& Fridays: Ampersand Read’s Best Books of the Year

Ah, we’ve come to the end of another year (yeah….WHAT?!) and thus, the very important Third Annual Ampersand Read Best Books of the Year Awards! Or TAARBBOTYA if you want a title that requires an obnoxiously long acronym (here’s looking at you, A Court of Mist and Fury, or should I say ACOMAF?!) HUZZAH! HOORAY! AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!

It’s been a pretty damn good year of reading. Not that I’ve had many bad years, really. I found that I’ve read an incredible number of good sequels this year. It was quite hard to narrow it down. Without further ago (because I added some categories this time so it’s a long awards ceremony now):

Most Surprising

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

I almost crowned this book in “Best Sequel” and THEN I thought it might be “Best Twist,” because this book, second in a series, feels like such a different book than the first. It has stronger characters, and this huge, sweeping plot that sets up so much for the books to come. My jaw dropped multiple times at how much I loved this book. I liked A Court of Thorns and Roses. I LOVED A Court of Mist and Fury. There is so much to fangirl about, and I became so invested in the world and the characters. Most of all, I wasn’t expecting these changes and by the end, I couldn’t see how the story could be any other way.

 

Most Beautiful

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

I’ve got a thing for beautiful stories. Stories that maybe aren’t the most action packed, maybe aren’t the most succinct or as brief as they could be, but damn do they know how to place and write a sentence. McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway does a lot in a small space. At just over 150 pages, it’s rather short for a novel. It takes a lot to set up the world of a book, let alone a book where children fall into other worlds: you must set up dozens of other little stories (the worlds the children fall into) in the one big story (a safe haven for them to meet others like them). But the language evokes such feeling in this novel; it is small but talks about very big things.

Best Start of a Series

nevernight

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

The sequel to Nevernight does not even have a name yet, and it is already on my calendar to be ready to buy it. The writing style/language is polarizing: you either jump in with both feet and love it, or you fight the book the whole way. I ate it all up with a spoon, and now I want more. The premise of the story – a Hogwarts-style school for assassins where someone starts killing off the students – is just the tip of the iceberg. It is funny and beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. Can August 2017 get here sooner?!

Best Sequel

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

I was kind of hoping the sequel to last year’s brilliant City of Stairs would be from the perspective of Sigrud – the ass-kicking muscle to Shara’s quiet politician. But war general Turyin Mulaghesh does just fine, expanding the already vividly complex world Stairs began, and turning it a bit on its head. Second books in a series often slump, and are just a bridge to the final act. This sequel turns everything up to eleven, and I can’t wait for City of Miracles, out in April.

Honorable Mentions

So. Many. Other. Contenders. Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo’s sequel to last year’s stupendous Six of Crows was just as good as its predecessor, shipping all the best ships and hiding all the right secrets from readers until just the right moment to shock and awe us.

And Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman was crazy great as well. But I’m in love with the series, so I went into reading the sequel a little biased.

Best Cover

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman,.

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman,.

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

I just….so much work goes into these books! There’s art, there’s story, there’s graphics and diagrams and just so so SO many hours of genius. You only get an inkling of how involved the creation of these books are when you look at the covers, but it’s a good inkling. The transparent, watercolored dustjacket, the censored sections of files, revealed only in bits and pieces, the layout of it all: AMAZING.

Honorable Mentions

Smoke by Dan Vyleta features a beautiful painting by Claude Monet that is so atmospherically PERFECT for the novel and place in time. Plus, the colors are just plain pretty. We Could be Beautiful by Swan Huntley is highly reflective – a stray sunbeam and you could blind passerby if you were reading in public. But its subtle play on an out-of-focus yet still beautiful subject, and suggestion of a mirror is the perfect choice for a book that deals a lot with image and impressions.

Best Character

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Jesper from Crooked Kingdom (and Six of Crows)

Ooh a toughy. Not only do I have to narrow a choice down to a book I read this year, but to a single character that I liked “best.” Which is essentially impossible, because there were so many good guys and gals and monsters to choose from. And everyone in Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom is amazing. But I came to find Jesper to be one of my favorites. He’s the witty banter-er of the group, the comic relief. But he also has a complex backstory, and I feel like he could have a spinoff series of his own (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!). Plus he and Wylan are adorable.

Honorable Mentions

Too many to count. General Turyin Mulaghesh from City of Stairs, Rhysand from A Court of Mist and Fury, Darrow from Morning Star, and Nancy from Every Heart a Doorway to name just a very few.

Book I Most Want to See on Screen

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

AGAIN. Can you imagine this movie? I can. It would be AWESOME. I am a sucker for clever characters whose plots are one step ahead of me, and I love that in the movies that I watch, too. Scenes in these books seem to play out very cinematically. Now who wants to direct?

Best Book I Read All Year

I couldn’t actually pinpoint just one (although I will in a moment for the sake of the awards. THE SHOW MUST GO ON!). I read so many books this year that I really liked, that it feels almost dishonest to say “I liked THIS one the best at the time of year/the week/the mood I was in that I read it.” Morning Star by Pierce Brown capped off the Red Rising trilogy so, so well. City of Blades and Gemina were superb sequels to series that I drool over. Nevernight was a fantastic start to what is probably going to be a beautiful friendship between me and Jay Kristoff’s new series.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire was just straight up amazing, and for how short it is, I know the book will stay with me a long time. The characters, the themes, the unbelievable potential for more stories: fantastic

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& Review: City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Broadway Books January 2016

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Broadway Books January 2016

The Book Itself: I’m liking the covers for this series. There’s a larger symbol having to do with the Divine characters in the novel (in this case Voortya’s sword), and then below that, there is a surprisingly detailed image of the city the book is set in. This one really helped me visualize Voortyashtan and the harbor construction. Plus the whole thing just looks really cool.

My Review: A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions.
 
Now, the city’s god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.
 
So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh— foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister—has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.  
 
At least, it makes the perfect cover story.
 
The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world–or destroy it.
 
The trouble is that this old soldier isn’t sure she’s still got what it takes to be the hero

I fell in absolute, unexpected book-love with Bennett’s City of Stairs (although I cringe when I re-read my review – what was I drinking when I wrote that thing? It’s so scatterbrained!) It was recommended by a friend and even though I didn’t love the description, I started in on it. And it’s a book that hooks you, drops you in this world and this mystery, and doesn’t let you out of its grip. I may have shed a tear when I saw that the sequel wasn’t out for another year or so.

But here we are, with City of Blades. And yes, I had to re-read City of Stairs. I remembered the bare bones of the story (Sigrud battles a giant water monster! Some gods come back to life!), but re-reading it just cemented the memory of how much I loved it. And it was nice to slide right into the sequel.

This one follows Mulaghesh – the stern battle general who stood by Shara’s side in the Battle of Bulikov. She (spoiler alert!) lost an arm and is “retired” in the seaside village she always wanted…and she’s pretty miserable. Enter Pitry (anyone else think about Land Before Time? Anyone?), with a note from good old Shara, pulling Mulaghesh back into service. And where does she send the embattled war veteran? The city that used to be focused solely on war and violence, of course (a little cruel, Shara…).

Enter another mysterious disappearance…enter clues that the Divine isn’t dead…enter our best pal Sigrud. And you’ve got another amazing story.

It’s a decidedly darker tone than the first book, which wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in to begin with. Mulaghesh is a former soldier with physical and emotional wounds that run very deep. The moments where she would come to a realization about her military past, where she would become so broken up about the concept of war and the acts she committed in the name of it, were incredibly emotional. I think they would affect any reader, and I honed in on them because I happen to love someone in the military – those feelings and memories are highly personal and incredibly loaded with emotions of every kind. I think it was handled very well in the book.

I love the way both books have dealt with the central mystery: the beginning of the book puts you knee-deep in the mystery, but the book soon boomerangs you into a storyline so much wildly bigger than that mystery, that you don’t really mind that it took a backseat for a while. This time, it’s a researcher sent into Voortyashtan who has disappeared. And she went absolutely bonkers before she did so. There’s another mystery about a power conductive substance that they are mining for in the city, hints at the Divine (which is a much bigger deal in this one, as Voortya was one chick you didn’t want to mess with as a god), and of course, twists abound.

Sigrud is back, but he also takes that backseat, allowing Mulaghesh to really shine. When I read that this book wouldn’t feature Shara or even Sigrud as heavily as the first book did, I was wary. But I came away loving Mulaghesh on an equal level.

The description alone for the next book, City of Miracles is a doozy (AND SIGRUD IS THE MAIN CHARACTER! HUZZAH!). I will be tapping my toes impatiently for January 5th, 2017 to come along, because I cannot wait to read it!

My Grade: A

& Fridays: On the Horizon

Does anybody else put book release dates on their schedules, paper or electronic or otherwise? No?  Just me?

Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey February 2016

Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey February 2016

I have had Morning Star in my little calendar for as long as it has reached until 2016. The third installment of the Red Rising trilogy, I am sure you have heard me gush about it a number of times. I met the author, Pierce Brown, at a signing at my local bookstore. I devoured the second book, Golden Son in days, and since it ended on a cliffhanger (so, so mean, Brown…) I have been buzzing with anticipation waiting for it.

AND IT’S ALMOST HERE! It comes out on February 9th, y’all!! THAT’S SO SOON! LIKE, 4 DAYS SOON!!!!!!

You can bet I will be staying up late just reading one more chapter. And I will be heading to another reading/signing by Brown at the same bookstore on the 10th. THIS WEEK IS SO EXCITING JUST BECAUSE OF THIS BOOK!

Also, go read that series. Right now. I’ll wait…

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Broadway Books January 2016

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Broadway Books January 2016

Another terrific book I read back in 2014, City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (review here), is getting a sequel this month. City of Blades, out January 26th, sounds like it features everybody’s favorite butt-kicking Hagrid, Sigrud, in even more detail. Yay! I will definitely have to quick-read City of Stairs though – it’s a complex world I will be re-immersing myself into!

And I just looked up the sequel to my favorite book I read last year – Illuminae – and the sequel is slated for this year! YAY! Of course, the first one was out in October, so the next one is likely to be out around then too, so I have a bit of a wait….

But it’s okay, I can be patient…..

Sometimes.

What about you, dear readers? What books are you excited about? Any sequels coming out soon that you will hunker down and devour within days?