2015 so far

In January, I made some reading goals and since now half the year has gone by, I thought I would check in and see where things are at this point.

* 40 book challenge: I finished just under the wire! like the last day before school ended! But I did it! If I hadn’t been challenging myself to read all J FIC books, this wouldn’t have taken nearly as long.

* Readthroughs: I have FAILED MISERABLY. I’ve had Shattered Pillars sitting on my to read shelf for months, and I haven’t gotten much farther with Cherryh or Bradshaw.

* 12 non-fiction books: I’ve read nine, so I’m doing very well on this goal.

* 12 ILL books: Uh, so the flaw in this plan is that I have completely forgotten to track the ILL books as I’ve read them, aside from The Steerswoman. But I know I have read several and tried several others that I didn’t finish. I’m guessing I’ll hit 12 easily, but I’ll never really know.

* 20 diverse books: I didn’t define this terribly well, but I have read 15 books by authors who are POC, so I’d say this is going really well. And I’m not stretching or reading books I don’t enjoy–I’ve also not finished several that didn’t click with me. I’m definitely going to keep going with this challenge, and up my goal number next year.

* Re-read and write up posts for Ellis Peters’s Felse books and Patricia McKillip: Not yet, but I plan to do Reading Notes series with both.

* Read Django Wexler’s books: noottt yeeettt (I will, I swear)

* Read at least 12 books that have been languishing on my TBR for 3 years or more: Again, it would have been helpful had I actually tracked this. However, I don’t think I’ve been doing very well on this one.

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July releases I’m excited about

July seems to be a quiet month in terms of new releases. But that’s okay! It gives us a chance to catch up with all the books published in spring!

calpurnia the fixer about a girl

The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
About a Girl by Sarah McCarry
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

What about you? Any books you’re looking forward to this month?

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June 2015 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones
All For You by Laura Florand
Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier
Picture Book Monday
Captain Marvel vol 1: In Pursuit of Flight
Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood
Jackaby by William Ritter

The Turning Season by Sharon Shinn
Stolen Magic by Gail Carson Levine
Rook by Sharon Cameron

The Water Devil by Judith Merkle Riley
A Civil Campaign

Other books
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: audiobook review coming later!

The Virtu by Sarah Monette: Feels! ALL THE FEELS. Mildmay feels! Felix feels! As a note, it’s interesting to me that Monette can write a book with two main male characters, largely centered on their relationship, and yet her female characters read as complex and interesting. It’s almost like she sees and writes them as real people! I’m both anticipating and dreading the next book because I’m sure it will be emotionally harrowing.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: I…didn’t like this one. I think I have friends who did–and I’d love to hear from you if so! But I just couldn’t get past the fact that I didn’t have any investment in Matthew and Diana’s relationship, and that at times his desire for control led it into territory I was uncomfortable with.

Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie: Audiobook. I found the narrator for this one somewhat grating, as he made all the characters sound basically the same and Poirot very Frenchified. There are also some oddly anti-women undercurrents. Not my favorite.

A Faraway Island by Annika Thor: I’m familiar with evacuee fiction, but it tends to mostly be focused on kids in the UK. In A Faraway Island Thor tells the story of two sisters, Jewish girls from Vienna who are sent to Sweden in the advance of the Nazis. It’s sweet and hard and heartbreaking, especially the progression of the letters from the girls’ parents as they begin to realize the trap that’s closing in around them.

The Arctic Code by Matthew Kirby: Middle grade futuristic sci fi, set in a slightly distant future when the world is in a new ice age. I don’t know how accurate the science is; I found the story fast-paced but ultimately a bit unsatisfying and improbable.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han: I have so many thoughts about this book and To All the Boys and the value of the way they show the life of a feminine, middle class girl and her concerns and loves and worries. It’s all too rare, and yet we give this kind of page time to male stories. Mostly, though, I just love Lara Jean and her story.

Fall For Anything by Courtney Summers: This is one of Summers’s more intimate books, dealing with the aftermath of Eddie’s father’s suicide. I liked it quite a bit and found Eddie an easy character to sympathise with, in both her strengths and her mistakes. Oddly enough, I think I missed some of the sharp anger that’s a core of some of her other books.

Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy: I had to request the library purchase this one and for awhile it looked like they were only going to buy the ebooks of individual issues. Happily, they eventually bought the first volume. I think it really helped my enjoyment–not that I didn’t like it when I read it as ebooks, because I did. Anyway, these are funny, feminist, amazing comics. They’ve already entered my personal mythology in a way that I found slightly surprising.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters: My first Sarah Waters book! I had a slightly mixed reaction and I’m having trouble pinning down why. On the one hand, the writing is marvelous; I loved Nan’s voice and the prose and so much about it. On the other hand, I had some trouble connecting to Nan as a character, and I’m not sure exactly why; I think perhaps she seems so disconnected from other people for much of the book, and while this is probably deliberate, I think it does add a distance from her. I did love the resolution of the ending, though, and will definitely read more Waters.

Other posts
Links: 6-1-15
Links: 6-17-15
TTT: Anticipated releases for the rest of 2015
TTT: Summer tbr list
Bullet journaling revisited
A letter to Tor & Macmillan
Recent short fiction reads

TV & movies
Poldark: I’ve only seen the first episode, but it’s quite enjoyable. Lots of shots of beautiful Cornish scenery and beautiful Aidan Turner. I mean, I wouldn’t watch it just for that. We’ll see if I can take the melodrama over the long term, but so far so good.

Parks & Rec: I watched the final season and while I don’t think it was as strong as the others–it felt a little self-indulgent at times–it was still lovely. And I did really like the final episode and the way it pulled together the threads of the past few seasons.

Poirot: I went back to watching Poirot and got up to the later seasons that I haven’t seen. The adaptations of Five Little Pigs and Sad Cypress were especially good, I thought.

Continuum: Apparently I had only gotten through half of the first season on this one. I’m appreciating some of the details in terms of both the future and the present, and that it seems to have a good sense of where the story’s going. I feel like Canadian scifi shows seem to be fresher in a way than their American counterparts, and I like it.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite books of 2015 (so far)

This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

My initial draft for this list had 26 titles, so I hope you all appreciate how difficult it was to cut it down to (sobs) TEN. That being said, 2015 has been an excellent year in terms of publishing, and we have another six months to look forward to.

bone gapblack dove white ravenunder a painted skyuprootedravensbruck

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: “While there is darkness here, it’s never utterly bleak. I loved the resolution and the sense of hope hard won.”

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein: “Most of all, though, it’s the story of a brother and sister, who love each other so much that they rescue each other over and over again, who find courage in each other and strength to deal with whatever life brings them.”

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: “Sammy and Andy’s story is one I found compelling, and hard, and beautiful.”

Uprooted by Naomi Novik: “I have said for awhile of the stories I’m drawn to that they are both the trope and the subversion of the trope, and that’s true in this case as well. ”

Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm: “It is perhaps the tragedy of Ravensbrück that the stories of the women who lived and fought and died and survived have been so forgotten, despite all their efforts. I hope that this amazing and heartbreaking book is another strike against that silence, another way to tell the world.”

ms. marvelnimonagone crazy in alabamaakata witchmurder is bad manners

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson: “Smart, fun, filled with a YA sensibility. I also loved the way Kamala’s family and faith and culture are woven into the story, how they’re both frustrations and sources of strength.”

NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson: “I wasn’t sure how it would be to read it as a book, but the format worked really well and HarperCollins did a great job with the colors & quality.”

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia: “I’m sad it’s over, even while I know it’s a great place to leave Delphine and Vonetta and Fern.”

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor: “I loved Sunny and her friends, and the rich, evocative writing. ”

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens: “I loved this book: I loved the setting, I loved Hazel’s voice, I loved the way her feelings & worries about being a Chinese girl in the middle of a British boarding school were woven into the story.”


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The Reluctant Listener: Charmed Life

reluctantlistenerIt’s mostly a coincidence that my next audiobook to talk about is Charmed Life, the first in the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones. However, some of my impetus for beginning the Reading Notes series was a desire to re-read books by favorite authors. And I listened to this audiobook for much the same reason.

In terms of the audiobook itself, this is a nice one. Gerard Doyle does a great job of providing the narration and doing the voices for different characters; I can’t remember any that I felt he had gotten wrong and he does an especially nice job with Chrestomanci. This is also a nice length book, long enough to be satisfying, but not so long that details start to fade. (I listen to audiobooks in the car, which means I listen in 35-minute chunks.)

In terms of the actual story, I found that this is one I expected to enjoy more than I actually did. I forgot, I think, that I like Chrestomanci in the abstract, but find him slightly insufferable in reality. And this one has a higher-than-usual Awfulness quotient, or at least that’s how it seemed to me this time. Poor Cat clearly is looking at things all wrong, but the central issue really isn’t fixed for almost the entire book.

That being said, I do really enjoy Cat and Janet, and Chrestomanci’s castle too. So all in all, this was a somewhat mixed bag–excellent in terms of technical execution, but perhaps not the book I really wanted it to be.


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Diana Wynne Jones reading notes: Archer’s Goon

archer's goonNote: Throughout June, I’ll be re-reading and reviewing books by Diana Wynne Jones. There are definitely spoilers below, so tread with caution if that’s something you’re concerned about.

Archer’s Goon is the very first DWJ book I ever read. I picked it up from my middle school library and was intrigued by the beginning (“The trouble started the day Howard came home from school to find the Goon sitting in the kitchen”). And then I was enchanted by the weird and lovely world I found myself in. Although I have come to love many of DWJ’s books, I do have a soft spot in my heart for Archer’s Goon because of this.

I noticed several of the threads I’ve been pulling out in other DWJ books showing up here as well. Howard’s family–both of Howard’s families–have that sense of being both complicated and even at odds, while also being warm and ultimately loving. Obviously this doesn’t hold true for all of Howard’s original family, but even there, Hathaway and Torquil balance the others out to some extent.

Another check: intergalatic evil overlords. Actually, in this case, we don’t know exactly who or what the family is, aside from the fact that they have vast though not unlimited powers and don’t age in the same way as normal humans. Also in this case, DWJ shakes things up a little bit by adding in Howard/Venturus, Hathaway, and Torquil, who at least have some sense of responsibility to others and things they shouldn’t do.

And one of the big ones I’ve noticed through several books is the character, usually the main character, who is hidden from both others and even themselves. This thread is pretty central here, as Howard spends most of the book unaware that he is actually Venturus. He believes that he’s simply Howard Sykes, and yet underneath he’s also puzzling over the problem and when he discovers that he’s also Venturus, it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.

On the other hand, common threads don’t mean that DWJ simply repeats stories–each has something new to add. In this case, one of the new threads is the sense of cyclical time. There’s a feeling that all of this has happened before, and may happen again. But more specifically, the main characters have spent the last 26 years caught in the town, trapped by Venturus. There’s also the fact that Hathaway is called Hathaway and lives in the past and has a daughter named Anne who marries a man named Will; they’re not actually Anne Hathaway and Will Shakespeare, but there are quite deliberate echoes.

If what I’ve said so far sounds a bit English essay-ish and intellectual, it’s because I found that while I really enjoyed reading this one (I have an especial soft spot for Awful), and while I still remember quite vividly reading it for the first time and reaching the twist and having this feeling of the world changing around me, it hasn’t ever really sunk in the way some of DWJ’s other books have. Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, the Dalemark Quartet–those are all heart-books for me. Archer’s Goon is a smart and fun book that I’m happy to re-read when I think of it.

All the same, it is a book that I truly like and appreciate. I’m fond of Howard, and of the family interactions, and of Ginger Hind. I’m not very comfortable with the depiction of Shine, for several reasons. Nonetheless, between my nostalgia and the real strengths of the book, this is one I’ll certainly return to.

Book source: public library

Book information: 1984, Greenwillow; middle grade


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Recent short fiction reads

When I was in college, I was a pretty big reader of SFF short fiction. That’s where I first encountered authors like Theodora Goss and Catherynne Valente. But at some point, I kind of lost track of the short fiction world. Recently, I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and have found a few stories I’ve really enjoyed. Lady Business’s Short Business project has been very helpful in finding several of these.

To Whatever” by Shaenon Garrity: An epistolary short story, told in the letters of Ethan to whatever lives in the walls of his apartment building. This one was especially fun because I like epistolary stories quite a bit to begin with, because the evolution of the relationship in the story is nicely drawn, and because I thought I knew where the arc of the story was going, and I was wrong! It totally surprised me. Also Willem’s letters were spot-on. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.

Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar: This story builds to a slow crescendo. It starts with the odd but not entirely bizarre recurrence of things appearing in Nadia’s pockets. A lipstick that isn’t hers; a coin; a gun. Nadia’s reaction to this is well done, and the story weaves in questions about friendship, trust, and ultimately the bent of the universe. Its ambiguity is tempered with hope, and I found the ending so beautiful that I cried a little bit.

Clasp Hands” by Stephanie Burgis: I’ve loved Stephanie Burgis’s Kat Stephenson books, and the novella “Courting Magic” that she wrote as part of that. So I thought I would read some of her short fiction as well. I haven’t worked my way through all of her short stories, but so far “Clasp Hands” is my favorite. Genuinely eerie and sad, but also full of the warmth and humor and care of family. Also magic.

The Merger” by Sunil Patel: This story is brand new; a weird mix of totally strange alien entities and a corporate takeover. The full title, “The Merger: A Romantic Comedy of Intergalactic Business Negotiations, Indecipherable Emotions, and Pizza” sums it up pretty well. I really enjoyed the relationship between Paresh and Sita, and their dilemma in trying to figure out how to deal with the BlarbSnarb.

So there you have a few short stories I’ve liked! If you have recommendations, please to send them my way.


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