As this dumpster fire of a year comes to a close, I thought it would be nice to reflect on what made it bearable: books. Reading was what kept me going through good times and bad this year, and while I read a whole lot, there were a select few books that stood out from the rest, from new-to-me authors and authors I’ve been following for years.
(NOTE: this list also contains books that I rated 4.75 stars and rounded up to 5.)
Hey bibliophiles! Thanksgiving break is here, and that means I’m back to posting semi-regularly!
Luckily, after the absolute dumpster fire that October was, November really picked up for me! I’ve started getting my grades up, Biden won the election (!!!!!), and my general mood and mental health have just gotten a lot better.
But before I begin, I’ll just start off with this: I’ll probably start being a little bit more fluid with my posting. I’ll still stick to weekly updates and reviews and such, but depending on how I am that week, I might not do Top 5 Saturdays as much. We’ll see how December goes, anyway. School’s 100% remote now, and everything’s starting to close down again here in Colorado, so I’m fairly certain of another lockdown.
And so this post is for all of the notable novels I read in hiatus, as well as some movies and TV I’ve been enjoying. (Of course, the time I take a break is when I get all the 5-star books…)
Let’s begin, shall we?
WHAT I ENJOYED WHILE I STEPPED INTO THE VOID FOR A FEW WEEKS
It’s been three years since ICE raids and phone calls from Mexico and an ill-fated walk across the Sonoran. Three years since Sia Martinez’s mom disappeared. Sia wants to move on, but it’s hard in her tiny Arizona town where people refer to her mom’s deportation as “an unfortunate incident.”
Sia knows that her mom must be dead, but every new moon Sia drives into the desert and lights San Anthony and la Guadalupe candles to guide her mom home.
Then one night, under a million stars, Sia’s life and the world as we know it cracks wide open. Because a blue-lit spacecraft crashes in front of Sia’s car…and it’s carrying her mom, who’s very much alive.
As Sia races to save her mom from armed-quite-possibly-alien soldiers, she uncovers secrets as profound as they are dangerous in this stunning and inventive exploration of first love, family, immigration, and our vast, limitless universe.
WOW. I was excited to read this one, but I didn’t expect it to pack as much of a punch as it did. This is the prime example of a genre-bending novel–all of the sci-fi, contemporary, and magical realism elements blended seamlessly, and even if I separated the different parts, I enjoyed each little cog in the machine just as much as the other. I found myself rooting for Sia at every step of the way, and her journey and struggle were so heartfelt and painful. Add in some #ownvoices representation and no shortage of timely themes, and you get this novel–unexpected, seamless, and nothing short of a joy to read.
Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.
When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.
This one was on my TBR for almost two years, and I’m so glad I picked it up now! The Revolution of Birdie Randolph was one of those rare books that manages to discuss a myriad of issues, but in a way that doesn’t make any of them sound preachy. The struggles of all the characters felt refreshingly real and dealt with in a way that serves to raise conversations. Everything about this novel felt so authentic, which brought me immeasurable joy.
And at the same time, tackling all these issues, Colbert didn’t make it overly heavy–there’s certainly parts that are hard to read, but I didn’t leave it feeling sick to my stomach. At times, it even felt like a slice-of-life story, but I enjoyed that 100%. There’s POC and LGBTQ+ representation aplenty too! All in all, a beautiful and diverse piece of contemporary fiction.
This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.
At this point, every time I read something by Tillie Walden, I’m guaranteed to rate it in the 4.5-5 star range, and Are You Listening? is no exception. A family friend recommended this one to me a few months back, and it wasn’t available at my library at the time, so I ended up reading On a Sunbeam and Spinning beforehand.
I ate this one up in the span of a few hours, and I enjoyed every panel of every page. It’s a story of bonding in the toughest of situations, of sticking together no matter what, of trust. Walden’s artwork is as stunning as ever, turning an unexpected road trip through rural Texas into a strange, desolate, and trippy landscape where nothing is as it seems. And we have two queer women at the wheel–what’s not to love? And a CAT! A CAT!
Alyssa Farshot has spent her whole life trying to outrun her family legacy. Her mother sacrificed everything to bring peace to the quadrant, and her uncle has successfully ruled as emperor for decades. But the last thing Alyssa wants is to follow in their footsteps as the next in line for the throne. Why would she choose to be trapped in a palace when she could be having wild adventures exploring a thousand-and-one planets in her own ship?
But when Alyssa’s uncle becomes gravely ill, his dying wish surprises the entire galaxy. Instead of naming her as his successor, he calls for a crownchase, the first in seven centuries. Representatives from each of the empire’s prime families—including Alyssa—are thrown into a race to find the royal seal, which has been hidden somewhere in the empire. The first to find the seal wins the throne.
Alyssa’s experience as an explorer makes her the favorite to win the crown she never wanted. And though she doesn’t want to be empress, her duty to her uncle compels her to participate in this one last epic adventure. But when the chase turns deadly, it’s clear that more than just the fate of the empire is at stake. Alyssa is on her most important quest yet—and only time will tell if she’ll survive it.
“Perfect for fans of Aurora Rising” [SLAMS THE WANT-TO-READ BUTTON]
This was one of my most anticipated reads for the second half of the year, and I was…a little bit disappointed, not gonna lie. It wasn’t bad, per se–I liked it, but it left me wanting a little more.
There’s no doubt that it was super fast paced and threw me right into the action–a blessing and a curse; a blessing because it kept me reading for a while, on the edge of my seat, and a curse because…we’re given very little information about the world(s) we’re in. I liked the banter between Alyssa, Hell Monkey, and the others, and they had decent chemistry. (Also, there’s quite a lot of LGBTQ+ characters, including Alyssa herself–I’m not sure if she’s bi, pan, or another identity, but she’s definitely shown to like several genders! Woohoo!)
The breakneck speed definitely had me forgetting where everybody was, why x and y was so important, etc. But for a debut novel, I’d say that this is a solid start on Coffindaffer’s part! Not my favorite, but I think I’ll tag along to see what book 2 holds.
MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Fargo: Year 4 (2020)
Yep, it’s settled: Fargo is officially my favorite show. Noah Hawley is a true mastermind of storytelling, and every ounce of his creativity truly shines through in this season. I’ve always loved his characters, but this is the first season where I’ve really gotten attached to some of them (which, given the rate at which characters are killed off in this show, is…not good…). Episode 9 (East/West) is, hands down, my favorite of the season so far–the characterizations of Rabbi and Satchel, all the weird Wizard of Oz references…I haven’t been so invested in a show in such a long time. There’s only two episodes left in this season, so you can expect a review in a few weeks’ time…
Alien: Covenant (2017)
David: GUESS WHO’S BACK
Prometheus is definitely one of my favorite movies now, but Covenant wasn’t quite as good. I still enjoyed it though, don’t get me wrong–I love some good, old fashioned sci-fi action, and the twists were so well-executed (though the big one was a tad predictable…I still loved it, though. No spoilers.). I didn’t get attached to any of the characters, but I still adored David, and the creepy little workshop he had going. Everything felt a little rushed, but with where the movie ended, I’m excited to see what else Ridley Scott’s going to pull out of his hat.
Blood Simple (1984)
My family’s Fargo kick has made me put a whole bunch of Coen Brothers on my list. We watched this one last night, and…WHOA. I ASPIRE TO HAVE A DEBUT AS GOOD AS THIS. Sure, it took a while to pick up, but it had that signature tension that makes you get invested in so many of their films. Also, even though I’ve never been to Texas, it definitely captured that weird vibe you get when you’re in the South at night, and you’re super tired, and there’s all this humidity and weird ambience floating around…
So that’s what I’ve been up to while I was gone. As always, thanks for stopping by! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I put this one on my TBR almost exactly a year ago (what are the odds?), forgot about it for a little bit, and once I remembered its existence, I got INCREDIBLY excited. I did a Goodreads Monday on it about a month ago, and it seemed like my dream book. (Aliens, secret libraries, music, and LGBTQ+/POC representation? Of COURSE you have my attention!) I recently bought it on my first trip to the bookstore since the pandemic started. And while it wasn’t without its flaws, The Sound of Stars was a beautiful and poignant tale of resistance.
⭐︎ A mini photoshoot I did with my copy (feat. some similar YA sci-fi books I own, as well as my trusty iPod and David Bowie) ⭐︎
Janelle–Ellie for short–Baker lives in a world not so far from our own, but one ravaged by the aftermath of an alien invasion. The Ilori now have control over most of the population, and have deemed all forms of creative expression, be it art, literature, or music, as dangerous. Ellie ekes out a living in New York City, running a secret library of her personal collection. She knows that if she’s ever discovered, it could mean execution for her and her parents, but her love of books keeps her business going.
M0Rr1s (Morris), an Ilori boy raised in a lab, knows that his differences could also mean the death of him. Unlike most others of his kind, he has the capacity for emotion–and a penchant for music. He finds solace in the old human music, illegally downloading it into his mind to hear. When he stumbles upon Ellie and her secret library, he knows that he should turn her into the authorities. But their shared love of literature and music leads them on a road trip, smuggling their artwork to a safer place, where they may be welcome and accepted. The journey won’t be without its obstacles–namely, the Ilori authorities–but Ellie and Morris will do anything when it comes to the fate of their art–and humanity itself.
YOU GUYS. WHAT. A. BOOK. This is, without a doubt, one of the best books of 2020. And I don’t say that lightly.
The Sound of Stars is a powerful and poignant novel about the power of friendship and resistance–and the uniting power of music and literature.
Let’s start off with the characters. I ADORED both Ellie and Morris. Ellie’s strong will and love of books truly resonated with me, and it’s great to see characters with her representation (Mixed race/POC, demisexual, has anxiety) in literature. Her chapters always have lovely YA references and quotes from classic novels slipped in there, so I enjoyed every minute of her perspective. And MORRIS. MORRIS IS AN ABSOLUTE SWEETHEART. I also resonated with his love of music, and he was just such a tender-hearted character in general. His chapters were laden with GREAT music references–David Bowie, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, all the good stuff. And having Ellie and Morris in a romantic relationship was everything I’ve ever wanted–not only are they super cute together (adorable enemies to friends to lovers dynamic), it’s great to see LGBTQ+ characters in straight-passing relationships. There’s an awful stigma these days with bi/pan/etc. people that if they’re in such a relationship, they “aren’t valid,” and it’s great to see the stigma being broken down in the best possible way.
Beyond that, The Sound of Stars is just the kind of story we need for these times, in an age of bigotry and division. There’s a clear commentary against racism and colonialism, and to have Ellie and Morris fighting back against the system is something I love to see. Some of the more obvious political commentary was a bit ham-fisted at worst, but at this point, it’s probably what readers need to wake up and realize the situation around us. It’s the perfect story for those looking to make a difference in their communities–especially with the power of art.
For the most part, I found this book to be almost flawless–the writing, the characters, the representation, you name it. But I did have one problem, which, judging from the reviews I’ve read, seems to be common–the ending.
It’s…weird. Not in the best way, to be honest. It’s a bizarre, deus ex machina kind of deal, where the characters are on the brink of death, and BAM…well, I won’t spoil it, but it kind of had me scratching my head. The very end was hopeful, at least, but it still left a strange (metaphorical) taste on my tongue.
But all in all, The Sound of Stars was a phenomenal gem of a resistance novel. 4.75 stars, rounded up to 5!
At the moment, it seems like The Sound of Stars is a standalone novel, though it had an open ending that could *potentially* lend itself to a sequel. (I’d be happy either way, honestly.) This novel is Alechia Dow’s debut novel, but as of now, she has another book, The Kindred, scheduled to be published in 2022.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I don’t think I’ve anticipated a book as much as I’ve anticipated Aurora Burning (though Soul of Stars is a close contender). After falling in love with book 1, I jumped at the chance to preorder it, and as the date came closer (it’s officially been a week since its release), I counted down the days. My day got SO much better once I got it in the mail, and my day was filled with so much joy thereafter. I read it twice, and I must say, this is a truly worthy sequel, filled to the brim with plot twists and heart-wrenching writing.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1, AURORA RISING. If you haven’t read book 1, then I suggest you don’t read this review yet.
Squad 312 is in more trouble than they’ve ever been in.
After the tumultuous exploration of Octavia III, the colony that Aurora was set to live in, Tyler, Scarlett, Finian, Kal, Zila, and Auri are back on the run. The TDF now blames them for the destruction of Sagan station, and with targets on their backs, the stakes are higher than ever. Especially considering that the Ra’haam–an interstellar entity bent on consuming the galaxy and all its denizens–is after them, infiltrating the Global Intelligence Agency, and bent on assimilating Auri. Now, Squad 312 must unlock the mystery of the Eshvaren–the beings that defeated the Ra’haam millions of years before–in order to complete Auri’s destiny as the force that will purge the Ra’haam from the face fo the galaxy. With targets on their backs and bounties on their heads–and not to mention, Kal’s sister after them–will Squad 312 defy all odds once more?
WOW. WHAT. A. BOOK.
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have absolutely done it again, pulling out all the stops of a sequel truly worthy of the near-perfection of its predecessor. There was nothing I enjoyed more than being back with Squad 312–especially now that we’ve got some necessary backstory on all of them.
Namely, Zila and Kal. We learned almost nothing about Zila in book 1, other than something vaguely hinted in her (very short) POVs; now that we have some insight on her past life…whew, somebody give her all the hugs the universe has to offer…
But beyond that, we also saw her grow such a great deal, and watching it made my heart so happy. Kal gets a similar treatment–we get an insight on his past (namely, his family), and we also get to see his relationship with Auri grow. I already adored both of them in book 1 (I mean, hey, they’re my favorite characters), but seeing them blossom together was one of my favorite aspects of this book.
Aurora Burning was just as action-packed as book 1, if not even more. I enjoyed every minute of it–everything from the escape from Emerald City at the very beginning to the chaos that ensued towards the end of the novel. I was on the edge of my seat for every page, and grinning from ear to ear through it all. (Well, almost all of it. More on that a bit later.)
One of my favorite scenes/sequences, by far, was Auri’s training by the Eshvaren within the Echo. It was such a beautifully written and archetypal few chapters–not only a chance for Auri to realize herself and her mindset, but a chance for her relationship with Kal to grow as well. The imagery was gorgeous, and I’ll admit that the last bit got me choked up. Mostly because it was so reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, with Luke undergoing training to be a Jedi knight in the swamps of Dagobah. The Hero’s Journey parallels between Luke and Auri made me swell with joy, for lack of better words.
And all of it built up to an absolute WHOPPER of an ending. If you love this series as much as I do, PLEASE prepare yourself emotionally, because I guarantee that you won’t be ready for what’s coming. I know you’ve all heard everybody saying something on these lines, but I mean it when I say that Kaufman and Kristoff DESTROY EVERYTHING THAT YOU HOLD DEAR. AGAIN. And now I have to wait a whole year to find out what happens…
And on a sidenote, REPRESENTATION! Finian is now confirmed to be bisexual, and Zila makes several comments about liking girls, though her label has not been confirmed. A+!
All in all, Aurora Burning proves once more that Kaufman and Kristoff are nothing short of a force to be reckoned with. A true stunner of a sequel, and one that I certainly won’t forget anytime soon. 5, ENORMOUS STARS! Or more, if that’s possible…
Aurora Burning is the second book in the Aurora Cycle, preceded by Aurora Rising. Book 3 is confirmed to be happening/in the works, but as of now, it’s untitled, and does not have a cover or a release date. [sad harmonica]
Gah, I love this song…
Reminds me a little bit of Kal, to be honest. Not completely, but some of the lyrics and the general feel of the song have the same vibes as him.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
As 2019 (and this decade) draws to a close, I’ve decided to make a comprehensive lists of all of my 5-star reads for this year, and, by proxy, my favorite books that I’ve read this year. Most of these are what’d you’d expect, if you’ve scoured my book tags and reviews, but I know there’s a few that I haven’t talked much about. These are in chronological order of when I read them, though their actual rankings vary a fair bit.
Now, without further ado…this year’s 5-star lineup!
KING OF SCARS–LEIGH BARDUGO
Bardugo’s veritable masterpiece, all at once a rollicking adventure and an exploration of internal conflict, was my first 5-star rating of this year. And…Nikolai. ‘Nuff said.