August Diversions

Here’s what I was up to in August:

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!:

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!

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.

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


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!

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!

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).

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…

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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


February Reading

Here’s what I read this month. I’m sticking to my reactions to each book, and not bothering to include synopses, but you can click the links to see them on Goodreads if you are curious for more info.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson [MG Historical]
My first time reading a verse novel! And it was a wonderful place to start. Rich, thought-provoking, uplifting.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander [MG Contemporary]
This powerful and readable novel in verse drew me in immediately. Wonderful characters, wonderful voice. Unlike BROWN GIRL DREAMING, I was more highly aware of this novel being in verse, but not in a bad way. The layout of the words on the page, the way the line breaks drove the tension, it was all so well-crafted, and I cannot imagine it being told any other way. This one has really stuck with me, a month after I read it. I am very happy that this won the Newbery this year!

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness [MG Fantasy]
Emotionally wrenching and beautiful. Conor’s situation is shattering, but I love how the elements of fantasy help make sense of senseless things, how there are no easy answers handed out. It reminds me, in some ways, of Neil Gaiman’s paraphrased version of G. K. Chesterton: “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson [YA Contemporary]
The was fun! Light and engaging and clever.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman [YA Contemporary]
A beautifully written and compelling novel from one of my favorite contemporary YA authors. This felt darker to me than her other books, with fewer moments of joy, which made it a harder read for me, even compared to IF I STAY (which certainly deals with tough material as well).

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley [YA Contemporary (or Historical, if you consider the 1990s historical!)]
I loved many things about this: the rawness and realness of it, the details of life in a small town in Ireland in the 1990s, the difficult family relationships, the power of music, the wonderfully sweet but not-at-all idealized friendship between the main character and a local man in his 90s (especially when so, so much fiction either has no old people, or portrays them as one-dimensional cliches). Everything here felt very true to me, with all the messy glorious beauty of reality.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot [Adult Nonfiction]
Wonderful, thought-provoking, and infuriating (the material and events described, not the book itself). An important story that deserves broader recognition. I appreciated the way the narrative wove together the story of medical research and ethics with the lives of Henrietta and children, especially her daughter Deborah. Both were compelling individually and together they were even more so.

Stitches by Anne Lamott [Adult Nonfiction]
I picked this up after reading two posts (here and here) on the wonderful Brainpickings blog spotlighting some of Lamott’s essays from this collection. The entirety was very readable and full of small bits of wisdom and truth, though I think my favorite part is the overriding metaphor of our lives being like fabric, held together with the stitches of setting one foot in front of the other and just keeping on, even when things are bad.

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal [Adult Nonfiction]
This was probably my favorite read for the month. Especially as a long-time player and creator of games, I was utterly fascinated by every part of this book, from the anecdotes about existing games to the insights into the psychology of game-playing, to the possibilities for future world-altering games. I don’t know if I entirely buy into everything McGonigal says but I think there is a lot here worth considering. Even if you don’t read this book, I highly recommend watching the author’s two TED talks:


January Reading

I’m going to try to be better about sharing my enthusiasm for books I’ve been reading this year, so here’s what I’ve been reading in January:

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley [MG Historical]
This was my favorite reading experience of the month. I loved this so much! Ada is a prickly character, but with good reason (having been terribly abused by her birth-mother because of her clubfoot), and watching her growth here is wonderful, as she slowly, slowly learns to trust herself and others (especially Susan, who is mourning her own loss, and is prickly in her own way, but also so wise and marvelous). All these characters are wonderfully rendered, and I adored the details of life in the WWII-era British countryside. [Thanks to Charlotte of Charlotte's Library for the wonderful review that brought this to my attention!]

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu [Adult Sci Fi]
One of my goals for the year was to read at least a few books that had been translated. This one came with glowing reviews, and I can see why it has found so many fans. It wasn’t really the right book for me though — in truth, it left me feeling somewhat low and depressed, I think because I never really had enough of an emotional connection with the characters, and the story deals with quite a bit of grim material. But it is compelling and I think for the right reader it will be a fabulous read. I did love the inclusion of so much science, and the presence of several female physicists, and the underlying mystery of what exactly the Three Body Game is, and what is really going on.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero [YA Contemporary]
This was wonderful! The voice was absolutely amazing, one of the most realistic teen voice I’ve read lately. The book also managed to deal with some really serious topics (parental drug abuse, teen pregnancy, homophobia, sexual violence) in a sensitive and respectful manner without letting them overwhelm the rest of the story. Gabi is a marvelous character, with all her flaws and strengths and her passion for life and her dreams. I especially loved her poetry, and her growth as a poet, how she used it to make sense of her life.

Saga, Volume 4 (Saga #19-24) by Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples [Adult Graphic Novel]
I’ve really been enjoying this series — the beautiful art, and the compelling cast of characters, and the weird, wonderful setting. (And this really is an *adult* graphic novel, so be aware there is mature content).

Clariel by Garth Nix [YA Fantasy]
This is the fourth book in Nix’s Abhorsen series, but takes place centuries before the events of the first three books. I loved this, partly because I already had a deep fondness for the world, and partly because I loved Clariel herself. She’s a different sort of protagonist– not remotely interested in romance, solitary, and deeply desirous of being uninvolved with the great happenings of the kingdom. It’s a tragic story, in many respects, because so much goes wrong that didn’t need to. It didn’t feel forced to me, though, as it does in some books where bad things happen because people just don’t communicate. Instead, we just have one girl who wants to run away and live alone in the woods, being forced again and again to take another path that may ultimately destroy her.

Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam [Picture Book]
I adored this sweet, beautiful wordless picture book. Especially in the middle of winter, when I can appreciate those nice warm houses Fox wants to shelter inside. I also quite liked the presentation of this book, the wide but short dimensions that gave the sense of panoramic views when it’s opened. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous and stunningly detailed. I’ve already bought one copy as as a gift!

The Potter’s Field by Ellis Peters [Adult Mystery/Historical]
A re-read of my favorite historical mystery series. I love Cadfael and his world. It may be strange to find murder mysteries comforting, but I do — mostly because Cadfael himself is such a wonderful character, with such a solid, thoughtful, compassionate, curious worldview.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski [YA Fantasy]
I loved this! I think sometimes I am pickier about fantasy (even fantasy like this, where there is no magic) than any other genre (because it is my favorite), but in this case my inner critiquer remained silent and let me simply enjoy the beautiful characterizations, thought-provoking choices, and richly realized world. Part of me does wish I’d waited until the sequel is out, as the ending here left me with a great many concerns about how things would turn out for the main characters I had grown to love!

Blackout by Connie Willis [Adult SF/Historical]
This is really just the first half of one big story, and I am still on the wait-list at the library for book 2, so I am not going to reserve most of my comments until I’ve read that. I love Connie Willis’s previous Oxford time-travelling historian books, so I was happy to have more from that world, this time focused on WW2 and the Blitz, even if I did get a bit overwhelmed by how much time the characters seem to spend being thwarted and frustrated (which made me feel too anxious as a reader to truly enjoy some parts of the book).

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (and David Shapard) [Adult Classic]
This was my first time reading an annotated version of the book (which is one of my all-time favorites and which I have re-read multiple times). I loved the book as much as ever, and appreciated the annotations, particularly those about the society and culture, and those on certain words that had greater or lesser negative connotations in the time when Austen was writing.


Hello 2015!

And now that I’ve reviewed 2014, I’m looking ahead to 2015. I like to set goals even if they end up shifting and changing, because they remind me of what I am shooting for (kind of like the outlines for my writing projects).

So here are five of my goals for 2015:

~Finish my current writing project (the Space Opera) and revise it. Start something new!

~Read at least 70 books, and increase my reading percentages for Middle Grade, and for diverse books (especially books by diverse authors). I’d like to maintain my percentage of nonfiction.

~Post ratings/reviews for books I love not just on Goodreads, but on Amazon, which is where so many folks go to research, if not to buy.

~Finish the free Elementary French I course I am taking on the Online Learning Initiative (I am currently on Week 4 of 15, having started in November). This is assuming it stays up and active!

~Knit my first pair of socks!

~Learn 12 more songs on my violin to the point where I can play them without looking at the score.

Bonus: five books I am really looking forward to, in 2015!
(I could easily have chosen 15, but I am trying not to turn this post into a monster…)

LOVE, LUCY by April Lindner (YA Contemporary/Retelling, January)
Because I loved her previous re-imaginings of Jane Eyre (JANE) and Wuthering Heights (CATHERINE). How can I not be excited about a re-imagined A Room With a View?

GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA by Rita Williams-Garcia (MG Historical, April)
Because it’s the Gaither sisters! This is historical fiction at its best, by an author who can make me think and feel at the same time. And also laugh!

NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson (Graphic Novel, May)
Because I’ve already read the webcomic version of this story and loved it, and am eager to see the updated art (and maybe an epilogue, I hopehopehope?) in this new release.

SERPENTINE by Cindy Pon (YA fantasy, September)
Because I have been wishing for more of her Xia-empire fantasies ever since reading her first two books, with their strong ladies, epic magic, and beautiful (and often tasty) imagery.

CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell (YA– or perhaps New Adult?– Fantasy, October)
A novel based on the fictional fan-fiction from her book FANGIRL, which I loved. And it’s fantasy! I am so excited for this!

Happy New Year, everyone!


2014 In Review

2014 was a good year for me. There were ups and downs but overall I feel like I accomplished a lot, learned new things, and stayed true to myself. I didn’t meet all my goals for the year, but I made some new ones along the way that I did stick to.

I wrote a total of 250K words this year, which may be a personal record. I’m happy with this, not because high wordcount == good writing (in fact, over half those words got trunked) but because I managed to stay focused on the actual writing, I explored new ideas, and I tried some new things (even if some didn’t work out).

I finished two novel drafts. One got trunked. The other got revised and revised again, and is now out in the world trying to find a home. I started several new projects, most of which eventually died or got set aside as not-yet-ready-for-drafting. But I am tremendously excited about my current work in progress. It started out as one of those projects that I feared had died, until I had the notion of switching the genre from epic fantasy to space opera, and it suddenly took off.

I started keeping a paper writing journal this year, which I’ve found surprisingly helpful at keeping me on an even keel. It’s become part of my morning writing routine: I jot down notes about how I am feeling about writing in general, my hopes for the day, any anxieties or angst. I think it helps clear my head, and also is providing a nice resource for those days when everything is horrible and I need a reminder that it will pass.

I continue to be grateful beyond words to my wonderful agent (who I was lucky enough to meet in person this year!) and writing buddies, for their support.

This was a fantastic reading year– I read more than ever, and so much of it was really, really good. I already posted my reading stats separately, but I wanted to spotlight a few favorites here. I don’t finish books I am not getting anything positive out of, so pretty much everything on my list of 2014 reads is something I would recommend to the right reader. It’s hard to pick standouts, but I am going to try to pick ten.

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia (MG Historical)
Because it made me laugh and feel and think. The sequel is pretty wonderful too!

THE MOZART SEASON by Virginia Euwer Wolff (MG Contemporary)
Because of the love of music. How everything came together. How it still resonates with me months later.

BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle (MG Contemporary)
Such a fantastic voice. Funny, but so true and real and heartwrenching/warming. Plus, musical theater!

CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge (YA/MG Historical Fantasy)
This may be my absolute favorite book of the year. I just loved it so much — it was the book that made me feel most strongly about the characters, but also kept me wondering, plot-wise, and made me think about what a monster really is, and what love and family really mean.

The last book in a compelling series, that made bold choices and hit me with an ending I didn’t quite expect but was so perfect once it was there.

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St John Mandel (Adult SF)
A pre- and post-apocalyptic tale that manages to be uplifting and illuminating. I loved how all the threads came together in a believable, organic way. I loved the fact that the story does not assume that a devastating disaster will always bring out the worst in humanity…

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING by Ruth Ozeki (Adult Contemporary with SFnal elements)
This one took time and attention but it was so worthwhile. I especially adored the excerpts from the diary of Nao, the Japanese teenager. The book deals with some brutal and terrible things (depression, suicide, sexual violence, bullying, natural disasters, war) but with grace and thought. Another book where I marvel at how everything comes together, without being too neat and pat.

A detailed exploration of a fascinating life. I already loved Millay’s poetry, but this book gave so many insights into her as a person (gifted, flawed, wonderful, terrible, joyful and tragic). I also appreciated the glimpse of the literary scene of an earlier era.

THE PILLOW BOOK by Sei Shonagon (Adult Autobiography?)
Similar to the above: a detailed exploration of a fascinating life! Albeit one from many, many years earlier. I will admit that not all of this book held my attention — there are some quite dry bits– but I adored other parts so much I have to mention it. This reads a bit like a tumblr– a scattering of lists, images, poetry, scenes of life in the Japanese Court of the Heian era. What I love best, though, is the strength with which Sei Shonagon comes through across time: her vivid, intelligent, petty, witty, passionate character. I tried both the Morris and McKinney translations, and ultimately preferred the latter (though the footnotes in Morris were very good).

I will give a warning up front that this one contains accounts of some terrible, terrible things. Torture and mutilation and war that touches even the youngest and most innocent. But in between all that is an utterly fascinating account of life among the Mongols during and after the rule of the famous Genghis. I had so many preconceptions about the Mongols and this book revealed so much I didn’t know, about their spiritual practices, daily life, social interactions, and effect on other Asian nations.

~Other Entertainments~
Some other entertainments I loved in 2014:

Journey (Videogame)
Amazing and breathtaking in terms of art, music and story. I am already looking forward to playing this again, in the same way I would re-read a favorite book. It is hard to identify how a game (especially one in which you play a silent, nearly featureless cloaked figure) can make you feel so strongly, but it does.

Portal 2 (Videogame)
I played through the individual version, and am currently going through the co-op version with my brother. Snarky, clever, mind-bending, and so very atmospheric.

I watched the entire series up to the current episodes for the first time this year. It’s not perfect, but it sure is compelling, and I love so many characters (Michonne, Glen, Daryl & Carol especially)! I probably don’t need to say more about this since most folks already know about it! (I do hide my eyes during the especially gory bits).

I would watch this just for the clothing (absolutely gorgeous 1920s finery) but it’s got so much more than that. Wonderful characters, especially bold, smart, sexy, compassionate, feminist, devilish Phryne Fisher herself. The mysteries range from satisfying to somewhat silly, but the acting and the production values are always top notch.

We’ve watched the first season so far and are really enjoying this. It’s not necessarily ground-shaking, but there’s something compelling about it (not just Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson and Taraji Henson, though they are all wonderful here). I think much of what I love is in the premise: that these characters know someone is going to be in trouble (or cause trouble) and they stop the bad stuff from happening, because it’s THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Sometimes I just want to watch people being self-sacrificing and noble and kicking evil’s butt. I do wish there were more characters of color and women, but it looks like that will be improving in the future seasons somewhat.

I was a big fan of the original offering by Hank Green and Bernie Su, the marvelous Lizzy Bennet Diaries. I haven’t warmed to all of their other projects, but Emma Approved hooked me from the first moment I saw Joanna Sotomura as Emma and Brent Bailey as Knightly. They are perfect! I thought this was a clever and entertaining reinterpretation of the original Jane Austen novel EMMA, and I waited for each new episode impatiently. It’s complete now, so you can watch it all yourself if you are so inclined.

~Everything Else~
Some other highlights of 2014:

I finished another knitting project (my first hat!) slowly but surely.

I wrote up my travel journal for our 2013 trip to Paris (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

I started playing my violin regularly in November, and have learned about a dozen new songs (focusing on Irish jigs and reels).

I started studying French online, using Memrise (Learn Basic French) and the awesome free online courses at the Open Learning Initiative (Elementary French I). Both are free, though you need to create a membership. Memrise is more of a supplement, as it focuses on memorizing vocabulary, but I have found using both these sites together (plus writing down lists of verb conjugations and vocab to review) has worked very well and been a lot of fun.

I attended a retreat with my awesome literary agency in the spring, and met so many wonderful people.

I ate lots of delicious food, especially my meals at Tao Yuan, Salt Water Farm Cafe, and Frontier, the u-pick organic strawberries from Sheepscot Farms, and the heirloom apple farmshare from Out on a Limb.

And best of all, I spent time with the people and creatures I love. Thank you, 2014, you were good to me!