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.

03
July
2015

June Reading Et Cetera

Reading slump! I read some very good books this month, but I also got into kind of a slump where I started and abandoned several, then got fed up and just didn’t read at all for a while. So. Short list!

As usual, links to Goodreads for plot summaries and useful info. My comments are more personal reactions than reviews…

Sword by Amy Bai [YA/Adult Fantasy]
Lyrical prose and excellent, subtle characterization! It reminded me a bit of some of my early fantasy favorites, like Robin McKinley. One warning: a substantial piece of the plot relates to an assault on one of the female main characters and how dealing with that trauma affects her and her relationships. It was sometimes hard to read, for me, because the characters were in such pain and it was so believable and compellingly rendered!

How I found it: I know Amy (she’s a Mainer!). But I’ve also been seeing lots of positive reviews around the blogosphere. Also, I love that cover!

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens [MG Mystery]
Just as enjoyable as the first in the series. More murder, girl detectives, and friendship.

How I found it: I read the first in the series and loved it! Now I am eagerly awaiting the third, which appears to be a Murder-on-the-Orient-Express variation. Note: I ordered the UK edition because the US one isn’t out yet, and because I prefer the UK covers!

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue by Kathryn J. Atwood [YA Nonfiction]
I really loved this. Even though these women experienced and witnessed terrible things, their actions (and those of the others like them) left me feeling inspired by humanity’s potential for courage and kindness (I know that sounds kind of sappy but it’s true!). The author has a similar volume for WWI that I would like to check out now. I’d also love to read a similar volume that covered women heroes of WWII outside Europe.

How I found it: I saw a post on the FB page for A Mighty Girl about one of the women featured in this book, with this book as a recommended resource for folks who wanted to learn more.

Edmonia Lewis: Wildfire in Marble by Rinna Evelyn Wolfe
I wish I had learned more about women like Edmonia when I was in school, but at least there are books like this being published now! A biracial (Black and Chippewa) female sculptor who built herself a career in the late 19th century, working much of the time in Rome among a community of other expat female artists. I really want someone to make a movie about her!
How I found it: Another from the A Mighty Girl FB page!

09
June
2015

May Reading (and other Diversions)

My reading was limited last month, in spite of my writing hiatus, because I became thoroughly addicted to the Mass Effect video game trilogy. And really, it’s been as immersive and thought-provoking and compelling as my favorite written stories. And it’s making me think in new and interesting ways about the nature of story-telling, what makes us invested in a character, and what I most *enjoy* about engaging in a story. Hopefully I can put those thoughts together in a more cohesive way after I actually finish! In any case, I don’t regret spending my time with an alternate storytelling format, but it does mean this list is a little shorter than other months!

And for fellow fans of ME: FemShep. Paragon. Vanguard. Garrus. Hated the ME3 ending (though the “red” option was the least reprehensible, IMO) and loved everything else more than enough to make up for it! I’ve already bought two of the soundtracks and listening to certain songs will make me tear up…

Also, there has been considerable energy spent tending to this green monster:

From Gardens

And now, on to the books! As usual, links go to Goodreads for actual plot summaries. My comments are very informal reactions. I’m also trying to start keeping track of where I first hear about books and what leads me to read them… I am curious how other people find books and figured it would be useful to track my own!

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
(titled Murder is Bad Manners in the US, but I read a UK edition)

I adored this. It was one of those times when you find exactly what you want to read, when you want to read it. Cozy and charming and full of complicated female friendship and humor and mystery.

How Did I Find It?: I saw it popping up on several “Anticipated Reads” lists around the kidlit-blogosphere and it looked like exactly my sort of thing. After reading an e-sample I was convinced it was indeed, exactly my sort of thing, and ordered both this book and the sequel from The Book Depository in the UK (Book 2 isn’t available in the US yet, and I prefer paperbacks). I am thrilled to see there is a third book coming too!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

This was a very rich and immersive book for me, though I found I had to take a break part way through because it was getting too overwhelmingly grim and also a bit slow-paced for my tastes. It might have been different if I were reading rather than listening to the audiobook (which goes slower). But the writing and characterizations were wonderful, and I was ultimately satisfied by the resolution. I am interested in trying another Sarah Waters book — possibly The Paying Guests? Anyone out there a fan who has a favorite?

How Did I Find It?: Ana at the wonderful blog Things Mean A Lot has posted several glowing reviews of Sarah Waters, and since everything else her blog has led me to has been wonderful, I decided to give Fingersmith a try when I was able to get the audiobook from my library.

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
One of the most stunning things about this entire series is how so much is packed into them (especially the many different explorations of racism and race relations in the US) and yet never lose the characters and family connections at their heart. I love Delphine and am grateful to have been able to see her grow and thrive throughout this series.

How Did I Find It?: I loved the first two, so picking up the third in the series was a given! I am pretty sure the review that really made me want to read the series to begin with was from The Book Smugglers.

The Apple Throne by Tessa Gratton
The perfect ending to a series I’ve truly enjoyed. Astrid has been one of my favorite characters from the start, and this one gives her a chance to shine!

How did I find it?: As above, I loved the first two, so picking up the third in the series was a given!

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso
A short but powerful meditation on memory and the power and perils of living an examined life. Reading this gave me a lot to think about regarding the moments that compose my life, what gives them meaning. It also reminded me a lot of the song the Baker’s Wife sings in Into the Woods. “If life were made of moments, then you’d never know you had one.”

How Did I Find It?: I read a post on Brainpickings that piqued my interest. In truth, I think most of my favorite quotes are in that post!

05
May
2015

April Reading

Here are my reading notes for April. I was afraid I had fallen behind this month as I was busy with an intensive revision during the second half of the month, and I also got addicted to the game Mass Effect (I am in the middle of ME2 right now and I love the world and the characters so much!). But I seem to have squeezed in more than I thought! And all of them really good! I especially loved The Penderwicks in Spring, and The Thing Around Your Neck, Under a Painted Sky, and Ms. Marvel Volume 2.

As usual, I am sharing my thoughts as a reader, not summaries, but if you want to learn more and/or read official summaries, click the links to Goodreads.

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies [Picture Book]

Lovely and wistful. I picked this up because the illustrations reminded me of the animation from Song of the Sea, which I recently watched and loved.

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall [MG Contemporary]

My favorite of the series since the first, possibly my favorite overall. These books have a special sort of magic, enabling them to feel old-fashioned and modern and charming and relevant and deep and sad and sweet and joyful all at the same time.

I rarely cry when reading, and usually only when something sad happens involving a dog, but I teared up three times while reading this (and one of them had nothing to do with a dog). And I loved seeing a more grown-up Batty, even at the cost of losing the POVs of the older sisters. I felt a tremendous amount of affection for her here, especially as a shy person and introvert. It is going to be a long wait for the fifth book!

Captain Marvel #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick [Graphic Novel]

I’d never read any of the original Carol Danvers comics, but even though this volume picks up partway along her journey (covering her change from Ms Marvel to Captain Marvel) I found it relatively easy to follow. I’m not sure whether I’ll read more of Carol’s story (so far I prefer Kamala’s, see below) but I did enjoy this.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson [YA Graphic Novel]

I still adore Kamala Khan in all her geeky glory. I love that fact that she is so clearly and unapologetically a teen, not to mention an enormous superhero fan (who writes Wolverine fanfiction!). I love how loyal and dedicated and real she is, and can’t wait for more!

All the Rage Courtney Summers [YA Contemporary]

I did in fact feel all the rage while reading this… Not toward the book itself, or the main character, but toward so many of the supporting characters in it, who participate in perpetuating rape culture. It’s blisteringly painful (though not, IMO, gratuitous) in places and I wished I had just a tiny bit more closure at the end, but I am glad I read it. And still very rageful that although it is fiction, it is depicting things that happen in real life all too often.

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio [YA Contemporary]

I read this almost all in one sitting because I found the situation of the protagonist so compelling and just had to know how things would turn out! And because the subject matter was something I knew so little about (the main character is a girl who discovers she is intersex; even though she is outwardly completely female and identifies as such, she has male chromosomes).

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee [YA Historical]

I adored this and found it very difficult to put down. Sammy’s character, voice, and situation grabbed me right from the start and swept me along, into a beautifully detailed historic setting. And I loved that the heart of the story was a growing friendship between two girls who are each strong and in their own ways (Chinese-American Sammy and runaway slave Andy, who travel undercover as boys to escape west during the gold rush). I would love to see this made into a movie!

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby [YA Fantasy]

Beautifully written and thought-provoking. I loved the mythic resonances and the grace with which so many different elements and moments were spun together into a cohesive whole. But most of all I loved Roza and her part of the story.

The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton [YA Fantasy]

The second book in the United States of Asgard trilogy. I enjoyed this for the same reasons I loved the first in the series: the world-building and the characters.

The Weight of Stars by Tessa Gratton [YA Fantasy Novella Collection]

Three novellas set in the same world as Gratton’s United States of Asgard Trilogy, about three different characters who are side-characters in the main trilogy. I enjoyed all three, but especially loved Lady Berserk, a. I read these after Book 2 (The Strange Maid) but before Book 3 (The Apple Throne, which I am reading now), and that seemed to work well in terms of continuity with the main trilogy.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Adult Short Story Collection]

I am not a big reader of short fiction, but having loved Adichie’s AMERICANAH I wanted to try her other works. I ended up loving this collection. I am seriously impressed by the scope of the stories, and how much power Adichie can pack into small moments and phrases. My favorite of all was A Private Experience, about two women taking refuge together during a religious riot. I listened to this as an audio book and the narrator, Adjoa Andoh, does a wonderful job.

03
April
2015

March Reading

I finished drafting and revising a new project earlier this month, so I’ve been indulging in a lot of YA fantasy during my refilling-the-well period! As with previous reading reports, I am not including summaries, but you can click on the links to see the Goodreads pages for any of these.

The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton [YA Fantasy]
I adored this! I absolutely loved the alternate setting, in which the gods of Asgard have come to the Americas and modern society has developed under their influence. All the little details were wonderful, but more than that, I love Astrid and Soren, their quest to find and aid Baldur, and most of all the choices that they had to make along the way. I just want to keep revisiting this world and these characters (and indeed, I have already read one of the novellas set in the same world, and am in the middle of reading book two). Beautiful writing, compelling characters, and a super-nifty world for them to adventure in.

The Story of Owen by E. K.Johnston[YA Fantasy]
Fantastic voice, and another fabulous alternate setting in which carbon-eating dragons plague humankind. I loved all the small details that make this world feel real, and I am eager to read the second book in the duology.

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski [YA Fantasy]
Just as beautifully written as the first in the series, and even more twisty and political. I felt an enormous amount of sympathy for Kestrel, who seemed to be so utterly alone for so much of the story, with no one she can trust or talk to, and it was an emotionally challenging read for me because of this.

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers [YA Fantasy]
A satisfying conclusion to a fantastic historical fantasy series! I love how the main characters in each of these books has demonstrated a different type of strength, different flaws, different dreams. And I especially loved the moments in this book where they got to be together, and to draw on their collective strength.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers [YA Contemporary]
A hard book to read (for subject matter; the prose, including the sections in screenplay format, was very readable), but illuminating and important. I was very tense the entire time I was reading it, waiting for the verdict. This felt very real to me, which only makes it all the harder to read, knowing that there are real kids out there in similar situations.

Feed by M. T. Anderson [YA Speculative]
Wrenching and thought-provoking and in places quite agonizing to read, but I’m glad I did. The most frightening thing about this is how believable some parts of it are, on both a personal and societal level. I wish I had a book club to discuss it with!

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia [Adult Fantasy]
I loved the 80s nostalgia, the flawed and sometimes-unlikeable-yet-still-compelling Meche, the romance, the honesty and realness and pain and tragedy that still left room for wonder and love and beauty. One bit at the end just made my heart ache with that wonderful pain that only a great book can inspire.

The Summer of the Danes by Ellis Peters [Adult Mystery]
Brother Cadfael never fails to make me feel more peaceful, even when he’s running around Wales in the middle of an almost-war.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke [Adult Nonfiction]
Most of my favorite parts of this were the bits I’d already read as quotes, but it was nice to see them in the context of the overall letters.

Two of my favorites:

“Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question.”

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes [Adult Nonfiction]
I listened to this as an audiobook, read by Cary Elwes himself, who was an excellent reader. It was sort of like listening to the commentary on a DVD, full of interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits and insights into the process of making a film. I find it so inspiring to hear creative people talk about projects that they truly loved working on, and clearly these folks really did love the project.