Favorite Books of 2018

I read 176 books in 2018, a number that still floors me. Here are my favorites. Since I’ve already talked about why I liked these books in my reading roundup posts each month, I’m just giving you a list here, sometimes with a quick note. This list does not include books I reread that are already on my book recs page.

 

My book recs page will be updated soon to include my 2018 favorites.

 

Favorite books of 2018, in no particular order:

 

The Children of the Red King books 6-8 by Jenny Nimmo (I read the first 5 in 2017, and while the series could have ended there, these rounded things off nicely)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel

Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See (Shanghai Girls is better , but you need to read them together)

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

The True Meaning of Smekday and Smek for President by Adam Rex

War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars by Richard N. Haass

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery (this is the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series, and in my opinion the only one worth bothering with after the third one. Just skip the ones in the middle.)

The Sisters Grimm books 2-9 by Michael Buckley (I read the first book in 2017, and this whole series is just such fun)

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Delirium series by Lauren Oliver

Slaughterhouse Five or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut

A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle

The Giver series by Lois Lowry (The Giver is the best but the others are good too)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (if you like audiobooks, this is one to listen to, because it includes the music in the story and is really well-done)

The Breadwinner series by Deborah Ellis

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins

Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (the plot is weird and just shouldn’t be there but I loved being in Aza’s head so much that it made my favorites)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan (not as good as the first series but still a fun read)

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (don’t bother with the rest of the trilogy they aren’t as good)

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (I’d skip the sequel. It’s weird.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Maximum Ride books 1-3 by James Patterson (stop after book 3. I really mean it.)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Rose series by Holly Webb (the last book isn’t what I wanted it to be but it’s still a delightful series)

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (the sequels are fine but nowhere near as good as the first book)

Wren series books 1 and 2 by Sherwood Smith (I haven’t finished this series but loved the first two so much I had to include them here anyway)

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis (these certainly have problems but nostalgia won the day.)

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Another one where I haven’t finished the series but really liked the first one so here it is.)

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh (not as good as the first one, the pacing is weird, but it completes the series nicely)

The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser (lots of fun food history in here, and the recipes I’ve tried so far have been really good)

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Nickerbocker Glory—More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Muggles and Wizards by Dinah Busholz (I can’t vouch for any of the recipes yet but it’s great for an HP nerd).

 

And here are a few books that I read and enjoyed but that I’m waiting to finish the series before I decide whether they’re favorites:

Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare (The Dark Artifices series)

The Magic Thief and Lost by Sarah Prineas (the Magic Thief series)

Caraval by Stephanie Garber (the Caraval series)

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (the Numair Chronicles series)

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (The Expanse series)

 

Stay tuned for how I feel about these books once I finish the series and/or once the rest of the books come out.

 

All in all, it was a pretty good reading year. I read so many books that I really, really loved. I’ve set a goal to read 100 books in 2019, and I hope I discover another abundance of good books. What are you planning to read in 2019?

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December Reading Roundup

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!

November Reading Roundup

I am very, very late on this, but finals were rough this semester, and the job search is still ongoing. I’m so late on this, in fact, that I actually contemplated just doing a combined November and December post, but at the rate I’m going, that would be really long. So here we are with the books I read in November. Better late than never, right?

 

I read fourteen books in November. I was really close to reading fifteen but I fell asleep and finished the book I was reading on the morning of December 1. So fourteen it is. I have officially passed my revised goal of reading 150 books in 2018. As of the end of November, I’ve read 155 books. In November, I made progress with a lot of series I was reading and actually finished two of the series. I started a couple new series as well. I know, I know, I said I wanted to finish the series I was reading by the end of December and I’m still planning to do that but I just couldn’t help it.

 

On the whole, this was a good reading month. I didn’t love all the books I read, but there were definitely lots of really fun ones. Let’s dive in.

 

Over the summer I finally read the Percy Jackson books, and I really loved them. At the end of October, I discovered that there is a second Percy Jackson series, the Heroes of Olympus books by Rick Riordan. I read the first three books in November: The Lost Hero, The Son of Neptune, and The Mark of Athena. I was almost finished with the fourth book, The House of Hades, on November 30, but I didn’t finish it until December 1 so that will be for next time. I had so much fun speeding through these books. I admit they aren’t as good as the first series. The books are told from multiple points of view, and it’s kind of done a little sloppily, in my opinion. The first and second books of the series have very similar plot and structure, and there’s a good reason for that, but the second book is so good it only serves to highlight that the first book is kind of a mess. Generally the plot is that the giants and the Earth mother are rising and planning to destroy the world, and seven demigods have to team up and stop them. Minor spoiler, the demigods have to come from the Greek and Roman camps and they have to work together. Amnesia is involved to make this happen. It does mean that Percy spends most of the second book with no memories of who he is and where he came from, but it works. The real thing I like about the books so far is the characters and the teamwork. It’s just a lot of fun, and I really hope it doesn’t go splat in the last book.

 

One of my roommates in Maryland recommended I check out the Expanse books, the ones the Amazon show is based on. I was on the waiting list at the library for a really long time, but this month I finally read the first book, Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. This follows the crew of a space ship that hauls ice from Saturn’s rings back to the inner planets. They get a distress call, so the main character and his crew go to help out, leaving the ship behind, and while they’re gone, someone nukes the ice hauler. So they set off to figure out who blew up their ship. I really loved the world-building in this book. It felt really realistic, and it was really complex. I didn’t really like the main character. His motivations and decisions just didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Like at one point he’s on an asteroid, and there’s an apparent nuclear emergency so everyone’s going into shelters, and it’s obvious something else is going on, but instead of just getting the heck out of there they go and open one of the shelters to see what’s going on. This goes just about as well as you would expect. Also it was just a really long book for the amount of character development that happened. Like the main character was idealistic to the point of idiocy and didn’t change, and some of the plot felt like drama for drama’s sake. So it wasn’t a perfect book, but I did enjoy it, and I’m looking forward to the sequel if I ever get off the waiting list at the library.

 

Next, I read The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. This is a World War II book set mostly in Hungary. It’s about three brothers spread across Europe for school and then forced back to Hungary when the war starts. The middle brother, our main character, falls in love with a French ballet teacher with a complicated past. That’s pretty much the plot. Oh and they’re jewish so there’s also the Holocaust. The writing was pretty good, but there wasn’t much plot for the first half of the book, until the war started, and then it was predictable, overly sentimental, and melodramatic. On the whole I was not a huge fan.

 

Next, I finally read Under the Light by Laura Whitcomb, the sequel to A Certain Slant of Light, which I read back in February. As I was writing this, I was honestly struggling to remember this book, which says a lot. When I looked it up again on Goodreads, I realized the reason I was struggling to remember this book is that it was almost entirely a rehash of the first book. Like almost nothing new. Okay it was kind of cool to see the kids back in their bodies retracing the steps the ghosts took when they were possessing them and trying to figure out what they did, but since we already knew as the reader, it didn’t work that well. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

 

Next I read the second book in the Flame in the Mist duology, Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh. I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a good sequel to the first book. There was a lot of political intrigue and some really great characters. But the pacing was whacky—like nothing happened for two thirds of the book and then suddenly everything happened and then suddenly it was all over. And it had too many point of view characters for my liking. But it wrapped up the series nicely.

 

After that, I read the second Wren book, Wren’s Quest by Sherwood Smith. I loved this book just as much as I loved the first book, even though this book felt a bit more scattered. The plot and the stakes seemed like they were hovering just off the page, which was a little frustrating. But it was exciting, and the characters really carry this book. When Wren is attacked during her test to pass basics level at the magic school, she needs to get out of town fast. So she goes on a quest she’s been planning for a while: to find out who her family is. Connor has gotten himself into trouble at the palace, so he comes, which is helpful because a powerful magician is chasing them. Meanwhile, they’ve left Tyron and Tess to deal with the court intrigue, which is very intriguing indeed. This is the part that was a bit vague for me. Apparently someone was sewing disputes among the courtiers—like everybody was fighting with each other all the time. So Tyron and Tess are trying to figure out who it is and if they’re connected to the magician chasing Wren and/or the evil king from the first book. It all comes together really well. I enjoyed it lots and I’m looking forward to diving into the rest of the series.

 

After I finished Wren’s Quest, I read the third book in The Raven Cycle, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Blue is looking for her mother, who’s disappeared, and the crew is still looking for their sleeping king to wake him up, and they’re getting close. This book definitely felt like it was a transition  into the finale, but I didn’t care. It was great. These are the sort of characters that I would read a book about them just chilling in the backyard together, the group dynamic is that well-done.

 

Next, I read Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. This was described as a Nigerian Harry Potter, so I picked it up because I’m still looking for comp titles for the book I’m querying, and any friend of Harry Potter is a friend of mine. I’m not sure I would describe it as Nigerian Harry Potter, but I definitely enjoyed it. Basically Sunny discovers she has magic powers and starts learning to use them, and she and her friends are picked to stop a serial child murderer. Super light and fluffy, am I right? But this is actually a great book, and I recommend you check it out. I will say that I was a bit uncomfortable with the aspect of the magic that you’re a stronger magician if you have a disability. Sunny is an albino, and she’s teased about it because she’s so white. The disabilities in this book are sort of negated by magic, but it isn’t as drastic as I’ve seen in other books. Still, I’m still not a huge fan of the disability = magic trope.

 

Next, I read the fifth Chronicles of Narnia book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. Edmund and Lucy go back to Narnia, this time with their cousin Eustice, and go on a journey with Caspian to find some of Caspian’s father’s friends who Caspian’s uncle basically banished. This book had a lot of the same issues as the first four—mostly talking about the misogyny here—and it was also pretty episodic and Eustice was literally the worst until suddenly he wasn’t, but I really enjoyed the adventure of this book, the fact that we got back to Narnia so quickly and got to see some old friends again, and the fact that we got to explore so much more of the world.

 

After that, I read Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. I know I read this when I was a kid, but I didn’t remember it at all, and also I discovered there were sequels. Who knew? Fourteen-year-old Miyax is lost on the Alaskan tundra after running away from an arranged marriage. She’s starving, and she knows soon it will be winter, and then she comes upon a wolf pack and manages to earn their trust so they basically adopt her. I really, really enjoyed this book. I found it to just be incredibly powerful but also a lot of fun to read. I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series, because while this definitely stands alone, I do want to see where it goes next.

 

Next I read The Grimm Grotto by Lemony Snicket, the eleventh Series of Unfortunate Events book. This book was a wild ride. In a submarine. With some super poisonous mushrooms. We learn some things. We get more questions. The Baudelaires’ hearts are broken and then stamped on for good measure. Yes, these books are getting wackier and wackier, but they’re also really heating up.

 

Finally, I finished off November with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Just like Matilda, I had this weird knowledge that I definitely read this as a kid, but do not remember it, and now it is kind of horrifying. A lot of fun, but kind of horrifying. Also, the Oompa Loompas are soooo problematic. But as a quick diversion from finals studying, I enjoyed it.

 

And that’s it for November, folks. If you’re in school, like me, I hope your finals and papers went well and your semester has wrapped up with as little stress as possible. I’ll be away over New Years, so it might take me a bit longer than usual to get my book recs page updated with my 2018 favorites, but I’ll be on top of it as soon as I can. In the meantime, I hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

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?

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!

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!

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?

Six-ish Things That Make a Good Book

A few weeks ago, I was at trivia with some friends, and in between questions we were talking about the books we’d read recently. At the time, I was nearly finished reading Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody. I told my friends that I was really enjoying the book, but there was one big problem that I wanted the author to resolve, and whether she did or not would likely determine whether the book made it onto my list of favorite books of 2018. One of my friends said something along the lines of, “Well 2018 is really just getting started, so how can you already know if a book will be on your favorites list anyway?” Which led me to explain that I’ve never limited myself to my top ten or any other arbitrary number of favorite books of the year. Instead, I keep a running list of books I read throughout the year that I think will make the cut. This is particularly important this year, as I’ve already read thirty-three books since January 1. But after that conversation at trivia, I really started thinking about what exactly got a book onto my list of favorite books for the year.

 

I’m sure someone could analyze all the books I have listed on my book recs page and come up with some quality that they all share (I’m taking a course on the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence right now and this seems like an interesting job for a computer). But in reality, my method is not a science. Far from it. Since I’ve been musing about my process, I’ve found that there are certain things I look for in a book, and some of them matter more to me than others. And so, in no particular order, here are the six-ish things I consider when deciding if a book belongs on my favorite books list for the year (and also on my book recs page).

 

  1. Writing:

This may come as a surprise, since I’m a writer and all, but writing is not the most important thing in the world to me. Of course, excellent writing is a huge plus, but if the writing isn’t fabulous and the story is there, I don’t mind so much. Less-than-stellar writing alone isn’t going to tip a book out of my favorites list. For example, I really like the Hunger Games series (Mockingjay less so but that rant is beside the point), even though the writing isn’t fabulous. I also enjoyed Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, despite the bland and often cliched writing. On the other hand, if the book has other problems, bad writing can drag it down for me. For example, last year I read The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín. Basically, think the Hunger Games with faeries. I was really excited about this book, but it turned out that I kind of hated it. The story was almost there, but it was pretty predictable, and the main human villain was so cliched, and I hated the writing. I’m not sure if it would have made it onto my list had the writing been better, but better writing may have lifted it out of the I-completely-hate-this-book bucket. And finally, if bad writing alone can’t drag a book down for me, good writing alone can’t lift a book up. I can’t think of an example of this right now, but if a book has fabulous writing and nothing else, it’s not making it onto my list.

 

  1. Story:

For me this is a pretty broad category. When I think of the story, I’m thinking about the plot, the character arcs, the world building, and so on. Ideally,I love it when all these things are done well, but I’ve also been known to love books where certain aspects of the story aren’t all there. For example, even though the world-building certainly leaves something to be desired, I really like the Divergent series (with the exception of the ending of Allegiant because oh my god what was that!?). Story is one of the most important considerations for me when I’m deciding if a book is doing to make it onto my list. There’s just a certain combination of originality, strong pacing, and characters I care about with goals I care about that you can’t beat.

 

  1. The ending:

This is another big one. For me, the perfect ending can take a good book and make it excellent, just as a bad ending can completely wreck a strong book or series. I’ve already mentioned the endings of Mockingjay and Allegiant and how in a lot of ways they ruined the series for me (though I’m more accepting of the ending of Mockingjay once the movies had a crack at it). If you’re interested in reading a much more detailed rant about what makes a great ending and what makes an ending fall flat or actively destroy a good book, I have a whole post on endings here. Go check it out.

 

  1. Representation:

This is a complicated one for me. Generally speaking, this is less important in my overall scheme of thinking about books, but if something is absolutely agregious, it will certainly tip a book out of the running for the favorites list. If a book doesn’t have a lot of diversity, I’m not going to dislike it just for that. If a book has female or minority characters and represents them poorly or problematically, that will upset me. This is especially true for me when it comes to characters with disabilities. Earlier in this post I mentioned Daughter of the Burning City, which I really really liked as a book, but I’m struggling with it because it did the blind-but-not-blind-because-magic thing that really gets under my skin. I have a whole post about blind characters with superpowers here, if you’re interested in that rant. Talking about disability representation is what I’m most comfortable with, because it’s my own experience, and I don’t want to make assumptions about groups outside my own personal experience, but I do pay attention to it in books, because I want to do it right as a writer. And if a writer does it well, that will certainly push a book from good into my favorites list. Finally, it’s important to note that my friends are very conscious of diversity and representation, and the books I pick up tend to be conscious of diversity and thoughtful representation.

 

  1. My gut:

This is pretty self-explanatory. I have a gut feeling about books, and I tend to go with it. To go back to Divergent, I know a lot of people didn’t like it. I recognize its many flaws. I really do. But I’m sorry, I like it. And my gut feeling is really important.

 

  1. Time will tell:

Finally, I keep a running list throughout the year of books that I think will make it onto my favorites list. I also have a list of all the books I read throughout the year. At the end of the year, as I’m writing up my post about my favorite books, I compare the books. Are there any books that are not on my draft favorites that still really stand out to me? Are there any books on my draft favorites list that I can’t even remember the main character’s name? Basically, if a book sticks with me in a positive way throughout the year, that’s a really good indicator that it should be on my list. I recognize that this consideration is a little unbalanced. Obviously a book I finish on New Year’s Eve, two hours before I write the final post, is going to stick with me more than the book I finished three hundred sixty-four days ago. And I don’t know how it will work this year, because I’ve already read thirty-three books and it’s not even March. This year, I probably won’t weigh how the book stands up to time as heavily as I have in past years.

 

So there you have it, the six-ish ways I review books: the writing, the story, the ending, the representation, my gut, and time. I say six-ish because these aren’t really defined categories. You could smoosh the story and the ending together or combine my gut feeling and the effect of time. On the other hand, you could expand the story consideration into separate considerations for plot, character, setting, and so on. It’s not a perfect system. I don’t weigh these considerations the same: Generally speaking, I’m more interested in the story, the ending, my gut feeling, and to some extent the effects of time than I am on the writing and the representation, though writing and representation are still very important to me. This isn’t an exact system. I’m still struggling over how I feel about Daughter of the Burning City, because if not for the blind-but-not thing, it would totally one hundred percent be making it onto my list. The story is great; the ending is great; the writing is great; the book has stuck with me, even though I’ve read a dozen books since I finished it; and my gut feeling is that it’s a really great book and the blind-but-not thing is just one eensy problem and it should be on my list anyway. But the blind-but-not problem is a really big problem for me. So right now, I don’t know if it’s going to make it onto my list.

 

There are certainly other ways to think about and review books—maybe better ways—but this is roughly how I do it. So your turn: what makes a good book for you?