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Reading Roundup 2017

Winter 2018 003

One of the biggest events of my reading year was discovering that Good Reads now has a way to record multiple reads of the same book. In other words, rereads can now be counted toward your yearly total in the reading challenge. As a lover of my reading data, this change presented a dilemma. Do I want to start recording rereads when the totals for my past years are only new books? Then again, this is a way to collect even more data, so of course I decided to do it.

My goal for 2017 was to read 20 books, and my final total was 23 books! This total includes the three Sarah Dessen novels that I reread this summer. In terms of new books, I reached my goal exactly. I also read some lengthy books this year, giving me my highest page total since 2013.

Acknowledging the fact that I can now count rereads, my goal for 2018 is to read 22 books. This year should be my busiest yet with grad school, but I think I can still reach that goal. There are many new books on my to-read list. In fact, I’ve already read the new John Green book and started the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling. Happy reading!

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Best of 2017: Book Edition, Part 2

It was a tough year for a lot of people, but I personally found comfort in the wit and wisdom of smart women like these five authors. If you want honest reflections of imperfect people, these books are a good place to start. Here are my favorite books for 2017!

5. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible

From conversations with friends, I know that readers had split opinions about this modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The greatest challenge for any modernization is finding equivalents for the social and romantics obstacles that the characters face. I appreciate that Eligible makes bold choices to create situations that feel equally dramatic to the ones in the original story, given the less restrictive society of today. Although the characters aren’t particularly sympathetic, it’s a deliciously fitting send-up to see Mr. Bingley as a reality show star and Jane as a placid yoga teacher. All the points for creativity!

4. The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Lake House

My former coworker Angel placed this book on my desk with assurances that I would love it. Nearly a year later, I’ve read three books by Kate Morton, but The Lake House remains my favorite. I like to call Morton’s books “Anglophile porn” because they have everything you would want of a British story: world wars, ancestral homes, and family secrets. The Lake House is a prime example. While on leave from the London police, Sadie finds an abandoned country house and is determined to discover its history. This leads her to Alice Edevane, a mystery writer who grew up in the house. And the page-turning continues from there.

3. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

How to Build A Girl

Caitlin Moran is a formidable feminist voice in the UK. Before also reading her memoir this year, I picked up her semi-autobiographical novel. Despite a strongly worded disclaimer from Moran that How to Build a Girl is completely fictional, she was also raised in a large family in Wolverhampton and became a music journalist while still in her teens. Like all her writing, Moran’s prose is frank and funny. The characters reach high levels of absurdity in their actions, but as the narrator strives to reinvent herself, her private admissions feel absolutely real. It’s a messy, affectionate coming-of-age tale.

2. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud

I fell in love with Anne Helen Petersen as a Classic Hollywood analyst, but these musings on modern celebrity culture blew me away. Each chapter is named after a female celebrity and one of her supposedly excessive qualities. Then Petersen examines how that woman’s celebrity image breaks from socially acceptable expressions of femininity. (Too strong, too fat, too old, etc.) As always, her writing illuminates how our culture’s often contradictory values are reflected in our celebrities. I was particularly impressed by how she made me reconsider women whose personas have never resonated with me in the past. This book should be a battle cry for unruly women everywhere.

1. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

Let’s consider this the year that young adult came back into my life with a vengeance. At the top of the heap is An Ember in the Ashes, the first in a planned four-part series by Sabaa Tahir. She creates a vivid, dangerous world with slavery, oppression, and a ruling military class. At the beginning of the book, Laia must become a slave at the brutal military academy in order to help the Resistance and save her imprisoned brother. Tahir excels at showing a diversity of perspectives and setting high stakes for all of her characters. I can’t wait for the third book to come out in April! (You can read my full review here.)

Thanks for reading with me!

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Best of 2017: Book Edition, Part 1

Thanks to some quality recommendations, 2017 was a great year for exploring new authors and series. You’ll find some of those books here, along with two familiar names. Here are the illustrious numbers 10 through 6!

10. Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

Once and for All

Still crazy about Sarah Dessen after all these years. Once and for All is one of her classic summer novels, this one following cynical Louna as she works for her mother’s wedding planning company. Although it won’t go down as one of my all-time favorites by Sarah, the story was entertaining. I especially liked the feeling of the makeshift family created by Louna, her single mother, and her mother’s business partner. Ambrose provides a lovably goofy romantic lead, and one scene of his buffoonery had me laughing hysterically.

9. Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Outcasts United

This summer I took a class about immigrant fiction, and Outcasts United was one of our assigned readings. The book is a wonderful example of journalism written in an accessible mode. Warren St. John follows one season in the life of a refugee soccer team in a Georgia town with a quickly changing population. Additionally, he intersperses the team’s challenges and triumphs with the personal stories of its coach and members, who come from many different countries. Even if you struggle with nonfiction, give this book a try.

8. The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls

The Girls is an introspective story based on the Manson Family in 1969. The narrator Evie is a lonely fourteen-year-old who is drawn to life on the dilapidated ranch after meeting three free-spirited girls who live there. Although the charismatic male leader is on the periphery, Evie’s true motivation is her friendship with impulsive Suzanne. Over the course of a hypnotic summer, Emma Cline investigates how the yearning for human connection can lead people into dangerous places and circumstances can change lives.

7. Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Den of Wolves

I was somewhat disappointed by the second Blackthorn & Grim novel, but this third installment was more satisfactory. Instead of traveling to another part of the country, Blackthorn spends most of the novel at court with familiar characters. Grim travels to the forboding house of Wolf Glen, where there are secrets to be unraveled. Along with an intriguing mystery, Den of Wolves sees pleasing developments in the lives of the two main characters. This could be the final book in the series, but the door is open for more. I would welcome it!

6. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling

This is the first of two books on my top 10 to be recommended by my friend Emmie. The girl knows where to find good fantasy! The first of a trilogy, The Queen of the Tearling is a classic fantasy story that avoids overused tropes. When Kelsea turns nineteen, she must come out of hiding and take her place as queen. However, she must contend with her uncle, who has served as Regent in her absence, and the sadistic queen of a neighboring country. It’s a fast-paced political story about finding out who you can trust and learning to trust yourself.

This is an exciting list, but the top 5 are even better!

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Sarah Dessen, Revisited

Whenever I finish reading a new Sarah Dessen book, I want to reread some of her earlier work. Usually I resist because I want to keep up with my reading goals. Not to mention, with thirteen books published, there are almost too many choices. However, this summer saw me with more free time than usual, which meant more reading. In a time of transition I once again turned to a favorite book. And then another. And another. It was all Sarah Dessen, all the time.

The Truth about Forever

I reread The Truth About Forever, Just Listen, and Saint Anything. The Truth about Forever is a fan favorite, one that I loved at the age of 15 and had certainly read more than once in the past. Just Listen is one of the few Dessen novels that I had mediocre feelings about, only to hear multiple coworkers and friends list it among their favorites. Saint Anything is her second-to-last book, released in 2015. I really liked it at the time but had only read it once. It was an interesting cross-section of her work, which I’ve been wanting to revisit for years.

Back in 2004, I remember being nervous about The Truth about Forever. I had loved This Lullaby with such a passion, and I didn’t want my favorite author to disappoint me. Then she published a novel that was equal to, if not better than the previous book. As an adult reader, the premise is still appealing. The crew at Wish Catering is one of Sarah’s best supporting casts, and who wouldn’t want to be whisked away into a quirky new social group. Wes is also one of her most swoon-worthy love interests: the thoughtful, artistic boy with a checkered past. It’s still a humorous and touching book with amazing character details.

Just Listen

Just Listen was her very next novel, and in my mind the stakes finally got too high. It may have been the similarities of Annabel’s problems to those of the previous narrator, or I may have been bothered by the made-up musicians and band names. Quite possibly I was just a jaded seventeen-year-old who was a bit of a music snob and transitioning to adult fiction. For whatever reason, Just Listen flopped for me in 2006, and I hadn’t read it since. In 2017 I’m still a music lover but significantly less snobby about it. I also have an easier time accepting a fictional reality in a realistic fiction book. More than ten years later, I could finally see why so many other readers connected with this story.

I wasn’t planning to move on to Saint Anything, especially since I noticed during my first two rereads that all three of these books cover themes of holding in emotions and feeling unheard. I also remembered drawing comparisons between Mac and Wes when I first read Saint Anything, along with some of the other supporting characters. Of course, there’s a limit to the varieties of floppy-haired teenage dreamboats, and authors tend to touch on similar themes throughout their work. Despite having just read the other two books, the similarities in Saint Anything didn’t really bother me. And not just because I’m completely biased! Isn’t the struggle to feel understood and to be seen the way we want to be seen a central part of the adolescent experience? Nobody ever got mad at Hemingway for writing about the psychological aftermath of the First World War.

Saint Anything

I was curious, and admittedly somewhat afraid, to see how my tastes had changed over the years. And while there were moments that affected me differently, I found myself more open to enjoy plotlines and characters that had once disinterested me. As a teenager, I also considered The Truth about Forever to be quite profound. The philosophizing didn’t seem as mind-blowing now, but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story. Finally rereading Just Listen reminded me that I probably wasn’t very attracted to Owen as Annabel’s love interest. But tastes change—thank God—and it’s easier to see the appeal of a boy with a penchant for honesty and a beyond-obscure public radio show.

Rereading these books was a way to get back in touch with myself, to see how I’ve changed and how I’ve stayed the same. It always helps to feel grounded in yourself when your life is going through changes. I’m so glad that sixth-grade Courtney picked up her first Sarah Dessen book and found an author whose work would be with her sixteen years later.

 

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A New Wave of YA is Coming

After several years of being less engaged with the world of young adult books, I find myself looking forward to new releases from many of my favorite authors. 2017 has already been a brighter year for YA with a new book from Sarah Dessen and the discovery of Sabaa Tahir’s series-in-progress. Join me in nerding out over four upcoming books and admiring beautiful cover art.

There’s Someone Inside Your House on September 26!

There's Someone Inside Your House

Stephanie Perkins is a delight in her Anna and the French Kiss trilogy. Having briefly met her at NerdCon: Stories, I can also vouch for the fact that she’s a delight in person. She’s been teasing this book for a while now: like a teen slasher flick but with plenty of kissing and googly eyes (she promises!). It took some time for me to warm up to the idea, but now I’m pumped. I love that she’s willing to work outside of her established patterns. Given the humanity that she can bring to a teenage romance in Paris, I predict that There’s Someone Inside Your House will have more emotional resonance than the average horror story.

Turtles All the Way Down on October 10!

Turtles All the Way Down

By the time this book comes out, it will have been almost six years since the release of The Fault in Our Stars. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if John Green would ever publish again, at least in the YA genre. He’s certainly been keeping busy with creating educational online video. In this case, I’m glad to be wrong. Turtles All the Way Down deals with mental illness, which according to John himself, is inspired by his own experiences with OCD. Although I keep up with John through his online content, I look forward to learning what his brain has been working on these past six years. It’s sure to be thought-provoking.

Truly Devious on January 16!

Truly Devious

As blog readers probably know, my deepest wish is for Maureen Johnson to publish the fourth Shades of London book. Well, it’s vying with a few other literary wishes, but it’s right up there. Luckily, Truly Devious sounds like it has the potential to fill the void. It continues Maureen’s trend of boarding school settings, this time at an American school with ambitious students and a mysterious founder. If I can’t have ghost detectives in London, I’ll take a regular teen detective in Vermont. Not to mention, the cover art is on point!

A Reaper at the Gates on April 10!

A Reaper at the Gates

This is the third book in Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series. Since I just caught up with the series this spring, a year isn’t too long to wait for the next installment. However, there was much confusion when I saw the cover. A quick search revealed that the entire series is be re-released with new cover art. I’m not a huge fan of the high fantasy mood of the new designs, not being a frequent fantasy reader myself, but this interview with Sabaa explains her motivation for showing the faces of her diverse characters. The second book left the three main characters in unexpected places, so I’m excited to see where she takes them.

It’s worth noting that only one of these books is a sequel. There are fresh ideas brewing in the YA world, and I’m all about it.

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A Young Adult Fantasy Gem

An Ember in the Ashes

It’s been a while since I was truly excited about a young adult book, in part because I haven’t read very many in the past year or two. There was a stretch of time when every new book was reminding me of The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. However, when a book is independently recommended to me by two well-read lady friends, I take notice. That book is An Ember in the Ashes.

Young adult, like every literary genre, is lacking in diversity. This applies to both authors and character representation. So it’s wonderful to see a Pakistani-American author receiving well-deserved recognition for this book. In An Ember in the Ashes, you will find a society based on the Roman Empire in a desert climate with a variety of characters who aren’t white (!). Tahir builds an immersive world with a strict class system, slavery, and soldiers who are trained from childhood. The stakes are high for characters in every social sphere.

The narration is split between Laia and Elias. Laia was born into the oppressed Scholar class. When her brother is arrested for suspected collaboration with the Resistance, she is forced to become a slave in her attempt to save him. Laia isn’t the typical heroine found in fantasy adventure stories. She doesn’t start out as tough, capable, and fearless, but circumstances push her to challenge her fears. Most importantly, her understanding of herself and her family evolves as she faces these trials. Hers is a classic coming-of-age journey.

On the other hand, Elias has been trained since boyhood to join the ranks of the Empire’s most lethal assassins. Although Elias holds a privileged position, his ambiguous parentage and nontraditional upbringing give him an outsider’s perspective. He can’t speak out against the brutality of the Empire without risking death. Tahir is highly successful at bringing out the contradictions and messy emotions in this character as well. Elias objects to the role he’s expected to play, but he also loves the comrades with whom he grew up.

My friend Emmie and I were discussing how authors sometimes struggle to continue a series after a promising start. She suggested that those authors didn’t have a specific idea of where they were headed when the began the series. In addition, I think that the pressure to make each book more epic and action-packed sometimes causes the emotional threads of the story to get buried. Sabaa Tahir has planned four books for this series. I will be reading A Torch Against the Night soon and hope to love it nearly as much as An Ember in the Ashes. Even if she falls into some of the fantasy series traps, she’s a young writer with tons of potential for the future. I look forward to following her career!

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When Authors Are Torturers

Every book lover knows that authors are the source of both our greatest joy and our greatest pain. I’m talking about the often excruciating wait that comes between books from our favorite writers. On a rational level, we want them to take as long as needed to produce a quality novel, but on an irrational level, we’re desperate for our next fix. There are several authors whose disrupted publication schedule is keeping me in suspense at the moment, so here’s a rundown.

J.K. Rowling, as Robert Galbraith, was publishing the Cormoran Strike mysteries like clockwork. 2013, 2014, and 2015 each brought an installment. But 2016…nothing. There’s still no publication date for the fourth book, which means we probably won’t see it until fall at the earliest. I realize that she’s been busy, y’know, writing movie scripts and collaborating on plays. But I need more Cormoran and Robin in my life! The Guardian reports that she’s working on two books: the next Cormoran Strike mystery and a novel under her own name. Here’s hoping for the mystery in the latter part of 2017 and the novel in 2018.

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Meeting Rainbow at NerdCon 2015 when Carry On was freshly released

Rainbow Rowell spoiled us by being impressively prolific in her early years of publication. I believe she was already working on Fangirl (or possibly done with it) by the time Eleanor & Park was published, which resulted in two books in 2013. Then she gave us one book a year until 2016. I know she wrote a screenplay for Eleanor & Park, a movie that didn’t get made, and she signed a deal to write two graphic novels. I’ve been so anxious for the first graphic novel collaboration with Faith Erin Hicks. I imagine that the art side is extremely time consuming, but this announcement was made three years ago. Three years!

My last torturer is Maureen Johnson. Maureen has had some serious health shenanigans in the last few years, so I can’t really begrudge her the delay in her publishing schedule. And yet…the last Shades of London book came out two years ago. I miss my favorite irreverent ghost squad! I reread The Name of the Star recently, which was delightful, but it also made me impatient for the fourth book. She also has a new mystery series scheduled to launch this year called Truly Devious. That could almost make up for Shades of London. (Almost.)

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Also at NerdCon 2015, Maureen Johnson leading a Q&A with the Vlogbrothers

In all seriousness, I love these women and will happily read their books whenever they’re released. 2016 was just a dry year for a lot of my favorite authors. In literature we play the long game, so there’s always something to anticipate.

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