October Reading Roundup

Welcome to November. The clocks have turned back, the weather is… weird, and my Twitter feed is full of NaNoWriMo tweets, which are sort of just making me feel like I’m being unproductive which is the opposite of true. It feels like only a couple weeks ago I was telling you about my September books, which is true, because it took me until halfway through October to get that post done. I’m currently buried in legal ethics flashcards for the ethics test I’m taking tomorrow, but I wanted to get this post out there before it gets any later in the month.

 

So I read twelve books in October. Yes, I finished the last book Wednesday night, after midnight, which I guess technically puts it into November, but I say it’s October because I was still awake. Which is to say if I finish the book before I go to sleep on the last day of the month, even if it’s after midnight, I’m counting it for that month. I have now read a total of 141 books this year (actually 143 because I’ve read two more so far in November). I’m well past my original goal of reading 100 books, and almost to my revised goal of 150. I’ll almost certainly make it to 150 this month, but it’s possible I don’t, because November is going to be crazy. Drowning in flashcards, remember?

 

I read a good mix of books in October. Three historical fiction books set in World War II, for that project I’m sort of thinking about working on again after I take the bar; some more middle grade adventure books; a really great sci fi book for book club; and I finished a nonfiction book I’ve been working on since before law school started. As usual, I made progress on a couple series I’ve been working my way through, finished one series altogether, and started a couple new series. I’m hoping to not end the year in the middle of any series if I can help it, so it’s probably time to stop starting new series and wrap up the ones I’m in the middle of, but we’ll see how that actually goes.

 

So without further ado, here are the twelve books I read in October and what I thought of them. As usual, I’m trying to keep these thoughts as spoiler-free as possible.

 

First, I read the next Maximum Ride book in the series, Angel by James Patterson. I honestly don’t know why I’m still reading these, except I’m a completionist. But they’ve gotten weird, guys. And also dumb. Enough said.

 

Next, I read China Dolls by Lisa See. Way back at the beginning of the year, I read Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, and I really enjoyed them, but unfortunately China Dolls didn’t live up to my expectations. In the late 1930s, three young Chinese women, Grace, Ruby, and Helen become dancers in a San Francisco nightclub, and soon they’re fast friends. But Ruby is actually Japanese, masquerading as Chinese, and when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and Japanese-Americans are sent to internment camps, one of Ruby’s friends betrays her to the authorities. This is all on the back cover so I’m spoiling nothing here, even though it takes a very long time for us to get to that point in the book. I found everything to be really stereotypical, and also pretty predictable and melodramatic. It was a fine book, but it wasn’t the fabulous book I expected.

 

After that, I read the second book in The Raven Cycle, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I read the first book back in June, when I was in Maryland, and I loved it so much that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a sequel if it might ruin the first book. But The Dream Thieves was just as good. There’s a lot of continuity in the series. We pick up where we left off and continue on with the story, with some new characters and new powers and new twists. Honestly, I didn’t like Ronan that much in the first book, but since he was sort of the main character of this book, we really got to know him, and I really like him now. Plus his power to take things from dreams is pretty sweet. And it ended on quite a cliff-hanger. I have the third book from the library now so will be reading that in a few weeks.

 

I finally finished The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper when I read Silver on the Tree this month. As you might recall, my complaint about the last couple books in this series is that the stakes have been at best false and at worst nonexistent. The characters who have magic are so powerful that of course they’re going to win. And the characters that don’t have magic have no hope of accomplishing anything on their own, so they don’t do anything. This wasn’t as bad in the final book of the series. For much of the book, it felt like there was risk, and lots of cool things happen. I was totally ready to add the whole series to my favorites for the year, and then the ending happened. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a thing that really made me mad. It was the sort of ending that invalidates the character development for the whole series. I haven’t decided if the first book of the series will end up on my 2018 favorites list. I really enjoyed the first book, but the rest of the series was a bit of a let-down, and I wouldn’t recommend the series as a whole.

 

Next, I finished Wren to the Rescue by Sherwood Smith, the first book in the Wren series. I absolutely loved this book. Wren is an orphan, and when she learns her best friend is actually a princess in hiding, she has a chance at a whole different kind of life. But when Tess is kidnapped by an evil magician king, Wren and her friends set out to rescue her. They have all kinds of adventures along the way, and Wren discovers she has magical powers of her own. There are so many things I loved about this book—the worldbuilding, the mystery, how realistic it felt—but what I really love about this book is how happy Wren is, even when facing the impossible odds of the kidnapper magician king and his armies. I’m in the middle  of reading the second book right now, and so far I definitely recommend these books.

 

Our October book for book club was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This is a book set in a post-apocolyptic America, following a whole bunch of characters all connected by their relationship to an actor who died onstage the night society collapsed. This probably is one of those books that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, but I was absolutely blown away. If you haven’t read it, you definitely need to. I don’t care what kind of books you normally read. I don’t care if this doesn’t seem like something you’d like. You need to read this.

 

I pressed on with The Series of Unfortunate Events this month, reading The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket. We’ve reached the point in this reread where basically none of the characters are making decisions that make logical sense. I can’t think of any examples right now, but there were several times while reading this book when I would have been rolling my eyes if I could. Yes, there’s a fair amount of whimsy and ridiculousness in these books, but you lose me when characters who are supposed to be smart start making decisions based on obviously logically flawed information.

 

A little more than two years ago, before I started law school, I began listening to the Great Courses lecture The History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons. I got the lectures on Audible, and I admit it’s debatable that it’s a book, but Goodreads counts it as a book so I’m going with that. It’s eighteen hours of lectures that start with the signing of the constitution and go all the way through Bush v. Gore, covering the lives and legal decisions of the Supreme Court justices as well as the broader trends in American history and judicial policy. It didn’t take me this long to finish because it was boring. Quite the contrary. I found it really fascinating. But once law school started, I didn’t really want to be reading about law in my free time, so I was listening to it one little bit at a time, mostly over the summers. On the whole, I really enjoyed this, and if you’re interested in the Supreme Court or legal history, I definitely recommend checking it out.

 

Next, I flew through When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka. I think I read this in about three hours. I really wanted this book to be good, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me. It’s the story of a single Japanese-American family interned during World War II. The writing was very beautiful, and the descriptions were vivid. The problem I had was that none of the characters have names, and because of that, we were kept at a distance from them. We didn’t feel what they felt. We were just witnesses. I can understand why you might make these choices when writing a book, but it didn’t work for me.

 

After that I read Caraval by Stephanie Garber. To escape from their abusive father, Scarlet is swept into this magical game where she has five nights to solve a bunch of clues and find her missing sister. I really loved the worldbuilding and the descriptions in this book. It was so beautiful. And I loved the magic of the game/carnival/performance, whatever it was. The first half was a bit slow, I admit, and I’m not as big a fan of books that are like, I’m the protagonist, I have this goal, except now I’ve met this guy and my other goals don’t really matter anymore. It’s more annoying when the protagonist’s actual goal is to save her sister, or anyone really. And I get that the whole point of the book is that no one knew what was real and what was not, but it felt like it went one or two steps too far for me. Still, I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading the sequel.

 

Next, I read Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac. The book follows a young Navajo man from childhood through his enlistment during World War II, his training in the Navajo code, and his role transmitting coded messages as the Marines island-hopped across the Pacific to Japan. I didn’t know anything about the Navajo code talkers and this aspect of WWII before I read this book, and I really enjoyed learning about it. However, I didn’t enjoy the book. Despite proclaiming to be a novel, it read like a history book. It was really dry, just a chronicle of this character’s life, and everything was just handed to the reader instead of letting the reader see and feel and experience it through the character. It was perfectly fine, if you want the history, but it was disappointing if you were looking for a story. Still, if you’re interested in WWII history, and a part of that history that isn’t talked about as much, I’d check this book out.

 

Finally, I read the second book in Holly Webb’s Rose series, Rose and the Lost Princess. This was another book that I just absolutely loved. The events of the first book have resulted in a huge backlash against magicians. Many of Rose’s new friends have turned against her. But when unknown magicians kidnap the young princess, Rose winds up in the thick of it. There’s so much adventure and humor in these books, even as they deal with serious topics, and I love how practical and level-headed Rose is. I’m definitely looking forward to what comes next for Rose and her friends.

 

And that’s it for October. I’m going back to my flashcards now, but I’ll be back next week with that long-promised post about my adventures in the kitchen. In the meantime, have you read any of these books? Do you agree with my thoughts? Do you think I’m totally wrong?

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September Reading Roundup

Hey friends. It’s that time again, time for another reading roundup. September was kind of crazy. I was sick for the first week of the semester, and then I was trying to catch up plus doing all my class reading, working at Analytical Space part time, and applying for jobs for after I graduate. Not to mention everything going on in the news, which was a horrible kind of bonkers. By the end of the month I was feeling pretty frazzled. Who am I kidding? I still feel frazzled (it’s taken me half the month to get this post up). But I’ve gotten all my job applications in, and I’ve eased back on the hours I’m working at Analytical Space, and I’m kind of pretending I don’t have the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam in a month, and things are better because of it.

 

And despite all the craziness, I read ten books last month. If I was feeling kind of meh about last months books, this month was great. I finished one series, continued a couple others, and started some new ones. I read some great stand-alone books too, including a couple that I really want to become series because I didn’t want to leave the world. Three of the books I read were in Braille, but no nonfiction this month. So here’s what I read and what I thought. As usual, no spoilers.

 

First, I finished the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series with The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. War with the Titans has come, the gods are in the Midwest fighting the big storm thing Percy unleashed in an earlier book, and it’s up to Percy and his friends to defend Manhattan. Oh, and Percy finally gets to hear the big prophecy made about him, and it isn’t going to be pretty.  This book was absolutely everything I wanted it to be, and then some. It was basically my perfect end to the series. Really I loved the whole series, and I know I’m way late to the party on this, but if you haven’t read the Percy Jackson books and you like middle grade fantasy, go read them now.

 

After that, I read the next book in The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis. Remember I’m reading them in chronological order, not publication order. In this book, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are on their way to boarding school when they are whisked back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian reclaim his throne from his very evil uncle. This was a pretty good book. I liked the idea of the kids going back to Narnia but things have changed so much. I also really liked Caspian. There were some things that bothered me. First, Susan is such a wimp for no apparent reason. I know there’s a lot of scholarship out there about Lewis’s treatment of Susan, and once I finish rereading the series, I intend to dive into it. Second, the animals are supposed to be as smart as humans. Throughout the whole series it’s thanks to the animals that the humans get almost anything done. And hey, the god of this world is a lion. But the animals are convinced that Narnia has to be ruled by a human. This could be a social commentary, but I’m skeptical. Whatever it is, it bothered me.

 

Last year, I read Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. The sequel recently came out, and I’m on the waitlist to get that from the library, so I reread Flame in the Mist so it would be fresh in my mind. In ancient Japan with magic, Mariko is on her way to marry the emperor’s son when her convoy is attacked and everyone is murdered. Mariko is left for dead, but she escapes and sets out to find and take revenge on whoever tried to kill her. My thoughts on this are pretty much identical to what they were last year. It was a pretty good book. I really liked the world and the political intrigue, and the characters were really intricate. Something about the descriptions in the writing didn’t quite draw me in, though, and I generally found the writing more telly than I like. But on the whole, this was a good book, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the sequel goes.

 

Next, I read The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. I sort of stumbled onto this book. I was looking at a list of top upper middle grade fantasy books in the last ten years, trying to find similar books to compare to my own upper middle grade novel that I’m currently querying. I ran across this book, and while it isn’t a comp title, I had to read it, because it’s an upper middle grade World War II book, and I’m still looking for those. In this book, three siblings are sent to boarding school to escape the London blitz, but something creepy is going on at their new school. The other students keep disappearing. Also, there may be a German spy lurking around. The atmosphere in this book was delightfully creepy, and the characters were well-developed. I kind of wish we didn’t have so much of the bad guy’s point of view, because it undercut some of the mystery, but I also respect that it enhanced the creepiness, so on the whole I was okay with it. What I really liked about this book is that while it was fantasy (or maybe horror?), we don’t completely lose the real world and the war like we so often do in children’s fantasy set in World War II. Remember that spy I mentioned? Yeah that spy is kind of important. Janet Fox is working on a companion novel to Rookskill Castle, and I can’t wait. So if you like World War II and spooky stories, I definitely recommend this one.

 

Next, I read Rose by Holly Webb. This was another middle grade book I found on that list I just mentioned. And it turned out to be a reasonably good comp for my own novel, so I liked it even more. In a world where only the super rich can afford magic, orphan Rose is hired as a maid in an alchemist’s house, and while she and her new friends try to figure out who is kidnapping children, she discovers she might just have some magic of her own. There were moments when I wanted more emotion from this book, but I really like the idea of magic as a class thing, as well as Rose’s ambivalence about her powers (these are the parts that are similar to my own book). The bad guy was super creepy, and the world was so vivid I felt totally drawn in. I’m really looking forward to picking up the next book, and I’m really hoping that Rose isn’t the long lost daughter of some rich family because that would make me mad.

 

After that, I read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon. The minions of Castle Hangnail are looking for a new evil master. They get Molly, a twelve-year-old wicked witch. Or so she says. This book was absolutely delightful. I loved every single word. Go read it now. Now now now. This was another book that I want there to be a sequel, even though it stands fine on its own, because I just loved it so much and don’t want to let it go.

 

Next, I read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Hazel and Jack were best friends until one day they weren’t. Everybody tells Hazel these things happen sometimes, but Hazel is convinced something else is going on. And when Jack disappears into the forest and everybody keeps saying he went to stay with a great aunt, Hazel is the only one who can go after him. I was really intrigued by this book, but it was kind of a let-down. Yes, the feelings were absolutely one hundred percent on the money. This book gave me feelings, guys. But the plot didn’t really measure up. It was kind of weirdly half contemporary middle grade and then half fairy tale, and it didn’t work for me as much as I wanted it too.

 

Then I read Matilda by Roald Dahl. Matilda is so smart she can make things move. That’s the best summary I got. I know I read  this book when I was kid, but I have very little recollection of it. And I am kind of horrified that I read this book when I was seven or eight or whatever, because this is a horrifying book. Really good, but horrifying.  just goes to show that Madeleine L’engle was right, yet again, when she said that if a story is too difficult for grown-ups, write it for children.

 

After Matilda, I read the fourth book in The Dark Is Rising series, The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Will is continuing to follow the instructions to collect the magic items and prevent the Dark from rising. I really liked a lot about this book, particularly the side characters. But I had the same problem with this book that I did with the previous book in the series. There just weren’t really any stakes, because Will is basically all-powerful. The friend who recommended this series says it’s better in the final book, which I have now and will likely be reading next. If the final book can pull it off, the whole series will have been worth it. If not, I’m probably doomed to disappointment. I’ll let you know when I post my October reading roundup, probably.

 

Finally, I read The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas. This is another orphan discovers he has magical powers book. This orphan not only has magic, he has some pretty special magic that no one really knows what to do with. also, someone is stealing the magic that the city depends on to live. It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. There was some really cool world-building. I liked the idea that no one knows what exactly magic is and how it works, and everything is all theories. I also like the two halves of society—the rich and the poor—and how they interact. The voice of the narrator didn’t quite work for me, but I’m okay with that, at least partly because now I understand those agents who say the voice of my narrator doesn’t work for them. On the whole, a good book, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second one and seeing what comes next.

 

And that’s it for September. Hopefully I’ll be back next week with that post I’ve been promising some of you about my culinary adventures—the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the meantime, let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them. Also, if you can think of any recent middle grade books about orphans with magical powers fighting rebellions, do let me know. Bonus points if the book isn’t set in medieval Europe or if the rebellion isn’t black and white. I’m still looking for good comp titles.

August Reading Roundup

Happy September everybody. Witches and wizards all over the United Kingdom are on their way back to Hogwarts as I write this, and I’m celebrating by cracking the law books and starting my readings for my first classes next week. It’s taken me most of the day to do my readings for my international law of the sea course, though I admit I haven’t been the most focused human. I keep distracting myself with questions like how is September 2 a Monday in every Harry Potter book? Like seriously, they go back to Hogwarts on September 1 every year, and the next day they start classes, and they always start on Monday and have a full week. I refuse to believe that they magically keep September 1 a Sunday every year yet can’t make cell phones and computers work around Hogwarts. Am I the only one wondering about this?

 

In other news, September means it’s time for me to tell you about all the books I read in August. This might be the fastest I’ve posted my reading roundup so far, so hurray for that.

 

Sidenote: Unfortunately for those of you who have been following my Goodreads reviews through Facebook, Facebook no longer allows you to post from other apps, so I know you can’t see my reviews anymore. Stupid Facebook. Never fear, you can see them all here in my monthly reading roundups, or you can follow me on Twitter or Goodreads to see what I’m reading, when I’m reading it.

 

Another sidenote, I just realized that I’ve hit a hundred posts on this blog. This is post 101. And I’ve been blogging for just over five years. Not very regularly, I admit, but still pretty cool.

 

Back to the books: I only read eight books in August. I know I’ve been reading an obscene amount in the past few months, but I can’t deny I sort of feel like I was slacking this month. Which is me just being crazy I know. One reason I read fewer books in August is that a lot of the books I did read were longer. Also, I was busy having fun. I’ve been learning to sail, and cooking a lot more, and writing more too. On the not so fun side of things, I’ve officially started my job search for next fall. I’m hoping to go into the federal government, and all the deadlines for jobs starting next fall are in early September. Plus I’m still working full-time at Analytical Space. So it was a busy month.

 

But I read eight books in August, which is still pretty great. I finished two series and read the next books in three other series I’m working on. I read two books in Braille, and I read two nonfiction books. None of the books I read were absolutely fabulous, though they were generally all good. Still, I was a little disappointed in this month’s books, perhaps another reason why I read more slowly. Here’s what I thought.

 

First, I read Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. This is another one of the writing books that I picked up at the Writer’s Digest sale a few months ago. I really liked this book. It covered a lot quickly, and the advice was good, solid advice. The examples were really helpful in illustrating the points, too. I already knew most of the stuff in the book, and some of it I disagreed with, but a refresher is always nice, and hey, you have to know the rules to break the rules. Also, reading about writing always inspires me to write. So in that respect, this book wins. Also it’s a really thorough foundation to writing well-developed characters. This one will definitely be going on my recommended books list, so if you’re a writer, I recommend picaing this up. Probably the other books in the Elements of Fiction Writing series too, but I haven’t gotten to those yet. I’ll let you know.

 

After that, I read A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. This is the companion to Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life, which I read at the end of June. I really liked this book, particularly the parts about World War II and Teddy’s experiences as a bomber pilot. But it definitely dragged in places, and it just felt more scattered than Life After Life. While I one hundred percent recommend everybody read Life After Life, I’m still waffling on how I feel about this companion novel. If you’re interested in World War II books, it’s certainly worth a read, but the rest of it didn’t work as well for me as I wanted it to.

 

Next I read the third book in The Dark Is Rising series, Greenwitch by Susan Cooper. This book definitely felt like a transition book in the series, and unfortunately it had a lot of problems. The best part was that Will and the Drew kids were all together for this book. The worst part was that Will and the Drew kids were all together for this book. Because Will has his magic powers, the Drew kids have very little agency. They don’t do anything. Things happen to them—not very interesting things—and they watch Will and Uncle Merry do cool things. And we don’t even see Will doing cool things from Will’s point of view, though other parts of the book are from Will’s point of view. We see Will doing cool things from the Drew kids’ points of view. Also, why can’t the characters just sit down and talk to each other?! Communicate people! In case I haven’t mentioned this, I hate it when half the tension in the book comes from characters not talking to each other. So yeah, not my favorite in the series by any means, but the rest of the series has been so good so far, and if the other books are great too, I’ll forgive this book.

 

The last book I read before I went off for a week’s vacation on Cape Cod was Lord of Shadows, the second book in Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series. My thoughts on this book are almost exactly the same as my thoughts on the first book: there are so many great things happening in this book, but there are almost too many great things happening. It’s too long, and it definitely drags in places. But the ending is gloriously terrible, and I am dying for the third book in the series. If Cassandra Clare nails the ending, the whole series will have been worth it. At this point my opinion really depends on how it ends. The third book comes out in November, so stay tuned for my thoughts on that.

 

While I was at the Cape, I read the other book we’re reading for book club this summer, BORN a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I struggled to get through this book. There were so many great stories, and there was a lot of things I didn’t know before, plus some great dark humor. I definitely learned a lot, and it was interesting, but the book was scattered. It felt like it was written the way you would tell a story orally. And while I can follow that kind of storytelling verbally, I had a hard time when it was a book. I think this book would have benefited from being solidly in chronological order, rather than sorted by different categories of events in Trevor Noah’s life. I’m really looking forward to our book club discussion of this book, particularly compared with Hillbilly Elegy, which I read last month.

 

My mom also brought my hardcopy Braille copies of the next two Chronicles of Narnia books to the Cape for me, and I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis. Remember, I’m reading the Narnia books in chronological order, not the nonsensical order in which they were published. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was really good. It definitely feels timeless. I was a little let down by how little World War II actually comes into it. For some reason I thought we saw more of the war in the book, but I guess I was remembering that wrong. I do wish C. S. Lewis didn’t editorialize so much, and I wish we were closer into the kids’ points of view, rather than as distant as we are, but on the whole a good book. The Horse and His Boy was also pretty good. It has always been and will probably continue to be my favorite book in the Narnia series. I think it may have the honor of being the first fantasy book I ever read that takes place entirely in another world. It held up on reread, though I have to say, now that I’m older, the racism and masogeny are really obvious and pretty icky. Yes, it was written in a different time, and yes Aravis, the non-white girl, is arguably the best character in the whole series, but that doesn’t excuse it. I’m not going to say don’t read The Horse and His Boy, because this book has a special place in my heart, but go into it forewarned.

 

Finally, I wrapped up August by finally finishing the Inkworld series with Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke. I read the first two books in this series forever ago, and it took a while for me to actually get the third book out of the library. While I really liked the first book of the series, and the second book was totally fine, this final book in the series just didn’t work for me. I see the first book, Inkheart, being about a girl who discovers she has super cool magical powers and she uses them to save the day. Also it’s a book about books which always wins my heart. I love the idea of characters from books coming into our world. But the minute our protagonists went into the book in Inkspell, it lost some of its charm for me. That just felt overdone and clichéd to me. Also, all the characters were being kind of stupid. Guys, necromancy is bad, and I’m pretty sure it never works, don’t do it. Seriously don’t do it. Spoiler alert: they do it. So like I said, the second book was all right but not fabulous. The third book just felt like a scattered mess. It dragged, and after being so great in the first book, Inkheart, Meggie does almost nothing in this book. The book is really about her father, who’s a cool guy, but we’ve lost the wonder of the first book when we lose Meggie as a strong protagonist who actually does something. I would almost certainly recommend the first book, but I wouldn’t bother with the second or third books, honestly.

 

And that’s it for what I read in August. I’ve now read a grand total of 119 books this year. I’m well on my way to meeting my revised goal of 150 books. I need to get back to the law books now, but I’m really curious to know if you’ve read any of these, and if you have, what do you think of them?

July Reading Roundup

July was another busy month. I moved back into my apartment in Cambridge and started a new internship. I was also doing Camp NaNoWriMo again. I wrote twenty thousand words on my middle grade space adventure novel. The first draft is still not finished, but I’ll keep plugging away at it. I’m hoping to have a complete first draft by the time I finish law school next May, but I’m trying this whole don’t-set-goals-for-yourself-that-are-so-ridiculously-challenging-they’re-unobtainable thing, so I’m not holding myself to that deadline. It’s going to be a busy enough year as it is.

 

I also read eleven books in July. I continued some series, started some new series, and read a few stand-alone books. I read one book in Braille, and I read two nonfiction books. I also read a couple contemporary YA books, which is not a genre I read a lot of, because I either love it or hate it.

 

So let’s get to it: my spoiler-free thoughts on the eleven books I read in July.

 

First, I read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I actually read this my first year of college—it was a Christmas gift from a friend. I remember really enjoying it, and it actually inspired the novel I was writing all through college. This is a story about kids growing up in what seems to be an idyllic boarding school situation, but there’s really something much darker going on under the surface. What I love about this book is the creeping, insidious way the truth sneaks up on you, the reader, and the way the characters just accept it as a part of their life. But that’s also what I hated about this book. I’ve become so used to the YA dystopian revolution plot structure, and between that and the novel that this book helped create (the novel is way way different than this), the characters just accepting their fate didn’t feel right to me. But this book was subtler than that. Really, it’s a story about growing up more than a story about the creepy world, though the creepy world is important. It wasn’t a particularly fast-paced book either. At times it was quite slow, in fact. Still, I enjoyed it, though it isn’t an all-time favorite, and if the premise seems interesting to you, I’d recommend giving it a shot.

 

Next, I finally got the second Dark Is Rising book out of the library. The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper tells a very different story than the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone. We aren’t following the Drew children in this book, but a boy named Will Stanton, who unlocks some pretty awesome magical powers on his eleventh birthday and is thrown into a battle with the forces of darkness. I really enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to the next book, when, if the summary is to be believed, Will and the Drews will meet up and have adventures together.

 

Next, I read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Apparently this is the first book in a trilogy. I don’t know if the rest have come out yet, but I also don’t know if I’ll be continuing with the series in any case. So many people absolutely love this book, but I honestly found it to be a bit of a slog. The writing was beautiful and the world was vivid and the characters were sharp, but it just dragged and dragged and dragged.

 

Next, I read Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins, the last book in the Underland Chronicles series. This was a really great finale. All the things that I’ve been wanting to happen happened, and they happened appropriately. And the ending left me with just the right amount of sadness and hope, and enough room to imagine what comes next. Though I’m still not wild about the fourth book, on the whole this was a great series and I definitely recommend.

 

After that, I read 90 Days To Your Novel: A Day by Day Planner for Writing and Outlining Your Book by Sarah Domet. I picked this up at a Writers Digest sale a while ago with a bunch of other writing Ebooks, so if suddenly I’m just reading writing books, that’s where that came from. This book lays out a comprehensive step by step plan to write a first draft of a novel in ninety days. I was really intrigued by the plan, and maybe one day, when I’m not in law school, I’ll actually give it a try and let you know how it goes.

 

Next, I finally finished The Dark Artifices #1: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare. I have been looking forward to this book since I read City of Heavenly Fire way back when it first came out (yes I know this book came out two years ago and I’m just getting to it now). There was so much great stuff going on here: great friendships, some forbidden love, murder mystery, revenge plot, plenty of secrets, super strong family ties. It was great. But honestly, it was too long for what it accomplishes. I’m reminded of what Tamora Pierce says on one of her frequently asked questions pages when asked why she doesn’t include characters from previous books in her current books. Her answer was that if she did, her books would be a lot bigger, and I think that’s part of the problem here. But it’s not the whole problem here. There are just a lot of characters and a lot of things going on, and while it’s all good, it dragged in places. Also, like all the plot pretty much resolved itself by the end of the book, so I have no idea where this is going next. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

After that, I read the first of our two book club books for the summer, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. This was quite a book. Vance tells the story of his own childhood, growing up as a hillbilly in Kentucky and Ohio, and discusses the problems as he sees them with that culture. This book was definitely worth a read, though I might take it with a grain of salt. I felt there was something pretentious and accusatory about the author’s voice, especially when talking about the hillbilly culture in general. You can tell that even though he grew up a hillbilly, he’s ivy-league educated now, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Still, I think he raised a lot of points that we should be talking about as a society, and I can’t wait to discuss this with book club as soon as we all get back to school.

 

After that, I read Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali. This was a fabulous book, and I highly recommend it. It’s about a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl, navigating high school, family, and religious pressures, and also dealing with the fact that someone highly regarded at her mosque tried to rape her. Despite the dark subject, it’s just a great book about family and friendship and support, and I was definitely sobbing a little bit when I finished.

 

Contemporary YA isn’t usually my thing. It’s usually a little too much romance and not enough plot for my taste. But after I read Saints and Misfits, I picked up Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. John Green isn’t really my thing, either, actually. I’ve read two other books by him—Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars—and I wasn’t terribly fond of either of them. But this book was different. Okay, the missing person mystery plot was kind of weird, but that wasn’t what I cared about, and I don’t think that’s what you’re supposed to care about in this book. The great thing about this book was the depiction of Aza’s OCD and anxiety and her struggles of navigating high school with that. There were so many feelings. Okay I cried a little on this one too. Good book, I recommend.

 

Next up was the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis. I’m rereading the Chronicles of Narnia in chronological order, which is the only appropriate way to read them (as opposed to the order in which they were published). I remember enjoying this book a lot as a kid, but on reread it was a bit of a mess. It just felt like a romp through three or four worlds, with a crazy scientist thrown in. It sheds a lot of light on the later books in the series, but definitely not my favorite.

 

Finally, I returned to the Series of Unfortunate Events books and read the ninth installment, The Carnivorous Carnival, by Lemony Snicket. All I really have to say is while it’s nice the kids are getting more agency, these books are getting weird.

 

And that’s it for July folks. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and if you agree or disagree with my assessment of them. Also feel free to comment with books you might think I’d enjoy (I’m always looking to add to my giant to-be-read list). Happy reading!

June Reading Roundup

I know, I know. I’ve promised you all like a dozen blog posts at this point, but I’ve been super busy. I was finishing up my internship at NIST in Maryland (I’m going to write a whole post about that because it was great), and then I was moving to Boston and starting work at Analytical Space. I’ve been unpacking and reorganizing myself, and I only just got groceries into my apartment. I’m low-key starting to stress about the 3L job search looming over me. Oh, and I’m writing again. Fiction. It’s very exciting (there’s a blog post coming on that too), and since it’s a big deal for me that I’m writing again, that takes precedent over blogging. I have written about half of each of the posts I’ve promised you all, so never fear, they are coming. In the meantime, I want to post about what I read in June before we get so far into July it becomes ridiculous.

 

I didn’t read as much in June as I have in the past few months. I only read ten books. (The fact that I’m saying “only” still kind of wows me). Since I was working full time, my main reading time was on the weekend, and this month I spent one weekend at my grandmother’s and flew home to New Hampshire for another weekend for my Dad’s birthday, and my mom came down to Maryland for my whole last week there, so I couldn’t very well walk around with headphones in all the time. As with the books I read in May, they were all audiobooks except one, because my reading time was mainly while I was doing other stuff. I did read one nonfiction book this month. And a couple of the books I read were a lot longer than I have been reading.

 

So here are the ten books I read in June. I continued the series I’ve been reading, started some new series, and read quite a few stand-alone books. As with my previous posts, I’m keeping these thoughts as spoiler-free as possible.

 

First, I read When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ronald C. Rossbottom. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of World War II books and I’m really interested in World War II history. Most of my research in the past has focused on World War II in Italy, since that’s what I did my senior honors thesis on. But I’m interested in all World War II history, and since I just spent a year studying French and learning about Parisian culture and identity, I was really excited to pick up this book. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment. It claimed to focus on the people of Paris, but it really focused on the city, and while some aspects of it were interesting, like how the Parisian apartment seemed to shrink as the war went on, the book glossed over important historical events, like the Holocaust, and that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Also, it was just difficult to get through. I probably wouldn’t recommend this one, but it did inspire me to actually go back and start thinking about my senior honors thesis (the World War II Italy novella), which I haven’t touched since I graduated four years ago. I actually have some ideas I’m pretty excited about, and I’m going to start by reading as many World War II books as I can to put myself in the right mindset to dig into some revisions. So even though I wasn’t wild about this book, it did spark something in me, so I guess it was worth something.

 

Next, I read The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. This is the first book in her Raven Cycle series, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. I fell in love with all the characters and the world, and the lirical writing and slow and steady pace of the book worked perfectly. Blue is fated to kill the first boy she kisses, but against her better judgment, she goes and becomes friends with a group of prep school boys on a magical quest. There’s an evil Latin teacher, plenty of ghosts, and a whole lot of excellent feelings. This book works really well as a standalone, too, so even if I hate the rest of the series, I definitely recommend this one.

 

Next, I read Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff. This was the first World War II book I could get out of the library after When Paris Went Dark. It’s a middle grade story about a young girl, Lily, left at home while her father goes off to fight in France, befriending a Hungarian refugee boy who left his sick sister in France. Together, they rescue a baby kitten, sneak into movies, and dream of crossing the ocean to find their family. This is a heartfelt book that does a great job depicting what it was like on the home front during World War II. I was also interested in it because my World War II Italy novella is also going to be a children’s book, though probably aimed at kids slightly older than Lily’s Crossing, and it’s good to know the market.

 

Since I was on this World War II reading spree, when I went home for the weekend I picked up my Braille copy of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. This was the one Braille book I read this month. It’s about a ten-year-old Danish girl Annemarie and her family as they rescue their Jewish friends from the Nazi roundup in Denmark. I remember really enjoying this book when I was a kid, and I still really enjoyed it, though it’s definitely aimed younger than I would like. It glosses over a lot, and honestly I think what was actually happening could have been alluded to in a way that would have gone over kids’ heads but would have been recognizable to adults. Still, this book had so many great feels, and I would definitely recommend it.

 

I continued my World War II spree with Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff. Like Lily’s Crossing, this was a book about the home front in World War Ii. Jayna’s big brother is her only family, and when he goes off to fight and becomes missing in action, Jayna sets out to find the long lost grandmother he mentioned before he left. This was another heartfelt book, and it also had characters who liked to cook, which I’m always a big fan of.

 

After that, I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I read this in high school, and again in college. I adored it both times. This time, though I still loved Jane, I didn’t like Rochester as much. He’s a pretty huge jerk. And I don’t like the whole you did bad thing and so you go blind and you deserve it and when you repent you get your sight back thing. I don’t feel bad about spoiling this one a little because you’ve had over a hundred years to read it. I still enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t the one hundred percent wholehearted love of it that I had when I first read it in high school.

 

After Jane Eyre, I returned to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. I read the fourth book, The Battle of the Labyrinth. Annabeth finally gets to lead a quest, and it’s the story of Daedalus and Icarus. On the whole a really good book, though it does feel like a transition book in the series, ramping up for the grand finale. Which I am still waiting for from the library.

 

I read one more Patricia Reilly Giff book this month, Pictures of Hollis Woods. This is not a World War II book, but it is a book about a foster kid finding a family, which I am an absolute sucker for. This book was really just great. I loved the style, the pace, the colors of the writing. It just made me so happy.

 

I got back to Suzanne Collins’s Underland Chronicles series too with the fourth book, Gregor and the Marks of Secret. This was a solid book, but it’s definitely the weakest in the series so far. Sort of spoiler alert: It’s basically the holocaust, except with mice and rats. It’s so obviously the holocaust I kept expecting someone to reference World War II and be like, yeah, this is like that. Still, I love Gregor and his friends, and it’s definitely building up to a great conclusion.

 

Finally, I finished June with Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This is another World War II book—sort of. I actually read it back in the fall of my senior year as part of my preparation for writing my honors thesis. But since I was in excruciating pain because of my exploding eyeball, I had literally no recollection of it. The premise is that whenever Ursula dies, she is reborn and has the opportunity to live her life again. We go through Ursula’s life over and over again, watching her make fatal errors, then the next time around realizing something terrible is about to happen and doing something different. Eventually, she figures out what’s going on and starts using her ability to try to stop the war and change history. This is a beautifully written book, and I love the premise and the look at all the possibilities choices can make. I would definitely recommend this book. I also discovered there’s a sequel to this one, and I’m looking forward to reading that too.

 

And that’s it for June. While I read less than I have been reading, I did reach a hundred books, completing my goal for 2018. Since 2018 is only halfway through, I increased my Goodreads reading challenge to 150. I didn’t double it because I have a really busy fall. But let it be said that I read a hundred books in six months holy cow!

 

So, have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

 

Happy reading!

May Reading Roundup

May was a crazy month. I finished up finals and moved down to Gaithersburg, Maryland for my first internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. They’re keeping me busy at NIST, and I’m really enjoying the work. The public transportation in this part of the world does leave something to be desired, and I have never ever had allergies like this (at least I’m hoping they’re allergies), but I can get back and forth to work and I can get food, so it could be worse. I’ve been writing again too, slowly but surely, and finishing up critiques I promised people forever ago.

 

I also read twenty books this month. Which means I’ve read ninety books this year. I’m probably going to reach my goal of a hundred books this coming month. The question remains: should I increase my goal for the year? Or should I just bask in my victory for the next six months? Opinions welcome.

 

Many of the books I read this month were relatively short. I only read one book in Braille, because most of my reading time is while I’m doing things like cooking and laundry and such, and audio works better for that, obviously. Working full time tends to cut down on your ability to chill on the couch with a book. I made progress on a couple series I’ve been working on, read three series completely, started another new series, and read a couple stand-alone things. As usual, I’m clumping series together in this posts, and keeping my thoughts as spoiler-free as possible. And so, without further ado, here’s what I read in May and what I thought of it.

 

First, I read all three books in the Delirium series by Lauren Oliver—Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem—as well as the collection of Delirium stories: Hana, Annabel, Raven, and Alex. I enjoyed these books. They weren’t fabulous, but they were very decent. It’s a YA dystopian series set in a futuristic America where everybody undergoes a procedure to cure them of the ability to love, which is viewed as a deadly disease. So of course, our protagonist, Lena, goes and falls in love a month before her scheduled procedure. There were a lot of things that I liked about these books. The world building was pretty solid, and I really enjoyed Lena’s journey from a scared believer in the system to an awesome resistance fighter. I also like that Lena is just an ordinary girl within the system. She’s never even such a big part in the resistance, though she does do a lot of good things for it. It was kind of refreshing compared with the YA dystopians where the hero is always the unwitting or even unwilling figurehead of the rebellion. I also thought Lauren Oliver definitely stuck the ending. A lot of people on Goodreads disagree with me on this, but I liked it. I was worried about it, given the split point of view in the third book. But it worked for me. All that being said, the books were pretty predictable. I knew what was going to happen way before it happened, particularly with the romantic side of the story. But this was still a fast-paced, fun series to read.

 

On our drive down to Maryland, my mom and I listened to Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I really enjoyed this book. It’s about a Mexican girl who immigrates to America with her mother after her father dies and works in a migrant camp during the Great Depression. There were times when Esperanza was a bit of a brat, but it’s also totally understandable and watching her journey of becoming self-sufficient was great. I would definitely recommend this book.

 

Next, I continued my journey through the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins with the next two books in the series: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane and Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods. I am absolutely loving these books. They’re middle grade novels, but they tackle some really important issues, like racism and biological warfare. In the second book, Gregor and his little sister Boots return to the Underland to go on a quest to kill the evil rat overlord. In the third book, Gregor and Boots go back to seek the cure for a plague. Gregor is such a great protagonist. It’s also really interesting to read these books after reading the Hunger Games series, because you can see similar plot structures, characters, and themes handled in a completely different way. This gave rise to an interesting conversation with my writing friends about authors using the same or similar pallets for different projects. I haven’t finished the series—knowing Suzanne Collins it’s going to get darker from here—so I can’t speak for the series as a whole, but so far I am loving these books.

 

After that, I read the entire Breadwinner series by Deborah Ellis: The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, Mud City, and My Name is Parvana. These books are about a girl in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban, and when her father is arrested, she disguises herself as a boy to support her family. Each of these books was very short, and I could see it working better as one longer novel with more detail rather than four separate shorter ones, but I think it was written this way because it’s a middle grade series. But the whole series put together is fabulous, and I highly recommend.

 

After that, I read Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth. It was interesting to get Four’s point of view before and during Divergent, but on the whole it was kind of meh. I already knew how it was going to turn out, and I’m not sure it added anything new to the series.

 

Then I caved and reread The Call, and the sequel which just came out, The Invasion, by Peadar ó Guilín. i read The Call last year, and I hated it viscerally. The writing was terrible, the characters’ motivations made no sense, and it was just bad. But I was intrigued by the premise for the sequel, so I got both books from the library and plowed through them. I still disliked the first book, but the second book was pretty creative, and putting them together they make a not-completely-terrible duology. I still wouldn’t recommend them, though.

 

I finally started the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. I read the first three books this month: The Lightning Thief, Sea of Monsters, and The Titan’s Curse. I’ve been meaning to read these books for a while, and I am so glad that I finally did. My sole regret is that I haven’t read them until now, because where have these books been all my life?! They are so much fun. This is a middle grade series about the children of the Greek gods going on adventures to avert wars and rescue friends. They are good fun, but also serious in all the right places. Basically everything I want in an upper middle grade novel. Also, kind of unrelated, but it’s really interesting to be reading this series and the Underland series simultaneously, because there are some very interesting similarities in the plot structure, and Gregor and Percy have some similar characteristics as protagonists.

 

And finally I continued my rereading of the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket. This month, I read books 6 through 8, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, and the Hostile Hospital. Honestly, these books are starting to wear on me. I’m glad that the orphans have more agency now and are actively trying to solve the mystery themselves, but the mystery is moving so slowly, and the adults are just the worst. I’m hoping things pick up in the last five books.

 

And that’s it for May. If you’ve read any of these books, I would love to hear your thoughts. Happy reading everybody!

April Reading Roundup

Welcome to my reading roundup for April. I read nineteen books in April, which is a record for this year. I was so close to reading twenty, which I would have loved because it’s a nice round number, but finals got in the way. So nineteen it was. Four of those books were in Braille, and two of them were nonfiction books. I finished a few series I was reading, continued with others I’m in the middle of, started a couple new series, and of course read some stand-alone books.

 

Like my other reading roundup posts, I’m keeping these comments as spoiler-free as possible. Also, these books aren’t necessarily in the order I read them because I’m keeping books in the same series together.

 

Okay, let’s dive right in.

 

First, I continued the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket. I read the next four books in the series this month: The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Miserable Mill, and The Austere Academy. I decided to reread these because a friend recommended I look at The Reptile Room to see how Lemony Snicket keeps up the tension when the characters are happy, to help with a problem I was having with one of my own projects. I’m not sure it was all that helpful, because I don’t have a narrator pointing out that the kids’ happiness was going to be short lived because guess what, Count Olaf is back. But it was helpful that it got me started thinking about writing things more. So that was good. I also really liked The Reptile Room, because I really liked Uncle Monty as a character, and I liked how the kids were able to figure out how to stop Count Olaf. I enjoyed The Wide Window, but it felt very similar to The Reptile Room except the kids weren’t happy ever. The formula was the same. Also the completely useless adult thing was getting kind of old. But things picked up in The Miserable Mill and the Austere Academy because things were slightly different, even though in general they followed the same format. In The Miserable Mill, Count Olaf’s plan is really creepy and almost works, plus the kids have to use each other’s skills to solve the problem. And in The Austere Academy, the Baudelaires finally make some friends. On the whole, I enjoyed these four installments in the Baudelaires’ unfortunate adventures, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series in May.

 

Next, I finished my reread of The Hunger Games series with Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. My feelings on this book pretty much remain the same. Katniss has very little agency until the last third of the book. She spends most of her time in and out of the hospital, traumatized and depressed, and I mean it’s definitely understandable, but it’s not the Katniss we’ve come to know and love, and it makes for a slower book—and not in a good way. And as for certain character deaths and certain character behavior, let’s just say that the movie made it make more sense and did it well, but the book didn’t and argh!

 

Next, I read Smek for President by Adam Rex. This is the sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday, which I read in March. This book was really fun, and it worked well as a follow-up to the first book. It did a good job dealing with the consequences in the first book. Tip’s mom is trying to actually be a mom now, and Tip doesn’t want to take it, and J.Lo is having some problems with life on Earth. So Tip and J Lo head off to New Boovworld, the aliens’ new home on one of Saturn’s moons. Yes, Slushious the car is back, with some awesome improvements to make her spaceworthy. Once on New Boovworld, Tip and J.Lo become embroiled in a presidential election, which is a new thing for the aliens. Oh, and the current president, Smek, arrests J.Lo for his actions in the previous book, and that complicates things a bit. This book definitely wasn’t as good as the first book, but it was a pretty good sequel and I had a lot of fun reading it.

 

Next, I finished the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery with the final book, Rilla of Ingleside. After the last few books in this series, I wasn’t expecting much from this book, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. This book focused mainly on Anne’s youngest daughter, Rilla, as she takes care of a baby whose mother died and whose father is fighting in World War I. Rilla’s older brothers are also away during the war, and this book is a really interesting perspective on the home front during World War I. I really enjoyed it, and I was glad that this series had a good finale. Best thing, is you really didn’t have to read the preceding books to appreciate this book, so if you’re interested in this book but don’t want to slog through Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne’s House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside, and Rainbow Valley, you can definitely skip them and still read this book.

 

Next, I read The Counsel of Mirrors by Michael Buckley, the grand finale to the Sisters Grimm series. This was a solid final book, but I have to say something wasn’t quite right about the ending. It left me feeling a bit let down, like after eight books I expected something more, but I still really liked it. This was a great, fun series, and if you like whacky twists on fairy tales, I definitely recommend the whole series.

 

Next, I started The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper. I read the first book, Over Sea, Under Stone. This was a really great read. The three Drew children are on holiday in Cornwall with their family, and when they find an ancient map in the attic, they’re drawn into a search for the holy Grail. This book has some awesome bad guys, some great chase scenes, some actually helpful adults who still let the kids do stuff, and a healthy dose of Arthurian legend. It sort of reminded me of the Chronicles of Narnia in its tone and the premise of kids on vacation in the country in England and fantasy adventures ensue, but the similarities stop there as far as I can tell (it’s been a while since I read the Narnia books so I might be wrong). This book was fast-paced and a lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed the siblings’ interactions, which definitely felt real to me, and it’s not often that you get to see kids just naturally playing together in fiction. I really liked this book and I can’t wait to get the sequel from the library (whoever has it now, please hurry up).

 

After that, I read Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver, which was fabulous and beautiful. It was written like a fairy tale, and I guess there are some pretty great illustrations, but I can’t talk about those. I got the audiobook, which is narrated by Jim Dale, who narrated the Harry Potter books. Liesl & Po is about a girl, Liesl, who escapes from the attic where her evil stepmother has locked her up and journeys across the country with a ghost named Po to lay her father’s ashes to rest at her childhood home, where her mother is buried. Along the way, she meets up with Will, a former alchemist’s apprentice who ran away because he mixed up some boxes and lost the most powerful magic in the world. The story is set in a sort of victorian setting, but the sun has gone out and everyone is starving and it’s pretty dystopian. There’s also a really great cast of characters. This book is definitely aimed at children, but it’s beautiful and sweet and also gripping from start to finish. I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend checking it out.

 

Our April book club book was Slauterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (full title: Slaughterhouse Five or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death). I read this once before for my Theory of Comedy class, when I was a sophomore in college. Not only was that about seven years ago—*shudders*—but I also read the whole book in a day because class. Still, I really enjoyed it then, and this time, with the luxury of reading it in a week instead of a day, I enjoyed it even more. It’s hard to describe Slaughterhouse Five. It’s really the life story of this guy Billy Pilgrim, but Billy Pilgrim is “unstuck in time” and so the book isn’t told in chronological order. It sounds confusing, but it works, trust me. The focus of the book is on Billy’s  experiences in World War II,  particularly his time as a prisoner of war in Dresden and the allied firebombing of Dresden, but there’s so much more to the book than that. I really enjoyed the simple, straightforward writing-style, and the characters were really interesting. I also enjoyed the science fiction elements of the book and how you could read them either as straight-up sci fi or as Billy’s PTSD or, how I prefer to read it, as sci fi that represents PTSD. Genre and symbolism aside, this was a great book.

 

I was getting into finals time, so to justify my crazy reading habits when I should have been studying, I read To End a War by Richard Holbrooke. We read half of this book in my negotiation and diplomacy class, so I decided to read the rest of it so that I had the best understanding of the crisis in Bosnia in the 1990s and the Dayton Accords that I  could. It served me well on my final, too. To End a War is Richard Holbrooke’s account as the lead U.S. negotiator to bring peace in Bosnia. The book was really interesting, but it was also a bit long and pretty dense at some points.

 

Next, I read Gregor the Overlander, the first book in Suzanne Collins’ Underland Chronicles series. Gregor and his little sister Boots fall through a grate in their apartment building’s laundry room and wind up in an underground world populated by giant cockroaches, rats, and bats, and people who believe Gregor is the chosen one mentioned in an old prophecy. Gregor is pretty sure the prophecy is ludicrous and there’s no way he’s chosen for anything, but these people know where his missing father is and being the chosen one might just help Gregor find and save him. And so Gregor and Boots set out with a band of underland humans, cockroaches, spiders, bats, and one traitor rat to rescue Gregor’s father and save the humans from the evil rats. If this sounds crazy and gross, it kind of is, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s actually a really fun, fast book. I became seriously  attached to the cockroaches. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

 

Next, I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. It felt like it was trying to tackle all the major teen issues you can possibly think of, and so it didn’t handle any of them particularly well. And the ending was kind of a train wreck.

 

After that, I finished the Wrinkle in Time series with An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I really liked this book, but I felt like I was missing half the story, and it turns out I was. Even though this book is included in the Wrinkle in Time books, it really is also the conclusion to another series about Meg’s children, which I haven’t read. So I’m going to go read those books and get back to you on how I feel about this book after that.

 

Because finals time is never ending, this month I also read 3D Negotiations: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius. I really liked the structure of this book, that it went through each of the three dimensions of deal design and then went through them in more detail with lots of great examples. We read the initial chapters, which were more of an overview, for my negotiation and diplomacy class this semester, so I read the rest of it while studying for my final. I’m glad I did, because the examples really helped me understand the concepts better. It was pretty long—or at least it felt that way because ugh finals. But it definitely went more in depth than Getting to Yes, and if you’re interested in negotiations and want that depth in your understanding, this is a great book.

 

Then I read the next Maximum Ride book, Fang, by James Patterson. Honestly, this book was pretty much a complete mess. Like everybody was a jerk to everybody else and it made no sense and what was that ending!? I don’t know why I’m still reading these books, but I want to find out what’s going on with Angel, so I will probably push on. But they have gone seriously down the tubes.

 

My brother gave me the fourth book in the Giver series, Son, by Lois Lowry for my birthday, and so I read that next. I was a bit disappointed in this book, unfortunately. The first third was absolutely great. It was about Claire, a girl in the same community where Jonas lived in the Giver. She is the biological mother of the baby in The Giver, and she figures out who her son is and she’s sneaking around trying to spend time with him and planning how she can get him away from the nurturing center and escape with him. But then the second third of the book hits, and Claire gets bonked on the head in a storm and gets amnesia, and we have to watch her slowly remember what happened to her, and it really slowed down the book. The last third of the book suffered from the fact that it was trying to tie all four books in the series together, and so we almost completely lost the thread of Claire’s story, and the main focus of the plot became her son Gabriel. The ending was satisfying, and I think it was a good conclusion to the whole series. But it wasn’t very strong as its own book, and I have to admit I was really hoping to see what happened to the community after Jonas left it. Just saying, it would have been cool.

 

Finally, I rounded off April with the next book in the Inkworld series, Inkspell by Cornelia Funke. This was a good book, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Inkheart. Instead of characters coming out of the book, the characters went into the book, which felt more familiar to me. Also it was just too long and slow, considering what was happening, and no spoilers, but I’m just going to throw it out there that necromancy is generally a bad idea. Can we all get behind this please and stop trying it?

 

And that’s it for April. Now that I’m done with finals and started the first of my summer internships, I’m planning to read more, write more (  I hope), and of course post more, so stay tuned.

March Reading Roundup

I know, I know, it’s not March anymore. I was all over posting this last week, but my computer seriously died, and that slowed me down a bit. But I’m back now with my March reads.

 

I didn’t read as much last month as I did in January and February. This is partly because I realized I was listening to audiobooks at almost double speed in January and February, and in March I decided to turn that back to normal speed. I also spent a week at home and my family and college friends who visited didn’t let me live constantly in my cave of books.

 

Still, I read fifteen books in March. Four of them were Braille books; the rest were audiobooks. One of them was nonfiction. I continued the series I’ve been reading and started a few new series. I also read a few stand-alone books. I’m now more than halfway to my goal of reading a hundred books this year.

 

Like my previous reading roundup posts, I’m grouping these books by series, for sake of clarity, and I’m trying to keep these thoughts as spoiler-free as possible.

 

First, I continued James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series with the fifth book, Max. At this point, I’ve lost a lot of enthusiasm for the books. We seem to have lost a lot of character development and plot in favor of political messages about global warming. I understand that authors can and do send political messages in their books, but you can’t do it at the expense of, well, basically all the reasons I want to read a book in the first place. I feel like James Patterson tried to get things back on track with this book and fix some of the problems with the last book, because Max’s mom is kidnapped and the kids go off on a submarine to rescue her. But it didn’t work for me. So much of it just strained my willing suspension of disbelief—like the giant sea monsters and the characters gaining crazy new skills whenever it’s convenient for the plot—and it just made the book less fun to read. I’m a completionist, so I’ll keep going, but after book three this series has gone way downhill.

 

Next I read Inkheart, the first book in Cornelia Funke’s Inkworld trilogy. I read this book a long, long time ago, like middle school long ago, but all I remember is that I really liked it. I still really liked it now. It’s kind of a bookworm’s paradise. Meggie’s father can read characters out of books—and people into books. Ten years ago he read the villains out of the book Inkheart and read Meggie’s mother into the book—all accidentally of course. Now the villains are back, and they want Meggie’s father and the book that could be the only way to get her mother back. Reading the book now, I will say that I really wished that Meggie had more agency, because for a lot of it she’s just sort of along for the ride, but I still really enjoyed it and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book.

 

Next, I read The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. This was a fabulously fun book. It’s the book that the movie Home is based on, but I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t compare them. I will say that I had so much fun reading the book. Gratuity—tip—has to write about what the alien invasion meant to her for school, and she has quite a story to tell. When the aliens invaded Earth, they abducted Tip’s mother and sent all the humans in North America to Florida. Tip decides to drive herself and her cat rather than taking the alien transportation. Along the way, she meets an alien who has gotten himself into trouble with his own people, and thus begins a great cross-country road trip in a flying car. This book was just a blast. The plot was strong. The characters were strong. The world-building was strong. The only thing that isn’t my favorite is the framing device of the school essay contest, but the rest of this book was so great that I don’t really care.

 

After that, I read the next towo books in Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Many Waters. Honestly I didn’t like Swiftly Tilting Planet too much, because it really just felt like watching a series of events throughout history, all with characters named the same thing, and our protagonists weren’t obviously doing anything to save the world and yet somehow the world was saved. I liked Many Waters better, partly because it’s one of the more coherent stories in the series and partly because it’s about the twins, who have so far been the normal side characters of the series. Yes, the religious aspect of the book is a little over-the-top for my tastes, but the twins take the time to learn the rules of the world where they have found themselves, and they use the rules to come up with a way to get home. Definitely an enjoyable installment in the series. And I’m looking forward to picking up the final book in the series.

 

Next, I continued the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. This month, I read books seven and eight in the series, The Everaf War and The Inside Story. These books were so intense, but they still maintained the fun adventure tone of the previous books in the series. Still, I was devistated by the big reveal in The Everaf War and the characters’ decisions in The Inside Story. I just got the final book in the series from the library, and I am so excited to read it, but also sad that this series is coming to an end because I have enjoyed it so much.

 

This month’s book club book was Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I listened to the audiobook, and I regret it, because the audiobook was really, really confusing, and based on what I gathered from the book club discussion, I may have actually enjoyed the book if I read it in Braille. It’s written like a play, sort of. It’s complicated. The audiobook had about a hundred and fifty narrators, and it only said the names of who was speaking the first time. The premise is that a bunch of ghosts, for lack of a better word, are trapped in the graveyard where they were buried, like a kind of purgatory. Then Willy Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son, comes along—because he dies. Children can’t stay in the graveyard, and if they do, terrible things happen to them, but Abraham Lincoln comes to the crypt and spends the night holding his son’s body, and Willy Lincoln hangs around, and the other ghosts have to try to get him to move on. Because I was so confused, I really didn’t like the book, but I could recognize how you might like it, if you read it instead of listening to the audiobook.

 

Next, I read War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars by Richard N. Haass. This was another book for my Negotiation and Diplomacy class. I was only assigned half of it, but I read the rest because it was so interesting. Richard Haass worked at the State Department during both Iraq wars. This isn’t a political book, but a comparison of the behind-the-scenes decisions in both wars. My AP American history class—the last history class I took—ended before the first Iraq war, so I admit that I didn’t know much about it. And even though I lived through the start of the second Iraq war, I didn’t really understand what was going on because I was eleven, and everything I did hear was filtered through people who disagreed with the war, so it was interesting to read about both wars and both presidential administrations. If you’re interested in the diplomacy—or lack thereof—during these times, this was an interesting read.

 

Next, I read Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. This is the first book in Tamora Pierce’s new series, the Numair Chronicles, about the childhood of one of the main characters in her Immortals series. I’ve been looking forward to reading this for a long time, and I was not disappointed. It was really interesting to read about Numair’s early years, before he was even called Numair. I never thought I would like Ozorne, who we know will grow to be the evil emperror in the Immortals books. But I did like him in this book, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens to make him change so much. I do wish this book had a bit more of its own plot. As it is, it’s a bit meandering and feels like a lot of setup for what’s to come. But it’s definitely a promising start to a series, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

 

After Tempests and Slaughter, I got back to the Divergent series and reread Allegiant by Veronica Roth. This is every bit as much of a mess as I remember it being. Actually, this time through, it seemed like even more of a mess. The world-building, the plot, the characters, the ending, everything fell flat for me. I could rant on and on and on about this, but I’ll spare you. I will say that I appreciate what Veronica Roth is trying to do with this series—or at least what I think she was trying to do. It’s a really cool idea that with each book, we learn more and more about the world, like piecing a puzzle together. Unfortunately, I don’t think it worked as well as it could have. But I still really like the first and second books in this series, and Allegiant is just going to be one of those things—like the ending of How I Met Your Mother or all of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—that I’ll just pretend never happened.

 

Next, I read the third book in the Giver series, Messenger by Lois Lowry. I really liked Messenger. It pulled everything together from the first two books—The Giver and Gathering Blue. I liked the mystery and the build-up of suspense, and that ending was just heartbreaking and perfect. (Note that I do think it is possible to pull off this kind of ending and still have the book be meaningful, because Lois Lowry did it here, unlike another book I read this month, which I won’t name because of spoilers. If you’ve read both you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

 

Next, I reread The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Susanne Collins. I picked these up again because I was looking for something that had inspired me to write in the past, and rereading these books did in fact give me a little spark of inspiration, so at least I’m thinking about writing again. Now I have to actually write. But rereading these books was a lot of fun because I was able to remind myself just how much I love the first book in the series. The world is rich, the characters are well-developed, and the plot is fast and gut-punchy. And I just adore the ending of the first book—it lands so well. Catching Fire is pretty good too. It definitely has some pacing issues, but I think it deals well with Katniss’s actions at the end of The Hunger Games and also is does a great job creating a plot that is both similar and different from the first book.

 

Finally, I started rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. I finished The Bad Beginning at 11:45 PM on March 31, just to give you a sense of how down-to-wire I was getting. I started rereading this series because a friend recommended that the second book might give me some ideas on ways to edit a chapter I seem to always be stuck on. Basically, in this chapter, the main character, who is an orphan and who has been passed from one abusive foster family to the other, is finally in a place where she thinks she might be able to be happy. The problem is, going from running for her life to sudden happiness is a huge drop in tension. So this friend recommended I reread The Reptile Room—book 2 of the series—because it might give me ideas on how to keep up tension while important happiness is taking place. And of course, because I’m me, I said well okay I’ll just reread the whole series. The new season is coming out on Netflix too so this seems like a great idea. I really enjoyed my reread of The Bad Beginning. It does a good job establishing all the characters and their talents. The tension ramps up appropriately. And it was fun. Looking forward to continuing with this series in April.

 

And that’s it for March. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

February Reading Roundup

If you thought it was crazy that I read eighteen books in January—and I certainly thought so—then get this. I read another eighteen books in February. And February is a short month. Okay so law school is hard, and right now writing is hard, and I tend to stress read. But still. By this time last year, I think I may have read, like, twelve books. Maybe? I am well on my way to trouncing my goal of reading a hundred books this year. And I am seriously freaking myself out. I’m measuring time in the number of books I’ve read.

 

This month, I continued on with the series I’m in the middle of, started a couple new series, read some cool stand-alone novels, and read three more nonfiction books. In the past two months, I think I’ve surpassed my record for the number of nonfiction books I’ve voluntarily read in a year by about a factor of three. I’m also continuing with my goal of reading more books in Braille this year instead of just all audiobooks all the time, and this month I read seven books in Braille. Not too shabby.

 

As with my January reading roundup, I’m doing my best to keep my thoughts on these books spoiler-free. Also, these books aren’t listed in precisely the order I read them in, because I wanted to keep books in a series together. So without further ado, here are the eighteen books I read in February 2018.

 

First, I finally got back to James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. I read books 2 through 4 this month: School’s Out Forever, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, and The Final Warning. School’s Out Forever and Saving the World etc. did a really good job of continuing what the first book started—the flock’s search for the truth and Max’s mission to save the world. There was some really great character development too. I have to say the explanation of what had really been going on in the end of Saving the World etc. left a lot to be desired, so I kept reading, hoping for more on that. The Final Warning was a major disappointment. The books went all political at the expense of pretty important things like plot and character. I’m pressing on because I’m a completionist that way and I’m hoping they’ll pick up, but it was a serious drop in quality after the third book, and I’m pretty sure at this point it would have been better to stop after book 3. But we’ll see.

 

Next, I read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This was a really interesting book, all about behavioral psychology and how our brains work, but while I found it interesting, I also found it really boring. It was too long, and most of the examples were visual, which I found very frustrating. But if you’re interested in this kind of stuff, this was definitely  a very readable book.

 

After that, I read Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody, which I talk about a bit in this post. I really really liked this book. Sorina is an illusionist in a traveling carnival, but someone is killing her illusions. There’s a healthy dash of political intrigue, really interesting magic, and romance. It was fast-paced and full of feelings and really well-done. My one problem, and it’s a big one for me, is that Sorina has no eyes, but this doesn’t affect her because of her magic. For a while it seemed like Foody was going to do something really cool with this, but she didn’t. And as I’ve discussed multiple times the disabled-but-not-because-magic thing really bothers me, because it’s an attempt to represent disability without capturing any of the real struggles that someone with a disability faces. It’s true that Sorina is treated differently because she’s visibly deformed—she’s even called a freak—but there’s so much more that people with disabilities have to face that it felt feeble. So as much as I liked this book, it ultimately didn’t stand up for me.

 

I also read Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This was a middle grade book about a girl learning about what happened on September 11, fifteen years after the attacks. But the book tackles other huge issues, like homelessness and race and trauma. This was a really great book, and it reminds me of a Madeleine L’Engle quote which I fundamentally believe in: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

 

Next was A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb. This book is about two ghosts who find each other after decades of floating around haunting places and people. They take over the bodies of high school students which don’t have spirits and fall in love and deal with their hosts’ seriously disfunctional families. This was a really interesting premise and on the whole well-executed, but I could never really figure out how someone could be a totally functional human being without a spirit inside, and that kept throwing me out of the story. I also found it to be a little too sentimental, especially in the end. So not one of my favorites, but a decent book.

 

Now, with twenty-four books under my belt for the year I decided it was time for a reread. So I picked up Divergent, and then Insurgent, by Veronica Roth. I realize that these books are far from perfect, but I still really like them, particularly Insurgent, which I feel handles the fallout from Divergent very well and is on the whole pretty nuanced.

 

I also continued with Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm series. This month, I read books 5 and 6: Magic and Other Misdemeanors and Tales from the Hood. I’m still really enjoying these books. They’re so much fun, and with each book we’re putting one more piece in the puzzle. I have the next one from the library now and I can’t wait to get started on it.

 

Next, I read City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this. It’s a stand-alone young adult book set in contemporary Kenya. It’s half mystery, half thriller, half revenge quest (and yes I know that’s three halves). Tina is trying to get revenge for her mother’s murder, but she discovers there’s more to it than she thinks, and she sets out on a journey to figure it all out and discover the truth. This was a really fast, exciting, excellent book.

 

I went home for the long weekend for President’s Day, and since I’d started myself on a dystopian kick with Divergent, I picked up my Braille copy of The Giver, and then its sequel, Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry. This was kind of a freaky experience for me. I can’t believe that I read The Giver when I was ten. Granted, I think most of the horror went right over my head then, but still, yikes! For me, this was another book that was seminal in my understanding of dystopian worlds, and it was only when I reread it now that I realized how much it ‘has influenced some of my writing, which is a weird feeling too, let me tell you. Anyway, if you don’t know, The Giver takes place in a futuristic, dystopian society where to prevent conflict everything about the characters’ lives is micromanaged, including their feelings. When Jonas turns twelve, he becomes the Receiver of Memory, entrusted with all the memories of the time before Sameness. The GIVER passes on the memories, and Jonas learns about color, and pain, and war, and love. And of course he learns a terrible truth about his community and decides to right it. I absolutely love this book, creepiness and all. We’re fully inside Jonas’s head, so that the highly regulated community where he lives feels natural, even as we the reader can see what is creepy about it. I found Gathering Blue, which is more of a companion novel than a sequel, to be a lot less intriguing. It’s set in another village in this futuristic world, but this village is very primitive. For example, anyone born with a disability or injured beyond a certain point is killed. The main character, Kira, has a twisted leg, but her mother protected her and refused to let them kill her. But when her mother dies, Kira is in danger again. Except she has some kind of magical power with thread that the town leaders want, and so her life is spared. Over the course of the book, Kira learns how to refine her craft with her threads, and also uncovers another terrible secret about the town. The problem that I had with this book was that Kira had very little agency. It’s a lot of stuff happening to Kira, rather than Kira making things happen herself. This feels particularly problematic when compared with the message that Kira’s mother tried so hard to send to her daughter and to the other villagers, that people with disabilities can do things of value. Also, in general I found the world in Gathering Blue less intriguing than I did in The Giver. I think I enjoyed Gathering Blue more the first time I read it because I accidentally read Messenger—the third book in the series before I read Gathering Blue, and since Gathering Blue and Messenger are more tightly connected it worked better for me. I’m looking forward to rereading Messenger and seeing how it works coming after The Giver and Gathering Blue, and I just found out that there’s a fourth book I never knew about, so it will be interesting to see if it can all be tied together.

 

I finally got back to the Anne of Green Gables books by L. M. Montgomery. I read the first six books last year, and in February, I read the seventh book in the series, Rainbow Valley. The books aren’t about Anne anymore, which is a huge disappointment. This book wasn’t even about Anne’s kids. It was about the new minister’s kids and their crazy stunts that they didn’t realize were horrible things to be doing. I enjoyed the kids’ shenanigans, but after a while they became kind of dull because it always wound up that someone was scandalized and the kids hadn’t meant to scandalize anyone so they hadn’t really done anything wrong. Basically, this was a book about a bunch of perfect kids making mistakes that I didn’t really care about. The only reason I pressed through it is because I’m excited about the next book in the series, which according to the plot summary is about Anne’s youngest daughter adopting an orphan during World War I. Should be interesting.

 

Next, I read Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil. This was another book where I read the first chapter for a class and then picked up the whole thing because it was interesting. It was a fascinating read. First, it gives a simple, comprehensible explanation of how machine learning works (which I found very helpful for my Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence course). Then it gives several examples of how biased data algorithms are causing problems in everything from recidivism models, teacher performance evaluations, credit scores, college loans, work schedules, and more that I can’t think of off the top of my head. This was a fast, easy read, and it greatly impacted how I think about our society right now. Bonus, Cathy O’Neill actually came to talk to our class, and it was really great. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in social justice and artificial intelligence.

 

After that, I read Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel. I really enjoyed this book, but fair warning, it isn’t really about Galileo’s daughter. It’s about Galileo. It tells his life story, particularly through his interactions with his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun. I learned so much about Galileo that I didn’t know before, and if you’re interested in history of science, this is definitely a good book to pick up.

 

Finally, I rounded off February with Jack Cheng’s delightful and heartbreaking middle grade novel, See You in the Cosmos. Last year, when I read Every Soul A Star and Counting by 7s, I discovered a genre of contemporary middle grade books about kids obsessed with science, and I fell in love. See You In the Cosmos is one of those books, and it’s just great. It’s written as a series of recordings that eleven-year-old Alex is making on his golden iPod, which he hopes to launch into space aboard his rocket Voyager 3—he figures aliens won’t be able to listen to the golden record sent up with the earlier Voyager spaceships. So he sets out to go to a rocket festival to launch Voyager 3 into space, and he ends up taking a road trip of his life with a bunch of fun quirky characters, and learning about a whole lot more than space. It was a bit episodic at times, but on the whole, this book was such fun, and so sweet, and so beautiful. Also, if you like audiobooks, this was a great book to listen too. Definitely going to be one of my favorites for the year.

 

And that’s it. As much as I’m enjoying this mega reading spree, I’m hoping I won’t read as much in March, because I’m hoping to break out of this writer’s block I’m kind of stuck in. more on that later. Probably. In the meattime, have you read any of the books I read last month? What did you think of them?

January Reading Roundup

I realize it’s actually March now, but bear with me. I’ve decided to try something new here. I thought, since I’ve already read so many books this year, that I would briefly go through all the books I read each month, my favorites and not so favorites, in a blog post. I’m keeping these thoughts spoiler-free, so if you haven’t read any of these books, you can read on without fear. So here we go.

 

My 2018 reading challenge on Goodreads is to read one hundred books, and I hit the ground running, reading eighteen books in January. These weren’t all four hundred page epics, certainly, and most of them were audiobooks, so I was reading while doing other things like cooking and laundry. I did read four books in Braille, and three of the books I read this month were nonfiction, which may be a record for me. Whatever kind of books I read, this many books is pretty much unheard of for me, and it’s kind of freaking me out.

 

Note that in the interest of clarity and also not writing a novel of my own here, I’ve put books that are all part of the same series together in this list, even though I generally read them with at least one book in between them.

 

First, I finished The Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo. I read the first five books in this series last December, so I started out this year with books 6, 7, and 8: Charlie Bone and the Beast, Charlie Bone and the Shadow, and Charlie Bone and the Red Knight. I enjoyed these books, but I certainly didn’t enjoy them as much as the first five books in the series. Honestly, the series could have ended after Book 5, because the main mysteries had been solved and the bad guys had been defeated. These books introduced new characters—good and bad guys—and a new set of mysteries and challenges for our scrappy band of magical children. Charlie’s parents have gone off on a second honeymoon, but the Bloors know that Charlie’s father has hidden a will that  may say their fortune actually belongs to Billy, so they bring in a guy who can control the oceans all over the world to drown Charlie’s parents while they’re whale watching. Meanwhile Charlie has to contend with the ocean-moving guy’s creepy son at school, the evil sorcerer from the earlier books has captured Billy, and the kids’ enemies among the other Endowed are trying to close down the Pets’ Café–a terrible fate to be sure. So lots of great stuff going on. I’d say that the writing was stronger, the characters were more nuanced, and the main mystery was more central to the plot of these three books. This whole series was definitely really fun.

 

Next, I read The Angel Experiment by James Patterson, the first book in the Maximum Ride series. I reae this book way back when I was in middle school, but I just discovered that the audiobook that I had was abridged. Blegh. So I found the udabridged book in Braille and read it, and let me tell you, it makes way more sense when you have the whole book. Max and her five “siblings” are 98% human, b% bird. They have wings and can fly, and they’ve escaped from the super scary science lab where they were created. They’ve been on the run and on their own for two years when the bad guys show up again and kidnap Angel, the youngest member of the flock. Rescue and adventures and a quest for the truth ensues. This was an fast-paced, action-packed, fun book. Max has a great voice, and it’s obvious that so much is going on that we don’t know about yet.  Because of this, it sometimes didn’t make a lot of sense what the bad guys’ motives were, but since this is the first in a series, I forgave that. On the whole a pretty good read.

 

Next was The Power by Naomi Alderman. This was the first book of the year for my book club. Basically the premise is that women develop the ability to electrocute people with their fingers, and they quickly rise to become the dominant gender. The book follows four main characters, three women and one man, through the early years of this new world order. The book spans about ten years, I think, and the whole world, and it’s a really interesting exploration of gender politics. There was a little too much graphic sex and violence (including rape) for my taste, but I also appreciate that a large part of the book was to make the reader uncomfortable. The writing was also very good, and I sped through this book. Despite all this, there was something about this book that just didn’t work for me. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what that is, but I can’t. This goes back to my discussion of my gut feeling in how I review books in this post. Objectively, this was a really good book. I just didn’t really like it.

 

I also continued the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, which I started at the very end of last December. Over the course of January, I read books 2, 3, and 4 of this series: The Unusual Suspects, The Problem Child, and Once Upon a Crime. These books are just so much fun I can’t stand it. Yes, they’re a bit episodic, and yes, Sabrina is still a bit of a jerk, but I like her anyway, and I love Puc. and as episodic as each book is within the larger series, they each add to the larger mystery. If like middle grade fiction and quirky retold fairytales, these books are for you.

 

Next, I finally got off the waitlist at the library for The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. All I have to say here is that if you haven’t read this book, you need to go read it now. That being said, I’m going to break with all the hype and say that it isn’t a perfect book. It has a lot of disconnected subplots that mostly come together in the end, and there are parts where it drags. But honestly, I don’t mind so much. If you don’t already know, here’s the basic premise: When sixteen-year-old Star sees her best friend shot by a police officer at a traffic stop, she has to decide whether to speak up or not. This is a deeply emotional and beautiful look into a very important issue in our country, and it should be required reading.

 

When I was home for Martin Luther King Day weekend, I piaked up and reread my braille copy of A Wrinkle in Time and its sequel, A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle. Now I remember really liking these books when I was a kid, though I didn’t get past the first two because they were the only ones I had in Braille and this was before the days of refreshable Braille displays and digital Braille files. The world of Camazotz and It from A Wrinkle in Time is still the first thing I picture when I hear the word “dystopian.” But now that I’m older, I found the books to be pretty weird. Now I have a high tolerance for weird, but these were just really weird, especially A Wind in the Door. I also found the books to be a little too moralizing for my tastes. But I still enjoyed them, and I’m really looking forward to the movie this month and to reading the next book in the series (I have it from the library now).

 

Next, I read The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel. A lot of the reviews I read on Goodreads were upset that this book was more about the astronomy and the history of astronomy than the social movement of female computers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but since I’m an astronomy geek and that’s what I was in it for, I didn’t mind. So yeah, a hundred years before Hidden Figures, the Harvard Observatory was hiring female computers, and The Glass Universe tells their story, from the days of photospectroscopy on glass plates all the way through World War II. I found this book to be an absolutely fascinating read, though it might be difficult if you don’t already know a bit about the science, and if you have any interest in astronomy or the history of science or the work of female computers, I highly recommend you check this book out.

 

After that, I dove back into fiction with I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is probably one of my all-time favorite books (I’ll probably reread it sometime this year because it’s been a while). I tried really hard not to judge I Am the Messenger against The Book Thief, and I think I mostly succeeded. I enjoyed I Am the Messenger, which is about a perfectly ordinary kid in Australia who’s life becomes extraordinary when he starts receiving mysterious message he has to deliver all over town. These aren’t written letters or anything. They’re puzzles that he has to solve to find people who need help and to help them. And the ending was a twist I didn’t see coming. All in all, it was a pretty good book, but honestly it just didn’t drag me in the way I expected it to, and I finished it with a general feeling of “well, okay, that’s done. What’s next?”

 

Next was the Shanghai Girls duology, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See. I absolutely loved Shanghai Girls. It’s a sprawling family epic about two sisters who immigrate from China to the United States because of arranged marriages, but along the way they are kidnapped by Japanese soldiers, held at Angel Island, and other harrowing things that I won’t say because I don’t want to spoil it. It was so well-put-together and so intricate. I will say that without the sequel, the ending would have sucked, but since there was a sequel, it was okay. I didn’t enjoy Dreams of Joy as much as Shanghai Girls. It was more of a slow burn, and it was more predictable, but it completed the first book nicely. On the whole, a really good series, and I recommend.

 

At the same time I was reading the Shanghai Girls books, I had to reread Getting to Yes: Negotiating An Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton for a class. Since it isn’t a case book, I’m counting it towards my reading challenge. I actually read this book last year for the negotiations workshop I took. It was required reading for the Negotiating and Drafting International Business Transactions course I’m taking. Since the Negotiations Workshop, I’ve delved so deeply into negotiations that I felt it would be a good idea to get a refresher on the basics, so I reread it. Getting to Yes is an excellent and easy-to-read primer on win-win negotiations, and if you’re at all interested in learning to negotiate effectively, I highly recommend it.

 

After that, I read Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. This book is another book about immigrants, two Irish sisters who immigrate to Boston in the 1950s. It alternates between the past, when the sisters are settling into life in Boston, and the present, when a car accident forces the estranged sisters back together. It was a pretty good book, on the whole. I especially enjoyed the writing. But it was pretty bland, and the concept was so similar to the premise of Shanghai Girls—and I’m not just talking about the immigrating sisters here—that it was hard not to compare them. And Saints For All Occasions was just missing something that Shanghai Girls had. I think if I hadn’t read Shanghai Girls, I would have enjoyed this book a lot, because I wouldn’t have the comparison. But there you have it.

 

Finally, I rounded off January with Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight by Robert Mnookin. This was a book for my Negotiation and Diplomacy class this semester. We only had to read the first three chapters or so, but I was so interested I kept reading. What I really liked about this book was that it provided some nuance to the negotiation framework I’ve been studying for the last three semesters. Instead of just talking about how to negotiate and how negotiation is better than litigation, this book actually explores times when it may be appropriate not to negotiate. It goes through several historical examples, including Churchill’s famous decision not to negotiate with Hitler. It also looks at more personal examples, such as divorce, inheritance, and business disputes. As with Getting To Yes, this book is interesting and easy to read.  So if you are interested in negotiations and want to add another layer to your understanding of it, this is a good book for you.

 

So that’s what I read this past January. I’ll be back soon with my February reads. In the meantime, have you read any of these books? Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? Let me know what you think in the comments.