With the year drawing to a close, you’re feeling a little anxious but excited about what the new year will bring. You remember Xiaolong asking you to visit her near the year’s end. And so that’s where you are off to today.
“Hi friend!” greets Xiaolong, when you enter the Pond. “It’s always good to see you. Today I have some books to share with you today – my favourite books of this year!” She holds up the stack of books in her hands up to you, showing you their shiny spines. “I read so many good books this year, but I think these ones are my top eight books.”
You sit down next to her, and ask her what her favourites are. “I’ll tell you, but after you have to tell me what your favourites are too, okay?”
She takes a seat too, picks up the first book, and begins: “So, one of my favourite books was…”
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Set in a place called The Stillness that undergoes cataclysmic ‘fifth seasons’, natural events that cause widespread destruction and famine, The Fifth Season follows a woman who treks against the crippling and treacherous land in pursuit of her husband, who has kidnapped their daughter.
Prior to read The Fifth Season, more than one person described The Fifth Season as ‘mind-blowing’. And now having read this, in which I undoubtedly enjoyed, I can certainly say that The Fifth Season is indeed mind-blowing.
The Fifth Season is genre-bending – it is science-fiction fantasy (SFF), but it’s SFF like you have never read before. It transcends genre for its unique and refreshing story, its carefully and thoughtfully-crafted storytelling, and its rich and complex world that is full with social commentary. (I reviewed this recently, and you can read the full review here.) Honestly, it is deserving of its numerous nominations and awards. If you haven’t read this book yet, read it!
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is an anthology of Asian mythology and folktales as retold and reimagined by Asian diasporic authors. Ranging from science-fiction, fantasy, to contemporary, readers may recognise retellings of timeless stories such as Mahabharata, Cowherder and the Weaver Girl, Butterfly Lovers, and The Story of Tấm and Cám.
I started getting into anthologies last year, and after reading a few, I can safely say that A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is probably my favourite anthology of all time. I say this with a bit of bias – I’m of Asian diaspora myself who grew up with snippets of Asian mythology, and had always wanted to read something like this.
This book was such a gem, containing not only some of the finest Asian voices in YA right now, but I was able to find light and meaning in every single story (for more information about each story, you can read my review here). Though, if I had to choose a favourite, I absolutely loved E.C. Myer’s The Land of the Morning Calm, a science-fiction story about a girl who ventures into an RPG that her late mother played before it shuts down for good, and Cindy Pon’s The Crimson Cloak, a retelling of The Cowherder and the Weaver Girl as told from the Weaver Girl’s perspective. Not only is A Thousand Beginnings and Endings a favourite book of 2018, it will also undoubtedly stay with me for the rest of my life.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning is a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy that you need to read. Influenced and inspired by Native-American mythology and experience, the book follows Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter set out on an adventure to uncover the mystery of the mosnters terrorising the Dinétah whilst also running from and after her past.
Trail of Lightning was such an effortless favourite and I enjoyed every second of reading it. The story was brilliant; at its heart, it follows an adventure that takes Maggie across the reserve, where she encounters gods with different agendas, monsters from Native-American folklore, and human survivors – all just as dangerous as the other.
I loved Maggie Hoskie, the reluctant heroine of the story who is street-smart, a ruthless hunter and fighter, but carries so much emotional baggage. Especially with the latter, I loved watching how Maggie’s adventure and the tasks set before her changes her – for better or for worst, I’m not sure. The sequel, Storm of Locusts, releases next year in April and I am so incredibly excited to see where Roanhorse takes the story next!
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill
The Tea Dragon Society is a simple and light graphic novel about Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, whose path crosses with the world of tea dragons. Whilst balancing her work as a blacksmith, Greta’s world becomes intertwined with the dying art of tea dragons and those who keep it alive: the kind tea-shop owners and Minette, a mysterious and shy tea-dragon owner.
I would be lying if I said that The Tea Dragon Society didn’t leave an imprint on me. From its gorgeous and soothing art to its light and earnest story, this graphic novel was what I absolutely needed when I read it, stressed as heck, last month. It’s not complex at all, but its simplicity is what makes it charming and beautiful, so it is certainly a go-to book if you are ever feeling stressed, are in search of a light and gentle read, and love beautiful art.
The Tea Dragon Society did more than be a simple read; it also inspired me to continue drawing and to pursue my dream of illustrating a book or story one day – even if it’s just for me. I think I’ll make this dream a goal of mine for the next few years; I already have a few stories in mind and can’t wait for them to come to life.
Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Darius the Great is Not Okay follows Darius Kellner, a biracial Persian-White American who follows his family to Iran to meet his grandparents for the first time. There, he meets his family, who don’t quite understand his clinical depression, as well as the enigmatic and boisterous Sohrab, his grandparents’ neighbour. During his stay in Iran, he learn more about who he is, including his namesake, Darius the Great.
This was such a pleasantly unexpected favourite; Darius the Great Is Not Okay was my fourth 5/5 starred book that I awarded on my Goodreads. This book made me chuckle for all the nerd references and Darius’s endearing awkwardness, but it also made me weep for its unexpected tender moments between family.
I loved this book for its portrayal of mental illness – not as something that is the focal point (though such books are important too) but as something that is just a part of Darius’s life. This book is such a great coming-of-age story, and how some journeys, particularly ones where you visit and learn more about your heritage, can be extremely transformative and emotional. For Darius, his experiences in Iran changes him: from his relationship with his father, how he navigate social situations, and how he learns about his identity, particularly his Persian identity.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Front Desk follows Mia Tang, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, who helps her parents run a motel by managing the front desk. Although they work for the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, Mia’s family has a secret: they hide immigrants and offer them food and shelter. Front Desk follows Mia’s experiences as the manager of the Calivista Motel, her ambition to be a writer, her journey of starting a new school, and making new friends.
In a word, Front Desk is ‘delightful’. I was drawn by the book’s gorgeous book cover, and I stayed for its charming, endearing, and wholesome narrative voice. Upon finishing Front Desk, it became an instant favourite: that’s why Front Desk was my third 5/5 starred read of 2018.
A big reason why I utterly adored Front Desk and will, without hesitation, advocate for this book to be read by everyone, children and adults alike, is for its genuinely empathetic and compassionate narrative. Though a middle-grade novel, Front Desk sensitively explores a variety of topics, such as racism, classism, the tribulations immigrants go through, and poverty. More importantly, it explores these topics honestly and with so much compassion, that readers will feel empowered to be kinder and more thoughtful after reading this. I love this book so much; an absolute gem.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give follows Starr, a black teen caught between two worlds: her poor neighbourhood and her prestigious and rich school that she attends. When she witnesses her best friend, unarmed, being killed by police, this sets off a chain of events that will change Starr and her community’s lives forever. Starr knows the truth of what happened that night — she just needs to find her voice.
It’s embarrassing how long it took me to finally pick up this book (in my defense, I was the 30th or so person in line when I placed my hold at the library) and it was easily one of the best books I’ve read in 2018 – perhaps ever, as well. The Hate U Give was the second 5/5 read for 2018.
Not only is it extremely relevant to today’s socio-political climate as it explores police brutality and how it disproportionately affects the Black community, poverty, and classism. Balanced with it social commentary is a poignant and emotional exploration of Starr’s life, and the obstacles – personal and systemic – that she has to contend with following the murder of her best friend. If you haven’t read this book yet, you absolutely have to – The Hate U Give is revolutionary and is changing the world.
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Set in a world where jade amplifies the powers of its user, Jade City follows three siblings who are part of and head the No Peak Clan – one of the city’s largest and most powerful clans. As they vie for control of the city and wrestle with enemies within and beyond the city, a sinister drug and plot is unfolding whilst tensions between the rivaling clan begin to rise, violence and open war spills into the streets. The outcome will change the city and the clan families lives forever.
You all probably know how much I love this book – I talk about it endlessly and I’ve had the immense honour of being that book blogger that loves Jade City. It’s no surprise, then, that Jade City was my first 5/5 starred read this year!
The reasons why I love this book are numerous (most of which I discuss in my review), but I’ll give you three (as much as I’d love to give you 20 reasons). First, this urban fantasy is Asian-inspired; not only does it contain elements reminiscent of family crime dramas, but it also has elements of wuxia and martial arts. In particular, I love how jade imbues power to its wearer; it makes the action sequences (which are amazingly written!) so much more exciting and with higher stakes. Second, the worldbuilding and writing is phenomenal; complex, deft, compelling, and exciting. I took my time reading this (three months!!) to savour all the details and I never felt bored. Third, the characters are incredible; thoughtfully characterised, interesting, and some that you’d love to love and love to hate.
Read this book. I’m begging you.
And that concludes my favourite books of 2018!
Though I didn’t read as many books as I usually do this year, I’m glad that I was able to read and discover some new favourites! I didn’t include any ARCs with a 2019 release date in this book, but you can bet that they’ll get a mention in my anticipated reads of 2019 post that I’ll be sharing with you all sometime in January.
To add to my favourite list, in the coming days I will be sharing with you a little more of a fun post: The Quiet Pond‘s very first Pond Awards, where I’ll be sharing with you all the best, the worst, and the most’s.
What were your favourite reads of 2018?
Until then, take care, be safe, and have fun reading! 💛