Happy 2019 everybody!
I spent the last week in Florida with my family. We went kayaking with dolphins and hiking and biking and museuming. I got a bit crispified, and I’m not sure Neutron was a fan of all the heat, but we had a great adventure. And now we’re back in the cold and rain and snow.
I am all fired up about my 2019 goals. I’ve written every day of 2019 so far, and I’m trying to keep that momentum going. I’m starting my J-term patents class on Monday, and while I’m not totally ready to go back to school, I’m well-rested and my stress is much lower, at least at the moment. I got one of those wake-up lights to get me up and moving in the morning, and I feel like I’m ready to get into the swing of things. And I just finished my reading for Monday, and I actually understood most of it. Could I have finally reached some kind of law school enlightenment?
Before I totally dive into the new year, I have one more reading roundup post for 2018 for you. I read 21 books in December, which is a record for me for the year. Many of them were short books, and I got through a lot while studying for finals. I did not finish all the series I was in the middle of by the end of the year, as I’d hoped, but I finished a bunch.
First, I finished Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series. In December, I read the fourth book, The House of Hades, and the fifth book, The Blood of Olympus. The House of Hades is definitely one of my favorites in the series. It features my favorite characters—Percy, Annabeth, Leo, and Hazel—and they are having some cool adventures and doing awesome stuff. Percy and Annabeth are racing through the Underworld, trying to get to the Doors of Death before the monster army, while the rest of the crew of the Argo II are fighting their way across the Mediterranean to meet them on the mortal side of the doors. It was just a really fun read. After that, The Blood of Olympus was a bit of a let-down. It basically exemplified all the problems I had with the series—mainly that there were too many point of view characters and that we were with the wrong characters all the time. Also, there was no Percy point of view, and this really upset me. But the ending was great, and it did wrap up the series well. On the whole, this series definitely isn’t as good as the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, but it was still a lot of fun.
Next, I read Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This book actually follows a magic harmonica as it passes from child to child—from a German boy with epilepsy facing Hitler’s sterilization program, to a pair of orphans in Great Depression Pennsylvania, to the daughter of Mexican immigrants looking for Japanese spies while her brother is fighting in World War II. There is a lot of music in the book, and if you like audiobooks, this is definitely one to listen to, because it actually has the music, and it does a really good job of it. I really enjoyed listening to this book. The one thing that I will say is that it annoyed me that we left each point of view character right when everything in their stories was coming to a head. You find out what happened in the end, but it was a bit frustrating while I was reading it. Other than that, this was a great book.
I continued the WWII trend with City of Thieves by David Benioff. This book takes place in Leningrad, during the seige. The main character—I can’t even remember his name—is caught stealing alcohol from a downed German soldier. He thinks he’s going to be shot, but he and a deserter are instead sent by the commander of the secret police literally on a wild goose chase to find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake. Leningrad is, of course, starving, so there are no eggs to be had. I did not like this book. I couldn’t tell if it was trying to be comedic or satiric or weirdly serious. Whatever it was, it was just plain wild, and it was not my cup of tea.
After that, I read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl, the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was another really weird book. They take the great glass elevator into space, face down some aliens who have taken over the space hotel, rescue an American space ship, and then there’s this whole craziness with turning all the grandmas and grandpas into babies to get them out of bed. It made no sense, and Charlie was just sort of along for the crazy ride. Suffice it to say that while I enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and that will always be special to me, this was just a little too weird for my tastes.
I finished the Julie of the Wolves series with Julie and Julie’s Wolf Pack by Jean Craighead George. I liked Julie a lot. It dealt well with the fall-out from the first book. Julie’s Wolf Pack was fun too, but it basically continues the story from the point of view of the wolves, so it read more like a series of events. While I enjoyed these books, they weren’t nearly as powerful as I found the first book to be, and I’m not sure they’re necessary to wrap up the first book. To me, the first book stands well on its own.
I finally finished The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser, which I’ve been working my way through since the summer. This isn’t just a cookbook. Or at least, it wasn’t just a cookbook to me. It covered New York Times recipes from the 1870s to the present, and I really enjoyed seeing what people ate in all the different time periods, the variations in preparations, what has stood the test of time and what has disappeared. It was fascinating. I have not tried all the recipes in this book, but the ones I have tried so far have come out really well. Since it covers so much, it is a bit of a brick, and I’ve bookmarked a whole bunch of recipes I want to try. Looking forward to diving into those in 2019.
Next, I finished The Raven Cycle with The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Blue has her mother back now, and the kids are closing in on their sleeping king, but there are a whole bunch of other crazy things going on. The strength of this book and the whole series is the characters and their dynamics together, which I’ve said before. I’m a big fan of large ensemble casts, and this series does such a wonderful job with it. Some of the reviews I read complain that Maggie Stiefvater didn’t pull everything together the way they wanted, but this book was pretty much a perfect end to the series for me.
Next I finished my reread of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket with the twelfth and thirteenth books, The Penultimate Peril and The End. I really enjoyed The Penultimate Peril. It reminds me of the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where everyone is all together in the Roomm of Requirement. Yes, the adults are still useless, but it feels like we’re finally closing in on Count Olaf, until everything goes horribly wrong, of course. The End—which already loses points for not having an aliterative title—was a huge disappointment. We’ve been building everything up for the last three or four books, at least, and now we’re all just going to go hang out on a super peaceful island? Really? And not answer any questions? Sorry, minor spoilers, nothing is explained. The last book didn’t ruin the series for me, but it was definitely a disappointment. Now that I’ve finished rereading the books, I’m ready to watch the last season of the Netflix show, which I hope will pull things together in the end better than the last book did.
After that, I finally finished the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, which I’ve literally been plugging away at all year. In December, I read Nevermore and Maximum Ride Forever. While the last book was, surprisingly, better than the last like five books put together, you’d be better off stopping after the third book, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, because the rest of the series isn’t worth the time it will take you to read them, even if that time is really short. Enough said about that.
The rest of the Rose series by Holly Webb carried me through finals week. I read Rose and the Magician’s Mask during breaks from studying for my corporations exam, and Rose and the Silver Ghost while studying for administrative law and writing my communications law paper. I adored Rose and the Magician’s Mask. They’re going after the villain of the second book, who is terrifying indeed. Rose is getting good at magic. She has all her friends back. I love Bill to pieces. Oh, and in this book they travel to Venice and do battle with magicians whose masks have fused with their faces to give them more power. I love Venice, and I love how delightfully creepy the whole thing is. Rose and the Silver Ghost was not as good as I’d hoped. First of all, I think it would have been better split into two books and both conflicts developed better. The first big chunk of the book is Rose trying to find her mother. This is pretty good, though I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with what the truth turned out to be. The world is set up in these books so that it’s only the rich families who have magical powers, because magic is so expensive. So Rose, a poor orphan with strong magical powers, is kind of rocking the boat a bit here. I didn’t want her family history to be resolved. Or, I wanted her parents to be poor fishermen. I wanted to rock the boat a bit more. I did not want Rose to be the long lost daughter of some crazy rich magical family. But so it goes. And the reveal and the climax around that is sufficiently intense that it was still really good, even if it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Then, at the end, they cram in all this stuff about stopping the Talish invasion of Britain. I felt like this deserved a lot more attention than it was given. So while the last book wasn’t everything I was hoping for, I did really enjoy this series.
When I finished finals, I started my annual Harry Potter reread. Unfortunately I started too late to make much headway in the series before the end of the year, but I did read Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. I’m working on a whole post about my annual reread, so I won’t go into all my thoughts here, but these books make me so happy and were the perfect post-finals treat.
While reading Harry Potter, I also sped through And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman. It’s a novella about a grandfather struggling with the knowledge that he is losing his memories with his son and grandson. I love this little novella. It’s so sweet and tender and heartbreaking, and I found it to be really profound and powerful. So much so that I bought it for my mom for Christmas and both she and my dad read it while we were in Florida. My dad actually wants to read it again, and it’s a minor miracle if he finishes a book the first time, which says a lot about this book. It’s a sad book, definitely, but I highly recommend it.
Next I read Lost by Sarah Prineas, the second book in The Magic Thief series. This was a good sequel to the first book, but I did kind of hate all the characters for not communicating with each other. Also, there was just something so formal and stilted about all the characters’ interactions that kept me from getting into the book. At this point, how I feel about these books really depends on how the rest of the series goes.
In December, I also read The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Nickerbocker Glory—More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Muggles and Wizards by Dinah Busholz. This was a lot of fun to read, because it goes through all the food in the Harry Potter books—and there’s a lot of food mentioned. It talks about the significance of the food in the books, as well as the food’s historical and cultural significance. And then we get the recipes. I haven’t gotten to try any of these yet, but some of them look really delicious. Some, like the steak and kidney pie, I think I’m going to pass on trying. I’m only so adventurous. Also I just have to say wow! I cannot believe that the characters actually ate like this every day. But this book gave me a new perspective on the Harry Potter books. As I’ve been rereading the books, I’ve noticed the food a lot more. Even if I don’t try any of the recipes—and I did bookmark a bunch to try—it’s definitely a lot of fun to read, especially if you’re an extreme Harry Potter nerd like me.
I finished off 2018 with Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I really enjoyed this book, but as I said before, I’m a nerd. The book goes through the big theories of astrophysics, from the big bang and the formation of our galaxy, solar system, and planet, to the size and shape of the universe and theories about its life cycle, to the search for life on other planets. It was a small book, but I found it to be thorough and clear. I did read some Goodreads reviews that complained that it would be hard to follow if you didn’t already know some of the science, and that’s probably true, especially if you’re reading quickly. But if you’re interested in astrophysics, this is one to read.
In total, I read 176 books in 2018. I’m a little bit in awe of this number, and kind of horrified with myself. Did I do nothing but read in 2018? Sometimes it feels like it. I’ve never read so much in one year. I’m definitely still processing how I feel about some of these books, so I’ll be back next week with my top picks for 2018. Until then, happy new year! And happy reading!