starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
Today [personal profile] rachelmanija asked me to talk about five books I enjoyed and why. There are still spots available on the meme!

I'm going to talk about five books I read and enjoyed since my last book post, which was…August 20 of this year. Welp. Thanks, grad school.

Kristin Cashore, Graceling (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) - I'm very much late to the Kristin Cashore party, but I devoured this book in about one sitting and I thought it was fantastic. As most people by now probably know, the book follows Katsa, whose Grace in a land where people with particular gifts are known as Gracelings is very specific: killing people. Katsa's perceptions about herself are upended when she takes steps beyond the reach of her uncle, a rather morally ambiguous monarch of the seven kingdoms comprising the known world. I'm not describing it well, but Katsa's emotions and her story are ridiculously intense, and I could barely put the book down. I loved the portrayal of Katsa as someone who is comfortable with violence but who nonetheless hates what violence does to her, as well as to those around her, and the denouement of the plot. (There is a bit of magical disability at the end, which Cashore has pledged to avoid in future.) It was so good. Seriously, so good.

Rae Carson, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers, and The Bitter Kingdom (Greenwillow, 2011, 2012, 2013) - This was another excellent book with an excellent female protagonist, Elisa, a younger princess who is married off to a neighboring kingdom quite suddenly as the book opens and who must find the strength within herself to protect her adopted realm and herself when she is kidnapped across a vast desert. I really loved this book because of Elisa, who is smart and stronger than she knows, and because it is unabashedly pro-princess in a way that I like. I think Carson found a way to make a princess's role not only interesting but vital, and the book is really great and very hard to put down. I also liked that Elisa is portrayed positively despite the fact that she is overweight, which makes for a nice change. One of the things I liked about Elisa's story was that each book encapsulated a different set of challenges and that she does grow into herself and her role over the course of the narrative; I also liked that the eventual love story was somewhat unconventional, though to say more would be to give away too many spoilers for the first book. Suffice it to say that Elisa is awesome, her world is very real, and I appreciated the great number and diversity of female characters who play important roles in her story. These books are great and you should read them. Along with Kristin Cashore, these books made me glad and certain that there are worthy heirs to Tamora Pierce beginning their careers now.

Franny Bllingsley, Chime (Penguin, 2011) - This is another excellent book with a wonderful, knotty female protagonist. Briony lives in a village at the edge of a swamp in an alternate Victorian England. She knows she's a witch and a murderer, and she hates herself accordingly (she's more than a bit like Katsa in that regard, actually), and it's only when a clever outsider comes to town that she begins to question whether the story she knows about herself is actually true. This is another intense book, very atmospheric and very hard to put down, and I loved the portrayal of Briony and the damage she's inflicted on herself, and the beginning of her journey out of it. I've not read any other of Billingsley's books, but now I very much want to.

Frances Hardinge, Gullstruck Island | The Lost Conspiracy (various, 2009) - Hardinge is one of my favorite writers alive and this book is really amazingly good. I said on Twitter that Hardinge's books prove that middle grade books can be literature, and I would put her in the same class as Megan Whalen Turner in that respect. Gullstruck Island is the story of Hathin, a worrywart girl from a tribe that still clings to the old ways on an island that was colonized by the mainland centuries ago, and how she finds herself holding the entire island's future in her hands, beginning with her older sister. There is a ton of stuff going on in the book--and it's not precisely light; there are massacres and concentration camps, among other things--but compared to the sheer abandon of Hardinge's first book, Fly By Night, it felt a little more controlled, and somewhat more serious. I can't recommend her books highly enough, though I have to say that in my opinion the U.S. covers and titles are mostly terrible.

Hiromi Goto, Darkest Light (Razorbill, 2012) - I bought this book especially in Canada, because it's not available in the States, which is a shame because it's really good. It's the half-sequel to Half World, which I also read and loved, and is just as grotesque (in the aesthetic, not the moral sense) as the first one, but longer and more involved and also…more intense. It's also the rare YA book I've read with a male protagonist, namely Gee, whose identity will be clear to those who've read the first book but who is a mystery to himself and whose depression and anger and vividly and claustrophobically portrayed. To be clear, the book needs a trigger warning for the depiction of a successful suicide, but at the end, I definitely felt, if not entirely optimistic, at peace with the narrative and with Gee's journey. I said at one point earlier that it reminded me somewhat of A Christmas Carol, which is actually one of my favorite books in some senses, in that Gee learns, late but in time like Scrooge, that it's never to late to change your life. Again, highly recommended.

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