others I’ve read (which I blame for my ever-growing to be read list). Some of these weren’t released in 2018, but I read them this year, so I’m including them anyway. I’m a rebel like that. So, without further ado, my top five books of 2018:

5. The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell: I actually saw the movie first, then read the book, which is something I rarely do. Both are well done, but the book is absolutely fascinating.

4. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: Inspired by Russian fairy tales, this book is both magical and one of a kind. There’s a sequel, which I haven’t read yet. I’m so nervous that it won’t live up to the first, but the storytelling in The Bear and the Nightingale is so strong that I know I’m going to give it a go anyway. Here’s hoping!

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3. Jackaby by William Ritter: This rousing supernatural mystery/fantasy series is so much fun to read! Jackaby is a delightful mix of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, while also being his own character. The female characters in this book are smart, capable, and multi-faceted–some of the best female characters I’ve read in a long time. This is a series I’ll gladly read again soon.

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2. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: I absolutely loved this book and I’m so mad at myself for not having read it earlier! It’s smart, original, and fast-paced. I absolutely loved the premise and I’ve found a new author to binge read in V.E. Schwab.

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And… my absolute favorite book of 2018 is:

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. This book is amazing! I devoured it and I’m eagerly waiting for Stuart Turton’s next book. I love everything about his writing style, from his attention to detail, to the book’s final twist. READ THIS BOOK!

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*Honorable mention*
Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake: The only reason this isn’t tied for first place is that this is the third book in the series, and I read the other two last year. This book is so good that, as soon as I finished it, I ran into the room my husband was in and just screamed. He’s used to my weirdness, so instead of asking if I was mortally injured, he automatically assumed it was because the book was so good. This series is a lovely, dark fantasy and everyone and their brother needs to read it.

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Did you read any of these books this year? What did you think? What’s your favorite 2018 discovery?