Posts Tagged ‘reading’

May/June Reading

09
July
2018



[Images show clipped covers of books listed below]

It’s been a good two months for reading!

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child (Picture Book, library hardcopy)
I read this after reading Native American Children’s Book scholar Debbie Reese’s blog post on it, which includes some lovely shots of the illustrations and talks about the importance of this book. Please read that (see following link) for more insights, if you are interested! https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2018/03/recommended-with-joy-bowwow-powwow.html

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Picture Book, library hardcopy)
I read this mostly because someone was raving about the art, which is, indeed, delightful. But it’s a sweet and lovely book in terms of story as well, especially if you are looking for a picture book touching on issues of gender identity in a gentle way.

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall (MG Contemporary, library hardcopy)
I’ve loved all the Penderwicks books and was eager to see how the series came to a close. It was slightly bittersweet to be leaving the characters behind, but I was very satisfied.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (MG Contemporary, library hardcopy)
The ghost of a twelve-year-old African-American boy killed by a police officer who mistakes a toy gun for a real weapon watches his family and friends in the aftermath of his death; interspersed with scenes from before the incident. If you have MG readers who are ready to learn more about social justice and institutional racism this seems like a good place to start, though it is a challenging read. Obviously there can’t be a true happy ending, but there is hope here.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (MG/YA Graphic Novel, library hardcopy)
A beautiful book, both in the actual art and the story itself, about a prince who wants to wear dresses and the young dressmaker who secretly helps him. One warning: there is a somewhat traumatic outing scene, so be aware if you want to avoid that. The ultimate message is hopeful and accepting, though.

The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag (MG/YA Graphic Novel, library hardcopy)
This made a nice complement to The Prince and the Dressmaker, as it’s also a graphic novel exploring gender roles/expectations in a sort of fairy-tale setting. In this case, it’s the story of a boy who wants to be a witch, but his family tradition holds that males must become shapeshifters and only females can be witches.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (YA Fantasy, purchased ebook)
The compelling premise of this book is what first drew me in (along with that amazing cover): the Civil War ended because the dead began to rise as “shamblers” (aka zombies). Now human beings live in fortified settlements and young black folk are trained as warriors to fight the undead. My favorite part was the main character Jane, and her frenemy Kate, who are both strong, amazing, distinctive characters. There’s a second book on the way and I cannot wait.

Windwitch by Susan Dennard (YA Fantasy, library ebook)
Second in an ongoing secondary-world fantasy series. I really admire the complexity of this world, the powerful female friendship at the core, and pretty much every scene with Iseult and/or Aeduan.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (YA Fantasy, library ebook)
Second in a duology. I continue to be so impressed by how every one of the six main characters can be compelling and intriguing and distinctive, and how the world only gets richer and deeper and more interesting.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (YA Fantasy, purchased ebook)
This is quite possibly my favorite read of the year so far! Beautiful, shimmering, glorious prose but ALSO a compelling and well-paced plot that had me reading desperately to find out what would happen. I haven’t clicked with some of Taylor’s other work but this one just snagged me right from the first chapter. First in a duology, but book two is coming this fall, thank goodness!

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst (Adult Fantasy , purchased ebook)
I was in the mood for something that felt like my favorite fantasy novels from when I was a teenage reader and this delivered. Adventure, a magic school, fantastic creatures, a bit of romance. Even though some very terrible, devastating things happen in the narrative, it felt like a comfort read because it was exactly what I was looking for at that moment.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Adult SF Novella , purchased ebook)
Second in a series of novellas about Murderbot, a self-aware android trying to understand its own past, and constantly getting mixed up with the messy affairs of humans it cares too much about. If you enjoyed the first, I think it is safe to say you will enjoy this one.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (Adult Nonfiction/Memoir, library audiobook)
The story of a nature writer and her relationship with a series of octopuses (not octopi, according to the book!) as she learns about their biology and dispositions. I enjoyed this most when it was focused on the biology and behavior of the octopuses, less so when the author was waxing poetic about what they meant to her. Mostly reading this just left me wishing for a more scientific book that would focus on all the neat aspects of octopus biology without extra fluff about the humans!

March/April Media

01
May
2018

Collage of covers of books described in blog post

[Image shows clipped covers of books listed below]

I neglected to post at the end of March (I was a little distracted by my NEW BOOK DEAL) but here is some of the media I consumed in the past two months.

BOOKS
The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso (Adult Fantasy, trade paperback)
I actually read an earlier draft of this last year, but it just came out at the end of April and I know the final version is even better than what I read (which was, already full of adventure and magic and cool outfits and witchlords and friendship and my favorite new character) so I am including it here. I loved it so much I gave myself a TDH inspired manicure, pictured in the image above. Sadly my skills with freehand nail art as not as good as Melissa’s writing! But if you read the first in this series, do check out book 2. And if you haven’t read book 1, give that a go if you like fantasy adventure with a dollop of political intrigue,

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Adult SFF Novella, ebook)
Last (that I know of) in a series of novellas full of wild and imaginative speculative elements, like space ships that are giant fish with lungs full of plants to create oxygen, and deadly jellyfish aliens, and a super cool protagonist whose journey has finally come full circle. Also math!

Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (Adult Mystery, ebook)
I really like Harriet Vane and I was intrigued by the mystery (about a body that she finds along a deserted English shore, only to have it be washed out to see before anyone can properly investigate), but I was disappointed in the pervasive use of ethnic slurs. It is, perhaps, a product of its times (published in 1932) but that doesn’t make it more tolerable. I still may read the next in the series (Gaudy Nights) because I bought it already and I know it is a favorite of fans of the series, but right now I am not in a rush.

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Adult Romance, ebook)
An adorable and wonderful romance featuring a scientist main character who is romanced by an incognito African prince. I read this when I was in the mood for something fast and warm and sweet and funny and it was all those things and more.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (YA Fantasy, ebook)
Secondary world fantasy inspired by West African history/legend. I loved this and read it super-fast because I JUST HAD TO KNOW what would happen. I love the intense emotion, the visuals, the complicated character interactions, and the fascinating magic system. But augh, what a cliffhanger of an ending! Still, I highly recommend. This one definitely lives up to the hype for me. It’s also especially fun to read it knowing the author is an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan and see some of the echoes of that here.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (YA Fantasy, ebook)
Luscious and grotesque all at once, and rich with atmosphere. I found this a little challenging to get into but once I was in I sank deep. There is so much going on here, so many interesting questions here, and an interrogation of our society’s relationship with beauty and identity. I think this book may be both the most beautiful and the ugliest (in terms of what people do to each other and the twisted nature of the world portrayed) that I’ve read lately.

As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman (YAish Graphic Novel)
A religious girl who also happens to be black and not straight (but also not out) goes to a Christian outdoors camp and grapples with her place there, her faith, and her identity. I was drawn to this mostly due to the sweet, engaging artwork, but the story inside kept me reading. I am still not entirely sure I understand the ending of this volume (there are more on the way, I think?) though!

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta (MG Fantasy, ebook)
A wonderfully funny and delightful middle grade fantasy featuring a contemporary girl from New Jersey discovering her connection to a fantastical realm inspired by Hindu mythology. I loved the main character Kiranmala! Such a great voice, and she felt really honest and true. I can imagine fans of Percy Jackson would love this.

I also read the drafts of two different fantasy novels for writer-friends that won’t be out until next year so I am not going to comment on them here, except to say I am lucky lucky lucky and have incredibly talented friends!

MOVIES
Pacific Rim Uprising
I enjoyed the spectacle and getting to see John Boyega do this thing as a Jaeger pilot, and the crop of new younger teen pilots in training, but I was sorely disappointed by how they handled Mako’s plotline. I am so curious whether it was because of limitations on the actresses’ time, or whether they seriously thought it was a good idea.

A Quiet Place
I loved this movie about a family surviving in the aftermath of what appears to be an alien invasion by monsters that are blind and hunt by sound. Amazing acting, incredible tension, gripping story. I did have to look away/cover my eyes a couple times because I couldn’t bear the suspense but it was worth it.

Avengers Infinity War
No spoilers: I enjoyed it quite a lot, particularly seeing the interactions between characters who had never met before. I was impressed by how they kept the story flowing even with that many different elements. Because of (spoilery) things that happened, though, I feel like until I see next years conclusion, I really can’t tell if I will ultimately love, hate, or something-in-between it. I suspect a certain thing will happen in next year’s movie, and if it does, I will be happy, but if it doesn’t (or is done in the wrong way) I may be very unhappy. That said, I am really excited to see Captain Marvel finally make her appearance in the universe!

GAMING
No full games completed, lately! My brother and I are thisclose to finishing Borderlands in coop mode, but not quite… Otherwise I’m still just wallowing in my love of Dragon Age Inquisition by continuing my replay. I did do the Descent DLC for the first time. I loved some of the imagery and a few of the side quests (Nug King!!!!) and the lore you learn and questions that are raised regarding the titans. But otherwise it was mostly just running around in tunnels and fighting a lot, which isn’t my favorite. I’ve moved on to the Jaws of Hakkon DLC and trying to trigger the Adoribull romance, before I finish the final encounter of the main campaign and Trespasser. After that I will start something new! (Unless I start a Mass Effect 1-3 replay, oops).

February Media

03
March
2018

[Image showing covers for the books/games/tv shows listed below]

I didn’t read or play as much in February as I would have liked, mostly because I got distracted planning our big 2018 vacation. We’re going to the UK at the end of July/beginning of August, spending time in Bath and the Cotswolds and finishing with a day in London dedicated primarily to seeing Hamilton (eee!).

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (MG contemporary, ebook)
First in a series of novels about kids who are on a competitive middle school track team. Really amazing voice, and I was impressed by how so much stuff was woven so seamlessly into a relatively short (but powerful) novel.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Adult SF, ebook)
Third and final book in the intricate and nuanced Imperial Radch series. This story has more of the amazing world building and characterization, along with a surprising amount of humor and an unsurprising (given the previous books) amount of thoughtful discussion of humanity.

The Runaways (TV, Hulu)
I really loved this series about a band of teens with various skills and abilities who discover their parents are supervillains. There are some significant changes from the original comic (which I also read and enjoyed) but for the most part I think the changes strengthened this version (in particular, the deeper focus on the parents, and the addition of Nico’s sister). There were a couple of times I wanted to shake certain characters, and I’m not entirely happy with some of the portrayals, but overall I really enjoyed this and am excited to see where they will go in Season 2.

The Good Place Season 2 (TV, Hulu)
Weird, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, ridiculous (in a good way), I don’t think there’s any way I can do this show justice in a short blurb. Also, spoilers! But if you enjoyed the first season I think it is likely you will love the second as much or more.

Queer Eye (TV, Netflix)
Heartwarming, emotional and fun. It follows a similar premise to the original show: five gay men who specialize in different areas (grooming, food, etc) who provide a sort of lifestyle makeover to someone else nominated by friends and family to be on the show. I love how how the five seem to really, truly care about their clients and want the best for them.

Dragon Age: Awakening (Videogame, PS3)
I am not entirely sure why I skipped playing this DLC when I first played Dragon Age Origins. I actually had no idea how substantial it was– a full game in its own, practically! I’m so glad my friend Chris encouraged me to try it because I did truly enjoy returning to this world, even though it took me a couple hours to remember how to use the controls. I did find it a bit buggy and the slowness (compared to more recent games) got to me, but overall I had fun and am glad to have filled in this gap in my Dragon Age experience. Though it did make me even more sad about what they did with Anders in DA2!

January Media

01
February
2018

[Image showing covers for several of the books/games/tv shows listed below]

I’m trying to stay more on top of tracking and sharing what I read/play/watch each month, so here’s a quick summary of what I finished in January.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson (Comic)
The continued adventures of Ms. Marvel, the teenaged Muslim Pakistani-American superhero. I absolutely adore Kamala Khan, and I especially love how this volume delves into what exactly that heroism means when not everyone likes what you are doing. I highly recommend this series.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (YA Historical, ebook)
Detailed and riveting historical fiction about a Chinese-American girl in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. I loved Mercy’s guts, compassion and gumption, and I had a really hard time putting this one down once the quake started.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (Adult Fantasy, audiobook)
I found this very compelling, particularly the world-building, with a set of four different linked worlds and the handful of people who can pass between them. And I particularly loved Lila, the thief who wants to be a pirate and yearns to be free. Also, even though this is the first in a trilogy, it was entirely satisfying as a single volume.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (Adult Speculative, ebook)
Octavia Butler is a luminary in speculative fiction and I’ve long wanted to read more of her work. Kindred is one of her most famous, though the only speculative element here is time-travel: a black woman from the 70s slips back in time to the pre-Civil War South. It’s brutal and very challenging to read in places, but really thought-provoking.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey (Memoir, ebook)
The memoir of a year or so in the life of the author, as she’s dealing with debilitating illness, and takes solace in observing the small snail that is living in a pot of violets given to her by a friend. I really enjoyed learning more about snails, and also appreciated the meditations on chronic illness.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (YA Nonfiction, audiobook)
I found this absolutely riveting and impossible to put down in places. I had forgotten (or never learned) so much about the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers and Watergate: this book truly made history come alive and felt sadly topical to the current political situation. I’m especially glad I read it just before watching the movie The Post which covers some of the same events.

Old Man’s Journey (Android Game)
A lovely and wistful game with a fairly simple mechanic (you have to move elements of the environment around to allow the titular Old Man to complete his journey) and a bittersweet story. I think what made me buy this in the first place was the gorgeous art. The game didn’t hold my attention quite as strongly as I’d have hoped, but I’m glad I played it.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4 Game)
This was one of the most visceral (figuratively and literally, ew) games I’ve played. Harrowing and brutal, but also beautiful and expansive (especially the finale). The premise is that you are Senua, a young Celtic warrior woman with depression/psychosis who is seeking to save the soul of her lover from the Norse Hell after he was slaughtered by Norsemen. I have never played a game that made me so tense, and even on easy mode I found the fighting grueling. I actually almost gave up on the game after about the first third because it was so relentlessly dark and the fights were so frustrating, but I’m very glad I kept going. I felt very strongly for the character of Senua by the end, and the puzzle elements of the game were clever and the atmosphere was incredible.

Travelers Season 2 (TV series)
I’m continuing to enjoy this series about time-travelers who get their minds sent back to inhabit the bodies of contemporary people who were about to die. While some elements don’t work for me (the plot this season was kind of… odd and I am still not convinced it made sense) I love the characters and their relationships.

Killjoys Season 2 (TV series)
As above, I’m watching this series more for the characters and world-building than the plot. This blog post pretty much sums up everything I would say about it so I will point you there for more: http://www.thebooksmugglers.com/2017/12/reasons-love-killjoys-arent-spoilers.html

2017 Reading and Writing Report

01
January
2018

A lot of terrible things happened in the greater world during the year 2017 but for me personally and creatively it was actually a much, much better year than 2016. I am standing (or rather, sitting, drinking a cup of hot chocolate because it is 3 degrees out) here on the first day of 2018 feeling hopeful and determined.

My stats, because it helps me evaluate where I’ve been and where I’m going:

In 2017 I read 65 books. Not quite as much as some years, but much better than the 44 books in 2016! And I really, really enjoyed what I read for the most part. Over a third of those were five-star reads for me! Of those 65:
9 were graphic novels or comic collections
31 were written or co-written by non-white authors (I track this to try to ensure I am reading diversely)
9 were Nonfiction
4 were Poetry
5 were MG novels (split between historical, mystery, fantasy, contemporary)
16 were YA novels (almost all contemporary! Only three fantasy, one sf and one historical)
17 were Adult novels (mostly fantasy, sf and romance)
4 were Adult novellas (all fantasy or sf)
13 were ebooks from the library
24 were ebooks I own
9 were library hardcopies
13 were hardcopies I own
3 were audiobooks from the library

I am definitely aware that I favor ebooks these days. I just find it so much easier to read on my ereader or phone, and find it a challenge to handle large trade editions let alone giant hardbacks. I still enjoy audiobooks but have been listening to more podcasts this year which means I have less time for them.

In 2017 I wrote 137,000 words. Most of them were on a new MG fantasy novel that I revised substantially several times (and am currently revising yet again). The rest were on several different new projects that I hope to get back to eventually. I also did some hard and occasionally painful work figuring out where I want to go with my writing career given my long and unintended hiatus from publishing. I have more thoughts on that but will save them for a later post as some are still in progress. The short version is: I found a reserve of new energy and determination, and a resolve to push hard to both work on new MG fiction, and to focus on writing what brings me joy. I began querying to find a literary agent in August, and ended up signing with my brilliant new agent Hannah at the end of October. Things are moving in a positive direction and I really hope that 2018 will bring even more good news.

Some of my favorite entertainments from the year:

And my favorite memories:

May Reading

22
June
2017

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.

January Reading

04
February
2017

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.

2016/2017

02
January
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!

July Diversions

03
August
2016

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.

April, May, June

02
July
2016

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