Reading Through 2017

2017 is drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been. Personally, I survived my first year of law school, worked for the summer at the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and started my second year of law school. I am now halfway through law school. After exploring and discarding several possible career paths, I have decided to go into space law—as in outer space. I also published two short stories this year. “Seven Signs Your Roommate is a Vampire: With Additional Advice On Surviving Orientation If It’s More Complicated” was published in issue #68 of Andromeda Spaceways, and “Polaris in the Dark” was published in the 2018 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology. Finally, my Seeing Eye dog, Mopsy, had to retire in May. She just became too anxious to keep guiding me safely. It was heartbreaking for me to retire Mopsy, and it’s still heartbreaking, even though she is now a healthy, happy pet with my parents. I returned to the Seeing Eye in July and was match with my second Seeing Eye dog, Neutron, and we’ve been flying around Cambridge ever since.

 

I also read a lot. I set a goal to read 50 books this year. I read 77. I did a fair amount of rereading of old favorites, especially around exam times. Favorite books are like literary comfort food.  Of the new books I read, most were fine, but they were just fine. A few were downright terrible. And some were truly exemplary. Here are my favorites:

 

Heartless by Marissa Meyer: I expected a lot from this book after Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. This book did not live up to my very high expectations, but I really did enjoy it. It’s the story of the Queen of Hearts and how she became The Queen of Hearts. The writing was great, and the world was a lot of fun, and the ending was hearbreaking and beautiful.

 

In a Glass Grimmly and The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz: I read the first book in this series, A Tale Dark and Grimm, in summer 2016, but didn’t get to the second or third books before the end of the year. So I finished the series this year. It was great. While the first book retold all the stories of Hansel and Gretel, the second book told new stories about Jack and Jill (the ones who go up the hill and fall down). Except Jack is also the same Jack from Jack and the Beanstock, so there are giants involved. The third book is a mash’?eaup of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Juniper Tree, and The Boy Who Left Home To Find Fear (which is a great title), plus a truly amazing metafictional arc. The narrator’s voice and snark reminds me a bit of Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events, which made it super fun even with all the blood and guts. Seriously I was laughing out loud throughout this whole book. So if you like retold fairy stales, snark, and can tolerate a fair amount of blood and guts, you’re sure to enjoy these books.

 

Dangerous by Shannon Hale: Space camp goes wrong and teenagers get superpowers from alien techildrenlogy and then have to save the world from an alien invasion, all with a dash of evil megalomaniacs, conniving scientists, and teenage romance. The Goodreads reviews on this book were split between those who hated it with a fiery passion and those who loved it to pieces. I’ve always liked Shannon Hale’s books, so I gave it a try. I really enjoyed it, and I would say that it is a decently good book. It was fun, fast, and action-packed. There was a little too much romance for me, and the middle of the book got kind of weird. Also the protagonist is a half-Latina girl with a disability, and though some aspects of the representation of her disability were upsetting to me, by the end of the book most of my issues resolved. On the whole, I had a lot of fun with this book. There was space and science and space and geekiness and space and fun gadgets (seriously I want Maisie’s impact boots) and did I mention space? What I particularly liked about this book was that while the stakes were high with the whole save-the-world plot, there were also very high, very personal stakes that kept the story grounded. So if you like whacky science fiction adventure with space and aliens and superpowers and romance, this book might be for you.

 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: I read this book for book club, and there was a lot to enjoy about it. The emotions were so raw and realistic, and I enjoyed the multiple perspectives on the same moments. It sort of reminded me of the World War II Italy novella I wrote for my senior honors thesis at Kenyon (the one that is still languishing in a drawer but I’ve been thinking about it). There was virtually no overlap in the subject matter between this book and my WWII Italy project; it just had a similar feel to me. Lydia, the favorite daughter of the mixed-race Lee family, is dead. I’m not spoiling anything; that’s how the book starts. The story is about how the different members of the family cope with her death and try to understand what happened to her. We also get Lydia’s point of view throughout the book. I do have to say I could only read this book in small bites because either the emotions were just too much or because I got kind of frustrated with the characters. There were definitely times when it felt like one of those sitcom episodes where if the characters would just sit down and talk about what happened, all the problems would get resolved and no one would be dead. We decided in our book club discussion that Everything I Never Told You was a very apt title, because no one was telling anybody anything. But by the end of the book, I was in tears. Also, sentence to sentence, word to word, the writing is beautiful, and I can be a sucker for that (as long as the rest of the book is good too).

 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: This book was beautiful. It’s a new adult book, about a girl going off to college with her twin sister, but her sister wants to put some space between them, her creative writing professor is crushingly disappointed that she’s writing fanfiction, and basically she has to figure out life and friends and writing her own stories. This book hit me like a punch in the gut. A fabulous, fabulous punch in the gut. But there were definitely moments when it was too real. I can totally relate to so much of it. I don’t have a twin sister, and I never actually wrote fanfiction before college (and I’ve only started, and haven’t finished, a fanfic since I went to college). But I definitely had serious social anxiety around eating in the dining hall when I first went to college and I always felt kind of out of place in the creative writing program because I generally prefer to write young adult speculative fiction rather than literary fiction, and I felt like some professors could have an unfortunate attitude towards genre fiction in the creative writing program. Also, the ideas of growing up and Harry Potter ending and everything in this book were really relatable. Basically this book is beautiful and everyone should read it.

 

Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh: This is a middle grade short story collection produced by We Need Diverse Books, all about the impact that reading and learning has on kids. Each story featured a character from an underrepresented group in fiction. I really enjoyed all the stories—though some were a little younger than I like to read. They were fun and adorable and the message about reading and diversity is so important. I definitely recommend.

 

Miss Perregrine’s Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs: This whole series was a wild ride, but if you’re willing to go with it, it’s a blast. When his grandfather is killed by a monster only Jacob can see, he goes on a journey to learn about his grandfather’s past and winds up travelling through time (sort of) and battling the monsters and their masters alongside his grandfather’s childhood friends (who happen to still be children). This is the best description I can give. But it makes sense in the books I swear. This has to be one of the most bizzarre series I’ve read in a while, but it was a ton of fun and once I got into it I couldn’t put it down.

 

Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery: I read Anne of Green Gables years ago when I was growing up. I have it in Braille—it’s six volumes. This summer, I reread Anne of Green Gables in preparation for watching the new Netflix show, which is quite good by the way. I really enjoyed reading about Anne’s adventures, and it all took on so much more meaning now that I’m older. And then I discovered that Anne’s adventures didn’t end with Anne of Green Gables, so I kept reading. By this point, I have actually read the first six books in the series, but in my opinion the series goes downhill after the third book. Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne of the Island are definitely worth reading, though, whatever age you are.

 

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: This was another book club book. We read Behold the Dreamers  over the summer in conjunction with Lucky Boy, which I’ll talk about next. Behold the Dreamers tells the story of two families affected by the financial crisis in 2007, a family of Cameroonian immigrants struggling to get a foothold in New York and the family of the Wall Street executive they work for. The whole book is from the point of view of the immigrants, which I really love. We see the struggles of these two very different families, and even though their struggles are different, they are their struggles. This is a sad but realistic perspective on the American dream.

 

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran: This is another story about immigrants. We read Lucky Boy for book club over the summer with Behold the Dreamers. The two books actually pair really well tgr.d and I recommend reading them together. Lucky Boy also  tells the stories of two families, a young woman who immigrates to America illegally from Mexico, becomes pregnant along the way, gives birth in America, and struggles to raise her son, and a second-generation Indian couple desperate to have a child. The immigrant is detained and her child is placed in foster care with the couple, who fall in love with him and take steps to adopt him. This is an  intense look at the immigration and foster care systems in California, as well as a heartbreaking contemplation of parenthood, because there is no good ending to this story.

 

Hiroshima by John Hersey: I don’t normally read nonfiction. I do enough of that for class. But when I was at the Seeing Eye training with Neutron this summer, there was a library of hardcopy Braille books, and anyone who knows me knows that when possible, I prefer to read in hardcopy Braille. There’s nothing quite like holding an actual book in your hands. Hiroshima was one of the books in this library, and since anyone who knows me also knows I have a minor World War II obsession, one thing led to another and I read the book. I’m the first to admit that my WWII obsession is more to do with the war in Europe than the war in the Pacific, and honestly I didn’t know much about what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki except that an atomic bomb was dropped. I found the book Hiroshima, which chronicled the events in the city from the points of view of several people who lived through the bomb, to be rich in detail. Gruesome detail to be sure, but I think it is important to know these details, and I was glad I was able to read this book.

 

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh: I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would, and this was a pleasant surprise. It takes place in a fantasy world mirroring ancient Japan. The daughter of an honored samurai is on her way to marry the prince when her convoy is attacked. Assassins have been hired to kill her. There were times when the writing was a bit telly for me, and I was underwhelmed by the romantic subplot, but the book gripped me from start to finish. The characters were really intricate, and the plot was fast-paced and full of secrets and complications. I’m really looking forward to the sequel next year.

 

The Book of Ember trilogy by Jeanne DuPrau: There are technically four books in this series, but the third is a prequel and is neither necessary to underst  the books nor worth bothering with, in my opinion. The main trilogy, The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, and the Diamond of Darkhold detail the adventures of two children from Ember, an isolated city in a world of complete darkness. The generator that powers Ember is failing, and when the kids find a half-destroyed set of instructions, they go in search of a way to leave the city. These are fun and action-packed science fiction books, with a lot of adventure and some really interesting world-building. I’ve been trying to read more science ficong books this year, and these were a great start.

 

Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab: I can’t believe it took me so long to discover these books. Acsually, I can because my to read list is over 500 books long. The best that can be said about my delayed discovery is that I didn’t have to wait for the conclusion. These books were just remarkable. There are four worlds, each with a city named London, each with different amounts of magic. Only a few people can travel between the worlds, but a dark magic is threatening all the worlds. I’m doing a poor job of describing these books, but they’re really fabulous. I was gripped from start to finish, and the books have stayed with me since. I would love to go back and reread them at some point, now that I’ve finished them.

 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: This is another book club book. Half the people in book club really didn’t like this book, but I did. There are two storylines in this book: in 1939, five children are kidnapped from their family’s shantyboat on the Mississippi and taken to a brutal orphanage as part of an elaborate adoption scheme where poor children were sold to rich families from the 1920s through the 1950s; in the present day, a young lawyer comes home to care for her ill father and discovers her family’s secret connection to the past child trafficking scandal. In my opinion, the present-day story is bad, and the book would be stronger without it. But the story in the past is really gripping, and I was fascinated to learn about this episode in our own history which I had never heard of before. I would certainly recommend this book, though with the reservation that the present storyline is kind of a waste of slace.

 

Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass: Three kids meet at a camp ground and witness a total solar eclipse. Each of the kids grows and learns and changes because of the other kids. This is a really sweet, heartwarming book which is also full of space nerdiness, so all in all, perfect.

 

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan: This was another heartwarming middle grade book. When her parents are killed in a car accident, a twelve-year-old genius is taken in by a friend, and her journey dealing with her grief and aclimating to life with her surogate family changes her and all the people around her.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon: This book was slow to start but picked up and had me in tears by the end. When Christopher’s neighbor’s dog is killed, he sets out to solve the mystery and ends up uncovering many more secrets about his family along the way. I think this book ,s a thoughtful representation of someone with autism, though of course it should not be taken as indicative of the experiences of everyone on the spectrum. I was particularly impressed with the amount of agency Christopher had, and I loved his voice and character and was routing for him the whole way. A very good read.

 

The 2018 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide edited by Sean Weaver and Corie Weaver: This is a collection of science fiction short stories for kids, all featuring diverse characters—girls, kids of different races, and kids with disabilities. Yes, my story “Polaris in the Dark” is in this anthology, but it’s really a great collection of stories. Aliens, robots, space, science, and kids having adventures fill all the pages. I read this whole book in one sitting, because I was having so much fun. Each story was like its own little gem, and I recommend this book to everyone, whatever age you are.

 

The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley: When the sisters Grimm are sent to live with the grandmother they’d believed to be dead, they discover that they are descended from the Brothers Grimm and it is their destiny to solve crimes in the community of fairytale creatures. They’ve just begun their training when their grandmother is kidnapped by a giant. This was a really fun and exciting book, and I can’t wait to get into the rest of the series.

 

The Children of the Red King books 1-5 by Jenny Nimmo: I just finished the fifth book of this series today. There are three more books, but unfortunately I won’t be able to read the next three books in the next three hours. The first book, Midnight for Charlie Bone, was another book that i own in hardcopy Braille, reread this year, and discovered there was more to the series. I have really enjoyed these books so far. They’re not perfect, certainly, but they’re a lot of fun. Charlie is one of the Children of the Red King, endowed with the ability to travel into photographs and paintings and speak to the people in the past. Because of his power, he is forced to attend Bloor’s Academy, where he discovers all sorts of sinister plots and works to make things right with his friends. I’m looking forward to diving into the rest of this series in the new year.

 

And that’s it. 2018 is just around the corner, filled with new books to read, new stories to write, and of course more law school. I’m going to try to read a hundred books next year. I need to make a dent in that to-read list, after all. I also want to get back into blogging more regularly. Neutron is nudging me with his paw because he hasn’t had a chance to say hello yet. And I want to finish the ten or so writing projects I started in 2017.

 

Happy New Year!

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Other Favorite Books Before 2015

Welcome to part 2 of my discussion of my favorite books. This is the second half of the books on my book recs page that I read before 2015. If you missed the first part, it’s here, and if you’re interested in further exploration into my literary mind, check out my favorite books of 2015. The books here are historical fiction and contemporary, young adult and adult alike.

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: I first read this in Turin in the summer of 2012. I vividly recall beginning to read it on the beach at Le Cinque Terre, and then continuing to read it on the train ride back to Turin. After that… I don’t much know where I was or what I was doing besides reading this book. I loved the characterization of Death as the storyteller. I loved the setting, the integration of the German language, the story of the ordinary people in Germany during World War II, and the multiple layers that each character had. I cried so hard at the ending that my ears popped and I seriously alarmed some Italians passing my open apartment door at the time. The Book Thief is definitely one of my all-time favorite books, and it really influenced how I inevitably wrote my honors thesis a year later.

 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: I read this book in one sitting, one summer when I was back from college and my brother was just finishing up his year in high school. I was supposed to be helping him finish an essay, but he didn’t really need my help, so I was just hanging out in the room (in case he did need help) reading this book. And because it seems to be a pattern with these books, I again started balling my eyes out, which really freaked my brother out. This book is beautiful. It’s the story of a Chinese American boy falling in love with a Japanese American girl right before her whole family is taken to the internment camps during World War II. It also tells the story of the boy, forty years later, now a man, beginning to search for the girl again when the belongings of several interned Japanese families in the basement of a hotel. I’m not going to lie, I found the story in the past much more gripping than the story in the present, but they came together really nicely. It’s a story about a time in history I don’t know a lot about—the Japanese internment—I know a lot about World War II in general. I’d like to read more about it.

 

Atonement by Ian McEwan: I read this book for the first time in high school, when most of it went right over my head. Then I read it again right before my senior year of college, as part of the many books I read as I was preparing to write and then as I was writing my thesis novella. All I can really say about it—without giving spoilers—is that it’s an incredibl novel, and if you haven’t read it, you should.

 

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: This is another book I read for my thesis. Unfortunately, I was also experiencing lots of eye pain at the time too, so I don’t remember a lot of specifics about the book. I do remember being fascinated by it. It is an intricate look at how our choices affect our lives—the main character is continually dying at various points in her life, being reborn and living all over again with different outcomes each time basd on different choices. It’s also very similar to a game I like to play while reading a book or even writing one. If you’d just gone left instead of right. If you’d just said something. How would a different choice change the story? And that’s what this book is about.

 

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian: I read this my first year of high school, and then again in the fall of 2014. This is another fantastic book that if you haven’t read it, you need to. It’s about the Armenian genocide in 1915, so be warned: a lot of people die. But it is a beautiful, beautiful book. I’m pretty sure it’s based on the true story of the author’s grandfather. It’s a very fast read, and it is most definitely worth it.

 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I read this just before Christmas, 2015. It’s about a blind girl in World War II France. I’ve read a lot of World War II books, and honestly this on was only so-so whn compared to some of the others, but it did hook me, and I loved the representation of people with disabilities in this time. It felt very realistic to me. This book is also the reason I wrote my first story about a blind character myself.

 

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Another book I read for my thesis, though very late in the process—I think over Spring break when my thesis was due April 1. It’s about a boy who is sent a set of tapes from his dead classmate that give thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. It is a very emotionally raw book, but it also felt real and very important.

 

Veronica Mars books by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham: I read these after I finished watching the TV show. They certainly weren’t as tightly packed as the show, but I still really enjoyed them and I’m hoping there will be more.

 

Digging to America by Anne Tyler: This book felt more like a short story collection than a novel, because each chapter was so contained, but I did really enjoy it. It was sort of a relaxing read, about adoption and immigration and what it means to be American.

 

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster: I read this a few times for various classes and because it was on the reading list for the senior honors exam at Kenyon. I’ve also written a few papers on it, so I could wax eloquent about themes and imagery and structure and social and historical commentary, but all I’m going to say is that this is a great story that eluminates a moment of change in India.

 

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: Like A Passage to India, I read this for a few different classes and then for the senior honors exam. I’ve written a few papers on it as well, and I most enjoy talking about it through the lens of the importance of memory. (I know, I know. My English major is showing.) But again, it’s just a good story and worth a read.

 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: Another honors exam book, but this one was not only interesting from an English major standpoint. It was also fun to read. It reminded me of A Prayer for Owen Meany, which is also somewhere on this list. Also, I’ve always been interested in Latin American history.

 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith: This is one more book that I read for my thesis. I’ve lost most of the specifics (an exploding eye will do that to two months of your life), but it was really fast and really gripping. Also, possibly the first time I’ve wanted a truly horrible person to succeed, even if I wanted him to get caught at the same time.

 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult: I went through this period in high school where I read like five or six Jodi Picoult books all at once. This is one of my favorites, though the ending annoys me to no end. It’s an interesting premise, and the plot takes all kinds of turns along the way. I will say, however, that this is the rare book where I enjoyed the movie more.

 

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult: This book is my all-time favorite Jodi Picoult book (of the five or six that I read). Every single book that she’s written that I’ve read has a twist ending that sometimes works but sometimes doesn’t. Keeping Faith doesn’t have a twist. It just has the plain right, natural ending.

 

A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass: This is another book I read in Turin, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve always found synesthesia in all its forms to be fascinating, but the real power of this book, the loss of a beloved pet, didn’t hit me until five months later, when we lost our yellow lab, Kokopelli, to bone cancer.

 

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: I read this in high school in my AP Literature class, and it is still one of my favorite books.

 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseni: I read this one summer in high school, and I found it so profound and relevant that it has stuck with me.

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Housseni: I read this right after The Kite Runner, and it had the same effect. It’s been a while since I read both these books, so I don’t really know how to describe why I liked them so much, except that they were just incredible.

 

Tortoll and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce: This book was just so much fun, filled with all kinds of short stories, both fantasy and more literary, set in our world and Tamora Pierce’s other universes. It’s a great read.

 

In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss: These stories were all just beautiful. Every one was like its own tiny world, with so much to explore and enjoy.

 

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi: I read this for my thesis, and it was really interesting. Each story is named after a different element of the period table, and it’s a mix of stories that the author wrote during his experiences in World War II Italy and snippets of autobiography of those experiences.

 

The Assisi Underground by Alexander Rumati: This book is really excellent. I read it for my thesis, and then it was fascinating to reread it after spending a year in Assisi. It’s about the priests who hid Jews from the Nazis in Assisi, Italy. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in World War II or Italian history.

 

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Another thesis research book, and a fabulous one. Again, I strongly recommend. It was fast but still well-written and emotionally moving.

 

Half the Sky by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristoff: I read this the summer of 2012, after my second year at Alpha. Another Alphan recommended I read this book to help me with revisions with my short story “The Year of Salted Skies,” which later was the third runner-up for the 2014 Dell Award, so those revisions paid off. But this book was definitely worth reading for more than making thoughtful revisions to a story. It’s about sex trafficking, and I think it’s a book that everyone should read.

 

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine: I read this right before Christmas in 2014, right before I started my final major revisions on my small child magician novel. I love this book because, let’s be honest, I agree one hundred percent with the writing advice it gives, and it’s also just plain fun to read.

 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: It’s een a while since I read this, so I really don’t remember specific, but I do remember really enjoying it, and I can say that I get my philosophy on shitty first drafts directly from this book.

 

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White: Funny story about this book: My parents got it for me in hard copy Braille when I was about twelve because I was writing all the time, but I somehow got it into my head that it was about fashion, so I didn’t read it for like eight years. Now, I swear by it. It’s more about grammar than writing, and I often find myself looking up some of the more complicated rules. While most of my hardcopy Braille books have stayed on my bookshelves as I’ve traveled the world, The Elements of Style came with me to college and then to Italy. It will probably come with me to law school too. Did I mention I swear by it? Serial commas forever!

 

Favorite Fantasy and Science Fiction Books Before 2015

After I wrote my “Favorite Books of 2015”post, I realized I wanted to have explanations for why I chose the other books on the Book Recspage. So these are my favorite books before 2015 (really these are mostly from 2010 to 2014) and brief explanations of why I liked them enough to recommend them. I’m breaking this into two posts, because otherwise it might be a novel in its own right. These are just the fantasy and science fiction books. The rest will come.

 

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: Need I explain? I love these books! I will always love these books! I reread them all at least once a year. My favorites are 3, 4, and 7, but I will always love 1, 2, and 6, and 5 has definitely grown on me over the years. I’m also working on reading them in Italian, but that’s slow going.

 

Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce: Alanna switches places with her twin brother and trains to be a knight, all the while disguised as a boy. Great story, great characters, all around lots of fun while still being serious and important.

 

Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce: Though they follow the Alanna books chronologically and even contain some of the same characters, these books are very different. This series is more about magic, animal magic, to be precise, than acts of swordsmanship and heroism. The first book, Wild Magic, is possibly my favorite in the series, but the rest are great as well.

 

Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce: Another girl goes off to be a knight story, but Kel doesn’t have to go in disguise, which means she has her own set of challenges to overcome. I really enjoy these books because of the differences between this series and The Song of the Lioness.

 

Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce: I love everything Tamora Pierce writes, but these books will always hold a special place in my heart, because they were the first books I ever read by her. Also, I read them out of order and totally understood what was going on in the second one before I read the first, which I respect. Plus, spies.

 

The Legend of Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce: These books take place 200 years before the Alanna books, and I love seeing the way the world has changed from then to now. It’s also really cool to see the origins of elements of the plots of the books that take place later come into play in these books. I will say, however, that even after a reread the ending of the trilogy doesn’t work that well for me. I won’t go as far as to say it’s total character derailment, but I feel like it could have been set up better.

 

The Circle of Magic quartet by Tamora Pierce: This is the first four-book series set in Tamora Pierce’s other universe, and this might also be my favorite series that she’s written. I love the Circle Universe, which is analogous to the medieval Silk Road. And let’s be totally honest here, the Circle of Magic books had a lot to do with the revisions to my small child magician novel that finally got it on the right track, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

 

The Circle Opens quartet by Tamora Pierce: I love these books, because it takes the four, inseparable kids from the first Circle series and separates them, sending them off on their own to have their own adventures. Each book is devoted to one of the four, and they are each unique and wonderful.

 

The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce: After The Circle Opens, this book brings the four back together, with their separate, traumatic experiences, and really shows how they deal with who they were before they went away versus who they are now and how they react to each other. Not to mention political intrigue. It’s really great.

 

Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce: This is another Circle book which takes place at the same time as Will of the Empress, in another part of the world with different characters. Now, we’re getting the four’s students’ stories, or at least one here, though I hope more are in the works. This book is definitely aimed at a younger audience than Will of the Empress, which threw me for a loop a little bit, but it is still great. Also, this book was originally released only in audio—the print came next—which made me love it even more, because it was a little bit like vengeance against all those people who spoiled Harry Potters 4-6 for me because they got their print books before the Braille. But only a little like revenge, because the culprits didn’t all read Tamora Pierce, and they could also listen to the audio just as well as me.

 

Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce: Finally, this Circle book takes place before Will of the Empress, but it came out afterwords (hence why it’s below it on the list, though really this order is arbitrary). It details the events that led to one of the character’s serious PTSD in Will of the Empress. It’s great. And also, can I just mention how much I appreciate that trauma is a thing that is bboth a big deal in these books but also taken entirely seriously by the culture.

 

The Books of Bayern series by Shannon Hale: I absolutely loved the first book in this series, The Goose Girl, which is based on the fairytale of the same name. The writing was beautiful, the story was compelling, and I loved watching the heroine grow into herself. I was less enthusiastic about the sequels, but I still enjoyed seeing more of the world. After the first book, the fourth and final book, Forest Born, is probably my favorite of the series.

 

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins: I really loved the first book of this series, especially the very very ending. It just struck this perfect chord in me. And then the second book as just okay. It was a really interesting direction to take a book for which I honestly couldn’t see a sequel making sense, but it felt slow in the beginning and then rushed at the end. And then there was Mockingjay, which ruined the whole series for me. I prefer to pretend that it doesn’t exist, though I will say that the movies actually did a good job making me accept that ending.

 

Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth: This is here because I like to use it as a study of what not to do. I admit, I enjoyed the first and second books, and even parts of the third book, but the ending made me want to throw things across the room. And if I haven’t mentioned this already, it’s really not a good idea for a blind person to throw stuff in anger. You can’t find it after, and then you have to confess to someone that you chucked it somewhere and now you need help finding it. Anyway, I like to use these books as a study of what not to do because I am working on a series in which the whole world is not revealed until the second book, and even then some pieces are still held back until the third. It’s a cool idea, but I think the problem with the Divergent books is that the world building in the first and second books just didn’t make sense, and the villain of those books seems way too evil given the situation that’s presented. It makes more sense once all is revealed, but it takes too long for everything to be revealed—I personally know people who weren’t willing to stick with it after the first book. So as I’m working on my own project, I’m making sure not to make the same mistakes. My characters are actively trying to discover the truth from the beginning, so it’s clear from the start that things are not as they appear. So while in the end the Divergent books are not my favorite books by any means, I still think they’re valuable.

 

The Healing Wars trilogy by Janice Hardy: I don’t even know where to start with this series. I read it immediately after coming off a binge of young adult dystopian trilogies with disappointing endings, and it was so refreshing. I loved seeing the magic of healing taken to its dark and creepy conclusions—when people are magically healed, where does the pain go? It was also fantasy, which I tend to prefer over science fiction (though I’ve learned recently that I do like some sci fi). Finally, all the characters were really people, even the little sister the protagonist is fighting to save. And it has a great ending. Really, I can’t say enough good things about these books.

 

The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare: These books were just super fun. I read the first one because I wanted to see the movie (which in no way did it justice, by the way). I loved the first three books. Not only was the plot great, but it also had the best love triangle I’ve ever seen. I also loved the last book. The fourth and fifth books weren’t as good as the others, but it’s obvious that they needed to happen in order for the sixth book to be more awesome.

 

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: I read this book in a day. I was in Turin, Italy, and everyone else in my study abroad program had gone off to Switzerland for the weekend. So I went to the park and read Ella Enchanted, and I have no regrets. This was one of those retold fairytales that totally fixed all the problems I always had with the Cinderella story, and I highly recommend.

 

Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier: Okay, I admit it. In high school, I was a little bit obsessed with Twilight. Maybe a lot obsessed. So when this book was recommended to me, I instinctively shied away from another vampire romance, but I’m glad I picked it up anyway, because it was so, so much fun! It’s about the best friend of the girl who falls in love with the vampire, and she spends the whole book trying to convince her not to turn into a vampire herself. It made me cry.

 

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and sequels by Catherynne Valente: These books are so much fun. I actually met Cat Valente when she tought at Alpha in 2012, and I picked up the first book in this series immediately after. I love the writing, the lengthy, rhythmic sentences, the vivid description, everything. Also, you know, the stories are great too. I can’t wait for the fifth one to come out next month!

 

Deathless by Catherynne Valente: This is also a great read, though definitely more adult than Fairyland. It’s a retold Russian fairytale set in Leningrad in World War II. Definitely worth a read.

 

Graceling and sequels by Kristin Cashore: I also read these books in Turin (I did a lot of reading in the park in Turin). Graceling was fabulous. I was really intrigued by the idea that you could have powers but not know what those powers are exactly. I also loved the third book, Bitterblue. The middle book wasn’t quite as strong for me, but I still enjoyed it. I’ve actually been meaning to reread these books for a while, because I want to dive back into that world and experience it all again.

 

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke: I talked a little about this book in my post about Venice last June. At the risk of being redundant, I’ll just say that I loved this book so much that I wanted to go to Venice for years and years, and it also played a huge part in me choosing to study Italian.

 

Favorite Books of 2015

There are only hours left in 2015. At this time last year, I was in Florence with my family, dodging literal bombs in the streets (a New Year’s Eve tradition in Italy, I’m told) and watching fireworks from the roof of the apartment we’d rented. But I already talked about all that’s happened to me since then. Now, I want to talk about all the books I’ve read this year. There were a lot of them. I read my way through Italy, and then I read my way through the summer and fall. I read some books that were interesting but just all right, and I read some books that I wanted to throw across the room because I hated them so much, but I’m a completionist, so I had to finish them anyway. But I also read a bunch of books that I absolutely loved. I have already updated my Book Recs page with my favorites from 2015, but I wanted to share with you why they are my favorites.

 

Beauty by Robin McKinley: This was the perfect book for reading in front of a warm fire during the winter, when the bitter wind from the mountains to the north seemed to make all of Assisi shiver. The writing is beautiful, and the story is both familiar and unique. Also, I really love retold fairy tales.

 

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne Valente: This is the fourth book in Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, and it was an excellent next installment. I really enjoyed seeing different aspects of Fairyland, and it took the series in a direction I was not expecting. I loved the paralells between the characters’ stories, though it did feel a bit awkward to me to see September in someone else’s story, even though we really haven’t finished September’s story yet. Can’t wait for the fifth book!

 

Howl’s Moving Castle and sequels by Diana Wynne Jones: I can’t believe I haven’t read these before! I just loved Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air. House of Many Ways was also good, but it didn’t sweep me off my feet like the first two books did.

 

A Glory of Unicorns edited by Bruce Coville: I read this when I was working on a middle grade story for a contest. I found the stories aimed at a younger audience than I like to write for (I prefer upper middle grade personally), but there were still a lot of really great stories, and I had a lot of fun reading them.

 

Sunshine by Robin McKinley: I picked up this book with no idea what it was about and literally read it in a day. It was fabulous and intense and made me really, really want baked goods. It’s about vampires, by the way.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: This book was on my wishlist for a really long time. My mother read it over Christmas and said that the minute she finished it, she turned back to the beginning to read it again. So I read it over Easter break, when we were visiting Matera, and I couldn’t put it down either. I really admire how Kline weaves the two stories together. They really don’t feel like separate stories at all, by the end of the book, because each story has influenced the other so profoundly, but at the same time they are both complete stories in their own right. This is the sort of layered storytelling I’m aiming for with my honors novel, and reading Orphan Train actually gave me some ideas for how I want to revise it. Now, I just have to do that.

 

The Bloody Jack Adventure series by L. A. Meyer: There were like three weeks when I just blew through these books and no one heard from me. I really enjoyed the history in them, and I loved traveling with Jacky all over the world. In retrospect, though, I do have some reservations about the series. After the seventh book (the series has twelve books), I started to look for an end to the story, because it just started feeling like it was going on too long and why can’t they defeat the bad guys already? Also, there was a lot of Jacky being rescued by other people, and in every single book, someone attempts to rape her. Every single book. Not only did it get a bit old as a threat, but the image of a female character as being nothing but a sex object and also the image of men as only being able to think of having sex with her was troubling to me. Guys I finally understand what can make fiction problematic! But I still had fun reading them, and I would recommend the first seven books of the series, if not the whole thing, with a clear warning about what you might be getting into.

 

The Colors of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty: A Corner of White, the first book, was interesting but not my favorite thing in the world, but the second book, The Cracks in the Kingdom, was fabulous. The third book isn’t out yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. Madeleine, in London, starts communicating with Elliot, in the fantastic world of Cello. For Madeleine, it’s fantastic, but if Elliot is caught having contact with Earth, he could be killed. And both of their fathers are missing. Cello is really unique, and it also makes me want to eat lots of baked goods. I’m noticing a trend in the books I was reading last spring.

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: If you haven’t read this book, go do it now. Right now. It’s beautiful and epic, spread over something like thirty years and at least two continents, and it has the best romantic subplot I’ve ever seen. Because the romantic subplot is integral to the plot, and it isn’t even a romance. Also, for audiobook fans, the audio version of this book is narrated by Jim Dale.

 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I’ve read a lot of World War II books. And I mean a lot. One of the pitfalls I’ve noticed in many of them is that they try to cover too much. World War II was massive in scope, both in time and place, but it can’t all be contained in one story. That’s what I thought until I read The Nightingale. Kristin Hannah managed to tell a story that was very broad in scope, covering many aspects of the French experience in World War II from the point of view of two sisters: one with a German officer billeted at her house; the other fighting with the French resistance. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in World War II history or anyone just looking for a good story.

 

The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer: Again, if you haven’t read these books, stop what you’re doing and go read them now. They are amazing, possibly my favorite of my favorite books of this year. Retold fairytales set in a vivid science fiction world. Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White team up to fight an evil dictator. Need I say more?

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events: I read the first three books a long time ago, but this year I finally sat down and read the whole series. I actually had the opposite reaction that I had to the Bloody Jack series, because I felt the books got so much better after the seventh book, when the Baudelaires stopped simply letting themselves be shepherded from one awful guardian to another where they were forced to foil Count Olaf’s latest crazy scheme, and instead took it into their own hands to solve their own mysteries. And even though I’d heard the ending was disappointing, I actually really liked it.

 

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor: This was my first ever alien invasion book, so I can’t really compare it to anything, but I enjoyed this book a lot. It was very different from what I normally read, and I appreciated the diversity of the setting and the characters.

 

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien: It took me more than two years to do it, but I finally finished Lord of the Rings, and now that I have, I can definitely say it was worth the ride. There were certainly some very slow parts, and now I understand why people object to including songs in novels, but on the whole it was a great experience to read.

 

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While by Catherynne Valente: This novella on Tor.com was lots of fun and added a lot of insight into the Fairyland books. (I love the Green Wind!) You could probably read it at any time after you’ve read the first book, but I personally think it’s better having read all four books that are out so far. If you enjoyed the Fairyland books, you will enjoy this.

 

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson: Honestly, when I read the description of this book, I was not sure it was something I would enjoy, but I know the author (Seth was a staff member both years I attended Alpha), and I know he’s a really great writer, so I read it. And it was fabulous. The fantasy world was incredibly rich, and the plot was complex, but not so complex that I couldn’t follow it, and Baru was a fascinating protagonist whom I both cared about but also was someone I was a little wary of. I highly recommend this book.

 

So that has been my literary year. I doubt I’ll be able to read as much next year–law school is coming, after all–but if you have recommendations for books that should be on my list, let me know. Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to all the fabulous stories of 2015, those we read and those we created ourselves, and here’s to all the stories to come in 2016!