October Reading Roundup

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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September Reading Roundup

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

August Reading Roundup

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

July Reading Roundup

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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?

Reading Through 2017

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Happy New Year!

Other Favorite Books Before 2015

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Favorite Fantasy and Science Fiction Books Before 2015

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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