these lists of books to read before you die that are full of classics are all well and good but what if you don’t like classics? and what about the ya ones that are just full of popular series? so this is an alternative list of ya books you should read before you die. thanks to everyone who contributed books; i’ve had to miss some off because i’ve got more than 100, so i’ll probably include them on a second list. (also, i’ve not actually read all these books. it’s a group effort)
I don’t normally like fantasy, as many of you know, but this book had been sitting on my to-read list for a while because I’d heard good things. I ended up loving it so much, you guys. For starters, the characters are all dark-skinned except for the villains, who are pale! That’s so refreshing, given how common the trope of “dark skin equals badness/evil,” which is both tired and extremely harmful and problematic. Nice to see it subverted.
So this book is about Elisa, a 16-year-old princess “twice chosen by God” (as her nurse, Ximena, says) because she is both royalty and a Godstone bearer. The Godstone only appears once every century, and it marks its bearer as someone destined by God for a great act of some kind. Elisa certainly doesn’t feel destined for greatness, given that she’s always lived in the shadow of her more beautiful, wiser older sister, who will become Queen when their father dies. And it certainly doesn’t help that the beginning of the book finds Elisa being married off to King Alejandro of Joya D’Arena, a man she’s never met.
That’s all I’ll say about the plot so as not to ruin any of the fun for anyone, but I do want to hit on three things I adored about the book:
Elisa is a really great main character. Did I mention she’s fat? There is one hiccup where she seems really happy that she’s lost a lot of weight at one point, which made me wonder if it was going to send the message that “now she’s skinny and she can start being awesome and attractive.” But I ended up finishing the series (the only reason I’m not reviewing the trilogy as a whole is that I really skimmed the second and third books out of sheer impatience), and she’s mentioned as being large throughout the sequels as well. (Side note: other characters comment negatively on her size a lot, so tw for fatphobia. But Elisa grows less self-conscious about it over time and stops internalizing the negativity, so, yay!) She’s also a really good war strategist because she spends so much of her time reading military strategies. Don’t get me wrong, the other characters in the book are all really strong and well-drawn characters, too, but Elisa’s still my favorite.
The religion in the book was really fascinating to read about. There are different theories about the Godstone and its bearer, and there are even different religious sects that interpret the scriptures in different ways based on varying translations. The worldbuilding in general in this book was extremely satisfying.
It was unpredictable, and that goes a long way with me when it comes to enjoying a book. I couldn’t predict a lot of events that happened, and moreover, everything that happened kept me riveted. Circumstances were often dire and I believed that they were dire (isn’t it the worst when you just know for a fact that everyone and everything is going to be okay?). Honestly, I just love when a book surprises me.
I’d recommend this book to anyone, even if they don’t generally like fantasy. I was so pleased with the characters, the setting, the pacing, the relationships…just everything about it was so good. It’s a new favorite, seriously, and I can’t wait to read Rae Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy (Walk on Earth a Stranger is the first one).
Entertainment Weekly has details for several Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi books. The new addition: A collection of short stories focusing on inhabitants of Canto Bight, the ritzy casino planet. The authors are Star Wars vet John Jackson Miller and franchise newcomers Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, and Mira Grant. It will be on shelves December 5.
We first heard about most of them back at Celebration, but there’s still plenty of mystery. Ken Liu’s The Legends of Luke Skywalker (October 31), which “presents its stories as rumors circulating through the galaxy.” Claudia Gray’s Leia: Princess of Alderaan (September 1) is set when the character is 16, when she “decides to become involved in the fight against the Empire.” We’ll also see plenty of her parents and friends, a boon for fans who want to know more about Alderaan.
Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma (September 1) will, as we learned in Orlando, give us her origin story, going back to her youth. The book will “show how she got off the planet that she was on initially and came to the First Order and what did she have to do to get there and what will she do to protect her secrets,” Lucasfilm’s Michael Siglain says. “It cuts between the present and the past and shows her as this fearsome warrior on this brutal world that she was on. The First Order comes to that planet, and she sees a great opportunity when they arrive.”
Thanks for your well-wishes and advice to take it easy everyone! I did write some more epilogue (I really need to update my progress bars!) and then settled down to read Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. It’s actually the best book I’ve read in quite a while!
Lovely, vivid language and an engaging main character. I’ve started the sequel now!
Time to get a bit more writing done today before doing errands (what joy!)
Are you here for accurate historical fiction? Because I sure am.
Firstly, I’m very picky about historical fiction in general. It’s not my go-to genre despite being a History and English teacher because there is just so much room for disappointment. Often it inaccurately depicts the era, or the story itself is boring/predictable and the characters flat. What could be the best of both worlds is often just the worst.
Walk on Earth a Stranger is definitely one of the best of the genre. Rae Carson brings together a vibrant and diverse cast of characters representing different groups found throughout Antebellum America. In her overland journey to the West Coast Lee is met with unexpected and authentic diversity. What Carson really excels at in this book is her portrayal of women of the era. Lee is a girl occupying a boy’s place in society, and by disguising herself as a boy the reader gets to experience how people react to her as a girl and a boy.
This is a novel that will greatly expand the reader’s understanding of the California gold rush, and of the divisions that marked the United States in that era. So many people leave their history classes thinking American history was scrappy white people trying to make their fortune, that all black folks south of the Mason-Dixon line were slaves, and that Indians existed only long enough to cause a few land disputes.
Carson’s ability to offer a wider view of history is exactly why I’ll be putting this book in the hands of as many of my students as possible.
Also, Lee is a fantastic strong female lead. She certainly isn’t going to let her gender decide what she does and where, even if those around her are a bit less flippant about it.
My only negative critique of the novel is the pacing at the beginning. There is a lot of exposition to get through, and Carson tries to get through it as quickly as possible. as a result, her initial character motivations are a bit harder to buy into. It’s all for the greater good, though. If she didn’t whip through it so fast, the book would be 600 pages long.
This is book 1 in the Gold Seer trilogy. I’m currently reading book 2.
Feminism! Latino fantasy! Characters in control of their sexuality! Gay characters! Literally all but one main character is a POC! Matriarchs! Friendships! Catholic fantasy! Girls get shit done! Boys who respect girls are sexy! Screaming.