2019 Wrap-Up: Orianna's Favorite Reads

In a single sentence, 2019 was the year I learned that I have no limits. I realize how cliche that sounds, but after a lot of reflection and starting this blog with my mate, there are so many things I’ve learned about myself and what I might wanna do with my life, and I figured, what in the world could stop me from doing it all??? Yes, that is the dreamy optimist in me speaking, but I don’t know what else you expected! Love Yo Shelf was a spontaneous creation, but after two short months, it has become a project that reminds me who I am when I need it. And with that being said, I’m so excited to share my favorite reads from this wild year with you all.

Title: The Poppy War

Author: R.F. Kuang

Publication Date: May 1st, 2018

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasyhistorical fiction

Age Range: Adult

Synopsis: When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising. But surprises aren’t always good. Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. And while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

The Poppy War was such a refreshing story and one that I’ll be thinking about for quite some time. The ethics and philosophy nerd in me was screaming in all the best ways, it was beautiful, and wild, and real. One of my favorite things about reading this was that there were so many moments I stopped reading and had to just think for a minute. This book was something I wrote about often throughout reading, and it was breath-taking in the most memorable way possible.

Title: The Gilded Wolves

Author: Roshani Chokshi

Publication Date: January 15th, 2019

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance. To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood. Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.

I absolutely loved every single one of the characters in The Gilded Wolves. They were wonderfully written in all of their rebellious glory, and by the end of it I wanted to curl up with everyone I love and cry. The representation and the depth of each story was so satisfying because each person had a why, and with that many protagonists, it’s often missing. I know that Lauren loved The Silvered Serpents and I’m so excited to get to reading it within this next week, even if I know it might ruin me.

Title: Girls of Paper and Fire

Author: Natasha Ngan

Publication Date: November 6, 2018

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson

Genre: Fantasy

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

I know this originally came out last year, but I first read this in October 2019 and I got through it in about two days. I live for small acts of rebellion, and Girls of Paper and Fire is full of them. The forbidden romance, the complicated relationships and solidarity among the girls, and a larger battle simmering under the surface made for a fantastic read.

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publication Date: July 23, 2019

Publisher: Del Ray

Genre: Fairytale, Historical Fantasy

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy scrubbing floors in her wealthy grandfather’s house to do more than dream of a life far from her small town in southern Mexico.

Until the day she accidentally frees an ancient Mayan god of death, who offers her a deal: in return for Casiopea’s help in recovering his throne, he will grant her whatever she desires.

From the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City and deep into the darkness of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld, Casiopea’s adventure will take her on a perilous cross-country odyssey beyond anything she’s ever known.

I can’t believe I forgot about this book because it was just so rich with history magic. Moreno-Garcia weaves together our two protagonists and their stories so thoroughly and they become inseparable, although not by choice. Tied to each other by fate and duty, Casiopea and Hun-Kame develop such an authentic relationship that made me smile so much. The story itself was bright and fresh and was deemed a favorite only halfway through.

Title: The Weight of Our Sky

Author: Hanna Alkaf

Publication Date: February 5, 2019

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: A music-loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical moviegoing, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

I read The Weight of Our Sky at a time that I really needed to restore my faith in people, and it did exactly that. Melati finds help in some very unlikely places, and all of the characters were completely human. This book had such a strong grip on my heart – it was raw and came from a place of love and pain, much appreciated in my time of need.

Title: A River of Royal Blood

Author: Amanda Joy

Publication Date: October 29, 2019

Publisher: Putnam

Genre: Fantasy

Age Range: YA

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Eva is a princess, born with the magick of blood and marrow–a dark and terrible magick that hasn’t been seen for generations in the vibrant but fractured country of Myre. Its last known practitioner was Queen Raina, who toppled the native khimaer royalty and massacred thousands, including her own sister, eight generations ago, thus beginning the Rival Heir tradition. Living in Raina’s long and dark shadow, Eva must now face her older sister, Isa, in a battle to the death if she hopes to ascend to the Ivory Throne–because in the Queendom of Myre only the strongest, most ruthless rulers survive.

When Eva is attacked by an assassin just weeks before the battle with her sister, she discovers there is more to the attempt on her life than meets the eye–and it isn’t just her sister who wants to see her dead. As tensions escalate, Eva is forced to turn to a fey instructor of mythic proportions and a mysterious and handsome khimaer prince for help in growing her magick into something to fear. Because despite the love she still has for her sister, Eva will have to choose: Isa’s death or her own.

In case you haven’t read my review of this stunning North African inspired fantasy, you can find it here. Amanda Joy provides an interesting story that complicates the relationship between history and power, and I couldn’t stop shaking once I finished. Paired with a heroine who fears her own power and a mysterious man from the past who may be the only one who can help her, A River of Royal Blood is the perfect read for the start of the new year.

I am so excited for all the amazing books coming out in 2020 (and I’m still debating whether or not I wanna limit myself by making a list of my most anticipated reads). If next year is as good as the books I’ve read in 2019, it’s bound to be an amazing new decade. Let us know your favorite reads of 2019 in the comments!

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