In the spirit of end-of-year list round-ups, River Dog Book Co. humbly submits our own list of our favorite reads for this year.
The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Scheherazade’s The Thousand and One Nights meets Alan Gratz’s Refugee in this important debut novel. A 12th century fable about an apprentice mapmaker is interwoven with a modern-day Syrian refugee searching for home, as the plot follows both girls through the Middle East, encountering tremendous dangers and immense acts of kindness. A must-read for teens and adults, this is an incredibly moving and lushly described story of family and friends, meaningful culture, changing landscapes, and universal hope.
There are parts that will make your heart stop and parts that will make it beat again. It’s an incredible force, with the most vivid descriptions that made me long to see, smell, and taste everything described. I already can hardly wait to read what she publishes next.
This book was also chosen as the inaugural Armchair Travel Bookclub choice for the August/September selection.
There There by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne/Arapaho)
This book is heartbreaking and necessary. It’s raw, it’s powerful, it’s storytelling at its finest. It’s a woven tapestry of the urban Indian experience as few outside these communities have ever seen it. Vignettes follow 12 people through time and space as they make their way to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each person has their own struggles with identity, with life, with the powwow, with living, with loving, with addiction, with employment, with heart and soul and happiness and everything else that makes up the complicated human story, but most especially the complicated Indian experience in America. It’s a must-read.
Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Jacqueline Carey is one of my personal writer idols who seamlessly blends science fiction, fantasy, and human existence. Starless is a riveting, self-contained epic, set in a world not unlike our own, and also extraordinarily different with magic, prophecies, and fantastical creatures. Two young people, from birth destined to be the missing half of each other’s soul, come together as ordained, and yet the heroic consequences of their union touch every single corner of the vast world they live in. Fate is a tricky mistress, and as the two gather a group together for a quest that will fulfill their destiny, time and time again they must confront their very own natures in addition to the outside obstacles that lay before them. Exciting action, unexpected twists, and a thrilling conclusion make this the perfect stand-alone read for any fantasy lover.
Kill the Farm Boy: The Tales of Pell by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Laugh-out-loud chuckle-worthy! The fantasy equivalent to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which all fantasy tropes are turned on their head. The Chosen One has 4 legs, not 2; the witch is surprisingly not as evil as you’re led to believe; and the romantic couple is in no way royal. But there is a quest, some magic, a band of unlikely heroes and even more unlikely friends, adventure, bravery, unforeseen deaths, and a love story with a happy ending. The best part? It’s the start of a new series, so there’s plenty more to come from this fantastically funny duo.
Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs #1) by Jacqueline Winspear
Though this book was first published in 2003, it was new to me this year. While technically set after World War 1, this first novel (in a long series) flashes back-and-forth between Maisie growing up as a housemaid, being “discovered” as a brilliant young learner who is offered an unprecedented opportunity to “better” herself, her time spent learning the art of psychoanalysis and deductive reasoning from her mentor, serving as a nurse during the war, and finally, present day, when Maisie has hung out her own shingle as a discreet private detective. The pace of the novel is purposeful, even meandering, much like Maisie’s deductive methods, but it all builds to a point and when you finally arrive, it feels as if the reader blinks sleep from their eyes to find themselves both the answer to the mystery Maisie is solving and another piece of the clue as to who Maisie is herself. Perfect for the mystery reader who wants less dashing spy thriller and more methodical engagement. What’s more, it can be handed to a younger mystery reader (15+) without worry in terms of rough or sexual content.
The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway #1) by Elly Griffiths
Another new-to-me mystery series, originally published in 2009, which I devoured entirely this year (though there are still more to come!). Following the life of forensic archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Galloway, means solving mysteries both centuries old and horrifyingly new, and she is alternately called upon to identify very old bones unearthed around the UK and other parts of Europe, and to assist the local police whenever they come across something especially unique. As archaeology is painstakingly exacting work, similar to police science, brushing away the dirt of someone’s life layer by layer, so the reader comes to know the ins-and-outs of Ruth’s often surprising life, as she juggles being a single, middle-aged woman living in a remote part of England with an understated yet passionate nature and a propensity for discovering all the secrets bones have to tell. Both quieter of pace, and in some ways more emotionally dramatic, than Kathy Reichs’s Temperance Brennan series, one of the most intriguing elements of this series is how much of Ruth’s developing life is woven throughout the mysteries.
Hot and Badgered (Honey Badger Chronicles #1) by Shelly Laurenston
*WARNING: Explicit language in this review*
Every time I pick up a book that has a cover like this on it, I judge myself. And yet, Shelly Laurenston has GOT to be one of the funniest f*cking writers out there today. I seriously laugh out loud at the incredible antics, sarcastic remarks, and general don’t give a f*ck attitude of the women in her books. I cannot understand why they keep making the covers look like this, when what they SHOULD be featuring are sexy-as-hell, empowered looking, “I don’t take sh*t from anyone” glares in their eyes WOMEN! This book was not about the dude on the cover; this book was about the oldest of three crazy-*ss badger/hybrid sisters. Non-stop action where women kick *ass, HOTT sexual tension and sexual fulfillment, and emotional support from sister-BFFs make this a series you can’t put down. I cannot WAIT to read about the other two.
Also, major props to Ms. Laurenston for taking the “Honey badger don’t care; honey badger don’t give a shit,” viral video/meme and turning it into this series.
If They Come for Us: Poems by Fatima Asghar
Raw, but not unpolished.
Dripping with sadness and honey.
Rage beyond anger, a lesson in history and violence.
A comprehensible example of otherness in America for those who haven’t experienced it; for those who don’t know they’re perpetuating it.
An honest portrayal of a life shaped by governments’ omissions, of the lies of the self and others, and of waking to the daylight, the promise held in sunshine, and in finding one’s own voice, own words, own way of telling one’s own story.
Seafire (Seafire #1) by Natalie C. Parker
Joining the ranks of Katniss, Hermoine, and more recently Serendipity Jones and Jane McKeene is Captain Caldeonia Styx. She commands an all-female crew that sails the seas exacting revenge against the pirate warload and his army of Bullets – the men who destroyed their families. The sisterhood is strong. The sisterhood is smart. The sisterhood includes all women, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexuality, or ability. The sisterhood is about to use all the weapons at their disposal to tear this patriarchy down. If the Mors Navis was taking on crew, I’d sign up NOW and never look back.
Two days before Jane McKeene was born, the dead on the battlefields of the Civil War began to walk the earth. Though she was born to plantation owners, Jane’s mixed-race heritage and dark skin means she is now training at combat school to be an Attendant: a zombie-killer whose job it will be to protect the White woman she is contracted to. But her tempestuous and curious nature embroil Jane and her friends in the politics and treacherous landscape of post-Reconstruction America in this alternate history.
Cinder meets The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Pride & Prejudice and Zombies featuring a new kick-ass heroine whose no-nonsense approach to life and zombie killing make for inspired storytelling.
The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke
Wow. Gripping is an understatement. The book series His Fair Assassins by RL LaFevers meets movie “13th Warrior” starting Antonio Banderas in this gender-swapped Beowulf retelling. So richly imagined and full of mythology, traditions, and glimpses of a world inspired by our own with a heavily fantasized twist. Glory, honor, and loyalty above all drive Frey, her Mercies, and their healer friend, Trygve, as they journey in search of the monster terrorizing towns. Many have tried to kill it. No one has succeeded. But the Mercies are no strangers to killing, do not fear death, and have prophecy on their side. Heartfelt, nuanced, feminist, and kick-ass.
Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller
On the day Rasmira is set to prove her warrior abilities, be acknowledged as a full-grown woman, and publicly take her place as her father’s heir as the next village leader, she is betrayed by those closest to her. Now banished to the wild and faced with the impossible task of killing the god who has been terrorizing the local villages for years, Rasmira must figure out not only how to survive and kill an immortal, but also how to grieve, how to heal, and how to trust again. For she is not alone in the wild, and it will take all of her smarts as well as her strength to survive the challenges before her and return to her village a warrior, a woman, and a leader. Fast-paced and thoughtfully told, this Viking-inspired drama has action, romance, and the perfect blend of brains and brawn to engage and intrigue through the violently victorious end. *Publishing February 2019! Preorder now by sending an email to orders(at)riverdogbookco(dot)com!
For Ages 6-12
The Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty
Fresh, fun, and fantastical! Rational, sensible Bronte was living an idyllic life with her Aunt Isabelle, when her absent parents get killed by pirates. Their will decrees that Bronte must travel through various kingdoms on a very specific schedule, delivering gifts to her 10 other aunts. How inconvenient! And yet – as Bronte saves a drowning baby, rescues an aunt in prison, learns how to speak dragon, and makes friends with water sprites, she also hears tales of her parents, learns of her family heritage, and starts to suspect there may be more to this journey (and her parents’ deaths…?) than she was first led to believe. Absolutely charming read for all ages to enjoy though intended for ages 8-12.
Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr
Astrid may not have other children to play with in her small Norwegian village of Glimmerdal (though she’s definitely kindred spirits with Anne Shirley!), but her life is full nonetheless. There’s her 74-year-old best friend, her pet seagull Snorri, and the most beautiful mountains and valleys and waterfalls just perfect for grand adventures. As long as she stays away from Mr. Hagen’s Wellness Retreat and dogs, her life is very nearly perfect.
But perfection isn’t what life is about. It’s about singing really loudly while careening through town on a sled, heading off to make new friends, reunite old friends, and solve a decades old mystery. There may be a few scrapes along the way, but nothing can stop “the little thunderbolt” of Glimmerdal. A darling addition to the list of feel-good stories featuring headstrong young girls being true to themselves and having fun while doing it.
Perfect for the 8-12 independent reader, or to read aloud with a younger audience.
Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead, with illustrations by Nicholas Gannon
Meet Bob. Bob is smart, loyal, and funny – kind of like a literary Stitch (from Lilo & Stitch). He’s been waiting 5 long years in a dark closet for Livy to return to her Gran’s house in Australia. Now that she’s back, she can help him figure out if he’s a zombie (he’s green and isn’t undead, so probably not), why he’s wearing a chicken costume (camouflague), why he’s all alone (does he have a family?), and why it hasn’t rained in 5 long years…but she has to remember him first! As Livy and Bob piece together clues, they just might be able to find Bob’s family, solve the town’s drought problem, find a missing boy, and keep Livy from missing her own family too much. Sweetly magical with a touch of adventure!
Perfect for the 8-12 independent reader, or to read aloud with a younger audience.
Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan
In this illustrated novel for ages 8-12, the Knights of the Round Table are transported back in time by that tricky Merlin to battle dinosaurs while learning some valuable lessons. Obviously there are hilarious escapades, unexpected results, and some surprising lessons learned! Accompanied by graphic novel-style illustrations from the award-winning author-illustrator. Who will win? Read the book to find out!
Hello, Door by Alastair Heim, illustrated by Alisa Coburn
Funny! Sparse text, the story is in the illustrations as a sneaky fox cleans out a house while the owners aren’t home. He gets distracted, saying hello to each new object to covet, and doesn’t get out of the house in time before the inhabitants – the bears! – come home. At that point, Goodbye Door! The rhyming text is well done, and children should love pouring over the illustrations to read each important detail.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
A timeless story, sure to be an instant classic, that recognizes how hard it is to be new, how uncomfortable it can feel to be YOU, and yet there are similarities that can be found to connect each and every one of us. Bright and colorful illustrations add depth to the lyrical and touching text; together they illuminate your mind and touch your heart.
Made by Maxine by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Holly Hatam
Rosie Revere (an engineer), Ada Twist (a scientist), and blue-haired Charlotte (who makes a Doll-e 1.0) all know a thing or two about dreaming big dreams and creating innovative things – now they can add Maxine to their STEM-inspired girl gang!
Tomorrow I’ll be Brave by Jessica Hische
A good reminder for kids big and little, for people growing and grown, that while we try our best, there’s always another chance tomorrow to be brave, or any of the other things – like smart and adventurous and creative – that we strive to be every single day.