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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top Ten Books of 2015

Well.  Hello.

It's time for the annual Top Ten post, and list of 5-star books for 2015 is painfully short.  Of course, I read less than fifty books, so it makes sense that I would have fewer.  But still, something seems off.  Are my standards just higher?  Probably.  Is taking longer to read each book having a negative impact on my enjoyment of it?  Probably.  Did I use some of my limited reading time to reread old Patrick Ness favorites that don't count for this list?  Definitely.

We're going ahead with this list anyway.  Here are my top ten novels* of 2015:

10. The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

It's weird, it's unsettling, it's nonsensical...which is exactly what I expect of Andrew Smith.  Luckily for him, I'm interested in his particular brand of weird, unsettling and nonsensical, so I enjoyed this, both in its humor and its darkness.

9. The Martian by Andy Weir

The astronomy nerd in me loved this.  The writer part of me was bothered by the narration, but the story won me over in this one.  It's funny, but it's frighteningly believable.

8. Inferno (Robert Langdon #4) by Dan Brown

I've never read any other Dan Brown, and normally I would never start with #4, but this was handed to me as something I would specifically be interested in.  Because a) Florence b) terrifyingly real villain c) complex thriller d) my boyfriend had just talked me into watching Angels & Demons with him and it was awesome.  And so, Inferno.  It turns out that it doesn't matter where in the series you jump in.

7. The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renee Ahdieh

I expected this to disappoint me by turning into a cliche YA romance that just happens to have a cool Middle Eastern setting.  While it was romance-focused, it pleasantly surprised me with how believable the love story's development was, and it never abandoned its core story for the romance.

6. Rook by Sharon Cameron

I picked this one up blindly.  Nothing that I'd heard about it made it stand out, but I am so, so glad I didn't miss out on this.  It has such a unique setting and a cast of memorable characters, and it's refreshing to read a standalone that is unlike anything else I've seen come out recently.

5. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

Ah, Patrick Ness.  I promise this is not a Patrick Ness fanblog.  While it has a different feel than my other Ness favorites, it has his signature subtle (and not-so-subtle) emotion-packed ending, and lovely writing.

4. A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray

Multiverse theory.  That's all you really need to know about this one.  The settings are all over the place in the best way possible, with so much variety.  Plus, it's pretty.

3. Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo did it again.  It has enough of our beloved Grisha trilogy universe to keep fans happy, but it's also completely different, showing us another side of the world.  It might actually be better than the Grisha trilogy.  Get back to me on that one.  I haven't made up my mind.

2. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

And (surprise!) here's more Patrick Ness.  The Rest of Us Just Live Here fills a niche in YA that nobody realized needed to be filled until this came out.  It asks the question: While all of this paranormal/fantastical/world-saving stuff is happening, what does everyone else do?

1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Gorgeous prose, deeply explored characters, a rich plot...yeah, this one deserves all its awards.  As does Anthony Doerr in general.  It's long, but it's worth it.

2015 Reading Statistics (as of 12/28/15)
Books read: 46 (down 26 from last year)
Average rating: 3.7 (up 0.2)
Total pages read: 27,490 (down 10,740)
Average pages per book: 364.1 (down 17.7)
Average pages read per day: 46.1 (down 30)
Average number of days to read one book: 7.9 (up 2.9)

*I'm specifying novels because I picked up some nonfiction that was also awesome, but it feels weird to count it here.

Here's to another year of reading!  I didn't read anywhere near as much as in previous years, but I've also taken the pressure to review off myself, and that has helped significantly.  I've also given myself the freedom to put down books without finishing them, which means I'm no longer putting excessive amounts of time into books I hate.  While I still wish I could read more, I'm happy with the amount I've been able to finish, and I assume next year will be similar.

What were your favorites of 2015?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

One-Line Book Reviews: Fall/Winter 2015

I'm back with another round of one-line book reviewing.  This time, it's the Fall/Winter 2015 Edition.  It's an eclectic mix that includes books read for class, some personal picks outside my typical range, and, of course, the usual haunts.  Oh, and Patrick Ness.  Because we get a little excited about Patrick Ness around here.  

Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type by Isabel Briggs Myers

Yes, I read the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator classic.  Yes, this INTJ nerd loved it.

Rating: 4/5

Inferno (Robert Langdon #4) by Dan Brown

This one was handed to me (quite literally) with no explanation other than "Italy.  Terrifyingly real villain."  While the writing style leaves something to be desired, the plot is fascinating.

Rating: 4/5

Read this for my Fiction Writing class.  It's unlike every other writing book I've ever read (in a good way).

Rating: 4/5

City of a Thousand Dolls (Bhinian Empire #1) by Miriam Forster

Flat characters and halfhearted worldbuilding make this one to pass over.

Rating: 3/5

Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries by Ander Monson

It's possibly the most pretentious thing I've ever read, but also strangely compelling.  Also, I met Ander Monson in September, and he gave a great reading of excerpts of this.

Rating: 4/5

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo lives up to the standards she set in her Grisha trilogy, and might have even surpassed them.

Rating: 4/5

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russel

Read this for my Writing Fiction class.  It's strange and whimsical, yet each story gets darker and darker.

Rating: 3/5

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

While it didn't slam me with feels like Ness' other books, it's innovative and poignant and, of course, proves once again that Patrick Ness knows how I think.

Rating: 4.5/5

Intentional Dating by John R. Buri

I'm not one for self-help books, especially dating ones, but there's a story behind why I read this particular one that won't fit in a mini-mini-review.  I will say this: it's a complete game-changer and eye-opener in the best way possible.

Rating: 5/5

Soundless by Richelle Mead

I have little to criticize, but nothing about this story compelled me to immerse myself in it, either.

Rating: 3/5

What have you been reading lately?  What have you loved/hated lately?
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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Value of Journaling

One of the most common pieces of writing advice (and one I happen to disagree with*) is write every day.  "Well," you think, "I'm taking 18 credits and am in 12 activities and have a job and run a cupcake-decorating business on the side.  I don't have time to write every day."

I bring you a solution.

You can write every day.  It's not necessarily fiction, but it's words.  And any writing is still writing.

Start keeping a journal.

I've been journaling on and off since 2006.  I started in a tiny mini-notebook (with a lock, of course) and I wrote sometimes very regrettable middle school-esque things about school, home life, and other various thoughts.  For the next few years, I alternated between writing every day or writing once every few days.  I stopped in early 2013 for various reasons--namely, the fact that it had become more a chore to journal than anything else.  In the following months, I considered starting again, but I thought, "Why do it if it feels like a chore?"

In February of 2015, I finally came back.  I realized that my issue wasn't that it was a chore--it was that I was going about it the wrong way.  I didn't force myself to write a summary of my day, every day.  That's an okay way to journal, but that just wasn't something I wanted to do, or could handle, given the fact that I was now in college.  I approached it not as an obligation, but something that was there if I needed or wanted it.  If I had something on my mind, I journaled about it.  If I had a repetitive thought, a quote stuck in my head, a story or poem idea, I jotted it down.  If I had nothing, I was content to let it be.
These are all the journals I've filled, 2006 to present, from left to right.  I stopped in the blue cross book third from the right, and started back up in the spiral-bound book second from the right.  The brown book is my current journal.  The words are lines from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" because I'm a nerd.
I didn't write every day.  Most of the time, I ended up writing about once a week.  Sometimes I'd just freewrite with no specific goal, simply letting myself fill pages until my mind felt a little calmer.  I didn't bother recording the details of each day; I just wrote whatever I felt needed to be written.  A few months later, when I had some personal things to straighten out, I used the journal as a way to record my thoughts and feelings so that I could work through them in a more visual way.  Looking back, I have no idea how I would have figured these things out without the journal.  

Fast-forward to late August.  For reasons that are unspecific and inexplicable, I made it my goal to write in my journal every single day.  I didn't give myself word count minimums of any kind--even one sentence will do, and that's what happens most days.  Since August 22, I've written at least one sentence almost every day.  Like before, I make full entries when I feel the need, but on every other day, it's just a small piece of writing.  It's not always significant.  Some days, I just jot down one random thing that happened, or the lyrics to a song I'm listening to.  I've written little poems, full poems, story ideas, ideas for the future, little things that made me happy, something memorable someone said to me, how the sky looked at sunset, something that's worrying me, quotes, a cool fact I learned that day,..and so on.

Of course, your journaling practice doesn't have to be a daily thing.  It's how I do it, but everyone works differently.  The key to journaling in general is not to expect every entry to be meaningful, poetic, or even to make sense at all.  It's not about censoring yourself--no one is reading it.  It's about letting whatever's into your head onto paper.  This is surprisingly therapeutic.  Even the simple act of writing down a feeling or thought can help you accept it as it is, and figure out how to make a change if needed.**  It gives your thoughts a physical place to rest.  It's a place to rant and not have to worry about judgement.  Again, it doesn't even have to make sense.  When I reread some of my old entries, I have no idea what I meant.  It wasn't even about what ink hit the paper.  It was about the act itself of ink hitting paper.

The awesome thing about journaling is that the practice is 100% customizable.  There is no right way to do it; you can't be wrong.  For creative writers, it helps you hone your skills, giving you a chance to record cool images, things that inspire you, and snippets of fiction or poetry someplace completely private.  For anyone, it's a space to record thoughts with a physicality that is somehow freeing.  As one of my theology professors once said, "Through writing, we discover thoughts we didn't even know we were thinking."

If nothing else, buying journals is fun.  Filling them gives you an excuse to buy more.

*My disagreement with this common advice lies in the fact that getting better is about repetition, not necessarily daily practice.  Sure, writing every single day is great practice, but not everyone can make it work.  This is life.  The key is to write on a regular basis, but this can be every other day, or once a week, or whatever works.

**It actually has a lot in common with mindfulness meditation, if you're interested.

Do you journal?  What's your method/style/routine?
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

One-Line Book Reviews: Spring/Summer 2015

You've probably noticed that I've stopped reviewing regularly.  (I explained why here.)  Anyone who knows me even a little will guess that I haven't stopped reading regularly.  While I miss having the chance (more accurately, the time) to discuss each book in detail, there are pros and cons to both reviewing and not-reviewing.  I've found that some of the time I previously spent reviewing now funnels back into my reading time. Still, I enjoy sharing what I have been reading, so here's my solution: one-line reviews.  Okay, some of them are one sentence.  Or one fragment.  Or one...something.  Basically, they're just mini mini-reviews.  Enjoy.

Stolen (Heart of Dread #2) by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

While it's not incredible, it's a unique dystopian world, and DRAGONS.

Rating: 4/5

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

It's exactly the type of bizarre, twisting, raw, emotional experience I expect from an Andrew Smith book, though sometimes it gives me the impression that I have one too many X chromosomes to be Smith's intended audience.

Rating: 4/5

Ask The Dark by Henry Turner

The story is okay, but the regional vernacular in the narration is a style to which it's hard to adjust.

Rating: 3/5

Rush (The Game #1) by Eve Silver

It has a decent plot, but it's overshadowed by the most unhealthy and arbitrary romantic subplot I've read in a long time.

Rating: 2/5

Storm (The SYLO Chronicles #2) by D.J. MacHale

Wait, where did that unnecessary love triangle/quadrilateral/whatever come from?

Rating: 3/5

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir

Unique worldbuilding with a Roman vibe, but without memorable characters.

Rating: 3/5

More Than This by Patrick Ness

This was a reread, so I'll direct you to my initial review, but I'll say this: it meant so much more to me the second time around, for various personal reasons (and it's just a book that gets better the more you can analyze it anyway).

Rating: 5/5

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

The story itself isn't bad, but it feels like the author has never been around teenagers before.

Rating: 3/5

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness

This is a another book that hit me in a completely different way, rereading it two years later.  Original review here.

Rating: 5/5

The Calling (Endgame #1) by James Frey

The story is compelling, but there are too many characters that it's difficult to connect to anyone, and the impersonal writing style doesn't help.

Rating: 3/5

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2) by Patrick Ness

Another feelsfest from Patrick Ness that is all at once gritty, raw, and beautiful.  Original review here.

Rating: 5/5

Half the World (Shattered Sea #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Though it follows different characters than the ones I fell in love with in Half a King, Joe Abercrombie maintains his ability to make you genuinely care about them.

Rating: 4/5

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

I love the premise, but I was one hundred pages in and nothing was happening.  Did not finish.

Rating: N/A

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3) by Patrick Ness

Sometimes a book hits you at just the right time in your life to make it even more meaningful than it was the first time around; Chaos Walking is this series, for me.  Original review here.

Rating: 5/5

Half Wild (Half Bad Trilogy #2) by Sally Green

This one suffers from Middle-of-the-Trilogy slowness syndrome; it lost the intensity of its predecessor.

Rating: 3/5

The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty #1) by Ken Liu

The Asian-inspired worldbuilding is refreshing, but I never cared enough about the characters to stay invested through all of its length and complexity.

Rating: 3/5

Undertow (Undertow #1) by Michael Buckley

While the "mermaid alien" aspect (for lack of a better term) is unique, it isn't enough to redeem this book's many Standard High School Paranormal Story cliches.

Rating: 3/5

The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renee Ahdieh

Fantastic worldbuilding, characters I genuinely cared about, and a romance that feels refreshingly natural.

Rating: 4/5

A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray

I can never resist a multiverse premise, and thankfully, this one did not disappoint.

Rating: 4/5

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

It's no Chaos Walking, but it's Patrick Ness' signature combination of beautiful writing and hardcore FEELS.

Rating: 4/5

Ignite (Defy #2) by Sara B. Larson

I'm still fond of the main character, Alexa, but the plot suffers from more predictability than the first novel.

Rating: 3/5

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

I don't know what to make of this.  The worldbuilding is never fleshed-out enough to satisfy my need to suspend disbelief, and the narration feels awkward.

Rating: 2/5

Rook by Sharon Cameron

Rook is the most unique dystopia I've read in a long time, with a likable and memorable cast of characters to populate the oddly futuristic French revolution-esque world.

Rating: 4/5

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Main character that hardly affects the plot + distant narration + a healthy dose of "not my thing" = did not enjoy.

Rating: 2/5

The Martian by Andy Weir

The narration bothered me, MacGyver...

Rating: 4/5

What books have you loved (or hated) lately?  (Also, what are your thoughts on this new style of "reviewing"?)

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