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.

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?

A Fever in my Blood

 

Boy, this took me long enough! I finally, finally, got around to reading Rebel Heart by Moira Young, book 2 in the Dustlands trilogy. I happened upon Blood Red Road (book 1) while I was in Canada one summer. Without having heard much about it before, I picked it up, because I couldn’t leave a bookstore empty-handed. Honestly, I didn’t begin reading it until a few months later, but once I did, I flew through the pages. Once I realized there were to be two more books following, I pre-ordered the titles as soon as they became available. That was a few years ago now, and since I loved BRR so much, I wanted to be sure Rebel Heart made it on my list of books to read this year.
Rebel Heart, Blood Red Road, Dustlands, Moira Young

 

The first thing you’ll notice about the Dustlands trilogy is the way it is written. That may sound sort of generic, but flip through the pages and you’ll see there are no quotation marks indicating speech. It is also written in the vernacular of the world. G’s are dropped from words ending with ‘-ing,’ instead of ‘for’ it’s ‘fer,’ rather than ‘afraid’ it’s ‘afeared,’ ‘can’t’ is ‘cain’t,’ etc. Honestly, it felt really odd for the first 40 pages or so, but soon you find yourself in the rhythm and you don’t even notice. Sometimes, the line spacing even makes the prose feel like verse… which may sound weird, but it works!

Moira Young does a marvelous job of supplying the reader with just enough detail. Sort of like a watercolor painting, her words suggest description while leaving us to fill in the specifics with our own imagination. It’s remarkable how liberating that feels… but I didn’t realize it until after I was through reading the book. It’s not like other writers that will ramble for pages about the bark of a tree.

Rebel Heart starts with a shift in perspective – we hear from another character’s point of view. Immediately I thought about Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, wondering if this book would follow the same pattern: book 1, one perspective – book 2, two perspectives – book 3, three perspectives. In this case, the shift serves as a prologue. The book picks up pretty much where the first left off. (I’m purposefully leaving out characters and plot points for spoilers — Yeah, I’m being nice this time. You’re welcome.) Again, it took me a little while to get into the stylized rhythm, but I adjusted. The character names were all familiar, but I had to remind myself who was who from the previous book.

Saba, the protagonist, is the same as she was – stubborn, fierce, and unrelenting. After the events of the first book, it’s rewarding to see her struggle and develop through this next installment. She’s not perfect. Often I feel as though these strong-female-protagonists-in-a-post-apocalyptic-dystopian-world-for-young-adults all start to blend together. Not so with Saba. Her inner conflict is so… I wanna say textured, but that sounds weird… It’s pebbly and rocky, if that makes sense. And a few times, her decisions made me go “what?!” — and THAT’S what makes her such an interesting read. Saba is easily my favorite protagonist in this genre so far.

Oh, and speaking of genre. Something I should mention: this is very much a Western. That may shock you readers, but I urge you to give it a try. There are a lot of John Ford and John Wayne influences… In fact, does anyone remember The Searchers (1956 film)? If you liked that, you’ll definitely like this series. Now that I think about it, I suppose book 1 sort of follows along that same kind of story too.

Hopefully it won’t be another 3 years before I read the final book, Raging Star!

 

I’ve Been Featured…

I’m totally geeking out right now.

I was interviewed by the lovely Nicole Brinkley (@nebrinkley) a little while ago and it was published online today! How awesome is it that I’m featured on YA Interrobang?? VERY! I’m so appreciative to have been a part of Nicole’s column and I’d love it if you all went over and showed some support.

ya interrobang yainterrobangFor those unfamiliar with YA Interrobang (@yainterrobang), it’s an online magazine all about the world of Young Adult literature. In other words: everything right up my alley. Though you may be skeptical since they only launched in August 2013, trust me, Nicole knows what she’s doing, and she had created an awesome ‘zine. There’s Author News, rants, event announcements, giveaways (who doesn’t love a good giveaway??) and so much more. The content is quality and there’s a lot of it. Ever since I Twitter-met Nicole at BEA earlier this year, I’ve been a fan.

So go read my interview, and go support another awesome blog.

Bloggers unite!

Permanent Collection

After adding my newest addition, Land Of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique, to my shelves last night, I realized just how many books I have signed and dedicated to my name. This is a double-edged sword, my friends, because in my pursuit of reading and book-buying, there are some books I simply cannot part with. It all comes down to the signature. I shy away from the word “collected” because I wouldn’t consider myself a collector of signatures, but I really have gathered a fair number already, simply by attending author events. Many are personally dedicated to me, which make the books incredibly special – I’m reminded that I have made a connection with the author in some way. This also solidifies the book’s place on my shelves. In light of my recent separation from several entries, these with signatures will never be resold or donated (unless to another family member, I suppose), making them permanently and steadfastly mine. I totally have Middle-Child-MINE-Syndrome.

Below is the list of books* I have signatures (sig) and dedications (ded) in:

  1. Witch Island – David Bernstein sig/ded
  2. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black sig/ded
  3. Fat Angie – e.E. Charlton-Trujillo sig/ded
  4. City of Bones – Cassandra Clare sig
  5. Emissary – Patricia Cori sig/ded
  6. The Search for WondLa – Tony DiTerlizzi sig/ded
  7. All I Know and Love – Judith Frank sig/ded
  8. Endgame – James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton sig
  9. Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman sig/ded
  10. Flying Shoes – Lisa Howorth sig/ded
  11. I Am Not Myself These Days – Josh Kilmer-Purcell sig/ded
  12. Evil Librarian – Michelle Knudsen sig/ded
  13. We Were Liars – E. Lockhart sig/ded
  14. Dorothy Must Die – Danielle Paige sig/ded
  15. Mort(e) – Robert Repino sig/ded
  16. Jackaby – William Ritter sig/ded
  17. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell sig
  18. Landline – Rainbow Rowell sig/ded
  19. A Sudden Light – Garth Stein sig/ded
  20. Land of Love and Drowning – Tiphanie Yanique sig/ded
  21. Briar Rose – Jane Yolen sig/ded

*A number of these books are ARCs from BEA ’14

A Hero’s Impact

Why didn’t I read this when I was younger? I had to go back through my old Amazon.com orders to remember when I purchased this book, and it turns out it was part of one of the last orders I ever made when I was still living in Richmond, Virginia. I ordered this book along with The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard, the Enchanted DVD, and a Pokemon graphic novel — a pretty odd assortment, yet strangely appropriate.

hero perry moore

 

Of the sixteen books that survived my Gauntlet, this was actually one of the first I finished. (My hold for the audiobook version came in before some of the others, which was remarkably well done.) Also of the ones I’ve read from the list, this may be one of my favorites… and it is so bittersweet. I think I said bittersweet in one of my last reviews… it is so tragic.

Hero is about a teenage boy named Thom. His mother is presumed to be dead. His father is a smidge gruff  and stern, but still lovable.  They live in a world where Superheroes exist. !n fact, his father is a Super, but has become estranged from The League. Like many teenaged boys, Thom is trying to live up to his father’s expectations… but also hide some pretty big secrets: 1) he has superpowers and 2) he is gay. Throughout the book, Thom struggles with acceptance, fitting in, dating, discovering who he really is… which is all quite typical in my opinion. So what makes this book so appealing?

First, superheroes are awesome. The cast of characters in this novel are incredibly memorable. Thom has to go through an initiation of sorts at The League’s headquarters and is assigned to a team of similarly skilled budding new Supers, including Typhoid Larry (walking CDC nightmare), Scarlett (flying, fireball-throwing pizza delivery girl), and Ruth (chain-smoking, future-seeing old crone).  Oh, Thom’s power is being able to heal things. The team is sent out on little missions and things, and start to uncover conspiracies within The League… all really solid elements. Good good good.

Second, and I point this out second because it’s not the main part of the story, Thom’s sexuality, accepting himself for not only being a Super, but for also being gay, and discovering a bit of romance. There is a tenderness to Thom that makes him so likable. He is also self-deprecating in an endearing sort of way. (Because what teen isn’t a little self-deprecating?) There are so many wonderful passages in Hero… the prose is not only elegant, but also witty. I want to paste oh, so many of them here… but instead I’ll tell you to go read the book.

As for the tragedy: Perry Moore died of an accidental drug overdose in 2011. He was the executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia film series (2005 – 2010). He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, he graduated from Norfolk Academy, interned at the Virginia Film Fest… And I knew none of this at the time I purchased the book. Moore was working on a sequel to Hero sometime before he died. Thankfully, I don’t think a sequel would be necessary, but it would at least satisfy everyone’s questions of “what next?” Hero was wrapped up pretty well. There were a few surprises that spurred on some tears, but I attribute that to the impact of the audiobook.

And so, Hero entered my life some four years ago in a rag-tag Amazon order, in the author’s hometown (that I will always fondly think of as another home,) and made the journey with me to forge a new life, where I “became more and more of who I really was, and less of this person I thought wanted to be.”

“Once in a while, life gives you a chance to measure your worth. Sometimes you’re called upon to make a split-second decision to do the right thing, defining which way your life will go. These are the decisions that make you who you are.”

Thanks, Perry Moore – your Hero made quite an impact on this reader.