Recent To-Read Pile Additions: SciFi, Roller Derby, Serious, and Fun

I add books to my To-Read list faster than I can actually read books. I know at least half of what I want to read will go unread forever — but here are some that I’ve recently become interested in that I really, really hope I can get to someday.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. I don’t know too much about this book, except it’s about humans colonizing Mars. Recently I’ve wanted to read more science fiction, and I’ve heard good things about this series from multiple sources. Plus, there’s apparently going to be a TV series of it in a couple of years, because everything is a TV series now (thanks, Game of Thrones, you started a trend!) so I better leap on that bandwagon before it gets too overloaded.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein. I just read the first book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, and I thought it was a fun book with good characters and really fun puzzles. (Probably helped that the puzzles made me think of Gravity Falls…sigh.) I want to stay on top of what’s pretty popular for kids books, too, and this is a quick read, so I hope to get through this one soon.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. A kid’s graphic novel about a girl who joins roller derby to get over losing touch with her best friend. This has been out for MONTHS, I have no excuse, I should have read this long ago.

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. This is a contemporary young adult novel about a girl who survives trying to commit suicide. I’ve read Stork’s other young adult book, Marcelo in the Real World, and I was floored by his complex characterization of Marcelo and the way that character grows by the end of the book. I’m so positive I’ll love this book, I’ll probably fall into a fit of rage if I don’t.

Will I get to these books? Probably, maybe, someday, we’ll see!

What’s on your list?

What I’m Watching: BookTube and the Art of Book Covers

Over the last few days I’ve been watching a few more book-centric YouTube channels, partly from the couple of channels I actively subscribe to, and because more have been showing up in my suggestion screen.

One person I follow is Sanne on Books and Quills. Her channel is really interesting, since she actually works at Penguin Random House in the UK. Recently she’s put up a couple of videos I found highly, nerdily fascinating: book covers. Specifically, how the art is designed so that you specifically will pick it up, and what the different kinds of finishes on a book cover are called.

This first video, How Do Book Covers Work, gave me the sense that it’s OK when I pick up a book mainly because I enjoy the way the cover looks. (I did that recently, actually.) Publishers want their covers to appeal to the people who would probably want to read the book, after all. So, if the cover grabs me, perhaps the book will, too.

So. I love touching books. Not just the paper, or the weight and shape, but the feeling of a matte cover beneath my hands, embossed letters and designs bumping up beneath my fingers… This is one of the few downfalls of working in a library, that most of the books come to me pre-wrapped in the protective library covers, so I can’t always feel the texture of the cover. (Though sometimes I can stick my fingers under the plastic and touch the cover underneath, which, yup, oh boy, that sounds dirty.) Some of the terms, like “super matte” and “debossed” I’d never heard before, so maybe now I’ll sound like I know a little bit more like I know what I’m talking about when I talk about books.

These videos have gotten me thinking about what I like in my book covers, so maybe I’ll write a post about some of my favorite book covers that I own. And also I watch a lot of YouTube, probably more than I read blogs, so I will feature some more of my favorite videos soon.

What are you watching? And do you love book covers as much as I do? (probably not.) Let me know!

Clearing Out: Classics and Criticisms

I managed to ditch quite a lot of books while I was moving, but even now, after I’ve dragged those books to storage and out again, I’m noticing things I really could have done without.  I want to stave off completely overloaded shelves for as long as possible, so if the book doesn’t bring me any kind of joy, it’s gone. Here are a few more things that made it into the donation bag.

Literary TheoryThese too books, Falling Into Theory and Literary Theory, are leftovers from my senior college English course. I haven’t cracked them open once since I stopped taking that class, and I don’t see myself doing so any time in the future.

Mrs. Dalloway and The HoursMrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Hours by Michael Cunningham are also leftovers from that same English course. I enjoyed both of them, but I barely had the brain capacity to ready Mrs. Dalloway the first time, and I was getting graded on it! So I don’t think I’ll be reading that one again.

Characters and ViewpointThese last two I debated on. Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress are both writing books that I used in my final craft essay for my MFA. They were really useful at the time, and both are full of highlights and sticky notes. There is the chance that someday I’ll want them for writing advice, but I never felt the need to flip through them like I do with Bird by Bird or Steal Like an Artist, and there are other writing books I’ve still yet to read if all I’m looking for is the inspiration.

Those are what’s going. What do you think? Am I making a mistake? Are there any books you decided to ditch recently? Let me know!

January Book Haul

I’ve been doing a better job of not buying so many books, knowing that I can get a lot of what I need from the library, which I work at. But, I’m still me, and sometimes I just have to buy stuff.

Dragon Keeper, The Dispossessed, Stich 'N Bitch, Giant DaysStitch ‘N Bitch by Debbie Stoller is the knitting guide (suggested to me by a coworker) that I used to basically teach myself how to knit. It has a lot of basic patterns, and some more complicated stuff. I think I checked out and renewed this book from the library about 12 or so times, so it seems right that I would just buy my own danged copy.

Giant Days by John Allison is another library read that I decided to just buy. This collection of the first four issues of the comic was one of the best things I read last year, and buying a copy of it only cost $10, minus my B&N discount.

The next two books I bought on whims, particularly The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. I don’t really know much about this book, except that it’s science fiction, but the spine was so handsome, and the cover pulled on me.

The Dispossessed

Finally, on my last bookstore trip, I picked up Robin Hobb’s Dragon Keeper. I have never read a book by Robin Hobb before, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read a thick fantasy mass market about dragons, so I thought this would be a good one to snag. I’m actually about a third of the way through it now, and, well…I thought I would like this more. There are some aspects of it that have become cliche in stories now, like one of the main characters describing her appearance as she looks in a mirror and judging herself to be oh-so-plain. And as much as I love character development, I feel like I’ve read a lot of book for such a small amount of plot to have happened so far. Maybe I’ll like it more as I go? But really, I’m starting to think this is something I’d have been better off snapping up at the library.

That’s all I bought last month. But hey, I’m going to Harvard Square with a friend this weekend, so chances are I’ll have quite a few more books to talk about at the end of February.

Any thoughts on these purchases? What have you bought for your bookshelves, and do you have any regrets?

Favorite Books in 2015 (Novels, Girl Comics, and Ghost Eyes)

The year is almost over! I read a lot of books this year, and most of them were great. But I can’t list everything in one post, so here are some books that outshone all the other wonderful things I read this year.Read More »

Girls Comics Today (I’m So Jealous…)

I think I’ve always been a comic reader. I read Archie comics sporadically, and each Sunday it was of vital importance that I read every single strip in the funny pages — yes, even Doonesbury. I bought Garfield collections and started filling up a shoe box with issues of Sonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles the Echidna.

But one thing was obvious, as I started moving into more story-based things: there weren’t a lot of comics, or graphic novels, meant for girls. There were some things, like Betty and Veronica, but nothing that appealed to the other stories I loved, fantasy and adventure, or even stories that just focused so deeply on characters and their problems. No, those were in “boy” stories, in super hero comics that didn’t usually appeal to me.

20151208_101015.jpgMaybe that’s why I fell so hard into manga. The first volume of manga I ever bought was Cardcaptor Sakura, where a girl gains magical powers and fights monsters in outfits designed by her best friend. On the cover she’s decked out in pink and is surrounded by swirling ribbons. This was a story made for girls, and I was so hooked.

Fushigi Yuugi, Mars, Kodocha, Magic Knight Rayearth — manga was an embarrassment of riches when it came to girls comics, even with the limited choice available when I first started reading. And I read plenty of “boy” manga, too, Inu Yasha and Rurouni Kenshin, but even a lot of those stories seemed to have a sense of their large female audience, so saying it was a shonen (“boy”) comic really more of a category than a directive.

Flash forward to nowadays. Now there are loads of lady comic artists/writers who were reading funny pages and Archie around the same time as me, and they are making their own comics for girls. There’s Smile and Sisters by Reina Telgemeier, Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Faith Erin Hicks and Friends with Boys, and Lumberjanes, oh my goodness Lumberjanes. A bunch of girls solving ciphers and fighting monster and preventing petulant gods from taking over the world and falling in love! Even some of those super hero comics that had never appealed to me would have been amazing when I was twelve, with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the new Ms. Marvel. And of course, there’s more shojo manga around than I would have ever been able to read.

Lumberjanes!

I’m jealous of these girls today, finding comics made for them, sitting in easy reach in the front of book stores, waiting to be checked out from their school libraries. There are so many wonderful, special things being down with comics that I didn’t even know I craved when I was a kid. So many different stories for them to devour and grow up with and remember fondly as a part of their childhoods.

 

Readers! Did you read comics as a kid? What did you love and collect? Are you as jealous of kids comics today as I am?

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Teen Lit: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (There’s Still a Fangirl Deep Inside…)

Last week I finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s newest book, Carry On. I’ve talked about it before, but to recap, this novel is the fanfiction that her character Cath is writing in the wonderful wonderful book Fangirl, about her favorite series, Simon Snow. So it’s a fanfiction of a fictional story inside of a fictional story.

Following still?

The book itself was pretty good. This is supposed to be Cath’s imagining of the final novel in a series, and in a lot of ways it reads like that, as if I’ve picked up the last Harry Potter book without having ever touched the other six. Rowell does a great job of feeding enough background information that as a reader I never felt lost, and I really enjoy the unique magic system she came up with just for this book. Still, it didn’t really grab me by the ears…until about halfway through, when the really slashy/fanfiction bits come all the way to the front of the story. Then I truly stopped feeling like I was reading the last book in a series I never read — instead I’m reading a fanfiction of a series I never read. And that made it wonderful.

I used to read a lot of fanfiction, mostly from upper high school through right past college. Most of the fic was slash, which is when the fanfic writer imagines characters who don’t get together in the series pairing up, particularly male characters (at least in my reading). Fanfiction, both reading and writing it, is this way of delving way, way deep into the fandom, where you love the thing so much that when you run out of stuff to read, or characters won’t do what you desperately want them to do (like kiss), you either scour the earth for more, or you invent your own stories.

I fell out of reading fanfic, part because I felt I had enough to read on my own, and part because unless you can find an author, or at least an aggregated list, it can be exhausting to dig around for something decent (most fanfiction is written so badly, oh, so, so bad). And I also haven’t had a lot of things that I’ve been that particularly obsessed with. Some of my favorite stories, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Harry Potter, I’ve never been particularly motivated to find fanfic for, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read something new where I felt a fanfiction was absolutely necessary.

This has fed a little into my worry that there isn’t anything I’m enough of a fan of anymore (which is ridiculous, I’m a giant nerd bomb, but anxiety’s gunna do what it’s gunna do). There’s not a lot that has given me that little twinge in my gut that let’s me know my inner fangirl is shaking and flailing. Some things have given me that right level of obsession (Steven Universe, Steven Universe, Steven Universe) that makes it feel like my fangirl’s waking up from a deep slumber…and then reading Carry On basically ripped off the sheets and kicked her out of bed.

Carry On is a fun book on its own, though I probably won’t ever go back to reread it like I will with Fangirl. But I love what it is: a book written for nerds of a certain type, my type, who finally saw themselves so purely on the page with Cath’s character, who know the thrill and nerdy importance of fanfiction. And I appreciate what it did, reminding me that there is a little fangirl vibrating inside of me, just waiting to break into the highest pitched squeal you ever heard.

Thanks, Rainbow Rowell. I needed that.

Romance Stories I’ve Quit

This post is part of Top Ten Tuesday, although you’re going to notice, there’s only two things on the list. Maybe because I dislike these things enough for five each?

So, I like romances in my stories. Not all of them, but they’re nice, and when done right create a little warm spot in my chest. But sometimes they frustrate me. Here are those times.

Young Woman and Older Man

I’m not against this on principle. I know people who have married older men, and they’re wonderful together. And there are stories where I actually like this, like Emma. But in books that don’t do it well, I feel a little icky and uncomfortable about it. Often because there’s a weird thing with the power dynamics in the relationship, like the man is the teacher and the woman is the one developing feelings (lookin’ at you, The Paper Magician). Plus, I can’t think of a book (off the top of my head at least) where the reverse happens and a young dude in a lesser position must win the older lady (though I have a feeling that the dynamics would be different in that situation..). Maybe I’m being unfair, but knowing that’s part of the story is enough to put me off altogether.

My First Love, My Only Love

I say this as a woman who went out with one guy ever in college and then married him. I can’t stand it when the romance revolves around a girl who has gone out with one person ever in her life, and now they’re soul mates and want to spend the rest of eternity together (*cough* TWILIGHT *cough*). I think the issue I have with this is that it usually comes up in young adult novels, and how often does it really happen that you stay with the boyfriend you met in your Sophomore science class? (I know it does happen…but how often??) I prefer it even if she recently broke up with someone, or even, at the very least, had other crushes. But your first boyfriend ever?

Again, in some cases it does work out okay (Graceling) but often that’s because there are other circumstances, more of a point to the story than simply the romance. I do get very excited when young adult novels twist on this a little bit, where the main character thinks she wants to be with that one person forever, but then maybe she meets someone new. Because that’s actual life, even if it’s in a world with magic.

What do you think? Am I just being grumpy? And what kinds of stories have you sworn off? Let me know!

Books On My Fall To-Be-Read List

I looked at my summer to-be-read list, and saw that I only got to half of those books! Woops! Which is why you’ll see some repeats this go around. But I got through some of the nice big thick ones, and even an extra monster book, Words of Radiance, the second in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, so I think I did pretty good.

Here’s what I think I’m going to read this fall — but we’ll see!

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This fall is actually made a little easier, since there are some books coming out I’m looking forward to. One is Carry On, the oversized fanfaction that that Cath writes in Rowell’s Fangirl. I have to read this one, because if I don’t, I just failed as a version of my own self.

Ice Like Fire by Sarah Raasch. This is the sequel to Snow Like Ashes, a majorly fantastic YA fantasy. I devoured the first one, and I look forward to slurping this down when it comes out in October (right after Carry On!!)

Fairest by Marissa Meyer. This was there last time! But I really do need to read it, because in November I’ll have to get…

Winter by Marissa Meyer. The last book in the series! I can’t wait! Exclamation points!!

Saga volume 5 by Brian Vaughan. Saga is one of the greatest comics I’ve ever read. Period. Done. I only haven’t read it because I’m getting it through the library, and it hasn’t. Come. In. Yet. Blargh.

Jingo by Terry Pratchett. I actually got to Feet of Clay, and now I’m back on my Terry Pratchett / City Watch kick. Next bookstore stop, I’m grabbing this.

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton. Kate Beaton is hilarious and smart and beautiful. I’m going to buy this one and it will sit so pretty next to Hark! A Vagrant.

These are the books I know I’m definitely going to read — I mean it! What’s in your pile?

 

This post is done as part of Top Ten Tuesday on The Broke and the Bookish.

Kid Lit: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

“Most fish talk,” the fish said, “if you are willing to listen. One, of course, must want to hear.”

On the aWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lindvice of a recently freed goldfish, Minli decides to leave her poor village and find the Old Man in the Moon so she can ask him how to change her family’s fortune. She meets friends along the way, including a dragon who can’t fly and a buffalo boy with a celestial friend, on her long venture to the Man in the Moon’s home, Never-ending Mountain.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, and I’m glad I finally picked it up. Throughout the book, Minli and other characters are told folk tales (which Min Li discovers to be true as she travels) that reveal certain things about the characters, and reveal how everything in Min Li’s world is interconnected. But the regular narration reads like this, too, like a well-loved tale that’s been told again and again, that made me want to read parts of it out loud to myself.

The hardcover I read is printed on thick paper, with beautiful, saturated color illustrations, and with colored line drawings to mark each new chapter.

And Minli is a great heroine. Even though she often needs help, she is not helpless, and figures her own way out of a lot of scrapes, like getting past some vicious monkeys.

As a writer, this book made me think back on a novel I wrote a few years back, but which I could never make work. I realize now that not only did I not get the tone right, but I gave him such a vague, esoteric motivation, so even though I’d plotted out the story and knew where to place him next, none of it ever felt important. Minli’s motivation was simple — to change her family’s fortune — but it gave her decisions weight, and gave readers a sense of where she should ultimately end up. If I ever go back to that story, I’m keeping this book in mind.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a story I’d love to read again, maybe someday in the future when I have a kid who’s old enough, and still wants me to read out loud.