The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
I just recently rewatched the Hobbit movies and realized I didn’t really remember what was in the book and what was added for the movie. It turns out that the movies are actually very accurate, only adding a smattering of orcs and extra action sequences, and one minor love subplot. This is definitely the most accessible Tolkein book if you’re trying to get into Lord of the Rings. Definitely one of my favorite fantasy novels.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Book Hangover Alert**
This is one of my favorite books. It was on my list of favorite stand alone novels, which I suppose isn’t entirely accurate as it does have a companion novel. But anyway, I stand by my review that it’s the perfect princess book. The girls of Mount Eskel are chosen to attend the Princess Academy and at the end of their studies, the prince of Danland will choose his bride from among them. I love this feminist fairytale that appears to be about girls competing for the hand of a prince, but is really about girls learning to love and support one another and their community. I love to see how Miri grows throughout the novel. I also love the full cast audiobook recording.
5/5 linder hawks
New Books Read
The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All by Josh Ritter
I adored the voice of this novel; it’s so distinct and evocative. The novel is an American tall tale about lumberjacks in the 1920s and 30s. I haven’t enjoyed reading about an annoyed old man this much since A Man Called Ove. Ritter brings such lyricism to his writing–as well he should since he’s also a singer-songwriter. And the book comes with a playlist so that’s always nice.
4/5 heirloom axes
Princess in Love by Meg Cabot
Princess Diaries book 3 of 11
I know I keep saying this, but I still love Cabot’s super readable and relatable voice. She really keeps the pages turning and readers rooting for Princess Mia. I know freshman girls don’t see dating a senior boy as weird, but now that I’m an adult and past those days, I do feel like Mia’s and Micheal’s relationship is a little weird. Eighteen and fifteen really are pretty different.
3.5/5 secret love notes
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Dickens was paid by the word and it shows. Did this book need to be over 800 pages? Probably not, but I still enjoyed it enough to read the whole thing. If you follow the blog, you know Dickens is one of my favorite Classics authors. I love how he’s constantly critiquing his society. I felt this novel was kinder and more nuanced in its approach to the disabled characters than, for example, A Christmas Carol, which holds up Tiny Tim solely as an object of pity and purity. The characters of Miss. Mowcher and Mr. Dick are much more thoughtfully realized and David revises his first opinion of both of them when he gets to know them and begins to understand the hardships they face moving through the world with their respective disabilities. I listened to the audio book and I thought Richard Armitage gave a great performance. One thing I didn’t love was Dora. She was so annoying and spoiled and childish, and I couldn’t believe how long it took David to realize Agnes was clearly the girl he should marry.
Gilded by Marissa Meyer
Book Hangover Alert**
CW: death, gore, death of children
I do love a fairytale retelling. And I love a book by Marissa Meyer. Meyer’s latest novel is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin and I really enjoyed it’s dark glimmer. Everything about the world was lush and fantastical, but there was an edge of darkness and danger underneath all of it. I like the way the story unfolded with Serilda telling her made-up tales and discovering more about the mysterious Erlking and her magical friend who can spin straw into gold. One of my favorite novels is Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik and as they’re both Rumpelstiltskin retellings, it’s hard not to compare the two. I definitely enjoyed Gilded, but I think I liked Spinning Silver just a little bit more.
3.5/5 spinning wheels
A Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar***
Book Hangover Alert**
CW: war, refugees, trauma
Stunning. Gorgeous. Heartbreaking. Haunting. Hopeful. Poignant. Joukhadar’s book The Thirty Names of Night was one of the best books I read last year, and even though it’s only January, I expect this book will be on my best books list for this year. A story of Syrian refugees told parallel to a historical fairytale. I just loved it. I love Joukhadar’s beautiful writing style.
5/5 eagle eyes
We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal***
The Sands of Arawiya Duology book 1 of 2
CW: torture, child abuse, trauma, death of family members, misogyny, mind control, slavery, child trafficking
Sometimes I think Booktok overhypes books. I was led to believe this would be the best fantasy book I would have read in a while, but it was not. Whenever I disagree with Booktok I somehow always feel like something is wrong with me. Did I miss something about the book that, had I gotten it, would have made it amazing? I liked the world–it was cool to see a world inspired by the Middle East and North Africa–and the concept (although we have seen the concept before of “protagonist must bring back magic to the world”–see Children of Blood and Bone and the first several Throne of Glass books), but I thought the prose was a bit clunky and confusing in places. I often had to reread sections to figure out what was going on and there were a lot of pronoun/antecedent problems. I thought the characters were a bit underdeveloped as well, and I didn’t always understand each character’s motivation. I have another thought but it contains spoilers so read at your own risk.
Was it just me or was there a lot of unresolved homoerotic tension??? I felt Zafira had unacknowledged feelings for Yasmine, and it seemed like Altair and Nasir flirted through like the first half of the book. Which was then weird when they turned out to be BROTHERS.
3/5 evil ifrit
A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
CW: domestic abuse, torture, murder
This was my December Book of the Month and I couldn’t put it down. There were a lot of things I didn’t get done because I was reading this book instead. It started off like a fairly standard missing person mystery, but spiraled into an ethereal, magical realism dream and I just HAD to know what was going to happen. One thing I do want to talk about though, is stereotypes, and this is going to contain a spoiler.
Read More: SPOILERS AHEAD
Throughout most of the book, Bee is blind. Literature has a long history of the trope of the “blind seer” or someone who is physically blind but can see “beyond,” whether that be seeing the future, knowing things about people, or even just having really acute senses apart from sight. While this is not necessarily a negative stereotype, it reminds me of the autistic savant stereotypes in that people expect all autistics to be savants or all blind people to have other special powers, which can still be damaging. The other thing I want to mention is that at the end of the book we find out that Bee isn’t actually blind. She was hypnotized into thinking she was. I feel like this feeds into both the stereotype that blind people, or disabled people in general, are faking their disability in order to get special treatment, as well as the stereotype that simply mental effort, or “believing you can overcome” can get rid of a disability. Those are negative and harmful stereotypes, and I expect the author was not trying to buy into them, but our implicit biases can do a lot to continue the cycle of oppression.
3.5/5 silver book charms
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong***
CW: each essay comes with it’s own content warnings
I think everyone should read this book. I learned so much from each and every one of these wonderful essays from amazing disabled advocates. Some of them I had heard of (I read Haben Girma’s memoir in 2020) but many of them I had not heard of, and I’m so glad I now know a bit more about the work they’re doing. I liked all the essays but a few of my favorites were “If You Can’t Fast, Give” by Maysoon Zayid, “There’s a Mathematical Equation That Proves I’m Ugly – or So I Learned in My Seventh-Grade Art Class” by Ariel Henley, “The Erasure of Indigenous People in Chronic Illness” by Jen Deerinwater, “The Isolation of Being Deaf in Prison” by Jeremy Woody, “Radical Visibility: A Disabled Queer Clothing Reform Movement Manifesto” by Sky Cubacub, and honestly so many more. The true strength of the book is its intersectionality. So many of us have a one dimensional idea of disability, but as the largest minority group, disabled people are so diverse and it’s important to understand how various marginalized identities work together.
5/5 inclusive clothing brands
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao***
Book Hangover Alert**
Iron Widow book 1 of more than one
CW provided by the author: “Please be aware that this book contains scenes of violence and abuse, suicide ideation, discussion and references to sexual assault (though no on-page depictions), alcohol addiction, and torture.” I would also like to add foot binding, misogyny, and femicide
I think this was a BookTok book too, but it was so great. Someone please get me the sequel immediately. I loved the originality and the immersive world. I loved the complex characters that weren’t always good people, but always someone the reader could root for. I mentioned in my review of Keeper of the Night that I thought the characters were just unlikable, and even in We Hunt the Flame, I didn’t didn’t feel like the characters’ complexities were fleshed out enough for me to really care about them. But in Iron Widow, even though Shimin and Zeitan are not perfect, or even particularly nice, they’re relatable and I wanted them to succeed.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse***
Between Earth and Sky book 1 of 3
CW: body horror, sexual abuse and trafficking, suicide, graphic violence
This epic fantasy is set in a world inspired by the ancient civilizations from the Americas and there is a lot to admire here. It was kind of a slow build and it took me a little while to get into the story, but I was fascinated by Roanhorse’s world building and the different societies and cities she created. I also loved that we got to see some LGBTQ+ representation, as we know many native societies in the Americas were far more accepting of diverse gender and sexual identities–one of many things lost to colonization and often not taught in history. Older fantasy is very white, straight, and set in magical England, so I love that we are starting to see more diverse fantasy worlds. I also want to lift up Roanhorse’s blind character. We talked above about blind characters in A History of Wild Places (if you read the spoiler) and I want to say I think Roanhorse did a much better job with her blind character. He is a blind priest, sort of going with the trope of the blind seer, but he’s also very human, and his abilities with spacial perception are explained through his training and the magic he uses to borrow sight from crows. Reading the author’s note, I know Roanhorse did a lot of research and even consulted with Elsa Sjunneson, who has an essay in Disability Visibility that I highly recommend.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo***
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: abortion, alcohol use, colonialism, racism, domestic abuse, car accident (hit and run)
This is a retelling of The Great Gatsby, which is a classic that I like, but honestly, I think I liked this version more. Everything I loved about the original was there–the decadence, the languid prose, the delicious tension building, the careless characters. This version follows Jordan Baker instead of Nick Carraway, which is of course an improvement because Jordan is inarguably the best character. But this Jordan is Vietnamese, dealing with racism and colonialism and being brought up by white American socialites far from her cultural heritage. And did I mention it’s a fantasy? And LGBTQ+? Demons, the damned, ghosts, living paper, LGBTQ+ relationships–and none of it seems out of place in Fitzgerald’s story. I already mentioned the tension building and the prose, but I’m going to mention them again because they were great. The tone and style of the prose mimics Fitzgerald’s original, giving you the feeling that you are reading The Great Gatsby, while at the same time managing to feel fresh and new. And the tension building throughout is masterful. I loved it.
5/5 cut paper dragons
**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.
***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read A Map of Salt and Stars to grow your empathy for Syrian refugees. Read We Hunt the Flame to experience a fantasy set in a world inspired by the Middle East and North Africa. Read Disability Visibility to learn so much about disability and how it intersects with other marginalized identities. Read Iron Widow to enjoy LGBTQ+ sci-fi in a world inspired by ancient China. Read Black Sun to discover a fantasy world inspired by ancient civilizations of the Americas that also celebrates LGBTQ+ identities and deals with disability. Read The Chosen and the Beautiful if you thought Fitzgerald’s version was a little too white and a little too straight.
Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQ+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.