Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Reading Roundup

I'm cutting it very close, but here's my roundup for this year! This year as more eventful than most and reading really became my escape. I only did one challenge, because I didn't want to put pressure on my reading time, and I think that was the right decision.

SEA Reading Challenge Update

Anyway, last year I decided that I wanted to read more stories set in SEA, written by SEAsian writers. It turned out to be way harder than I thought, because the NLB doesn’t have much of an e-selection and I was in Japan for most of the year.

Books that I read for the SEA Reading Challenge (All links lead to the review)

1. The Gift of Rain (Malaysia)
2. Illustrado (Philippines)
3. Last Night I Dreamed of Peace (Vietnam)
4. The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic (Philippines)
5. Land of the Meat Munchers (Singapore)
6. The Kite of Stars (Philippines)

So by my own standards, I’m an ‘exchange student’.

Half the books are from Philippines. I’m not sure why, but maybe their literary history is longer? When I search for books from the other SEA countries, I mostly find non-fiction, mostly written by someone not from that country. If it’s fiction by someone from that country, a lot of it is about leaving the country and settling in the states, which is not what I’m looking for.

Or maybe it’s just the kind of books NLB has.

I also realised that I’m not very interested in literary fiction. Literary fiction does have its merits, but I want to see fun stories. Why must ‘writing about SEA’ = ‘writing serious’? Why can’t we write genre and just have them in SEA like it’s normal? (Okay, maybe this is because I’m not a literary fiction person in general)

On the bright side, I have seen more mysteries coming up. They just aren’t really in ebook format.

My favourite books from this year

In a stunning reversal from last year, only 2 of the 6 favourite books for this year are non-fiction. I’m not sure if it’s because I read so much awesome non-fiction last year that it’s hard for this year's books to compare, or if it’s because I’ve been more conscious of great fiction. Probably a bit of both.

And now, my top 6 books of the year:

1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

By now, I trust that you have caught on to the fact that I LOVE FAIRY TALES. And The Bear and the Nightingale is one of the best fairytale inspired story that I’ve ever read, which is why it’s one of my favourites for the year.

The Bear and the Nightingale is inspired by Russian fairytales. Vasya, the protagonist, has received an enchantment passed down from her mother and grandmother, allowing her to see and talk to the magical creatures around her.

However, her idyllic world is shattered when her father remarried, bringing her stern stepmother into their lives. Where Vasya sees magic, her stepmother sees demons.

What I love about this book (apart from the fairy tale references) is the world building and the nuanced characterisations. So basically the whole thing.

The second book, The Girl in the Tower, is already out (review to come) and it’s awesome so go read that too!

2. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted is a bit hard to explain, but there’s Agnieszka, a witch whose magic is differen from the norm, a dragon who’s a wizard and not evil, Kasia, the best friend and a sentient forest. It also manages to fit a trilogy’s worth of content in one book without feeling rushed.

Like The Bear and the Nightingale, this book has a definite “fairytale” feel and I really enjoyed it.

3. The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Right now, we are all aware that radium is life-threateningly dangerous. But way back in the days of WWI, radium was thought to be healthy and scores of girls were hired to paint the dials with radium. However, when they started to sicken (and die), the companies that hired them denied that it was due to radium and did their best not to pay them compensation.

The Radium Girls is the story of the girls who worked with radium. Their work saved the lives of soldiers, but in return all they got were damaged bodies. This story is important and the book does an amazing job of showing us both the big picture and the individual girls affected.

Definitely a must-read.

4. The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin

I read this for the SEA Reading Challenge this year and it was amazing! Totally worth the challenge.

The Woman with Two Navels and Tales is the Tropical Gothic is a collection of short stories. The language is amazingly beautiful and even if I don’t get the stories, they make me feel. The stories contain the heat of the place, the dense humidity, the chaos of life and is both universal and specific.

Truly amazing.

5. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I was introduced to this book when a friend sent me the third book in the series and I decided that I had to read the first book first.

The Shadow of the Wind is a coming of age + mystery about books (like how awesome is that?) The story starts when Daniel (the protagonist) is brought to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and allowed to take one book back. The book that calls to him is The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.

As Daniel grows up, he finds out that someone has been buying and burning copies of Carax’s novels. As he slowly makes friends and enemies, he does his best to find out who Julian Carax is and why someone is targeting his books.

Not only is this wonderful story about books, it manages to balance the mystery and Daniel’s coming of age story perfectly.

Totally a book for bookworms.

6. Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry

Some books are hard to read but they’re necessary. Ghosts of the Tsunami is about the aftermath relating Okawa Elementary School, where a series of tragic misdecisions led to the deaths of 74 out of 78 students and 10 out of 11 teachers.

When you face a tragedy this big, you’ll want answers. But answers weren’t forthcoming, and the parents ended up taking things into their own hands.

By focusing on the emotions and reactions of the survivor parents, the book touches on issues of grief, survivor’s guilt, the feeling of loss, how they started rebuilding, and how the community reacted.

This is one of the most powerful books that I’ve read this year.

2018 Reading Plans

I don’t really have a number goal (I normally just set it to 100 so I can get the Goodreads counter), but I’m hoping that working in Singapore doesn't affect my book reading habit. There are quite a few series that I intend on continuing, like Bryant and May, the Shardlake mysteries, the sequel to Three Dark Crowns, etc so I hope they get read in 2018. Plus the backlist from authors like Cyril Hare to explore.

And of course, I have my perpetual growing TBR list to conquer as well.

What I would like to do more of is the SEA Reading Challenge. I definitely want to see if I can read more than 6 books in 2018 because it’s kind of sad that I don’t know much about the writers and stories around me. Hopefully being in Singapore will help.

I guess these are my plans. I really don’t think I can put too much on (so no other challenges) because reading is my way of relaxing and too many reading challenges/goals just make it stressful. I’ve got enough stress as it is.


  1. You are just in time! My round up will be going up tomorrow. I am not sure how I found the time to put it together, but hopefully I didn't make too many typing mistakes. Haha. I really enjoyed reading your round up, Eustacia!

    I think of 2017 as my escapist reading year as well. I have a feeling this next year will be the same.

    You read so many great books! I really enjoyed Uprooted as well. If I had done a top ten list, it would definitely be on it. Several of your other books are on my TBR pile to read. Radium Girls and The Bear and the Nightingale. Oh and Shadow of the Wind.

    I wish you luck with your goals this coming year! I am doing a few challenges, but all of them are loose enough or on subjects I find fun, so I am not too worried about the "chore" factor. We'll see how I do though. :-) I did enjoy my challenge ban this year though. It really was freeing. I'm just a glutton for punishment, I guess.

    Have a Happy New Year, Eustacia!

    1. Have a Happy New Year too, Wendy!! I remember hearing about Uprooted from you, so I look forward to getting more reading inspiration from you in 2018!


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