22
June
2017

May Reading

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste [MG Fantasy]
This was lovely and magical and so strongly grounded with a vivid voice and sense of place. The story of Corinne, a fearless girl who loves her home, inspired by Caribbean fairy tales from the author’s own childhood.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens [MG Mystery]
Just as charming, cozy and perilous as the previous books in the series. I love how Stevens has been exploring friendship over the course of this series. In this, the girl detectives Wells and Wong confront a murder on the sporting field of their 1930s British boarding school.

Allegedly by Tiffany D.Jackson [YA Contemporary]
Addictive and disturbing. This is one of those books I could not stop reading and that I’m very glad to have read, but which was not necessarily a pleasant experience to read, because of the horrible truths it contains about systemic racism. Mary killed a baby when she was only a child herself– allegedly. Now she’s pregnant herself and is ready to fight to clear her name. I am honestly not sure what I think about the ending, but I can’t say anything without spoilers. If you’ve read it I would love to hear your thoughts!

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han [YA Contemporary]
More baking, more romance, more heartache, more lovely, complicated, adorable family relationships. I love Lara Jean and am so sad that this was my last chance to hang out with her, but it ended in a completely satisfying fashion so that’s really all I can ask! This entire series is like the book equivalent of my favorite teen movies.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J.Maas [New Adult Fantasy]
I was in the mood for magical fantasy romance with faeries and danger and banter, and this delivered. I really loved Feyre as a character as well– seeing her pushing down her impulses to pursue and appreciate beauty in favor of survival, then slowly allowing herself to open up was lovely. More mature content than Maas’s YA books though!

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild [Adult NF]
An account by a sociologist who is trying to understand the “empathy wall” that she sees as splitting conservatives and liberals in the US. I read this with my book club and it was really compelling and very readable. The author focused mostly on the issue of the environment and in particular the effect of the oil/gas/chemical industries on a number of communities in Louisiana. It was sickening to read about what people have endured due to unregulated pollution and similar. But it was also also incredibly frustrating to me that those same people voted again and again for candidates who opposed regulations and were unwilling to hold companies accountable, because I really just could not understand the reasons (I could intellectually comprehend them, I just could not emotionally understand or excuse them).

It became very clear reading this that what matters more than anything to many of us are the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, and the emotional reactions we have to things. I have to admit I was hoping this book would give me hope, but in many ways it only made it more clear just how deep the divide is between my worldview and that of “the other side,” and how little facts and logic can do to change it. I felt sad for those interviewed who had suffered, but at the same time I cannot condone or understand some of the other viewpoints they hold. Reading this book only made it more clear to me how very, very differently I feel (compared to the folks interviewed) on environmental regulations, civil rights, social services, and more.

That said, it was a really thought-provoking book and I would recommend it to folks who feel like it would be useful to try to understand the nature of the divide. If you’ve read it and have thoughts I would love to hear them! I would be especially curious what my conservative friends feel about this account, if any of you have read it.

02
May
2017

Recent Reading

2017 continues to be an excellent year for reading, even if the rest of my life got so busy I neglected to update in a timely manner, oops. Here’s what I’ve been reading in the last few months, with links to Goodreads for actual synopsis.

George by Alex Gino [MG Contemporary]
A young trans girl wants to play Charlotte in her school production of Charlotte’s Web. A sweet, bittersweet, triumphant book that I would highly recommend to any young reader, especially anyone who might be curious about gender identity. Which makes it sound like this is an “issues” book, but it’s not just that. It’s funny and warm and absolutely wonderful.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake [YA Fantasy]
Three sisters must battle each other for the crown of their kingdom. I am generally not a fan of third person present POV but this one sucked me in right away with beautiful prose and an intriguing promise. It was slightly slower-paced than my ideal but I loved the characterizations and just sort of dwelling in the world. I will be keeping my eye out for the next in the series.

Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis [YA Contemporary]
A girl and her foster sister have to learn to live together. It was the prickly relationship between the two foster sisters that really won me over here. I loved them both so much! Also some meaty and thoughtful explorations of family, race, and class.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson [YA Contemporary]
A black girl from a poor neighborhood negotiates the possibilities and the indignities of her scholarship to a rich, mostly white prep school. Such a great and powerful voice! There’s a lot packed into this book but it all works. An interesting companion to the below, which covers similar material but has a very different feel. Both are excellent and thought-provoking and compelling in their own ways.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas [YA Contemporary]
A black girl attending a mostly-white, mostly rich high school finds her two lives clashing when she’s the eyewitness to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black boy by a police officer. This was just as amazing as everyone has been saying. I am so happy this book is getting attention. Voice and characterization are both fantastic, and in spite of all the many different elements included the story is always there, always organic. Yes, this is a book inspired by the #blacklivesmatter movement, but it’s also a book about a girl who feels completely real, whose life and choices matter.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi [Adult Historical]
The story of two African half-sisters– one who marries a British slaver, one who is sold into slavery– and their descendants, tracing both family histories to the present day. Fascinating and heart-wrenching. I am so impressed by the immersive detail of the settings, and how quickly Gyasi could pull me in each time the narrator changed.

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker [Adult Romance]
A fun and fluffy (in a good way!) romance set against the backdrop of the London west end theater community.

The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde [Poetry]
Rich and mythic and intense.

Binti and Home by Nnedi Okorafor [Adult SF Novellas]
I am having trouble coming up with a short description of these novellas, because they’re so wild and rich and unexpected. But they’ve got an awesome, smart mathematician protagonist, deadly tentacled aliens, and a galactic university. I loved both these stories, even though the second one ends in a massive cliffhanger (hopefully that means there is a third novella coming!)

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson [Nonfiction]
The real-life story of Bryan Stevenson’s experiences as a young, black lawyer working to defend those trapped by the legal system– including the poor, the wrongly condemned, and children sentenced to life in prison. To be honest, this may be the most challenging book I’ve ever read in terms of the raw and brutal depiction of the horrendous racism in our legal system, but it was definitely a book I was glad to read. I wish everyone would read this and reconsider what we define as “justice.”

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly [Adult Nonfiction]
The book that inspired the (excellent!) movie! I’m glad to have read the book, because there’s so much more detail that didn’t make it into the movie. These woman were amazing, and I’m so glad that they are no longer quite so “hidden.”

04
February
2017

January Reading

After escaping a reading slump near the end of last year I’ve been trying to follow my whims a bit more and be aware of what sort of reading material I need most at a given moment. This month that seems to have been mostly nonfiction and poetry!

Salt to the Sea Ruta Sepetys [YA Historical]
Compelling and wrenching account of a bit of history I had never, ever heard about: the sinking of a German ship near the end of WWII that killed over 9000 people, including 5000 children. This story is fiction, but with highly immersive and well-researched historical detail. It was hard to read in places but I’m glad I did.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker [Adult Romance]
Two actors who dislike each other have to fake a romance for publicity reasons, and fall in love. A bit of lightness and levity amid the rest of my reading this month! I needed a fun page-turner that would be the equivalent of a romantic comedy movie and this was exactly what I was looking for.

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald [Adult Nonfiction]
A meandering, lyrical exploration of grief and falconry and T. H. White. This was another book that was hard to read in places, but rewarding. My absolute favorite bits were the details of hawk-training, which were illuminating and compelling.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi [Adult Nonfiction]
I seem to have read a lot of books about grief and death this month, though not by any particular plan! In this case, the writer was a surgeon struck by terminal cancer, offering a meditation on choice and what makes a fulfilling life. Sadly the book felt unfinished to me– I believe Kalanithi died before he had completed it– and thus while I found it compelling it hasn’t stuck with me as I might have expected.

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1
by Mary Oliver [Poetry]
Luminous and beautiful as always. The next best thing to actually taking a long walk in the quiet woods.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire [Poetry]
A slim little volume of powerful poetry by the Somali-British poet who I first heard of via her compelling “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon.” I love how much emotional weight she can pack into just a few words.

Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose by Naomi Shihab Nye [Poetry]
I picked this up because I’d enjoyed Nye’s “Gate A-4″ so very much and wanted to re-read it as a sort of balm for the fear and uncertainty I was feeling (and seeing in so many others around me) with the advent of the inauguration. It’s still probably my favorite of all the pieces in this volume, but I appreciated the humor and whimsy and philosophy throughout.

02
January
2017

2016/2017

OVERALL
2016 was a low year for me. Nothing truly horrible or tragic occurred in my immediate family, but there were personal uncertainties and medical worries that took a toll physically, financially and mentally. I spent significant portions of the year struggling with low-level anxiety and depression, and am still working on dealing with that.

There were plenty of highlights though, and those are what I am trying to focus on and take with me moving forward.

In September Bob and I spent a wonderful week in Edinburgh, Scotland. I haven’t managed to type up my travel notes but there are photos here with comments documenting the trip. I would love to return to Scotland and spend more time out in the countryside– my biggest regret about the trip is not taking a few more days and visiting the Isle of Skye! As usual, the vacation left me full of enthusiasm to plan another trip. I don’t know if we’ll manage to get out of the country in 2017, but the dream trip I’m currently planning is a return to Venice and a visit to Rome and Pompeii.

Another highlight of 2016 was reuniting with a bunch of good friends to plan and run the first weekend event of a new fantasy live-action roleplaying game Evensong, in early December. After struggling with burnout for many years it was so much fun to be able to work on a collaborative creative project with awesome people. I’m really happy with the response we had to the first event and eager to see how the storylines and world develop as we continue in 2017.

Bob and I also started running a tabletop D&D game for a few of our friends this fall that we’ve been having a lot of fun with. The characters are all woodland creatures in a fantasy woodland. One of my favorite Christmas gifts were these two adorable felted critters made by my friend Beth:

One of my main NPCs is a skunk, and her PC is a star-nosed mole. :-)

READING
In 2016 I read a total of 44 things , including both novels, nonfiction,
audiobooks, graphic novels and picture books, but not including the ~8 manuscripts I read for critique partners.

That’s by far my lowest yearly total in ages. I suspect this is linked
to my struggles with depression throughout the year (see above). That said, I really did enjoy my reading this year! To spotlight just a few of my favorites:

Unusual Chickens for Exceptional Poultry Farmers by Kelly Jones [MG Contemporary/Fantasy]
Ms. Marvel, Vol 5: Superfamous by G. Willow Wilson [Comic]
Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton [YA Contemporary]
Ruin & Risingby Leigh Bardugo [YA Fantasy]
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson [Adult Speculative]
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes [Nonfiction]

Because I love reading statistics, here’s some further details:
30 were novels
9 were graphic novels
3 were nonfiction books
2 were picture books

16 (36%) were by diverse authors. There were others that featured diverse main characters but I’ve determined it’s really most useful for me to track books by diverse authors at this point, since that’s what I really want to make sure I am reading more of.

27 were from the library, 17 were books I owned.
24 were physical books, 18 were ebooks, 2 were audiobooks.

The graphic novels/comics inflates the “physical” number since I don’t have a good ereader for comics. At this point I much prefer ereading for anything that is all text.

Of the novels: 17 YA, 10 Adult, 3 MG

Of the novels: 10 were fantasy, 9 were contemporary, 6 were mystery, 2 were romance, 2 were speculative, 1 was historical, with some overlap– some of the mysteries are historical too, etc.

Looking forward to 2017, I want to push to get back to my more normal 70-100 items read per year. I also want to read even more #ownvoices books (books about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group). I’d love to read a bit more nonfiction and a bit more middle grade, but I’m also going to try to listen to my instincts and follow my whims, since that’s what got me out of my latest slump.

WRITING
I wrote 138K new words of fiction in 2016, somewhat less than the past two years. I also did not complete anything brand new, though I substantially revised– effectively rewrote– the YA fantasy I finished at the end of 2015. Twice. Unfortunately it’s still not working, so I am now literally rewriting it with brand new characters & plot & stakes! I still really love the world and premise of this story, and I feel a solid core of enthusiasm for writing it. But it was pretty disheartening to keep banging my head against it only to realize I was going in the wrong direction (mostly because the protag just wasn’t working). But hey, at least now I’ve proven what doesn’t work!

I also started (about 25% written) a new MG fantasy adventure for the first time in ages, and I have lots of other ideas that I am really excited about if I can just get all the pieces to click into place.

In 2017, my current goals (subject to change at the whim of my creative impulse and/or the publishing industry) are to finish drafts of both the new rewrite of the YA fantasy and the MG fantasy adventure. I’m also hoping to keep up my writing journal (where I write about how I’m feeling about my writing, so when I start feeling like everything is terrible I can look back and see that I always have those feelings and they do go away eventually) and to spend at least an hour every week poking at/playing with some of my back-burner ideas to keep them working.

So I better go get to work! Happy New Year!

03
August
2016

July Diversions

Here’s what I was up to in July…

READING

The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, Sydney Smith [Picture Book]
A lovely picture book inspired by one of my favorite bits of actual history: the Irish monk who wrote a poem about his cat, comparing the cat’s hunting to his own scholarly work.

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas [YA Fantasy]
More adventure, more magic, more romance. I started reading this series because they’re so tremendously popular and I wanted to study what they were doing right, but the deeper I get the more I’m just enjoying the story. On the other hand, one particular plot point in this book left me very unhappy and uncomfortable in terms of the treatment of characters of color, even though it made sense storywise. I’m going to keep reading because I love a lot of the other elements of the series, but I want to make that comment here as a caveat to other readers.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston [YA Contemporary]
An incredibly compelling (I could not stop reading) and ultimately uplifting book about a very painful topic. But I don’t want to label this as an “issues” book because it’s so much more than that. It made me care about cheerleading, It made me love these characters, and root for them living their lives, not just surviving a harrowing experience. I loved how it so thoughtfully and deftly explored aspects of personal choice, friendship, gender roles and expectations, and dealing with trauma.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, Nico Leon [YA Graphic Novel]
This series continues to be so delightful and rich and wonderful. I especially love how Kamala is having to balance all the different parts of her life; so often we see a character struggling with a bunch of responsibilities that they *don’t* want, and ultimately the message is about not wasting time on things that aren’t important to you. It was refreshing to see Kamala confronting the fact that she actually loves all her responsibilities and *wants* to say yes to everything, especially since that’s more true to my own experience (both as a teen, and an adult). And bonus points for the wonderful way the series is handling Kamala’s relationship with her long-time best friend who she loves but just can’t be in a relationship with due to her superheroing. I love that we see him in a new relationship with an awesome, smart new girlfriend who isn’t portrayed as the villain just because she’s a sort of “rival”, and see Kamala navigating that challenge and making mistakes and learning from them.

Jem and the Holograms, Volume 2: Viral by Kelly Thompson, Emma Vieceli, Corin Howell, Amy Mebberson, Maria Victoria Robado [YA Graphic Novel]
Delightful, rich and wonderful are good words for this volume too. My favorite bits are the Stormer-Kimber romance and the effervescent joy of the colorful art and seeing all these cool different female characters interacting with each other.

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda [Adult Graphic Novel]
I actually read this as individual issues but the collected Volume One is now available so I’m listing it here since it is an amazing work of art. A complex and multi-layered world and characters, swinging from pure beauty to harsh, gruesome horror. Unlike anything else I’m reading.

Saga, Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples [Adult Graphic Novel]
Still wonderful! Everything else I can say is a spoiler!

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson [Adult Science Fiction]
I am a sucker for disaster movies, and this book is basically one big long disaster movie (or at least, the first two thirds are– the last third takes place 5000 years after the event) with a lot of bonus scientific digressions on orbital mechanics and space-station architecture. Which made is an excellent book for my tastes, though I suspect some readers may want to skim a bunch. It’s also a tremendously thought-provoking book, and also one of the most harrowing books I’ve read recently. I rarely get nightmares from books but the overwhelming dread of the basic premise here really struck me hard: all life, all human civilization on the surface of the earth is going to be wiped out in the aftermath of the breakup of the moon. Humanity will survive in the form of a few thousand people sent into space who must then persist for 5000 years, at which point they’ll need to reseed the Earth with life and recolonize it. This was a book that left me thinking, left me wanting to talk to other readers about the choices the characters made, the shape of the societies that endured, and so much else.

WATCHING

Stranger Things
This Netflix original series was even better than the talk online led me to expect: amazing story, perfect pacing, excellent acting, detailed, pitch-perfect 80s-era costumes/sets/music. We watched all eight episodes in three days, and I still wish there were more RIGHT NOW. I am so glad to hear there is a second season coming!

Editing to add: There was one element of the show that did bother me, which was the treatment of one particular female character, Barb (one of my favorites, possibly because she reminded me of myself) . I just had a friend share the link to this article that really pinpointed why Barb’s story was problematic, and also explored some other critical commentary I found really interesting. Again, I did love the show and recommend it, but I would love it even more if it addresses the issues laid out in that article in Season 2!

Ghostbusters
I loved the new Ghostbusters! It had all the joy and humor and excitement I remember from the original, and I adore the new cast.

02
July
2016

April, May, June

Honestly, April and May were rough. There is a reason I’m not posting this until July. The short version is: I was in a lot of physical pain due to ongoing back issues, there were scary medical things affecting people I love, while various other less-serious-but-stressful things were also all happening at once. Happily, much of that is now all better or tending-to-better.

So here I am now, trying to catch up!

GAMING
When I was deep in the throes of pain and stress, there was pretty much one thing I could do that distracted me. It was hard to read, hard to write, hard to watch television. But I could play video games. Specifically, I played Dragon Age Inquisition. Twice.

I am a huge fan of the Mass Effect trilogy, also by BioWare, and enjoyed the first Dragon Age game a lot (in fact, I think the Alistair romance in that game is my current all-time favorite video-game romance). But I didn’t love Dragon Age 2, so I’d been a little leery of Inquisition, the third in the series. I’d heard it was a bigger, more sprawling game with a lot of side-quests and I was afraid my completionist nature would drive me up the wall. And I did have to fight the urge to do everything. But I had SO MUCH FUN. I loved all the different new regions of the world: running through an endless moonlit desert, tramping through a sorrowful, beautiful enchanted forest, chasing after cute big-eared foxes on my way to adventure. And I loved the characters and the story, the funny moments that made me laugh out loud and the stirring, passionate moments of bravery and loss.

I’m just so grateful I found this game when I needed it. (And I really REALLY hope there is going to be a Dragon Age 4 now.)

Here’s my canonical elven mage Inquisitor (who romanced Solas, for those who understand what that means…)

Screenshot from Dragon Age Inquisition of a white-haired, brown-skinned elven woman.

READING
Archie, Vol. 1: The New Riverdale by Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish [YA Comic]
Archie was the first comic I read as a kid, and I can still remember several of the stories vividly. So I was excited to hear that a new version was being produced, with some updated backstories and new spins on several of the main characters. In general I really loved this (especially the art by Fiona Staples in the first few issues). I loved how Archie and Betty had a complicated backstory, and how Jughead’s character finally made sense to me. I’m not sure I love it so much I’m going to keep reading, but this was a fun and nostalgic read.

The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee [YA Historical Mystery]
I’ve been working my way through this ongoing YA historical mystery series with great enjoyment. My favorite part is Mary Quinn herself, the Victorian-era teenage spy who goes undercover as a maid, who struggles with her own complicated origins and history, who is so capable and clear-sighted.

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks [Adult Graphic Novel]
I’d heard a podcast about the Harlem Hellfighters on Stuff You Missed in History Class that intrigued me, so I ended up taking this somewhat fictionalized graphic novel out of the library to learn more about these Black soldiers fighting overseas during WWI, fighting fiercely, earning medals and acclaim, in spite of racism and discrimination. Sobering, informative, inspiring, and infuriating.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng [Adult Mystery]
The premise of this hooked me: the slow unraveling of the mystery behind a teen girl’s death, seen through the eyes of her family. I am not entirely satisfied by the ending, but I think perhaps I’m not supposed to be…

The Secret Place by Tana French [Adult Mystery]
I’ve loved the other two Tana French novels I’ve read (The Likeness and Faithful Place) and this one was in some ways my favorite of all. The writing is absolutely brilliant and gorgeous, and the structure unfolds in a tremendously compelling way: alternating chapters in the present, from the point of view of the detective investigating the murder of a young man on the grounds of a fancy girl’s boarding school, and chapters in the past, from the points of view of four girls at the school, leading up to the murder itself.

Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in WWII by Bruce Myles [Adult Non Fiction]
This was another read inspired by Stuff You Missed in History Class, and I’m so glad I sought it out. A fascinating, if dense and occasionally hard-to-follow account of the Soviet women who served as fighter pilots and bombers during WW2. I found the topic so fascinating I’ve already started reading another book about these women. Some of my favorite parts were the small details about the lives of these women, like how they would dye the white silk caps they wore under their helmet pretty colors, or how they pooled their rations to bake cakes for one girl’s birthday (or, in another case, carved a watermelon when there were no supplies for cake). This was one of those books that really made history come vividly alive for me.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person
by Shonda Rhimes [Adult Non Fiction/Memoir]
Inspiring and thought-provoking. Also, it made me start watching Grey’s Anatomy!

WRITING
I’m revising my most recent project again. It’s hard, but I feel like I’m making it better. Onward!

RAMBLES
Once the glorious Maine weather started to feel more summery, I got out on some escapades:

To the Coastal Botanical Garden to see the rhododendrons:
Photo of Deva standing by a pink rhododendron

To Rockport Harbor, where I took lots of photos of boats with funny names (there was another small red boat I called The Red Herring!):
Photo of a boat called For Pete's Sake moored in a sunny harbor

And to Camden Harbor, to sit in the beautiful waterside park:
Photo of a harbor on a sunny day, taken by Deva as she's laying in the grassy park along the shore, with her feet in the foreground

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