Monthly Book Blog Wrap-Up: December 2021

Holy smokes, it’s the end of the year. Despite being homebound for the most part (no thanks to the pandemic), this year flew by. I guess time flies when you bury your nose in a book to ignore the rest of the world? There are certainly worse coping mechanisms. I felt like I didn’t read very much this December, but I ended up publishing a record number of posts this month since starting my blog. Counting this one, December has a total of 13 blog posts. Onward!

Book Reviews
I posted five book reviews in December, which is a little more than average for me. No complaints here. From earliest to latest I reviewed:

Book Memes
In addition to my monthly wrap-up for November, I posted 5 book memes:

I also posted a list of books that I did not finish (DNF) in 2021. Thankfully the list is short. Truthfully, I wanted to DNF a few NetGalley requests, but felt I needed to finish them out of respect for the system; plus, I also wanted to increase my review percentage.

Other Book-ish Progress
I finally finished reading Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian. I absolutely loved it and was a teary-eyed mess at the end. Now I just need to get my butt into action and write my review for it.

I started reading The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney, which is a NetGalley approval. However, I didn’t get very far because 1) I really wanted to finish Prophecy of Love, another NG read; 2) Skin of the Sea arrived at the library for me and there’s a holds list, so I started reading that instead; and 3) I have a few other NG reads with earlier publication dates that I need to prioritize.

I also finished watching season two of The Witcher and loved it. I’ve seen mixed reactions from readers on book Twitter about the books. Even so, I’m thinking about trying to read a few of the books in 2022. But we’ll see. I’m very much a mood reader rather than a planner, so anything goes.

Books I DNF in 2021

I first saw this type of post over on Turn Another Page, who did the 12 Days of Blogmas. I didn’t participate in blogmas. But I thought it’d be interesting to revisit books I didn’t finish (DNF) this year. When I DNF a book it’s usually because I couldn’t get into it, not because it’s badly written. (Or, at least, that’s my experience so far.) Thankfully I usually don’t have many DNF-ed books by the end of the year, including this year.

Even though I DNF-ed these books below, maybe one of you will find something new to read (or enjoyed them already). Remember, reading preferences differ among individuals. Just because I couldn’t get into a book doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way.

The links used in this post are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links. However, if you buy from Bookshop.org, your purchase benefits local bookstores.

Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs
I like to intersperse nonfiction books into my reading line up, plus I like animals. So I thought I’d be able to read this without a hitch. But I ended up DNF-ing it for a couple of reasons. The first is I wasn’t in the right headspace. We had just moved house, and I was also up against a library due date, so I felt stressed to get through it. The second is that the writing was too dense for me. I felt kind of like I was reading an encyclopedia. If my TBR list wasn’t so long, I would probably try reading it again.

Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution by Susan Stryker
This was on the nonfiction display shelf at the entrance of my library. So I picked it up on a whim to educate myself. I was excited about reading this. I even got through a couple of chapters before deciding to DNF it. There’s a lot of time and history to distill into one book, I understand that. But ultimately it was a little too dry for me and I just could not connect with the writing style and/or how the author presented the history. It felt very detached, much like a history book. I suppose I expected more stories and, to be fair, those are present. Reflecting on past nonfiction reads, I definitely enjoy this genre most when they’re presented like a novel, if that makes sense. I feel bad that I DNF-ed it, but I really had a hard time reading it.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
The premise of this book is a little different than I usually choose. But the synopsis indicates there are fantasy elements to it, so I thought I’d give it a go. I read a few chapters before DNF-ing it due to the writing style. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the writing. It’s strong and descriptive. However, the style reminded me a lot of 19th century English literature, namely Austen and Brontë. I have never gravitated towards that writing style. Before picking it up, I didn’t know this book has a similar writing style. I gave it a shot, but ultimately it wasn’t for me.


Book Review: The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

Author: RJ Barker
Publisher: Orbit
Publish Date: September 24, 2019
Print Length: 512 pages

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of The Bone Ships on Bookshop.org!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Official Synopsis
Two nations at war. One prize beyond compare.

For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war. The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.

Now, the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favor. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory but the war.

My Review
When I first started my blog and book-related Twitter account I kept seeing this book pop up over and over in my Twitter feed. So I made a mental note to read it since the commentary surrounding it were overwhelmingly positive. Sailing on the open seas with a doomed crew on a mission? Ships made from the bones of long extinct dragons? The excitement that they might not actually be extinct? Sign me up!

I do admit that it took me a little while to truly get into the book. This is the first installment of a trilogy, which means it takes time to introduce the reader to the characters and the world. (Plus I was also in the middle of unpacking after moving house, so that was a major distraction for me.) However, that slow start (in my opinion) is worth it as you keep reading. There is some serious character development by the time you reach the end.

Enter Joron Twiner, an apathetic, drunk shipwife cursed to spend the rest of his life on a black ship, the Tide Child. Once you’ve been sentenced to a ship such as this, there’s no leaving it. His crew is no better, for each committed some offense, deemed unfit to remain among the rest of society. They have little respect for Joron, nor does he work to deserve it. It’s unsurprising that Joron wakes and finds himself hungover, challenged to a duel by Lucky Meas for the position of shipwife on the Tide Child. And it’s equally unsurprising that he loses.

But it’s not all for naught. Joron unexpectedly gets to remain on Tide Child as the deckeeper, who’s second to the shipwife. Bewildered, embarrassed, and hoping to one day regain control of Tide Child, Joron joins Meas on a high seas mission. I can’t tell you for what though, because spoilers!

Arguably, I think the strongest aspect of this book is the character development of Joron and the crew on the Tide Child. The behavior and competency of a ship’s crew is a reflection on the shipwife’s leadership. Joron was a terrible shipwife, largely thanks to emotional distress. Because he didn’t act as a leader, his crew couldn’t care less about him. Thus they kept only their own interests in mind. Once Meas takes over we see a transformation in both Joron and the crew. As they encounter danger, they learn to work together and trust each other. The pace of this developemt is slow, but realistic. RJ Barker shows us these transformations rather than tells us about them; I very much prefer this method of story telling. It makes me feel like I’m hovering and observing everything as it happens. Barker masterfully shows us these subtle changes through Joron’s thoughts and his observations of the crew.

The world-building also takes a front seat next to the character development. Barker throws the reader right into the society of the Hundred Isles. There’s not an up front information “dump.” Rather, Barker introduces us to the culture and concepts organically through conversation or events. I think this is another reason why it took a while for me to find my groove with this book. There is so much new terminology (shipwife, deckeeper, corpselight), not only because this is a fantasy book, but also because I’m not familiar with how one runs a ship and what the terms are analogous to in real life. So a huge ‘thank you’ to the author for including an appendix of terminology to which the reader can refer.

Of course, the farther along I read, the more familiar I became with everything. I was super intrigued by the Guillaime, which are a race of magicians that can control winds and are therefore valuable to have on a ship. The guillaime on the Tide Child is ornery and uncooperative, however. So Meas tasks Joron with befriending it so it will perform as a member of the crew. I’d say more, but, spoilers! Equally as captivating, but in a sad and disturbing way, is the culture around firstborn children and the women who bear them. The women who produce healthy firstborns are put on a pedestal, but at a price that I think all would find distressing.

Anyway, my review doesn’t do justice to the immersive, multi-faceted character development and world- and society-building by Barker. This is definitely an epic adventure and I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy, should my neverending TBR list oblige.

Rating: 4.5/5
Content warnings: battle scenes, death, non-descriptive mention of infant death
Reading format: Library paperback

First Lines Fridays: December 24, 2021

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  The rules are as follows:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

If you’re using Twitter, don’t forget to use #FirstLinesFridays!

I haven’t done this book meme in a while, so let’s get to it.

I circle the ship with the sharks, slipping between dark waves. The water is layered with cold currents, sea creatures, and a ship that slices through it with cargo holds full of stolen people. I swim underneath the swells, away from the gaze of men and just out of the reach of jaws.

Waiting.

Do you know what book this is?

Still guessing?

Well, the book reveal is…



Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

From Penguin Random House:

A way to survive.
A way to serve.
A way to save.
 
Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata—a mermaid—collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.
 
But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi goes against an ancient decree and does the unthinkable—she saves his 
life. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy the gods.
 
To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But all is not as it seems. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail . . .
 
Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she fails, she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

12 Days of Christmas Book Tag

Happy Christmas Eve Eve! I’ve seen a few Christmas/holiday-related book tags floating around and wanted to squeeze at least one in before Christmas. I first saw this on Chris’s blog, Biblio Nerd Reflections, but it was created by Lizzie Loves Books. This was super fun to do! But, like Chris mentioned, it’s hard to do if your goal is to avoid repeats. I tag anyone who’s interested! So, let’s jump to it, shall we?

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: A partridge in a pear tree.
The partridge stood alone in the pear tree. What is your favorite stand alone this year?

I haven’t had a chance to write my review for this yet, but I loved this book. The first lines grip your attention and the writing is wonderful. I loved the female perspective of this classic retelling of Arthurian legend. It was like reading a Greek tragedy, but much better. I really don’t understand why its Goodreads rating is under 4 stars. It’s absolutely a 5 star read for me. I highly recommend reading this if you haven’t done so already.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Two turtle doves.
Love is in the air! Who is your one true pairing this year?

Ahem. I don’t mind being predictable here. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the A Court of Thorns and Roses series!! Feyre and Rhysand from A Court of Mist and Fury are my OTP this year. And maybe even forever unless I find another fictional book couple that can dethrone their place in my heart. I had such a massive book hangover after reading ACoMaF. This book inspired me to start my book blog because I literally had no one to talk to about this book.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Three french hens.
In the spirit of threes, what is the best trilogy you have read this year?

I only read two trilogies this year and I felt equally about both of them: The Folk of the Air and Shadow and Bone. I suppose Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series ekes out S&B a little bit for me. This trilogy is comprised of The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and The Queen of Nothing. I appreciated the more complex politics in this trilogy during which a few turns of events left me surprised. I also like how Holly Black portrays the mischievousness and cruelty of the fae.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Four calling birds.
Since series usually consist of four or more books, what is your favorite series this year?

I only read one series this year, which was the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. I was in a bit of a slump when I found a deal for the first book on Kindle back in February 2021. It knocked me out of that slump and even kick started my love of reading again. I had only just started getting back into reading in 2020 (pandemic silver lining?); this series punted me back into the game.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Five golden rings.
One ring to rule them all! Who is your favorite Villain/Antagonist this year?

If you haven’t read For the Wolf, then beware of spoilers ahead! I though the priestess, Kiri, was intimidating as hell. She’s crafty and manipulative, particularly of those who are emotionally vulnerable. And she knows how to harness power to achieve her end goals. I’m really looking forward to the next book.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Six geese a laying.
Creation is a beautiful thing. What is your favorite world/world-building this year?

I think I’ll have to choose The Bone Ships for this one. It’s so different from the rest of the fantasy genre books I read this year. We know fantasy authors typically dream up new cultures for their stories. RJ Barker really excelled at that with this book. My review isn’t up yet, but stay tuned for it on December 26!

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Seven swans a swimming.
Who needs seven swans when all it takes is one good animal sidekick? Who’s your favorite animal sidekick this year?

There are only two books I read that have some true animal sidekick action. Both are in The Drowning Empire trilogy by Andrea Stewart. I choose the first book, The Bone Shard Daughter. The animal sidekick in these books is arguably my favorite character.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Eight maids a milking.
Milk is so 18th century. Which book or series takes beverages/food to a whole new level?

Hmm. I didn’t read anything this year where food is a big component of the book. I suppose if I have to pick one it’d be milk and honey by Rupi Kaur, which is a book of poetry. I didn’t write a review for this one.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Nine ladies dancing.
Dancing is just one skill of a Lady! Who is your favorite kickass female lead this year?

I choose James Juniper from Alix E. Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches. This is a great book about sisterhood and women’s rights in fantasy form.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Ten lords a leaping.
How about your favorite leading lad this year?

This is hard. I’m going to have to repeat a book here considering most of the books I read have leading ladies. So, let’s hear it for Rhysand again from the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: Eleven pipes piping.
What is your favorite book or bookish thing with musical influence? (It can be about music, reference music a lot etc.)

I don’t have a favorite book or bookish thing with musical influence. But I did read a book called Musical Chairs this year, so I guess that counts?

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me: twelve drummers drumming.
Drum roll please…what is your favorite read of this year?

Right back to a partridge in a pear tree–let’s have it for Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian. I probably would’ve chosen A Court of Mist and Fury again, or maybe even The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (loved the writing style). But this is one of the last books I squeezed in this year and I’m really glad I did.