03
April
2016

March Diversions

What I was up to last month. Aspirational fabrics, fabulous books, food obsessions…

READING
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead [MG Contemporary]
I enjoyed this even more than Stead’s Newbery-winning When You Reach Me. I loved the characters, how believable and messy and wonderful their relationships were, and how perfectly Stead captured the middle-school balance between being a kid and being a teen. So many small perfect details all came into play, and there is a very cool use of second-person POV in a set of chapters interspersed with the main plotline (that of course end up weaving into the main story by the end). Also, this book introduced me to the dizzying world of YouTube hair tutorials…

How I found it: I’d heard about it in passing, but what really made me go and look for it was the SLJ Battle of the Kid’s Books.

This Side of Home by Renée Watson [YA Contemporary]
I was in the mood for a contemporary novel about friendship and home and life and choices, and this fit that perfectly, with bonus exploration of gentrification and racism. I requested it from the library along with a whole bunch of other titles I was interested in, and the voice just caught me and didn’t let me go.

How I found it: I don’t recall where I first saw this referenced, but it’s popped up in enough lists of recommended books, diverse reading lists, and friends’ recommendations that I had it on my radar.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely [YA Contemporary]
A powerful exploration of modern race relations in the US, told in duel POV (a black boy who is beaten by a cop, and a white boy who witnesses the beating, who both attend the same school and have friends in common). Both voices were so powerful. I really appreciated how this book took a topic we see far too often in the headlines and really dug in and explored it on a personal level.

How I found it: Another one that is all around the blogosphere. And with good reason! It was actually a thought-provoking post by author Zetta Elliott that praised much of the book but was critical of one aspect (the lack of black female voices) that really pushed me to go get a copy.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard [YA Speculative]
I don’t know if I could give a thoughtful critique of this book: it basically just compelled me to read it as fast as possible (which, given that I was listening to an audio book, was a challenge! It was a good thing I started it when I was on vacation and spending a lot of time in the car!). I’m not even sure I really liked the characters. I just HAD TO KNOW what was going to happen next!
How I found it: It’s a NYT bestseller, optioned for film, talked-about everywhere.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo [YA Fantasy]
I loved this, and was deeply impressed by it, especially as a writer. Five different points of view that all felt distinct and necessary, amazing characterization full of shades of gray and mysteries and secrets, incredibly rich worldbuilding, AND a complicated, engaging plot. But really, my favorite part (the reason I am desperate for book 2) was Kaz and Inej. Individually, but especially together.
How I found it: I read and loved Bardugo’s first trilogy, set in the same world as this new duology. And I loved the idea of a magical heist novel!

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata [Adult Contemporary Graphic Novel]
Beautiful artwork that swept me into a subtle, bittersweet meditation on choice and grief (which makes this sound like a depressing book, but it’s not).
How I found it: I saw an image of the cover in a blog post somewhere, and the subtle, beautiful quality of the art made me go look it up!

WRITING
Still on hiatus from actual hands-to-keyboard writing, but doing a lot of mulling of possible projects, until last week when I started reading an awesome nonfiction history book and thought: “I really wish someone would write a novel about this!”

followed by: “Maybe I could?”

followed by: “But it wouldn’t work because of all the pesky FACTS and also I can’t afford a research trip and I wouldn’t do justice to it.”

and then finally: “But what if I made it a fantasy. Then I could add [REDACTED]! [REDACTED] make everything better!”

And now my brain is spinning merrily on that new idea.

(Bonus points for anyone who can guess what [REDACTED] is…)

CRAFTING
I started my first felting project. Charlie is dubious:

[Photo of my hand holding a blue-green felted blob as it is sniffed by a cute black-and-white dog]

I’ve also been preparing for some future crafting. My dad donated all of this beautiful fabric, which I am going to use to make some costuming for a new Live Action Role-Playing game I’m working on.

[Photo of an array of brightly colored printed fabrics, mostly in shades of red, yellow, green, cream.]

And in the process of looking at fabric online I fell down a rabbit hole and somehow managed with these two beauties showing up in my mailbox last week:

[Photo of two fabrics, one printed like a blue sky with puffy clouds, the other a blue background with black octopi]

Yes, I am going to attempt my first non-costume sewing. Like, real skirts with zippers that I might wear to work. Updates to come…

OOO, SHINY
This month I discovered that these exist:

[Photo of a vase of orange tulips, with a package of Cadbury Creme Egg cookies in the foreground.]

(The cookies, that is. I was already aware of the existence of tulips). And they are DELICIOUS (well, if you like Cadbury Creme Eggs to begin with, which apparently not everyone does for some inexplicable reason). It is possible there may be several more boxes of them in my freezer now, since they are limited edition. (Very limited, based on my current rate of consumption…)

Also, I am inordinately delighted that someone out there came up with this (link goes to a tumblr image that you may also find amusing if you, like me, enjoy both Waterhouse’s painting Lady of Shalott and puns).

19
March
2016

February Diversions

What I was up to last month:

READING
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan [MG Fantasy]
I quite enjoyed this. It was exactly what I was in the mood for when I read it: a humorous middle-grade adventure that made me laugh and kept me turning pages.
How I found it: I was in the mood for a middle-grade adventure and it was available via the library ebook lending program, and then the first chapter hooked me!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas [YA Fantasy]
I will admit I was dubious about this, especially as I was reading the first several chapters. And I am sure there are other readers who find the main character unlikable, particularly at the start. But that’s actually one of the reasons I enjoyed this and am already on the library wait-list for book 2. I kind of love that Celaena is unapologetically selfish and vain and proud (she’s also loyal and kind and brave in turns). In any case, this was, for me, a fun and fast read.
How I found it: It’s a hugely popular YA fantasy series…

Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]
I continue to enjoy the Miss Fisher novels very much! I am taking a break so I don’t inhale them all at once, which I might otherwise be tempted to do.
How I found it: Ongoing series…

WRITING
I got back some really helpful feedback from my amazing and generous critique partners, then dove into a revision that consumed most of my spare energy this month (thus the comparatively small size of my reading list for February — and the fact that they were all read at the beginning of the month).

I tend to find revision more mentally all-consuming than drafting (except in the end-stages of drafting when I want to just write all the time to get the book finished). When drafting I will usually do my work for the day and stop and feel satisfied, whereas with revision I generally feel twitchy and guilty if I am not working on the revision ALL THE TIME. But now it’s done, and off, and I’m dedicating a good chunk of time to reading and gaming and letting myself brainstorm and muse and mull and research for new projects!

GAMING
Lara Croft GO: I played this on my tablet and found it both visually beautiful and addictive. The puzzles were just hard enough to make my brain twist, but rewarding enough to keep me coming back.

Monument Valley: Another tablet game! This one was also amazingly beautiful. It has a sort of mystical, surreal quality that I love; I think if you (like me) are a fan of the aesthetics of the game JOURNEY you might enjoy Monument Valley purely for the visuals. The puzzle aspect was also engaging, though not brain-twistingly challenging. But I think my favorite part of this game is that it gave me the feeling that I was walking around in an M. C. Escher painting.

Here’s the trailer, which gives a good overview of the amazing art:

WATCHING
UnREAL: I have never been interested in watching any of the “dating” reality shows (I prefer Project Runway, Face Off and The Great British Baking Show. And my late, lamented The Quest!). But this isn’t an actual reality show. It’s a drama about the people producing and competing in a fictional reality show. I found it incredibly compelling (and also kind of horrifying). The characters do terrible, terrible, hurtful, and outright evil things, and yet I understood why they did them, and the show manages to confront and examine so many interesting and important issues, particularly those related to the experiences of women working in a male-dominated industry. I’m eager for season 2, especially having heard that they’re going to be having a black bachelor on the show-within-the-show (something that the actual real-world Bachelor has never done in 20 seasons).

The Fall: I will admit I started watching this for pretty much one reason: Gillian Anderson. And it’s worth watching for her portrayal of a cool, capable Irish detective with a seemingly-endless supply of beautiful silk blouses, who is tracking a serial killer. But it’s also got a compelling story, and an intriguing setup in which we start off the very first episode knowing who the killer is; the tension is in watching his story and the detective’s story weave back and forth, closer and closer. If you are looking for a more eloquent review that delves into some of the feminist aspects of the show, you can also read this article over at the Atlantic.

04
February
2016

January Diversions

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo [YA Fantasy]
This is the final book in the Grisha trilogy, set in a fantasy land inspired by Russia. I actually read the second book in this series in December but missed it in my summary last month. I read them almost back-to-back because book two ends in a very unsettled place and I was eager to know how it would all turn out. Overall I really enjoyed both! I was particularly impressed by how the plot twists actually surprised me, and yet felt utterly believable. Ultimately I really just loved the world and the way everything came together so compellingly and perfectly in the end — so often a trilogy falls apart in the end, but this one only got stronger and stronger!

How I found it: I had read the first book in this series a while ago, then got distracted by other books and never kept going. But I’ve been hearing such good things about the author’s new series that I decided to go back and finish the earlier one (they take place in the same world). Also, the new book, SIX OF CROWS, had a loooooooong wait list at the library whereas the second and third books in this first series were available right away as ebooks. Also, I love these covers. A superficial motivation, but there it is!

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson [YA Comics]
This series just keeps digging deeper and getting more rich and rewarding. I love Kamala!

How I found it: Ongoing series…

Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick [Adult Comics]
The bound edition of the first several issues of an adult science fiction comic about a harsh and terrifying future Earth ruled by a literal patriarchy, where women can be convicted and sent to an off-world prison for being too loud, fat, queer, angry, feminist, or otherwise “non-compliant.” It made me both rage, and also punch the air in triumph. I loved the characters, especially Penny Rolle and Kamau Kogo. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

How I found it: I think the first place I heard about this was on The Mary Sue blog, in an article about people getting “non compliant” tattoos inspired by the comic. Once I heard the premise, I knew I had to check it out.

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]

and

Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]

Reading a Miss Fisher book is like sitting down in a beautiful palm-fringed parlour with a cup of tea and a cake and lounging around chatting with a delightful friend. They are quite short, and I am sure if I let myself I would inhale them all in one go, but I am trying to space them out, for when I really need a comforting, dependable sort of book. I will say, though, that there are a few problematic elements related to exoticism and a few other narrative choices I found questionable — I can’t ignore them, and I am hoping that maybe future books will not go in that direction.

How I found it: Ongoing series…

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley [Adult Historical]
I enjoyed this, though I think perhaps I wasn’t in quite the right mood for it and so it seemed to take me a long time to get through. I appreciate Kearsley’s ability to weave together a modern and a historical storyline, and engage me in both.

How I found it: I’ve read most of Kearsley’s other books and enjoyed them (especially with the lovely Sourcebooks covers).

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates [Nonfiction]
Illuminating and distressing, written as a set of letters to Coates’ son, in large part about the experience of being black in America (and oversees, too). Every time I think I am starting to understand my own privilege, I read something like this and realize just how much I don’t understand. The stories about the murder of Coates’ college friend (by cops) was particularly wrenching. This was a dense read that took some attention and effort, but I am glad to have read it.

How I found it: I’ve read numerous articles by Coates and appreciated his insights, so when I started hearing all the positive buzz about this book I wanted to make a point to read it.

WRITING
I finished my first revision pass on my new book!

(Image of manuscript in progress, blurred to protect you all from first-draft prose and lots of all-caps notes to myself. Also, that’s my silly little map that I finally drew after I figured out the geography I needed for the story to make sense…)

CRAFTING
My excellent aunt sent me more yarn, similar to the stuff I used to make my last hat. I am already making a second hat for my mom, and now apparently I can make SIX MORE. Knitting has been a nice form of meditation for me lately so this is a good thing. As long as I can find people to give all these hats to.

GAMING
In my quest to play all the BioWare games ever, I started in on Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, playing a Scout named Vala Jast (I think I spent like a half hour in the name generator). It’s definitely a little clunky compared to Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but I’m enjoying it! Meeting Twi’leks and Wookies and thwarting Sith and gaining Light Side points. Except that then I hit the part where I have to shoot enemy fighters and sadly I am no Finn. So right now I am stuck dying over and over again, because of my bad aim and/or inability to manipulate my mouse. Hopefully I can figure it out (or find a friend who can come get through this fight for me) so that Vala can achieve her Jedi potential!

03
January
2016

December Diversions

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
I didn’t plan it this way, but all my reading this month was comfort reading. All are excellent books that stand on their own, but they are also exactly the kinds of books that are the literary equivalent of a cozy afternoon sitting by the fireside drinking tea and eating toast with a good friend. At least, for me! Lots of warm, complicated friendships and families, delicious food descriptions, a dash of adventure and intrigue, humor, and richly detailed worlds.

Tiled book cover images for December Reading

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
I loved this! It was rather short, but fortunately there are over a dozen more in the series. There are some substantial differences from the television series but so far the books have been packed with just as many rich female friendships, gorgeous fashion, clever dialog and witty observations.

How I found it: I was already a fan of the television series so I had been wanting to check out the books that inspired it! I had actually tried reading the first few pages once before and had bounced off them for some reason, but this time everything clicked!

Betsy Was a Junior by Maud Hart Lovelace
I’m slowly going through a re-read of one of my favorite series of all time, the Betsy-Tacy books. I do love this particular book, though it’s got a scene that is one of the hardest for me to read in the entire series (Margaret’s party). I just adore these characters so much, even when they are making mistakes.

How I found it: This is a long-standing favorite series that I have already re-read several times.

Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay
I continue to be in awe of McKay’s ability to create compelling characters and to make them seem so immediately REAL. And to make me love the Casson family so much, flawed as they are.

How I found it: The same friend who first recommended this series posted about this “prequel”, so of course I had to run out and request it from the library, since I’ve loved all the others in the series.

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
Another delightful mystery set in the 1930s, this time riffing off Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Hazel is such a wonderful narrator, and I loved getting to finally meet her father Mr Wong, and to see how her confidence and sense of self continues to grow as the series progresses.

How I found it: I’d read the first two in the series and enjoyed them so much I have been ordering the UK editions so I can (A) get them months earlier and (B) get paperback copies with the delightful UK cover art.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
I didn’t originally think that I needed a sequel to To All the Boys I Loved Before. I was wrong. Lara Jean continues to be a distinctive and adorable and refreshing character I just love spending time with.

How I found it: I read and loved the first in this series, and it was available via my library’s ebook lending program.

CRAFTING
I finished my new hat! The colors and the slouchiness make me happy every time I wear it!

Deva wearing a colorful knitted hat

WATCHING

STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS!

COOKING
About 85% of my photos from December have something to do with food. And there was a lot of homemade deliciousness going on.

Starting with these amazing cranberry-orange morning rolls:
cranberry-orange rolls

Continuing with a cookie-baking marathon of which these are only a tiny portion:
Two full baking sheets of gingerbread cookies

To our traditional Christmas dinner of homemade Indian food, including my favorite, the samosas. This is Bob and I doing the less-exciting work of rolling out the dough and stuffing them. I am only smiling like that because I am anticipating eating them!
Deva and Bob making the samosas

And finally, my best friend Maureen and I were inspired by the Great British Baking Show and decided to tackle the challenge of the Prinsesstarta, not being at all put off by the fact that it requires an entire dozen eggs, two pints of cream, almost a pound of ground almonds, and more than a pound of sugar. Unlike the contestants on the show who had less than three hours, we gave ourselves an entire day to work on it (and boy did we need it).

From Princesstarta

(Click to go to a whole set of photos documenting our endeavor)

WRITING
I finished the first draft of a new book (YA Fantasy) just before the end of the year! It’s messy and I figured out a big chunk of it about half-way through and I already have a list of at least a dozen things to revise and it’s probably too short and the ending needs to change but it is DONE. And I am taking a break now to read and mull and play a bunch of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.

The owls tracking my progress, including the traditional end-of-draft flurry:

Calender page from December with lots of owl stickers

01
January
2016

Reading Stats 2015

My reading stats for 2015!

Total Things Read: 77 (Down significantly from last year’s 117, but consistent with the years previous. I am still not sure how I managed to read SO much more in 2014).

This doesn’t count the six novels I read for crit partners (some of them more than once). It does count novellas, picture books and graphic novels as well as full length books and essay/short story collections.

Ten standouts of the year:

Book that made me cry the most (THREE times!): The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

Book that made me understand the power of novels in verse: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Favorite new adult series: The Phryne Fisher mysteries by Kerry Greenwood (so far just as good as the television show!)

Favorite new middle grade series: The Wells & Wong novels by Robin Stevens

Book that made me love short stories when normally I am not a short-fiction reader: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Book that made me most desperate for a sequel RIGHT NOW: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Book that made me love the main character even as she was doing terrible things: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Book with the most swoon-worthy romance: The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

Book I wish everyone would read: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam

Book that surprised me the most by being completely NOT what I expected in the end, yet still ending exactly right: Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

BY FORMAT AND SOURCE
15 or 19% Hardcopy Owned (22% in 2014)
27 or 35% Hardcopy Library (26% in 2014)
18 or 23% Ebooks Owned (29% in 2014)
10 or 13% Ebooks Library (10% in 2014)
0 or 0% Audiobook Owned (1% in 2014)
7 or 9 % Audiobook Library (12% in 2014)

which is:

42 or 55% Hardcopy (48% in 2014)
28 or 36% Ebooks (39% in 2014)
7 or 9% Audio (13% in 2014)

or:

43% Owned (52% in 2014)
57% Library (48% in 2014)

BY DIVERSITY
43 or 56% Non-Diverse (57% in 2014)
34 or 44% Diverse (43% in 2014)

Or (as best I can tell)

53 or 69% by non-Diverse Authors (73% in 2014)
24 or 31% by Diverse Authors (27% in 2014)

BY AGE BRACKET (Fiction only)
16 or 25% Adult (38% in 2014)
36 or 56% YA (38% in 2014)
10 or 16% MG (21% in 2014)
2 or 3% PB (3% in 2014)

BY TYPE
54 or 70% Novels (68% in 2014)
13 or 17% Nonfiction (13% in 2014)
6 or 8% Graphic Novel (13% in 2014)
2 or 3% PB (3% in 2014)
0 or 0% Novella (2% in 2014)
2 or 3% Short Story/Novella collection (1% in 2014)
0 or 0% Essay Collection (1% in 2014)

BY GENRE
21 or 33% Fantasy
9 or 14% Speculative
6 or 9% Mystery
10 or 16% Historical
18 or 28% Contemporary

BY # READS
72 or 94% First Time (90% in 2014)
5 or 6% Re-reads (10% in 2014)

BY AUTHOR GENDER
60 or 78% Women (79% in 2014)
17 or 22% Men (21% in 2014)

06
December
2015

November Diversions

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
Serpentine by Cindy Pon [YA Fantasy]
Lushly detailed, immersive, and romantic! I especially loved the main character’s struggles with identity and agency, and the complicated and rich female friendship. There’s a bit of a cliff-hanger in the end, so I am eager for book 2!

How I found it: I’ve known Cindy since we both had our first novels debut the same year (back in 2009). She’s amazing and super hard-working and multi-talented, and I loved her first duology, full of epic action, fierce ladies, delicious foods, and cute boys.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu [YA Fantasy]
I am a sucker for super-hero stories, and this one has the added benefit of being set in a fantasy version of Venice!

How I found it: I was a fan of Lu’s first trilogy, starting with LEGEND, and loved the notion of a story about a girl “villain” inspired by Darth Vader.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han [YA Contemp]
I loved this — it had a bit of the feel of some of my favorite comfort reads, with the strongly rendered and complicated family at the center of the story. I loved all the little details of Lara Jean’s life, her relationships with her older and younger sisters.

How I found it: I’d been peripherally aware of it for a while, as it’s popped up on various blogs and such that I follow, and the premise was compelling (girl writes secret love letters to every boy she falls in love with, and then one day they all get accidentally mailed). I made the leap to actually reading it when I saw my library had an e-copy available.

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell [YA Graphic Novel]
This was indeed truly, truly outrageous, in a good way. I grew up watching the original Jem cartoon and I love how this new comic interpretation takes the best elements of the source material– the female friendships, the secret identity hijinx, the rival girl bands, the awesomely colorful clothing– and reinterprets it, with an added helping of diversity.

How I found it: I think I first heard about the new comic via The Mary Sue.

WATCHING

How To Get Away With Murder
It only took one episode of this to completely hook both my husband and me. I’m still not entirely sure if I actually *like* any of the characters, but they are certainly engaging and compelling! I was slightly dissatisfied by the resolution of the overarching mystery, but I am still eager to continue with season 2.

The Crimson Field
One of my favorite of the recent batch of British period dramas, depicting the lives of nurses serving at a hospital camp in France during WWI. I’m very sad it wasn’t renewed! There was so much great material to work with, and fantastic acting. At least the final episode left things in a reasonable spot, and I can invent my own endings for the various characters.

Dark Matter
I loved this! And am very glad to hear that it was renewed. It combines a fantastic premise (six people wake from stasis on a starship with no memories and have to figure out who they are, what they were doing, and how they will define themselves now) with a fairly diverse cast and fun, scifi action. I think I was especially partial to it as it reminded me so strongly of Mass Effect, aesthetically.

CRAFTING
Late fall seemed like the perfect time to break out some colorful, glittery yarn and start a new hat:

WRITING
I’m drafting away on a new project. Unfortunately, I hit a block in the middle of the month, just after hitting 45K, and sunk into a small pit of despair. Fortunately, I started keeping a writing journal last year, and in the midst of my misery I thought to look back and see how I was doing while working on the first draft of my last book. I discovered I hit a terrible block on that one too… just after hitting 45K. It didn’t necessarily help me figure out the block (that took a lot of banging of head against outline and some backtracking) but it did make me less angstful. So much about writing is just learning to recognize your own creative patterns and processes!

BLOOMING
Both my African Violets are blooming, and (for the first time in at least 15 years!) so is my Purple Passion Plant (the fuzzy orange blobs in the background of the below photo). I’d like to think the PPP blooms are a good omen, but they kind of smell like something rotting, so maybe I should actually be worried? :-)

07
November
2015

October Diversions

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older [YA Fantasy]
This was such a vivid book, with a compelling protag, amazing voice, and a very cool magical element. Lots of little powerful moments that explored character, choice, and pushed at important questions of identity and family and race and history.

How I found it: I saw the cover on an “Upcoming Releases” post somewhere online and was immediately drawn to it: the colors and her amazing hair and her expression… After reading some positive reviews, I gave the first chapter a shot and was hooked by the amazing voice.

Saga, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples [Adult Comic]
I continue to love how this series pushes further, challenges its characters more, and continues to surprise me.

How I found it: Ongoing series I’ve been reading!

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson [Adult Fantasy]
One of my favorite reads of the year so far: the world-building, the amazing characters, the choices, the questions it raised… And who knew economics could be so compelling? I also appreciated that in spite of the fact that the main character goes to a very dark place, it wasn’t the sort of book that left me feeling bad. Just really eager for the rest of the story! I will note, however, that this book has divided readers in how it handles the issues of queer characters in the narrative — see the link below for some discussion of this and links to other reviews on that topic.

How I found it: I saw a reference to the title in passing and was instantly interested. The description intrigued me, as did the cover and the references to it as a book about someone who is basically becoming a villain and doing terrible things for a “good” purpose. Then I read Amal el-Motar’s review for NPR (and her commentary on queer responses to the book) and made a point to actually read a sample and was hooked.

The Martian by Andy Weir [Adult Speculative]
I saw the movie first, but I was glad to also have the chance to read the book that inspired it. It covers pretty much the same story (as the movie was, IMO, a faithful adaptation) but I enjoyed the extra details and insights, and some additional challenges that were not in the movie. And SCIENCE!

How I found it: I saw the movie and loved it and wanted even more…!

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam [Adult Nonfiction]
Heartbreaking and thought-provoking. I wish everyone would read this. One of the bits that sticks with me most is the recognition that the vast majority (95% per the authors citation) of Americans believe that “everyone in America should have equal opportunity to get ahead.” But that with the growing class segregation in America, those on the upper class side have less and less empathy for or understanding of the situation for poor kids, and the growing number challenges they face. The author himself admits that he, having worked hard to climb the socio-economic ladder in his own youth, assumed that kids today could do the same. But what his research reveals is how much harder it is, now, to do so, for a whole swath of reasons that the book lays out much better than I could here.

The other point this book makes that surprised me was that it equalizing per-student spending on education via schools does not make as much of a difference as one would hope. It’s not as straightforward as that, nor as “easy”. As the author says, this problem has developed gradually over the last several decades and the solution is not going to be quick or simple. But there are some strategies outlined in the last chapters of the book that gave me some hope.

How I found it: I think I first heard about this via a friend who recommended it on Facebook. I had recently listened to an outstanding This American Life episode on education and segregation and this book seemed like a way to explore that further.

LISTENING
I (like a large portion of the internet) recently discovered the Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop historical musical Hamilton.

If you haven’t already joined the obsession, and are curious what the fuss is about, you can listen to the entire soundtrack free via Spotify. Or you can watch various clips available via YouTube (Edited: I switched my link from the White House performance to a longer news item that has more clips from the stage version)

The more I listen to the entire album, the more impressed I am by the intricacy of the rhymes and word-play, the layers of meaning, and the repeated themes. I still cry every time I listen to Stay Alive (Reprise). And at any given moment there is a very good chance I have My Shot, You’ll Be Back, Helpless, Satisfied, The Room Where It Happens, or Alexander Hamilton going through my head.

Some of my favorite things about the soundtrack: The way hip-hop, Jazz, rap, and R&B are used for the revolution, while King George sings pop. The fact that something like Cabinet Battle #1 can get me so excited about the founding of the treasury. The way the elements in My Shot (and the iconic image on the album cover) are reinterpreted in The World Was Wide Enough, and in particular all the double-meanings of “my shot” — Hamilton’s shot at glory and fame, and the final gun shot he choses not to take, by aiming at the sky. And I will stop there because I could write another whole post about all the clever and heart-wrenching details. Basically Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius!

Speaking of which, if you’re already obsessed, and have not yet done so, I highly recommend spending some time reading the annotations on the soundtrack over at genius.com.

WATCHING
Person of Interest Season 3
I’ve been enjoying this show from the very start, but I’ve particularly loved how this season is really amping up the science-fictional elements (artificial intelligence) and taking things in a new direction. While I was sad to see Taraji P. Henson leave, I’ve loved the increased presence of Sarah Shahi’s Sameen Shaw, and also Amy Acker’s Root. And Bear. It’s hard for me not to give a show extra points if there’s a recurring dog character.

The Great British Baking Show Season 1
(For reasons I don’t understand, this is titled The Great British Bake Off over in the UK, and what’s airing in the US as Season 1 is actually Series 5)
This may be the most adorable reality show I’ve ever watched. It’s a very kind show, with contestants who cheer each other on, judges and hosts who seem genuinely concerned about the contestants, and lots of footage of pretty gardens and gamboling sheep and glorious pastries. The only downside is the very real danger that it will make you either go running out to the nearest bakery to stuff your face, or come home from your next grocery shopping laden with butter and flour and cream and sugar.

Of all the delicious things on the show so far, I think the one I am most interested in sampling is the princessetarta. Sponge cake, pastry cream, jam, whipped cream, all under a layer of pale green marzipan!

The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries Season 3
If you love smart, feminist, brave ladies and elegant costumes and settings and a touch of murder and mystery, you really should be watching these! I didn’t find this third season quite as consistent as the first two, but it was still delightful.

OTHER STUFF
I always go into the fall season wanting to try to make the most of it, full of dreams of autumn picnics and apple-picking and walks in the woods and Halloween decorations. I never actually accomplish it all, but it’s fun to try!

This year was a little tougher as my ongoing back injury has been making some activities more challenging, but I did manage to go to a cider-pressing party at my apple CSA’s farm, visit a pumpkin festival, take several gorgeous hikes with my husband and my dog, and carve my first pumpkin in several years:

Picture of my dog Charlie laying down beside a jack-o-lantern

10
October
2015

September Diversions

September was kind of an anxious month, due to ongoing home renovations (exciting but disruptive!), being on submission with a new project (exciting but nerve-wracking!) and a frustrating ongoing injury (pain is no fun). So I definitely needed diversions!

READING
Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace [YA Historical]
I’ve been slowly re-reading this beloved series, and was in particular need of some comfort reading this month, so I sought these out. If you are a fan of the Little House books or the All-of-a-Kind family books and have not tried Betsy-Tacy, you really should!

How I found them: These are old favorites!

Uprooted by Naomi Novik [Adult Fantasy]
Wonderful! As others have said, this one felt very much in the class of so many of my early favorites (THE HERO AND THE CROWN, HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, THE DARKANGEL). Beautifully written and compelling, with wonderful characters and a fascinating world. I believe it’s published as adult fantasy but there’s certainly plenty hear to appeal to a YA reader (as long as it’s a YA reader who is okay with some fairly brutal violence and some extra steamy romantic bits).

How I found it: I was already a big fan of Novik’s Temeraire series, so getting UPROOTED was a certainty! Especially after glowing reviews started popping up everywhere…

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day [Adult Memoir]
I am pretty much always up for reading about how smart, creative people manage their lives and deal with the pressures of commodifying art.

How I found it: I was already a fan of Felicia Day based on her internet presence, so when I heard she was putting out a memoir I was intrigued. But it was a friend’s rave review on Goodreads that really made me seek it out and actually give it a try.

Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler [Adult Memoir]
This was excellent as an audiobook, read by the author. My favorite bits were the ones about being in a competitive creative career, especially the “Your Career is a Bad Boyfriend” chapter and the bits about awards. A quote from that chapter: You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look… Treat your career like a bad boyfriend. It likes it when you don’t depend on it. It will chase you if you act like other things (passion, friendship, family, longevity) are more important to you.

How I found it: A Facebook friend recommended this as an audio-book (in particular, she mentioned the chapter “Your Career is a Bad Boyfriend” and included the quote above, which I love.)

WRITING
To be honest, I didn’t get a lot of writing done in September. I’m noting that here to remind my future self (and anyone else out there feeling guilty about taking a writing break) that sometimes you just need to take time off, whether it’s because of other obligations or limitations, or just the need to refuel creatively. For me, this month was both of those things. And I think it was the right decision, because so far October has been much more productive and I am enjoying the work again!

GAMING
I finished playing Dragon Age 2! Sadly, it was not my favorite BioWare game, though it sure was fun to watch my rogue Hawke jump around stabbing things, and I really loved the visuals of Kirkwall. But plotwise, I felt as if my choices were not nearly as meaningful as in ME or DA:O. But I’m still eager to give Inquisition a go, as soon as we can upgrade to a PS4! :-) In the meantime, I’m looking for something new to play (on PS3). Any recommendations? I especially love games with beautiful graphics and interesting character interactions that give me feeeeeeelings.

KNITTING
I finished my latest project! This was my first time doing cables, woo!

Here it is:
Gray-green scarf

You can wear it in various different ways: as a scarf, as a cowl, or as I am here, as sort of a shrug:
Deva wearing the gray-green scarf around her shoulders.

Now maybe I am brave enough to try socks…

02
September
2015

August Diversions

Here’s what I was up to in August:

LISTENING
We saw a phenomenal live show at the Opera House in Boothbay earlier this month: Hot Club of Cowtown. They mix up gypsy jazz and western swing, and are so full of energy I think they could power a small nation. Also, they have an adorable corgi mascot who hung out on stage for the first act looking very cute and completely unfazed by both the music and the applause.

Here’s a video from one of their shows earlier this year. I love how much FUN they all seem to be having, performing!:

WRITING
I’m deep in the brainstorming/test-writing phase of a new project (actually, a couple new projects that I can’t decide between). Hopefully one of them will develop enough to take off!

READING
Another light month for reading, but what I did read was excellent!

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi [YA Contemporary]
I loved the honesty and complexity of the characters in this. It’s a painful book to read, in many ways, but also beautiful (both in prose, and in the way the complicated and painful issues are resolved). And I really enjoyed the comic book elements (both of the narrators read comic books, and the novel itself incorporates several graphic-novel style inserts.

How I found it:
I was in the mood for a contemporary, and was specifically looking for a book by a non-white author (as part of my deliberate attempt to diversify my reading). This book had been on my radar, and it was face-out on the display shelf at the library. I sat down and read the first chapter and was hooked!

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir [YA Fantasy]
The stakes were what really hooked me here: a girl from a downtrodden, conquered people forced to spy on her enemies, in order to gain the support of the rebels who can save her brother. And a boy training to be a killer who just wants to escape his life. But my favorite character was actually one of the secondary characters, the lone girl training to be a merciless soldier, painfully loyal and enduring so much. Not everything was resolved here, so I’m glad to hear there’s going to be a sequel.

How I found it:
There’s been a lot of buzz for this one, and I must admit I love the title and the cover, and I am a sucker for vaguely-Mediterranean-inspired fantasy worlds. And the first chapter definitely grabbed my attention!

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows [YA Fantasy]
I loved this! It has a lot of familiar elements, but combined in new ways that really just pushed all my reader-buttons. A strong girl with a complicated past, a secret, and a fierce determination to do the right thing (even though she gradually comes to realize that maybe “the right thing” isn’t what she thought it was). And a slow-building romance with a mysterious adversary-turned-ally. The romance (especially that first kiss!) was one of my favorites of recent memory. There’s quite a large cliffhanger ending though, so be warned!

How I found it:
I’ve wanted to try something by this author, so when an online reference reminded me of this new series I downloaded a sample, read a bit, and decided I had to keep going.

MILESTONE
My marriage is almost old enough to go to college. 17 years! And I remain ridiculously grateful every single day…

15
August
2015

July Diversions

Okay, so posting this midway through August is kind of ridiculous, but I read so many great books in July I didn’t want to skip it altogether!

TRAVELING
We spent ten days visiting the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, taking endless photos of cool geothermal features and wildflowers and bison. It was beautiful and otherworldly!

PLAYING
After finishing the Mass Effect trilogy in June, I plunged into another BioWare offering: Dragon Age Origins. I am sad that the Warden doesn’t actually speak her dialog (or have much in the way of facial expression) as that’s definitely hindering my engagement. But my love Alastair and Morrigan and Wynne and my Dog mostly makes up for it. Bob is playing this too and he must be just as obsessed as I am since he woke up from a dream last night trying to tell me something about the plate armor in the next room :-)

We also played several rounds of Fishing For Terrorists and Kill Doctor Lucky which were tremendously amusing and fun (I was *thisclose* to killing Doctor Lucky with the Broom in the Servant’s Quarters).

WRITING
I spent my writing time in July revising my current project (a YA space opera) while listening to the Mass Effect soundtrack on constant loop. It’s back in my agent’s capable hands now. I’m now in the weird place between projects where I haven’t quite figured out what to work on next and am trying not to rush into anything before I am ready, since past experience has taught me that only leads to dead books and disappointment. There are lots of sparkly morceaux (I just learned that word today via my Duolingo French studies) but I need to wait for them to come together into something more substantial…

READING
As stated, so many great books! This month is also a good example of how having an ereader has changed my reading habits. Aside from the Ms. Marvel graphic novel, all of these were read as ebooks. And while various recs and mentions around the internet were what brought them to my attention initially, in every case it was actually reading an excerpt of the ebook that made me buy them/check them out of the library’s online collection.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson [YA Graphic Novel]
I love this series so much, mostly because Kamala herself is so awesome: nerdy and geeky and brave and smart and wistful.

How I found it: I loved the first two volumes so reading the third was a no-brainer!

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace [YA Fantasy]
So many fascinating ideas are packed into this book, and yet it never lost focus. I did wish for a few more answers about the world itself in the end, but I loved Wasp as a character, and loved seeing her journey.

How I found it: I had heard a lot of buzz about this online and the description intrigued me, as it sounded unlike anything else out there. Once I’d read the excerpt I was hooked!

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin [YA Nonfiction]
This was one of those books that opened my eyes to an aspect of history I had not known one tiny bit about: the segregation of the US military, the explosion that took the lives of hundreds of black sailors working to load explosives onto warships at Port Chicago during WW2, and the survivors, who were then convicted of treason when they refused to work in the shameful conditions that led to the accident.

How I found it: I’d previously really enjoyed Sheinkin’s BOMB so when I saw I could get this from my library’s e-lending program I grabbed it.

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton [YA Contemporary]
This one did an amazing job with characterization — I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much sympathy for characters that really are doing nasty, despicable things. And I am a sucker for stories about teens at special schools (in this case, ballet academy). The only problem I had was that I did not know there was a sequel. It’s not even that this book ended on a cliffhanger, exactly, but I was so distraught not to have more closure. I just really hope the second book provides it!

How I found it: Another one where I heard buzz online, then read the excerpt and was hooked!

Nova by Margaret Fortune [ Speculative Adult (but felt YA to me!)]
The premise was what hooked me on this: a girl who is a living bomb, with no memory of her true life before, only implanted memories, finds that her countdown glitches, suspending her minutes away from fulfilling her terrorist mission. I loved the gradual discovery of the truth, and the revelations of what was really going on. I also really enjoyed the space station setting and backstory (a far-future space-faring humanity has colonized various worlds, but has also split into two main political groups currently at war). I gather this is the first in a multi-book series, with each book narrated by a different character, and I am already eager for the next!

How I found it: Another one where I heard buzz online, then read the excerpt and was hooked!

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times by Howard Zinn [Adult Nonfiction (Memoir)]
Inspirational and eye-opening. I especially appreciated how Zinn treated his own actions so matter-of-factly, and gave credit to all the other folks he worked with on civil rights and anti-war issues. And I was glad that the overall tone of the book was hopeful, that in spite of everything, Zinn clearly believes change is possible and that individual action is part of it (though not the only part). I want to read more books like this!

How I found it: Reading this review made me very curious, especially given the current state of civil rights and the questions and issues being raised.