My 5 Favorite Reads of 2018

2018 was a wonderful reading year. I beat my goal of 36 books by about 10. 17 of these books were nonfiction and not eligible to make this list. Out of 30 books, these are the top five fiction reads. Starting from least favorite to most treasured read.  For an in-depth look at my 2018 reading check out Books Read in 2018.

image from Goodreads.com

5. Traitorborn–  Has everything I like about “Hunger Games” in it but tells the story in a fresh, compelling way.  My favorite aspect of this series is that there are not “good” characters (at least from my perspective).  Most of the characters, our hero included, have a piece of the solution for their dystopian society and they are also holding on to part of the problem.  It’s refreshing to have a complex group of characters I can empathize with some times and despise other times.  Where so much conversations happening around me are polarizing, it’s nice to read a book that reaches for full open conversation and understanding, without surrendering one’s agency.   For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

Image from Goodreads.com


4. Dragon Ridden– Don’t let the cover fool you, this was just fun and well written.  There isn’t any messaging in it, it’s just an immersive fantasy read and sometimes that’s enough.  Pure escapism, a well-developed fantasy world distinct from earth, and a cast of well-rounded characters.  It’s enough. For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

image from Goodreads.com


3. End of Days– Dark, thoughtful work with a great balance of action and tense “waiting”.  Left me wondering about the conclusion all the way to the end and it leaves just the right amount open ambiguity to make me think about it for days afterward but still find satisfaction with the close given to us.  I’m sorry “Traitorborn” is on its second book while “End of Days” is a complete series because I think if I could compare the conclusions of both books, it may flip their positions on this list.  Still both books are wonderful.  Sold to young adults but they hold positives for all age groups.  

image from Goodreads.com


2. Card of Chaos–  Complex, excellent execution, everything I look for in the retelling of classic fairytale/folklore.  It begins with humor and ends in affection.  I like how the author draws the reader in and connects us with this strange if familiar world.  Loved the beautiful scenes, the deep philosophy and the language.  It may be my second favorite book of the year, but it’s my first recommendation to others.

image from Goodreads.com


1. The Book of Etta– Enjoyed every second.  I know this is a polarizing book because it explores gender roles, what gender is, and whether sex and gender can be two separate things.  The beauty of this book: it can explore the internal struggle being genderqueer/trans/gay/bi ect  often brings and ignore all the political bullshit that’s happening in our own world.  Here we can enjoy a human vs self moment.  We can see all the factors in the book which exacerbate the struggle and rail against them without hating our own culture.  Sometimes the call to action in a book can cut short a person’s thoughtful introspection, but The Book of Etta lacks this baggage and I’m beyond grateful.  Where the first book took a premise, I didn’t feel was true but expounded on it in a way that pushed me to read on, Etta felt right from the first words.  I knew Etta, I’d been Etta, and I sometimes still am Etta.  I knew Flora and have been her too.  Heck, there was a part of me that felt like I’d been Alma before and that I knew her.  The beauty of this book is that it allowed me to feel and it allowed me to celebrate so many aspects of who I am as a person.  Everyone will have a different time reading it.  But, it’s the jewel of my 2018 reading list.  


Happy New Year!  What were your five favorite reads of 2018?  Was your reading list similar?  Do you have any recommendations for me?  What are your reading goals for 2019?   

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” T. A. White “Dragon Ridden Chronicles”



Cover from goodreads.com

 

I am always skeptical when I pick up a book.  There are too many deceiving summaries and too many bad books with high reviews.  To make matters worse, I’m someone who has to finish a book once it’s started.  Because there are so many unpleasant tropes in high fantasy, the books are often long and lack resolution.  I HAVE to see things to the end, so I avoid reading them, even though I like fantasy.  

Despite all my hesitation, Dragon Ridden drew me in and left me charmed.  The first book is a perfect story.  Tate is loud, sassy, and smart.  I love following her around.  Her best traits: intelligence and suspicion are also the traits that get her most in trouble.  She’s inquisitive, loyal, and never gives up.

The world T. A. White depicts is familiar but different.  In many aspects, it reminds me of a scifi/fantasy crossover like Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragonriders of Pern.  Humans exist, but it divorces them from the history and geography of our world.  Also, there are other species we associate as “magical” that these works frame as science born.  Ancient lost technology and knowledge pepper the Dragon Ridden series and speaks to the inner seeker in all readers.

Can I gush “girl power” for a moment and just say how amazing it feels to read a strong female lead who doesn’t ooze femininity?  Tate is what I’d consider a “brawler” type character.  She lets her mouth run away with her and finds herself in fights.  Tate can’t take two steps without finding herself in some kind of trouble.  I love there is no moment where we have to hear about how Tate is “not ladylike” or where she’s “not like other women”.  The others tease her for what a trouble magnet she is, but that’s who she is not what her gender prescribes.

I love she never uses her “feminine wiles” to get information, sneak into places, or gain allies.  I love she never looks at a dive bar and thinks “I have to be careful cause I’m a girl and men are drunk and rape-y in there”.  I love she expects equal treatment from captains, kings, negotiating delegations, and barkeeps and they treat her the same as her male compatriots.  And all this happens without us ever enduring a scene about Tate being “unusual” for a woman “more level headed” or whatever that sets her apart and lets her be one of the guys.  T. A. White just writes her in as an equal and lets us enjoy that without feeling compelled to justify it.

To be fair, there are few other female characters surrounding Tate.  Their lack implies something “special” about Tate (at least in the human side other races have powerful female players).  But it’s so refreshing that no male character addresses how “improper” Tate is that I don’t care if other human women are more “traditional”.  The closest anyone comes to telling Tate to “fem it up” is when she’s going to formal events, they shove her in a dress.  Truthfully, I could do without the “women clothes are uncomfortable and restrictive” bit but when that’s the most bullshit your character gets for being a woman in what seems like a male dominated world, I’m in.  Aspiring writers, do you want to know what you do when you’re writing a female character in a man’s world?  Do this, don’t address it, act like her presence is normal and accepted.  Don’t make her some special snowflake we have to keep addressing in the narrative, just make everyone accept her without blinking.

Beyond world building and character building, the plot pacing in these stories is perfect.  There are not parts in any of these books I skimmed, looking to pull through to something interesting.  Everything T. A. White includes feels important to the narrative and engaging to the reader.  She often has multiple mysteries and sub plots going on in a single story and she adds red herrings along with peppering character development in across the books. I read during my breaks at work, and this series became difficult to read during those times because I wanted to sit in the break room and keep reading.  It was one of those books I’d take home and read instead of coming home and writing as I’d planned.  

Even better than perfect pacing, each book comes to a conclusive ending.  While I tore through the series, it is because I wanted more delightful writing.  I couldn’t get enough of what T. A. White was doing, not because I NEEDED to know the ending.  For the record, the third book in the Dragon Ridden Chronicles has such a conclusive ending, I had to go online to see if there are plans for a fourth book.  Amazing news: T. A. White plans to write a 4th book!  

Take Aways from T. A. White’s Success:

1. Women have a place in “high fantasy” and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. Sprinkle in world and character building across the series.  I need not know everything all at once.

3. Give characters nicknames if they are catchy and encapsulate an element of the character.  This is the one series where giving the same character multiple names didn’t confuse me, and it worked because we all call the character one name and that nickname is based on their attributes.

4. Mix fantasy and scifi elements together.  Tech and magic are not exclusive.  

5. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. Bartol or Sara C. Roethle.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me), 7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review