December 2015

With my reading challenge over, I feel like Super Mario, super-star blasting through bonus books like crazy! While I didn’t document each and every one that I read this month, I did happen upon a lovely little gem that I’ll share soon… But first:

Highs & Lows! — Where I name my Top 5 favs and not-so-favs from this past year. Rather than rank in the traditional sense, (because I can’t make up my mind) I’ll state the book and a brief ‘why.’ Obviously, go read my favs. 🙂

Favs:
Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan. — Inspirational, in the non-preachy sense. Timely. Also: it’s David Levithan. Gold.

The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black. — 
Beautiful characters and imagery. Also (spoiler): The gay boy gets his prince. It’s about time!

Mort(e), by Robert Repino. — 
Insert picture of a crazy badass cats wielding machine guns. Also: Friendship is love too.

Anything Could Happen, by Will Walton. — 
Debut author with a voice as brilliant as a sparkler. Also: An updated coming-of-age/coming-out story.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. — 
Courageous, sorrowful, yet completely necessary. Also: We need to feel the feels.

Not-So-Favs:
The Tempest, by William Shakespeare. — It’s Shakespeare, and I have flashbacks of english classes. Also: Don’t even bother watching the movie. (I didn’t.)

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. — Saw the twist from a mile away. Popular for the sake of being popular. Also: Don’t drink.

Killing Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard. — Historically inaccurate. Also: Seriously? The Oval Office wasn’t even build yet!

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. — Drilled into the ground because of racial topics. Also: Skeptical of sequel.

The Night Angel Trilogy, by Brent Weeks. — The story ended right as things were getting good. Also: Writing thousands of pages doesn’t make an Epic Fantasy.

BONUS:
I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson. — Hidden gem of the year! I’ve heard many talk about this book in the past, and I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading it… but holy moly! (Winner of the Stonewall Book Award.)

Fraternal twins Noah and Jude tell the story, in alternating chapters at two different periods of time, of their parents divorce and their mother’s death… but it’s SO much more than that. The twins are both a creative but face troubles of their own, such as romantic interests and grief. Also: Noah is adorable in his admiration of a boy…

I’m getting a metal taste in my mouth. Brian’s reading the titles of the spines of books on the shelves like he’s going to be tested on it.
“I love you,” I say to him, only it comes out, “Hey.”
“So damn much,” he says back, only it comes out, “Dude.”
He still won’t meet my eyes.

Never before have I taken pictures of passages of text and shared them with friends as often as I did with this book. This was made exponentially more special when I received a signed copy for Christmas. *Beaming like the sun*

A must-read, for sure.

I'll give you the sun, jandy nelson
I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson
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June 2015

June, June, June… Yet another month to fly by all too quickly this year. This month was all about trying to catch up with life — to fall back in step with the day-to-day. While I made some progress in the Reading Challenge, I was able to squeeze in a few non-challenge books, too. But first… A whoops from last month:

Last month I had reported only reading one book. Well, I forgot that I read this one… Probably because I didn’t find it memorable.

A mystery or thriller: The Girl on The Train, by Paula Hawkins
A mystery or thriller: The Girl on The Train, by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train has been one of those wildly popular bestsellers that we can’t keep on the shelves in the library. I had this on hold for months… everyone raving about it… That should have been a clue. For anyone that is interested in reading it… just read a Wikipedia or Goodreads summary. That’s all you need.

Challenge Books:

A nonfiction book: The Real Wizard of Oz, by Rebecca Loncraine
A nonfiction book: The Real Wizard of Oz, by Rebecca Loncraine
A book at the bottom of your to-read list: City of Ashes, by Cassandra Clare
A book at the bottom of your to-read list: City of Ashes, by Cassandra Clare

A quick love & hate story…
Loved the Baum biography! I may actually read it again some time! Since the history classes I took in school never covered a whole lot of American history, I felt like I stumbled upon this little treasure trove of information — who knew most children barely survived infancy?? I didn’t! This is one that I’ll be passing around to a few people for sure.

The City of Ashes on the other hand… So, I was never too keen on the first book… though I was really excited to read the series! In fact I bought the first three books all at once. Then I read the first one… and it took me a really long time… then the movie came out… and that was atrocious… then I met the author… and after I was finished being star struck, I settled on accepting that the books were popular, and that I found them to be ‘okay.’ Not bad. But… okay. I think I dislike the series because it IS so popular and I’m still trying to chase down the bandwagon to hop on. And I’m no good at running. So I’m a bit spiteful, for no good reason other than me being a little pouty brat. Still, got another one crossed off my list!

A few extras:

George, by Alex Gino
George, by Alex Gino
better nate than ever
Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, by Tim Federle

Both of these books made me tear up. Between the nostalgia I have for Charlotte’s Web and remembering what it was like to be a 13/14-year-old boy — these two books hit me in the soft underbelly. Nice job, authors. 🙂

Next up:
Anything Could Happen by Will Walton ❤ It should have made this month, but I got distracted… But more on that later!

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.

February 2015

February was a real struggle for the Reading Challenge. I started many books, but between school getting into full-swing and catching up with work from missed snow days, I’ve felt rather scattered.  Every weekend has been rather social, despite the weekly snow storms. Also, things like laundry haven’t been as much of a priority due to general winter lethargy. Instead, I spent much time obtaining audiobook versions of the books I currently own, importing them to my computer, and transferring them over to my phone in preparation to listen. Of those, most of them are quite lengthy: 1Q84 (Murakami), The Night Angel Trilogy (Weeks), 11/22/63 (King), Revival (King), Incubus Dreams (Hamilton)…

So, although I wasn’t able to cross very many off the list this month, I should be able to make up for it soon. We’re also only 9 weeks into the year, meaning my average has been two books a week! Here we go — completed books in February:

discovery of witches deborah harkness
A book with magic: A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness
the magician king, magicians, lev grossman
A book with nonhuman characters: The Magician King, by Lev Grossman
hatchet gary paulsen
A book written by an author with your same initials: Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
the hours michael cunningham
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book: The Hours, by Michael Cunningham

 

I quite liked each of these books, actually… each for different reasons. Though Hatchet wasn’t my favorite, I now understand why it’s so popular with schools. Though, Paulen has a habit of repeating the same thing three-times over throughout the book…

A Discovery of Witches made me think of a grown-up version of a lot of teen paranormal romance books.

The Hours was beautiful, as was the film. I’ve always loved Michael Cunningham’s writing.

The Magician King may have claimed the highest rank this month. I read through it pretty quickly compared to the others, and I think I enjoyed it more than the first. The Magician’s Land is another that I have queued up in my audiobooks, but I don’t think I’ll count that one. I’ve found so many trilogies that I wanted to count, however, I had read the first installment prior to this year, so I’ve ruled them out…. Which is a real shame. That said, I was able to get a hold of audios for The Night Angel Trilogy which I’ve had since high school, so I’m looking forward to finally knocking those out!

 

Other’s I’m currently reading for the challenge include:

  • Siege and Storm – Leigh Bardugo
  • The Way of the Shadows – Brent Weeks
  • The Kiss of Deception – Mary Pearson
  • Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen

 

January 2015

With the 2015 Reading Challenge constantly on my mind, I shot out of the gate last month, taking things head-on. I read 14 (and halves of two) books, accounting for just over a quarter of the entire challenge list. Knowing that my final semester of grad school is now underway, I wanted to make a dent in this list before I got too wrapped up in other things. These 14 books have (mostly) been great — I’ve enjoyed titles I never thought I would. Others… Well, I read them, and that’s that. Below is a compilation of these first 14 titles and which challenge requirement they satisfy.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard jk rowling
A book of short stories: Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling
the land of the pink pearl
A book that takes place in your hometown: The Land of the Pink Pearl, by L.D. Powles
The Walking Dead
A graphic novel: The Walking Dead, volume 1, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore
The Little Prince
A book originally written in a different language: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
the house on mango street
A book you can finish in a day: The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
the tempest
A play: The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
A Separate Peace
A book you were supposed to read in school but never did: A Separate Peace by John Knowles
the scarlet letter
A book with a color in the title: The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Hobbit
A popular author’s first book: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Swimming-Pool Library
A book that came out the year you were born: The Swimming-Pool Library, by Alan Hollinghurst
I Am Not Myself These Days
A memoir: I Am Not Myself These Days, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Black & White
A book with antonyms in the title: Black & White, by Dani Shapiro
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore
A book that made you cry: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce
mortal heart his fair assassin
A book set in a different country: Mortal Heart, by Robin LaFevers

Top Two:
Mortal Heart — This title is the last book in the His Fair Assassin’s Trilogy, and I have absolutely loved the two previous entries. This one had several little moments that were great surprises and revelations that I greatly appreciated. Though, this was not as action-packed as the previous entries, I was rather satisfied with how things ended. AND, there was quite an extensive amount of research done for historical accuracy! I wouldn’t quite call this a fantasy, but there are fantasy bits to it. Though… Paganism/Religious/Magic… don’t all the lines blur after a while?

I Am Not Myself These Days — I’ve had this book on my shelves for years and years and years. Honestly, I think I bought it at a Barnes & Noble as a buy-two-get-one-free deal. I only really bought it for the cover back then. I had no idea who Josh was, and that was way before The Amazing Race or The Fabulous Beekman Boys. In 2013 I was able to meet Josh and his partner Brent when they came to a local bookshop for their cookbook tour. So, of course, I brought my copy of his CRAZY memoir along and he enthusiastically signed it. Several friends have mentioned that they’ve read it and loved it, and I’ll say that this is definitely up there with all the other books I really enjoyed. This book is filled with drag queens, drugs, and generally inappropriate things — which was a little cringe-worthy at times, but absolutely hilarious.

Bottom Two:
The Scarlet Letter — This was torture to read. Complete torture. I can’t believe kids had to read this in school. They still do, don’t they? I tried on this one, guys… I really did. I know people out there love Hester, but I’d rather just watch Easy A with Emma Stone. The 19th century writing style was verbose and unnecessary. The Land of the Pink Pearl, another book I completed in this month, was also written during the same time period, and was so, so much better. Sorry, I’m gonna boot this one.

The Tempest — It’s Shakespeare. That’s enough.

Reading Challenge 2015

Right as I began thinking about my annual book bracket, I stumbled upon this reading challenge that seems to be making its way around the net. The list by POPSUGAR contains 50 items (52 when you include the trilogy) meaning approximately one book a week. This may be tough. Outside of that one YA lit class in grad school, I’ve never really taken on such a huge volume of books before, and in that class, I really was reading a book or two a week thanks to the power of increased playback speed through Overdrive and Audible.

After reviewing the items, I’ve decided I’m going to take on this challenge, drawing primarily from titles I already own. Hey, if I’m able to knock out 52 books from my own list, I think that will merit some sort of reward. Like chocolate or something. (Maybe booze.) I’ve already drawn up some preliminary items that will satisfy the requirements for the list, and I’m trying to find as many of them in audio format as possible… which may be difficult for some more obscure titles. Luckily, thanks to the power of the library, I should be able to find many other titles in audio as fill-ins.

I know a lot of titles could satisfy multiple items from the list, but my goal is to find 52 unique titles – no cheating!

The countdown begins. I challenge all you readers, too!
You have ten days to prepare. GO!

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.**

~    ~   ~

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?