New Year, new list

Last year’s Reading Challenge was completed well before the end of the year. 2016’s Reading Challenge is a much shorter list (only 41) so I anticipate some free-wielding posts scattered about towards the end of the year. Let’s see how I fare this go-round!

20e491b890bb19b9_ps15_love_2016readingchallenge_pin_list

Edit:
This post, and many of the following posts, had been drafted and never published. Due to some significant life changes, I’ve held off from publishing these entries. This 6-month hiatus wasn’t exactly planned, and though I may have put my writing on hold, my reading has never stopped. I feel as though I’m finally at a point where I can pick up where I left off, and I hope, dear Reader, that you’re still out there… and that you bear with me while I roll the following entries out.

xx

July 2015

This month I was able to take a big-big chunk out of the challenge list — thank you, summer! — I’ve only got 12 more until I finish the whole list! That’s crazy!!  AND that’s only the challenge books, not even the other books on the side that I’m reading that sadly don’t fit into any of the remaining criteria. That said, this was probably my most enjoyable month so far — I loved all of these books! So here we go!

red queen victoria aveyard
A book written by someone under 30: Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

 

morte mort(e) robert repino
A book with a one-word title: Mort(e), by Robert Repino

 

the awakening kate chopin classic literature
A book with bad reviews: The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

 

gay literature anything could happen ellie goulding will walton lgbt
A book set during Christmas: Anything Could Happen, by Will Walton

 

rainbow rowell fangirl carry on
A book based on a true story: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

 

anne of green gables l m montgomery canada
A book over 100 years old: Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery

 

paige mckenzie sunshine girl haunting youtube
A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, by Paige McKenzie

 

bioshock rapture john shirley
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit: Bioshock: Rapture, by John Shirley

If I were to highlight all these books as much as I want, this entry would be a mile long…This time, let’s try something different: 5 words (or less) to describe why I loved each book, so you can skip all the ramblings underneath.

Red Queen — Local debut author hits big!
I remember picking this book up sometime in the fall of last year while it was still an ARC. It was in such a pretty little Velcro case, too! I had to practically pry it from the bookseller’s fingers because she said it was THAT good — then the next day, WHO shows up at the bookstore looking for it, but Victoria Aveyard herself! I had to tweet her out and admit to taking it… Then I had her sign that very copy at her launch event 🙂

Mort(e) — BAD-ASS CAT.
I met Rob at Book Expo America in 2014. It was my first time attending and everything was shiny and new and I was snatching books from all over the place. While things were winding down on a particular day, I was slowed down by a long signing line spilling out into the walkway. This abrupt roadblock awkwardly placed me right in front of the SoHo Press booth. I spotted the nifty cover and so I picked up a copy to read the back — “The author is signing right over here!” said a tall, slim African-American woman. “What’s it about?” I asked. “It’s about a cat and giant ants that want to take over the world… and… well… The author can sign it for you!”  Admittedly, I was apprehensive, but also greedy for a signed book. A very nervous looking Repino was sitting at a table full of his books… I knew I had to say something to break the ice, so I mentioned I was a blogger and I would TOTALLY write a review for his book when I finally got around to reading it. He chuckled a bit and said he appreciated it. WELL, Rob… Here we go!

SURPRISE REVIEW!

Yes, Mort(e) is about a cat and giant ants that want to take over the world… but it’s also a touching story of unrelenting dedication and the bonds of friendship (& love). Told in a refreshing voice, Repino chronicles the life of a house cat and his connection with the dog next door. Yes, a normal, non-talking house cat — at least at first. Down below the Earth’s surface lives a gigantic (gross, grubby) queen ant that has decided to rain Hell down on the humans for stomping on and burning all of her little children. She unleashes a “hormone” into the atmosphere that causes a mutation in the animals on the surface enabling them to walk upright and speak (and fire guns and stuff). Suddenly it’s an all-out war between humans and animals, and the animals are kicking some serious butt. Our hero comes to his self-awareness during a traumatic event between his family and the neighbor, resulting in his dog-friend’s disappearance.
With a little nod here and there to Animal Farm by Orwell, Repino’s engaging Sci-Fi is action-packed and even humorous at times. I may not know a whole lot (nothing) about ants and their biology/chemistry, but if what Repino has written about their ‘colony-mind’ and seemingly immortal/never-ending consciousness is at all true… that’s freaking creepy!  Bonus points for having a remarkably satisfying ending. (AND even MORE points for a sequel in the works!!).

The Awakening
 — Everything deserves a second chance.
This is one of those books I HAD to read in school… which, of course, means that I didn’t. In fact, I got to page 11. At least that’s the conclusion I draw based on the dog-eared page. Now I’m going to say something that I never though I would say, but good literature like this is simply wasted on the young! Why would you ever force a teenager to read a story about a woman who is struggling with the monotony of her marriage and the thrill and infatuation of new love (or is it love??). Teens are trying to work through their first loves and infatuations and unrequited feelings and sexual frustrations. Okay, so some teenagers are certainly more emotionally mature than others, but seriously. Come on english teachers. How can they relate? I’m so thankful that I gave this book a second chance by someone’s glowing recommendation. Hmm… what OTHER books did I “read” in school that I should revisit?

Anything Could Happen
 — I needed this at 14.
I met Will this year at Book Expo America. The ARC of Anything Could Happen somehow ended up on my desk, and I knew from the cover: “Op, this is a gay book. I need to read this… I haven’t read one of these in a while.” I had the intentions of reading it once I finished up with grad school (which maybe tells you how long I had it) — well, meeting Will bumped it up to the top of my list.
When I was young and reading gay literature, I realized it was so much of the same story over and over again… the secrets, the surprise outing, the betrayal and heart ache… and while those all factor into the overall experience of the ‘coming out’ narrative, Will’s book is a much needed upgrade from the traditional. We’re faced with a character in the South, which we can assume is conservative. We’re also presented with a heterosexual love interest that has two dads. The story has some classic elements such as school bullying and unrequited love, but Will wrote a much more realistic take on a young man coming out to himself and his family — and in such an uplifting and positive way, leaving me hopeful and joyously celebrating our protagonist by the end of the last page. Good for you, Will. And good for Tretch — what a cute little bug that boy is 🙂 Thank you for such a beautiful, and current, gay young adult novel.

Fangirl
 — So relevant to college life!
Okay, I’m started to get pretty long-winded now! Time to crank through these next few. Fangirl reminded me of one of my best friends in college. Though, actually, when I recommended she read this book, she said she did and she didn’t like it (whoops)! But that’s okay! It’s not a reflection of my time in college, but it certainly reminded me of my experiences. Few (if any) people know that I was contemplating writing fan fiction in my middle school days after reading some written about Sailor Moon, and OMG, Gundam Wing! In college I began that contemplation again, and while I never put fingers to keys to type anything up, I certainly had a number of stories and slash-fics in my head. So this one was nostalgic in some ways — which always feels warm and fuzzy.

Anne of Green Gables
 — Who knew she was funny?
I CRACKED UP when I listened to this book on double-speed. Anne is such a vibrant character on her own, not to mention an incessant chatterbox, but to have her prattling on at twice the normal talking cadence made it seem like she was all tweaked out on caffeine. Towards the end I picked up to read the book, since I was gifted such a beautiful copy by Aracely’s Books, and I still found some humor in the voice. What a treat!

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl
 — Youtube sensation turned book? YES!
In my quest to find “a book that scares me” I’ve turned to a few spooky/creepy books in hopes that SOMETHING jostles me. This will make me sound like a freak, but I love stories and movies and shows about the supernatural and demons and possessions and all that (sorry Mom). I got to meet Paige at Book Expo this year (notice a trend, folks?) and though I knew I recognized her name, I hadn’t yet watched any of the YouTube series this book is based on. She was kind enough to give me not only a copy for my job at the library, but also one for -me- to have, so if course I had to read it! And while the subject matter was spooky and creepy, which I enjoyed… It’s difficult for me to get scared by a book. But I still liked it a lot, and I’m looking forward to book two. Maybe I should start watching the web series too…!

Bioshock: Rapture 
—  40/50’s era underwater dystopia.
So, an interesting take on “somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit” — Since Rapture is a fictional place. I was actually considering reading one of the Oz books, or perhaps The Secret Garden. I really wanted to read a book based in Australia, but since I’m drawing titles from books I already own, I’m fresh out of Outback stories. I was hoping this book might also possibly be a “book that scares me” — especially since the games were so enchanting and terrifying…oh gosh, the music alone! — yet again, I closed the book unafraid and unspooked. I blame it all on reading Stephen King at such a young age. Anyway, all the same — I’ve never read a book based on a video game franchise, and this served as a nice prequel. Actually, it made me want to play the games all over again! (Which reminds me, I still have to play the last one set in the flying city of Columbia…)

If you’re still with me, congratulations! You made it through this super-sized entry! I felt I had to compensate for posting late… even though I’m being slick and backdating to the end of July. See ya next month!

 

Island Heritage

The year is drawing to a close, and as I reflect on the books I read this year, and those I didn’t, I can’t help but look forward. For the first time since 2009, since before starting this blog, I am finally able to return to The Bahamas for the holidays. As one who has spent nearly as much time away from home as I have living at home, this time is incredibly sentimental. We alternate our holiday destinations between the United States and The Bahamas. My birthday is a week after Christmas, right after New Years. In the past, this has meant that the whole family is together for at least a week or two.  This year, everyone will be down in the islands. While I write this, our first New England snow of the season comes down. The plows scrape and rumble by, frightening my cats.

But to the heart of this entry: This year was also the first time I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo… and by attempted, I mean, I didn’t really write much… BUT, I do have an idea. A grand idea if you ask me — but one that requires quite a bit of research on my part. I realize that next semester should be my last in my graduate school career, and for next NaNoWriMo, I want to be poised and ready to hammer out my fifty thousand words. Though I feel it’s too early to discuss this idea, I will say that it involves some aspects of the Caribbean. There’s not a terrible amount of visible Caribbean literature out there. I say visible because I know how rich and vibrant story-telling is in the islands, but not as many tales are written down and then published.

I also can’t stop thinking about Tiphanie Yanique’s book Land of Love and Drowning sitting on my shelf (scandalously adjacent to Herman Wouk!) so, tonight, I’ve picked it up. Yes, there are still three titles I haven’t read out of my 16 book gauntlet, and I still have reviews to write for about a half-dozen, but I’m still pleased that I finished most on the list! Anyone watching my other page will notice how much that list has grown… Trust me, I’m reading!

land of love and drowning tiphanie yanique caribbean Ah, look how beautiful under the dust jacket!

My task for this next year is to read as much as I can find about my cultural heritage from The Bahamas, as well as the other topics involved with my NaNoWriMo idea. I’ll be starting with the titles I already own, such as Tiphanie’s book, but also Paradise Overdose, by Brian Antoni, re-reading titles by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, whatever I happen to find at home in my old room, and many more Caribbean authors. I’m taking International and Comparative Librarianship in my final semester of grad school, so ideally, I’ll be making some contacts (in the islands) for a class-related project. (You see how I worked that out, right?) We’ll see if I can skate around without purchasing any books… But I’m a sucker for a signed copy! I’d also like to revisit some titles from my childhood studies, such at The Cay by Theodore Taylor, and The Wooing of Beppo Tate by C. Everard Palmer. I can’t believe I actually remembered those to tell you the truth. Despite realizing that many… most… of these will not have audiobook versions, I am looking forward to reading physical copies.

If nothing else, I hope these books help me feel a bit warmer during the winter.

Spotlight: Maggie Stiefvater

I don’t often do this. In fact, I never have. But I want to take a moment and talk about an author that I’ve developed quite an appreciation for. This may become a regular thing… like an author spotlight or something… But for now, I’ll just gush about my latest author crush.

Maggie Stiefvater

maggie stiefvater raven boys

Her books preceded her. I heard about “those new werewolf books” (The Wolves of Mercy Falls) several years ago but refused to pay them any attention. In fact, I didn’t even associate her name with the book series because I forced myself to be THAT uninterested. It was probably because I was too turned off of teen paranormal romance at that time. Thanks, Twilight. Then as one of the first choices for a book club that I joined, we were tasked with reading The Raven Boys. I found the audiobook available on Overdrive and started listening.

Loved it. I’ll spare the premise, since I’m focusing on Maggie, here. But it’s awesome. Go read it. In fact, read all of her books. Cuz I pretty much have, now.

Maggie lives in Virginia – SCORE
After I moved away from the Bahamas, I lived at a boarding school in Virginia, went to college in Virginia, and ended up living there almost 10 years. Virginia has always been my home away from home. Maggie has written several of her books set in Virginia. The Raven Boys, specifically, is even about guys in a boarding school. Without needed to say much more, it was so incredibly easy for me to relate.

Maggie is an artist – AWESOME
I’ve always loved art. When I was little, I toted around a stuffed Crayola Bunny that had a pocket in its overalls to hold a few crayons. I was so obsessed with those color names too. In fact, at my primary school, I identified my peers to my parents by what color their skin was by Crayola standards: peach, tan, brown… And I was so confused when people said they were white or black, because THEY DIDN’T MATCH THE CRAYON!  My love for art continued throughout my high school career, expanding my craft into dark room photography, which I ultimately majored in when I went to college.

Maggie is a musician – OMG
For many years I played piano. I really enjoyed it, until I had to start composing my own pieces for these examinations… then I felt burnt out. Though I never practiced at home, my teacher said I showed great talent – and just imagine what I would be like if I DID practice at home! It’s been years since I’ve played, but it’s one of those things I hold dear and have such an appreciation for.

Maggie is a race car enthusiast – SERIOUSLY
Okay, so I don’t have much to say about this point, besides race car being a fun palindrome. But come on, guys… how many people do you know zip around in neat cars with custom license plates (cuz it’s so darn cheap in Virginia!) and graffiti their car in 3.5 minutes?? Seriously, check out the video on her website.

Maggie writes some seriously fantastic books – DONE!
After breezing through The Raven Boys, I decided (with some hesitation) to try out The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, then Scorpio Races. Most recently, (cuz I have to do all of these in audio now) The Dream Thieves. For a typical contemporary Young Adult author, her stories are remarkably fresh and original. The bits of romance in WoMF were tender, honest and realistic. Scorpio Races was enchanting — come on, a girl enters the ‘wild & crazy water horse’ race to save her struggling family? Who comes up with this stuff? This chick does. Oh, and she also composes and performs the music for the audio books.

Done, done, done! Subscribe me +1000 times! Fav, retweet, blast that out.  Maggie Stiefvater is a rock star. I told her once. She proved it:

twitter maggie stiefvater

Have I said enough? For an author that wasn’t even on my radar, she has sprung up out of nowhere and completely captured me. Like a bear trap, actually. Or a snake with big fangs. But a nice snake. A colorful, cheeky, magical snake. She has sunk her sharp and witty teeth in to my unsuspecting self and pumped in her intelligent prose and beautiful imagery. So read (or listen) to her books. I’m going to pine over her Tarot card illustrations and maybe dance to a tribal summoning song  and hope she comes out to Western Mass one day. Hey, there’s a thought…

 

 

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?

Letdown-iversary

Womp womp…

Okay folks, I was PLANNING on writing a big, bright, shining awesome entry today because it’s nearly the third anniversary of the inception of BookSick. Some of you may recall last year I mentioned that someone purchased the domain for booksick.com and I marked in my calendar the expiration date – today! I woke up early, charged with purpose, to snatch up the name. Well… it didn’t quite work out as I intended. What resulted was about two hours of frustration, and an unintentional course on the registration, expiration, and ownership of domains, from which I gathered the following:

Perks:
– The (old) booksick.com site has been down for several months. I’ve checked periodically.
– The current domain owner has allowed the renewal to lapse.

Drawbacks:
– There’s a 27 day renewal grace period, during which time, the current owner may renew.
– If unclaimed, the domain is put on hold for 30-45 days.
– Then there’s ANOTHER 30 days for the original owner to repurchase. (How many chances do they get? Come on!)

If I’m Desperate:
– I can backorder the domain through services like GoDaddy (ick ick ick!)
– Hire a domain acquisitions agent (ugh…)
– End up spending upwards of several hundreds of dollars. (NOT happening!)

I could possibly get the domain now, but I would have to hire someone for $69 to then negotiate with the owner, which could cause them to renew and then inflate the cost. Then pay a 10% commission to the agent (which they’re saying has to be a minimum of $60) which means I would be spending upwards of $730 — when I could have purchased it through WordPress for a measly $25. Why won’t I let this go? Or why not go for the .net or .co? Or what about booksickblog.com instead?

No. Why? Because – and that’s that. This domain WILL be mine. Period.

Until then, I’m going to play the waiting game. After all these periods of holding and pending and deleting from the Registry, assuming no one else in the world wants this domain, I should be able to pick it up once it is released back into the public pool. So basically, by the middle of November, if all goes well, I can then purchase the domain without paying crazy amounts of fees.

Please, give me strength to hold out until then!

Guest Review: Landline

Love. Writing. Adventure.

by Garrett Pinder

It’s rare that I’m able to connect with a book on a level that really resonates with me, but Landline by Rainbow Rowell did. Better known for her wildly popular YA novel Eleanor & Park, Rowell carried me along with her easy flowing prose in this, her fourth book. At BEA 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting her as she signed an ARC (advanced reader copy) of the book. (Out now!)

Landline by Rainbow RowellLandline Signed by Rainbow Rowell

What’s it about?

We enter the story finding Georgie and Neal in the doldrums of marriage, struggling to manage work and care for their two young girls. Christmas is swiftly approaching, and the family has plans to visit Neal’s mother in Omaha for the holidays, when Georgie is offered a once in a lifetime opportunity at work. Unfortunately, this opportunity conflicts with travel plans, and Neal bitterly insists Georgie stay home while he takes…

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