January 2016

Let’s get this ball rolling! After having hosted Christmas for my family for the first time ever — which was no small feat! — I have survived with most of my sanity intact. As the new year begins, and the holiday tide ebbs, it’s time for a bit of reflection. Again, I strive to read as many books from my own personal collection as possible to complete the list.

We begin with three, listed favorite to least:

The Lover's Dictionary David Levithan
A book from the library: The Lover’s Dictionary, by David Levithan
Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo
A YA Bestseller: Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
That Old Cape Magic Richard Russo
A book that takes place on an island: That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo

 

I was pretty self-serving when it came to choosing The Lover’s Dictionary. Leading a book club at work grants me the opportunity to choose practically any book as ‘a book from the library’ and this one was a quick, yet powerful read. Levithan tells a narrative in an uncommon method: dictionary entries. With some ‘chapters’ as sort as a few letters, to others that span several pages, I felt engaged. Though one might think at first glance this would be an uplifting, romantic, hopeful book, it really is quite sad… this is one that deserves more than a single read-through. I found myself noting certain pages/words/entries to turn back to and read over and over. Think of those you hold dear to your heart. Recognize how love is so closely tied to joy, and also pain. No one is perfect, no love is perfect, and no one lives without feeling heartache. There’s nothing wrong with hope. There’s nothing wrong with fear. Remember to be kind, understanding, and patient. Thanks for another lovely book, David.

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Coming off of Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, I wondered what else this universe might contain. If you consider her first trilogy as the mythos… the legend… Six of Crows feels more like the real, present-day (Grisha) world. With that trilogy as prologue, you have a richer understanding of this new book. Six of Crows is much more of a heist/action/thriller than a fantasy, but those elements are still present. It felt more focused, and I know how proud Leigh is of this book. (I still have the manuscript around here somewhere!) While it’s not necessary to read Shadow & Bone (etc.) before this, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you do.

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Though I purchased Russo’s book on a whim during one of my trips to The Cape, I’ve never taken the time to read it out on the beach as I intended. During this winter, I figured it was time to start thinking warm thoughts. Honestly, I don’t have too much to say about this one. It didn’t thrill me, but it didn’t bore me. The characters were flawed, which made them endearing… and the story was pretty light. I’ll probably let this one go now that I’m done with it. This is perhaps an unfair assessment of Russo’s work, since I know people don’t just win Pulitzers on a whim, but I may take some time before picking up another one of his books.

March 2015

Another month draws to a close in 2015 and I plowed through a ton of challenge books this month, bringing me just past the half-way mark. There were quite a few titles this month that I really enjoyed, including an old favorite from when I FIRST started to get excited about reading on my own, one that threw me back to my high school days, and another that reminded me of some of my true passions through college. Ah, such nostalgia! So, without further ado, this month’s completions!:

leigh bardugo shadow and bone grisha trilogy
A book written by a female author: Siege and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo
stephen king revival
A book written by an author you love that you haven’t read yet: Revival, by Stephen King
the kiss of deception mary e pearson remnant chronicles
A book with a love triangle: The Kiss of Deception, by Mary E. Pearson
perfect ruin lauren destefano internment chronicles
A book set in the future: Perfect Ruin, by Lauren DeStefano
david levithan two boys kissing gay
A book set in high school: Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
animorphs k a applegate
A book from your childhood: Animorphs #1 The Invasion, by KA Applegate
peter cameron someday this pain will be useful to you
A book that became a movie: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron
holly black the darkest part of the forest
A book published this year (2015): The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black
laurell k hamilton incubus dreams anita blake vampire hunter
A book with more than 500 pages: Incubus Dreams, by Laurell K. Hamilton

Top Two:  Aw, do I have to pick only two??
The Darkest Part of the Forest – Oh, oh, oh…. Now, I’ve read Holly’s Curse Workers trilogy as well as Coldest Girl in Coldtown, all of which I have greatly enjoyed. Yes… I know… I haven’t read Tithe or Spiderwick… or Doll Bones… but those are on a list, somewhere. But THIS! Ah, Holly — I don’t know if you’ll ever read or see this, but thank you for this book. I love the dark, shadowy feel the worlds she builds, and I love the classic (as in more authentic) portrayal of faeries and other such folk. In fact, I had to dash out and pick up Andrew Lang’s Collection of fairy books from Barnes & Noble (Sorry indies!) and I can’t wait to work my way through those stories again. My college photography career was guiding me towards fairy tales and mythology… those things really inspired me, and while reading DPotF, I felt those familiar sparks of creativity. Not to mention, it was so incredibly refreshing to have a gay character that was treated just as normally as other characters and not as a stereotype. So, Holly — thank you. 🙂

Two Boys Kissing – Oh, my dear, sweet David Levithan. This was remarkable. I don’t usually dole out blind, sweeping praise, but oh, how I love his work. Told from such an original point of view, this story speaks to different levels of the gay community without being condescending or beating readers over the head with a preachy history lesson. There are so many little passages that are such gems, words that are positive, affirming and uplifting. I’m so glad this book has been written.

Bottom Two:
Revival – Here’s the problem… I really liked the books this month. Well, except maybe for Stephen King. But I didn’t DISLIKE Revival; I know he could have pushed it a bit more. King does such a good job of creating religious zealot characters that I really wanted him to take Revival to the next level. Think back to Carrie – Margaret White is a wonderful example of a nutty religious figure. King also does a good job of riling the other characters up around this trope, like the chorus of people in The Mist(EXPIATION!), and while I enjoyed Revival, I had much higher expectations for it.

Perfect Ruin –  This is another title I had high expectations for… but just as many reservations. I remember when I moved to New England, somehow I discovered that Lauren DeStefano was an author that lived not-too-far away, and there was a lot of promotion for her debut book Wither. I started listening to Wither on audio right before I listened to Siege and Storm, and I got perhaps a disc in and I just wasn’t finding myself as engaged in the story. Mind you, this has also been the case with Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire. I’ve been in a very indecisive state lately. Perhaps I should have taken that as a sign. What drew me to Perfect Ruin initially was because it reminded me of the video game Bioshock: Infinite, which is set in the floating city of Columbia. I couldn’t help but use that game as visual references, especially since there was this gritty underbelly featured in both stories. That said, I will most likely continue to read this trilogy. Burning Kingdoms just came out this month and I have the ARC…. It just wasn’t my absolute favorite. Like with Wither, I wasn’t gripped… though, (semi-spoiler) the princess towards the end of the book actually has some spunk to her! She’s the reason I’ll pick up the next installment for sure.

Down With Dystopia: The Rise of the Royal Court

When I tried describing a book to someone last week, I realized that I was mixing up characters and plots, pulling from multiple titles I had recently read. Finally setting aside some time, I decided to look into these books a bit more, and then I fell down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, I’m not seeing dystopian books a-la Hunger Games and Divergent anymore. Now, books about princesses and kingdoms (and magic – ooo!) have taken the floor and are proudly waltzing by.
dystopia royal court princess

Is anyone else noticing this? Does this mark the end of depressing dystopian worlds? Is historical fiction donning a fancy new Y.A. get-up? We still have strong female characters completely dominating young adult literature; however, rather than the run-of-the-mill dystopia once dominating popular books, our heroines are now featured in the high courts of fantasy realms and fairy tale retellings.

I’m not saying this is a problem, but, does my observation carry greater meaning when I point out that many…most… of these books are written by debut authors?  I get that these things come in waves, but this seems more like a tsunami. Below are a number of recent, and soon-to-be books that include some aspect of royal courts:

  1. Red Queen (et al) – Victoria Aveyard
  2. Shadow & Bone (et al) – Leigh Bardugo
  3. Girl of Fire and Thorns (et al) – Rae Carson
  4. Graceling (et al) – Kristin Cashmore
  5. The Selection (et al) – Kiera Cass
  6. The Healer’s Apprentice (et all) – Melanie Dickerson
  7. The Jewel (et al)- Amy Ewing
  8. Deception’s Princess (et al) – Esther M. Friesner
  9. Princess of the Midnight Ball (et al) – Jessica Day George
  10. Seraphina (et al) – Rachel Hartman
  11. Cruel Beauty (et al)- Rosamund Hodge
  12. Princess of Thorns – Stacey Jay
  13. Stolen Songbird (et al)- Danielle L. Jenson
  14. The Queen of the Tearling (et al) – Erika Johansen
  15. Grave Mercy (et al)- Robin LeFevers
  16. Winterspell (et al)- Claire Legrand
  17. Stitching Snow – R. C. Lewis
  18. Throne of Glass (et al)- Sarah J. Maas
  19. Cinder (et al)- Marissa Meyer
  20. Suspicion – Alexandra Monir
  21. Legendary (et al) – L. H. Nicole
  22. Queen of Hearts: The Crown (et al)  – Colleen Oakes
  23. Snow Like Ashes (et al) – Sara Raasch
  24. Camelot Burning (et al)- Kathryn Rose
  25. Legacy (et al) – Jesikah Sundin
  26. Stray (et al) – Elissa Sussman
  27. A Wicked Thing (et al) – Rhiannon Thomas
  28. Crown of Ice (et al) – Vicki L. Weavil
  29. Storm Siren (et al) – Mary Weber
  30. Illusions of Fate (et al)- Kiersten White

That’s well over a two dozen titles, not including the respective continuations and sequels, e-book prequels or e-book short of some kind. (Those marked by ‘et al’ indicate some continuation in their series or intended series.) Of the authors that I’ve pulled into this list, there are only three that do not explicitly note a continuation of story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see more than just one entry in these remaining three all the same.

So what’s with this sudden spike in popularity? Here are some observations:

Women authors — At least in this genre, it seems as though unless your name is George R.R. Martin, most fantasy books are being written by women. There are a few men that are writing for young adults: John Green, Rick Yancey, Patrick Ness, Scott Westerfeld, Rick Riordan… but they’re not necessarily explicitly ‘fantasy’ authors. Where is the new blood? Where are the male debut authors? And where are the male debut fantasy authors?

Princesses — I don’t think I need to point out the dream every little girl (and some boys!) have of growing up to be a princess. Rags to riches, coming of age, reluctant hero(ine)… and other themes are common in such princess fantasy stories. Also present are kings, queens, princes, duchies, nobility, lords, ladies, and the like. Everyone loves to play dress up. Everyone also loves coming from modest beginnings,  and not necessarily entitled to the fame and fortune, but, of course, deserving. Humble = likable.

Gossip — I really, really don’t want to go there, but there’s also a clear connection between certain elements in this genre (such as spies, assassins, espionage…all of which boil down to gossip, lies, and general underhanded-ness,) that are present in many stories with women characters. Perhaps it’s simply an aspect of the everyday feminine culture that is handled in different ways from book to book, but it is undeniable that gossip is a common thread.

**NOTE: There’s much hesitation, self-awareness, and self-censorship I exercise in writing this entry. I feel like feminist readers of my blog will tear me to pieces… but these aren’t meant to be pokes or jabs at the nature of feminism or female culture. I’m not criticizing these points I bring up, but rather I seek to open a thread of conversation to be had with a purity of motive.**

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At this year’s Horn Book Awards Colloquium, held at Simmons College (Boston, MA), there was an interesting panel held on the diversity of literature for children and young adults. This was headed by individuals in the publishing world, all of whom claim to scour for talent every day trying to find diverse books to publish. Unfortunately, without the talent… there’s nothing to publish.

So much of this time I had been blaming the publishing world. I’d thought, well, of course they are the reason there is not more diversity in books – because they want to take something popular that makes them money and drill as far down into the well as they can… Further illustrated by my list above. Or is it? Are books like these getting published because that’s just what the writing talent is currently producing? Is it because these books are easily marketable to the established audience? Are there writers out there producing diverse literature and the work is just ‘not good enough’ yet to make it to print? I think it’s unfair to place the blame on any one faction of the book world. Everyone simply has to work harder to produce and promote diverse literature.

My final question is this: Does the list above demonstrate the diversity we are all working so hard for?