My Favorite Books!

2021 Reading Review

As the year draws to a close I would like to review my favourite reads of 2021! *Please note these books may not have come out this year, they may have simply been my favourites that I have read within this year.* We will be sticking mostly to fantasy as that is the main genera I read, but who knows, maybe there’ll be a few surprise genres!

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‘The Starless Sea’ by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea is a book that seeks to understand narrative, while also revelling in the power, beauty, and humanness of story. The main protagonist Zachary Ezra Rawlins is enraptured in a hunt for explanations after finding a startling and horrifying account in a book in his university library, of himself. From there the book whirlwinds out to an adventure one filled with books, and meaning, and love, and hope, and story, and pirates, and a library that all lovers of books would want to visit. Reading this book feels like flying in an aeroplane over a city at night and seeing all the golds and silvers of the lamp-lit streets, a feeling of coming home and awe that warms hearts and slowly (normally after the aeroplane has landed) teases the tensions out of muscles for just a moment. This book is utterly gorgeous, its’ enchanting and poetic style adding to the experience and capturing the attention of the reader. Zachary Ezra Rawlins is human and fallible and unbelievably curious, making for a wonderful main protagonist, and the love interest Dorian is interesting, capable, and sweet.

While reading this book I became lost to its depths while remembering exactly what fantasy can be capable of. It is now one of my favourite books and a go-to recommendation, its narrative form may be frustrating to some readers, but it is well worth sticking with, and just might be your favourite read of 2022.

I give this book 3 swords, bees, keys out of three!

‘The Girl in Red’ by Christina Henery

The Girl in Red is a chase in darkened woods. It is Little Red Riding Hood mashed together with zombies and the very real problem of racism in our world today and what that might look like in an apocalyptic situation. We run with Red, as she faces not only the predators residing in the wood but also the worst of man and nature, whilst attempting to get to her safe haven, her grandmothers’ house. It is horrifying and hopeful and while we see the worst of humanity we also see the best. It is also strange to read this book after having experienced the pandemic and seeing some people initial thoughts and reactions reflected back in a work of horror fiction.

While this book is not for the faint of heart it is absolutely a book I would recommend. It has the right vibes for reading under a quilt with a flashlight and jumping at all the noises of the outside and the crash of a shattered plate. I was addicted from this first sentence, and who knows, you just might be too!

I give this book 7 scary rustling noises out of 7!

‘The House in the Cerulean Sea’ by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea is a treasure (for the friends we made along the way, of course!). This book explores family while also analysing the bias and privilege within overarching systems, namely ones designed to support children. It is a book about challenging your world views, observing the places you work for, and who you support critically. Linas Baker is a caseworker for the department of magical youth who gets sent to assess the state of the most dangerous of orphanages … at least according to the paperwork and the heads of DICOMY. It’s a hilarious tale that challenges Linaus to accept concepts such as, just because one is the son of Satan does not mean one will burn the world to the ground … or murder Linus. The reader is asked to consider concepts of nature vs nurture and peoples abilities to change (and I’m not talking about the children). It explores the idea that we are not who we work for and that past success or failures do not determine if the future will have the same outcome. It is moving and funny and everything you want when you curl up to read in a hot bubble-filled bath on a rainy night.

I loved this book, and it is my go-to book for comfort after a sad day or simply a relaxing tale when I don’t want to think too much and sometimes for when I do want to have a good think. I couldn’t recommend this book more.

I give this book 9 world-ending events out of 9! A truly fantastic read!

‘The Affair of the Mysterious Letter’ by Alexis Hall

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a book for all those who like bazaar world lore full of Doctor Who aesthetic when combined with witchcraft and the 1800s. It is incredibly rapturous and dry-witted, filled with chaos and all the best parts of a Sherlock Holmes novel, which is good because it is. It follows the adventures of John Wyndham a reserved fellow who once served in the elemental war that happened on a different plane of existence, and his roommate Shaharazad Haas a sorceress who sometimes when she wants to, solves crimes. This book travels from tight and curling cities to the ocean floor, woods, and into strange shows and gothic mansions. It has everything you could imagine and then some!

Reading this book reminds me of those scenes in movies where everything is wavey swirling colours and blinking lights. It is stunning and enjoyable and the perfect companion for recliners and thoughtful expressions!

I give this book 5 impossibly dangerous spells that should not be attempted, out of 5!

‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls is a haunting and tragic exploration of grief from the perspective of a child, whilst also being the best parts of bedtime stories from when I was a child. A Monster Calls explores grief and family and fear. It is a book that will pull tears from the depths of your soul. This is the story of Conor who through the help of the monster outside his window learns to cope with the idea and reality of death as he is forced to understand his mother in the context of someone who is dying with cancer. It is melancholically beautiful while also being fantasy and a story of hope. Reading this book feels like walking down a laneway in autumn after reading sad poetry while staring at the colour changing leaves. It is an experience in humanity.

I loved reading this book even when I cried, and as with all the other books on this list, I couldn’t recommend it more.

I give this book 1 giant tree monster out of 1!

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this list and maybe found something useful tucked away in all the words! These books were a pleasure to read and each one of them gave me something special and I can only hope they do the same for you. I wish you happy reading for 2022 and all the best!

WRITTEN BY ASHLEY THOMPSON

The Age of Stories

A commentary on connection

These days our world is drenched in storytelling and storytellers, and quite often we latch onto the differences in what we consume. Conversations lost to arguing between the benefits of audiobooks compared to podcasts, and whether film is superior to the written word. It’s not to say these conversations aren’t valuable but perhaps it is also valuable to remember the similarities and find the common ground in what we love, to potentially better other mediums through outside-of-the-box thinking, and to find compassion on the battlefield of ‘better than’. This article will highlight the Three key similarities found in most stories from the plot critiques to our favourite characters and finally the less thought about analysis of theme, and maybe even give you some ideas for your next conversation or even essay.

Plot

As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, plot is ‘the plan or main story’  (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plot). However, unfortunately, it seems plot is most commonly used to find a ‘better than’. For example, ‘the comics are better than the movies as they actually cover Capitan X’s backstory’, ‘this book is better than that book because my plot is more interesting’, ‘I like this podcast series as the plot twist was less obvious unlike your movie’, and the list goes on. This is most noticeable in adapted works such as Eragon by Christopher Paolini, as when a comparison is drawn between the book and movie it is usually negative. A blog post by ‘Here, There be a Writer’ (http://missdragonlady.blogspot.com/2013/02/eragon-book-versus-movie.html) highlights this fact as they go through the movie and find all the differences between the adaptation and the original as to critique the movie, and while this is not a bad approach it also fails to consider what the movie did well when it preserved the plot.

For example, ‘Eragon’ as a book contains 500 pages full of intricate plot, multiple unique places, several ongoing storylines, especially if you take into account needing to prepare for representing the second book in movie form as was originally the intention (https://screenrant.com/eragon-movie-behind-scenes-details-making-trivia/). If you were a director and you knew you couldn’t include everything what would you choose to keep? What would the most important and memorable plot points be for old fans and people who had never even heard of the book?

While I tend to agree that the movie was a mess, it is impressive that the director managed what he did especially as it was his first time directing. For a comparison, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ by J.K Rowling had 223 pages and was adapted into a 2 hour and 30-minute film, whereas ‘Eragon’ only ran for an hour and 40 minutes while needing to fit 500 pages into that time frame. I’m not saying it was the best movie ever but maybe some recognition about what it did well wouldn’t hurt.

Next time ‘Eragon’s’ movie adaptation is brought up in distaste, it might be your opportunity to shine by marveling at what the director did manage to keep and bring a positive spin to a conversation that is usually full of lamenting disappointment.

Characters

Maybe your best mate loves superheroes whereas you’re more interested in horror, or maybe you love fantasy but your partner is more of a sci-fi kind of person. In these times it can be hard talking about plot as a ‘will they, won’t they’ love story may be a hard sell for someone exclusively into high fantasy quests. Not to fear, sometimes it can be fun to disengage from the general plot and take a closer look at favorite characters and why we like them.

Generally speaking, there are many ways to talk about and compare characters you love and express why you love them however we will only be focusing on the basic technical examination. For a technical approach you can examine how well your character does their job within the story, not in the sense of if they’re a barkeep their bar keeping abilities, but rather in the sense of, as a character are they good? As such it is helpful to know a little bit of character theory, which in and of itself could spark interesting conversation.

From a technical standpoint, characters are either a protagonist (the main character, not necessarily morally good, who the story follows), an antagonist (the person who is in direct opposition with the main protagonist, wants the opposite outcome of what the protagonist wants), a deuteragonist (not the main protagonist but almost a character with emphasis, more focus than a supporting member but less than the main protagonist), tertiary characters (those who come in and out of the story and support the story), romantic interest (while not necessarily in all stories when present is the person who the main protagonist wants to be with), confident (the person who the main protagonist confides in), foil (the character who acts in a manner which is opposite to the main protagonist in order to place focus on the main protagonists’ qualities) (https://www.skillshare.com/blog/your-essential-guide-to-characters-in-literature-and-more/).

For example, Aza, the main protagonist in John Greens ‘Turtles all the Way Down’ and Juno Steel from ‘The Penumbra Podcast’ are fantastic as main protagonists, even though their two stories, world, and even themselves as people, are vastly different, by comparing how they fit the role so effectively we can also begin to see the similarities, as there is such thing as poor performing main protagonist.

It can be an interesting experience to compare how well different characters play their technical roles and common ground can be found here even in exceedingly different genres with exceedinly different plots.

Theme

While not all stories share the same themes, when talking about stories with wildly varying plots or even character performances, it can be useful to take a look at theme, as even horror and comedy can sometimes overlap in the theme of their work.

Theme, as defined by dictonary.com, is ‘a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art.’ (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/theme). This idea means that two very innately oppositional genres could be compared and found similar when examining what they wish to express and can lead to potentially interesting conversations about how they achieved that goal.

To elaborate the science fiction novels ‘The Maze Runner series’ by James Dashner has strong themes regarding climate crisis as can be seen in the dystopian landscape, explanations of why the ‘gladers’ are in the situation they are, and even in the politics occurring within the books (https://storiesbywilliams.com/2016/02/17/guest-post-by-maria-ramos-how-cli-fi-comments-on-energy-crisis-climate-change-and-overpopulation/). Similarly, the family-friendly movie ‘Ice Age 2: The Meltdown’ also tackles these challanges in its own but equally impactful way, and while initially, you may see no comparison between ‘The Maze Runner Series’ and ‘Ice Age 2’ if we look closer they highlight their themes in incredibly similar ways (http://phoenixcinema.co.uk/PhoenixCinema/files/PDFs/ICE-AGE-THE-MELTDOWN-teacher-notes-Alice.pdf). For example, both movies focus on the concept of escaping harsh environments, a desert wasteland for ‘Maze runner’ and an overwhelming flood for ‘Ice Age 2’, and the consequences of failing to do so which in both cases is extinction.

While not all media will have overlapping themes, sometime even vastly different genres can and it can be a fantastic way to draw similarities between the media you love and the media your loved ones love

Summery

While today’s culture tends to focus on what divides different forms of media and story it can be helpful, interesting, and insightful to look at the similarities between what we love to inspire interesting conversation and essays. Additionally, by finding similarities with plot, characters, and theme, we can connect to our loved ones by finding commonality in what we love, even if it is exceedingly different. Furthermore, by finding those similarities we can learn from vastly different works and apply that knowledge to new creative endeavors or look at old endeavors with new eyes.

I hope this has inspired you to find the commonality in story and enabled you to engage in conversation from a different point of view.

Written by Ashley Thompson