The Summer of Reading

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Some summers are all about travel, while others are all about relaxing. For me, this was the summer of reading. I plowed through my To Read pile and even found myself having to make bookstore runs to get more books to read.

From May 26 to August 1, I read a total of 15 books. Not only is this a new summer record, but it made a huge dent in my Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge. There’s only six more books to go until I reach my goal of 35.

Here’s a rundown of the first half of the stack, along with short reviews. Overall, I enjoyed some really great reads, but nothing could top Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series. If you haven’t read it, you simply must!

Lord of Shadows (Dark Artifices #2) by Cassandra Clare

One of the things that always amazes me about Cassandra Clare’s work is her ability to make the Shadow World mirror the real world. In Lord of Shadows, the arrival of The Cohort and it’s desire to return Shadowhunters to a position of power at the expense of Downworlders has so many parallels to our world today, I’m eternally grateful that so many young people will be reading it, (and will hopefully take it’s message to heart. Social commentary aside, the sequel to Lady Midnight does not disappoint as it delivers heavy doses of love in every way possible -forbidden, brotherly, heartbreaking, old and new – while also continuing the story of how one warlock’s fascination with necromancy leads to the search for The Black Volume. So begins the race to find it before all hell breaks loose (quite literally). The search for the Black Volume leads to the Unseelie and Seelie courts, Malcolm Fade’s enchanted cottage, London, and to Idris itself. In true Clare fashion, the last 30 pages of the book are emotionally traumatizing in every way imaginable. I’ve gotten into the habit of listening to John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” whenever I finish one of Clare’s books. It’s the only way to remind myself why I keep coming back for more.

Shadowhunters and Downworlders: A Mortal Instruments Reader Ed. Cassandra Clare

An interesting read for any fan of the The Mortal Instruments series, but in particular for those who love to overanalyze every single element of the books and the characters. Simply put, this is a book for hardcore fans that want to hear what other YA authors have to say about the series. My favorite essays in the collection include Diana Peterfreund’s “Sharper Than A Seraph Blade (which offers unique insight into Jace’s humor as a weapon), Michelle Hodkin’s “Simon Lewis: Jewish Vampire, Hero” (an enlightening piece that parallels Judaism and Vampirism), Gwenda Bond’s “Asking For A Friend” (digs deeply into the importance of friendship), and Sara Ryan’s “The Importance of Being Malec” (anyone who doesn’t understand why Malec matters so much needs to read this and you’ll never look at Magnus’s wardrobe the same way again). I would not recommend this for casual fans as it goes into sharp detail – you need to know your stuff for these essays to have maximum impact.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

(Not in the stack as I already traded it in)

It’s a new world where the color of your blood determines your status. Silver bloods have special gifts and hold the highest ranks. Red bloods are nobodies relegated to servitude, conscription, and poverty. Mare Barrow is a Red who finds herself swept into Silver court life thanks to a chance meeting with one of the crown princes. When its discovered she possesses the ability to do something no Red blood should be able to do, palace intrigue and rebellions abound. The resounding theme of betrayal from every direction makes it hard to know which characters to trust and root for. However, the last quarter of the book is action packed and finally draws the line between good and evil – sort of. As a commentary on social classes, discrimination, and subjugation the story is a bit heavy handed and relies on blatant violence to make a point, yet it’s a point well made.

Spellcaster by Claudia Gray

Captive’s Sound is slowly dying thanks to old, dark magic. When Nadia arrives, she has no idea that she could be the witch that can actually save this small town. Nadia is not a fully trained witch, but she is powerful thanks to inadvertently finding her Steadfast, (an individual that amplifies her power when in close proximity). This comes in handy when she faces off with the witch who is responsible for the dark magic strangling the life out of Captive’s Sound. As always, Claudia Gray weaves a tale filled with magic, intrigue, and the power of friendship.

Steadfast (Spellcaster #2) by Claudia Gray

Nadia only thought she defeated a powerful witch from bringing death and destruction upon Captive’s Sound, but evil rarely goes down so easily. It turns out there is something far more sinister on the horizon and it’s trying to break free from the depths of hell. Nadia finds herself in the middle of a tug of war between sticking with white magic or making the ultimate sacrifice to dark magic in order to save those she loves. The bonds of friendship and love reach their breaking point in a tale that only Claudia Gray can spin.

Sorceress (Spellcaster #3) by Claudia Gray

The One Beneath is one step closer to entering our realm thanks to generations of spells from an evil sorceress. Saving Captive’s Sound (and the world) falls on the shoulders of Nadia and her friends, Verlaine, Mateo, and the lovelorn demon servant, Asa. We have nothing to worry about, right? Book 3 of the Spellcaster series is a fantastic conclusion to what has been an enjoyable series overall. In Gray’s world witchcraft is fueled by emotions and memories, which makes Nadia’s battle with The One Beneath all the more meaningful. In addition, Gray explores the concept of hate, stereotyping, and discrimination with a gentle, yet firm hand as a reminder that we all deserve to be seen for who we are on the inside.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Rachel Chu has no idea what she’s in for when she travels to Asia with her boyfriend. To her, Nick is a fellow professor and just an ordinary guy. It turns out he’s the furthest thing from ordinary as he is the chosen heir of one of the wealthiest and prestigious families in Singapore. What should have been a fun summer trip through Nick’s hometown turns into an outrageous introduction into the catty world of Singapore’s elitist culture. At the center of it all is Nick’s often pretentious and judgmental family.

Kwan’s satire slices right into an utterly preposterous world that is far removed from the reality where most of us reside, which makes it all the more irresistible and hilarious. In many ways it’s reminiscent of Wuthering Heights; a world filled with detestable characters that bring disaster upon themselves and you just can’t look away. Kwan, however, turns the detestable into a hysterical spectacle that perfectly blends dry British humor with spot on commentary of Chinese culture. This combination is particularly strong in Kwan’s sometimes snarky, but brilliant footnotes. A great beach read, while also inviting deeper contemplation of social norms and class society.

China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians #2) by Kevin Kwan

The crazy is back with China Rich Girlfriend, only this time the spotlight is more on the Mainland than Singapore. Rachel and her husband Nick are headed back to Asia to meet her newly discovered family, which ushers them into the crazy rich world of Shanghai. Singapore may have been all about old money and family lineage, but Shanghai is all about the glitz of new money. Spur of the moment shopping trips in Paris, super fast sports cars, and ostentatious interior decor fill the days and nights of the Shanghai’s elites. Rachel once again charms everyone, but she refuses to be fully swept up in the unreality that surrounds her, (which is why she is so likable and our guide through this largely unrelatable world).

Scandal hits from all angles as marriages fall apart, reputations disintegrate, and family squabbles turn wildly public. It’s all about image or lack thereof and Kwan’s biting satire once again cuts right into all the ridiculous behavior. At the same time, Kwan explores the family dynamic and Chinese culture with a tender hand and ruthless (and hysterical) commentary. This volume moves a bit slower than Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s still a highly enjoyable read.

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians #3) by Kevin Kwan

Alamak, this can’t really be the end! The third book in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series gives a fitting conclusion to what has been a highly enjoyable jaunt into Asia’s elitist culture. Characters who deserved it got their happily ever afters (for now) and those who needed a slap in the face got what they had coming. The funeral of the century sends everyone into wild speculation on how much money is up for grabs and who will inherit what. Somewhere beneath all the flash is a story of family and forgiveness. Kwan’s usual hilarious satirical edge is still in play and he aims it squarely at the concept of “saving face,” (as long as it looks good, that’s all that matters). When all the money and social standing is stripped away, these otherwise unrelatable characters suddenly become very human. Everything we’ve been assuming since the beginning is called into question as not everyone and everything is as it seems. It makes for a surprising, hilarious, and heartwarming final chapter.

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Reviews for the second half will go up next week. 🙂

Did you read anything good this summer?

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c.b.w. 2017

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Autograph Ninja: Book Edition

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It’s no secret that I love a good autograph (see The Autograph Ninja and The Autograph Ninja Strikes Again). I’ve collected signatures from actors, musicians, and authors over the years and apparently my friends have noticed. Most of the recent autographs I’ve acquired have been gifts and that makes them all the more special to me.

Last Christmas, a co-worker was my Secret Santa. She got me hooked on Outlander by giving me the first book in the series a few months before. I loved it and couldn’t wait to read the next book. I almost died when I opened my Christmas gift – it was a signed copy of Dragonfly in Amber. The funny thing is, I was her Secret Santa, too. I got her an Outlander coloring book!

 

One of the most sentimental autographs I’ve ever received came from a dear friend that passed away a few years ago. We shared a love of the Maisie Dobbs series and often read the newest release together. The last Christmas gift he gave me was signed copy of a title I was missing in my collection of the series, Pardonable Lies, (I borrowed it from him originally). It remains one of my most precious memories of him.

The same friend also gave me a signed copy of Hide Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver. He was a huge fan of Kingsolver and was pretty determined to convince me to read everything she’s ever written (I’m working on it!). He gave it to me shortly before he passed away. I like to think he knew I’d take care of it for him. He was right. I will.

Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to come across autographs on my own. I love how Barnes & Noble started offering signed editions of books around the holidays. I treated myself to a signed copy of Heartless by Marissa Meyer. I love her series, The Lunar Chronicles, so it was so exciting to snag a signed copy of her most recent novel.

The last and most recent autographs were gained the old fashioned way – I went to Phoenix Comicon and waited in line! The book is Q-Squared by Peter David. I bought it 23 years ago (with my first ever paycheck!) and always hoped I’d get Peter David to sign it as he is one of my favorite sci-fi writers. It turns out he was scheduled to be at Phoenix Comicon, along with the actor who plays Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I decided to have my book signed by both.

I struck gold with John de Lancie (Q). He turned out to be a pretty cool guy with a serious love of history. Once he found out I was a history teacher, we had a nice chat about books to read and the general scope of historical events.

Unfortunately, Peter David had to leave Comicon early due to a family emergency, but he did leave behind index cards with his autograph for fans to pick up. It’s too bad the autograph isn’t directly on my book, but I’ll take it nonetheless – it’s still his autograph!

While it’s always more fun to get autographs by meeting an author, it’s incredibly special to receive them as gifts as well. In many ways, a gifted autograph takes on all the more meaning as it came from someone who cared enough to give it to me.

 

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c.b.w. 2017

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The Annual Trek To Book Heaven

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There’s nothing more a bibliophile loves more than a HUGE used book sale. Every year, I get to bask in the largest book sale in the state and it never gets old.

I arrived with empty bags and a lot of hope that I’d find something good. However, I had to somewhat behave this year given the fact that I just decluttered my bookshelves. I didn’t want to just fill them right back up again and undo all of my decluttering progress!

My first stop was the craft section. Over the last couple of years, I’ve come home with some amazing finds in knitting patterns – especially vintage. This year was no different. I found a great array of knitting magazines, but also a sweater pattern book and needlecraft how-to guide from 1945. The patterns in these books are pure gold as they are simple and timeless.

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The selection of knitting books was a little more sparse this year, but I still found a few good ones. My favorite is, Knit Your Own Dog. I’ve seen this book before and always wanted it.

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While I was combing through the rest of the craft section, my mom was in the collectibles section. She spotted this great visual reference guide for collectible Barbie and held onto it for me. It is beyond amazing!

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I hit the fiction section next. This is where I really had to control my inner urge to snap up any book that looks remotely interesting. That’s tough to do when most are only $3 or less! I decided to only pick up books that are on my to-read list or can pass the first page test (i.e. I can’t fight the urge to turn the page and keep reading). I ended up with small, yet intriguing group of books.

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Last, but not least, I hit the poetry section. My goal is always the same: haiku anthologies. They are tough to find! At the same time, I was looking to find anything inspiring or interesting in short verse poetry. Two of the books I found are pictured above with my fiction finds. Art and Wonder pairs poetry with famous works of art –  I can’t wait to read it!

In the haiku realm, I managed to find two anthologies and a couple of interesting takes on modern Japanese poetry. Flipping through them, I can see they are inspired by haiku, but other forms as well. I’m looking forward to exploring them.

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The grand total for my treasures? $24.25. All in all, it was a great day at the book sale!

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c.b.w. 2017

My Year in Books: 2016

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Another great year of reading has passed. With just a few days to spare, I achieved my Goodreads Reading Goal for 2016. I read 35 books (for a total of 10,854 pages). Not bad considering my crazy busy schedule and obsessive knitting habit!

It seems only fitting to hand out some Reading Awards for my year in books:

Favorite Read

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

It may not have been the novel we were hoping for, but the script for a stage play was more than enough for me. Revisiting Harry Potter’s world was not only welcomed, but a strong reminder of why we loved it in the first place.

Biggest Surprise

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

I’m not a huge reader of thrillers, so it was surprising in an of itself to pick up Stephenie Meyer’s latest book. As a fan of her previous works, I decided to give it a shot and I’m glad I did. Meyer is fantastic at constructing relationships between characters and creating a world for the reader to escape to and experience with those characters. This is a thriller for girls and all it asks of you is to let go of reality and enjoy the ride.

Biggest Disappointment

Conversion by Katherine Howe

I had a high hopes walking into this one as I love Howe’s previous novels (in particular, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane). However, her YA effort never really got off the ground. While the premise of a mysterious illness sweeping a private school is intriguing, especially with supernatural undertones, the story trudged along without any sense of resolution.

Best New Series

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

I haven’t read the last book of the series, yet, but the first three easily qualify as among the best reads this year. Meyer’s unique twist on fairytales, gives the genre a new place to operate and it is so much fun. Who would have thought Cinderella could be a cyborg?

Best Continuing Series

Journey to Munich (Maisie Dobbs #12) by Jacqueline Winspear

I fell in love with this series a few years ago and the latest installment did not disappoint. The continuing journey of Maisie is one worth following as she hones her natural skills as a detective and navigates the stormy waters of grief.

Best Recommended Book

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

A friend gave me a copy of Outlander and insisted I read it. Wow! It was beyond fantastic! I know I’m way behind the rest of the world on this one, but I’m catching up!

Favorite New (To Me) Author

Charlie Lovett

The Bookman’s Tale turned out to be one of my favorite books in 2016. The main character was not only relatable to me as introvert, but his emotional journey as a widower was beautifully drawn. Add in a Shakespearean mystery and you’ve got an incredible read!

Most Emotional Read

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I didn’t just cry, I bawled. This is one of the most moving, humorous, and heartfelt novels I’ve read in a long time. The sequel, Me After You is just as good.

Best Non-Fiction

Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson

As an educator looking to revitalize the classroom, Robinson is must-read material. His latest provides enlightening and thought-provoking ideas on how to give public education a much-needed facelift.

My full reading list for 2016 can be viewed on My Bookshelf.

The Year Ahead:

I’m already constructing my To Read pile for 2017. So far, these are the titles I’m  most excited to read:

Winter (Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Tales from Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare and others

The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan

In This Grave Hour (Maisie Dobbs #13) by Jacqueline Winspear

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

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How was your reading year?

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c.b.w. 2016

 

 

 

Haiku On Display

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Earlier this year, I entered some haiku into a local competition associated with the Arizona Matsuri Festival. Having had some success last year, (see A Haiku Victory!), I decided to give it a go, again.

This time around, I decided to write contemporary haiku that doesn’t abide in the “traditional” 5-7-5 syllable format. Even though the competition defined haiku as having strict syllable rules, there was a tiny mention of how contemporary English language haiku does not follow the same rules. Seeing as most of my haiku fall between 9 and 12 syllables, I was thrilled to get the chance to compete with my chosen format of haiku.

The gamble paid off! I ended up getting published in the Haiku Expo 2016 eBook, with a haiku that earned the rank of Outstanding in the competition. Only 41 out of 830 entries received an Outstanding rank, so I’m pretty excited to see my name listed in that group!

The eBook is free and is well worth downloading. It’s a beautiful collection of haiku from all different age ranges.

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During the festival, my haiku was on display at the Haiku Expo booth along with other Outstanding and Honorable Mention winners.

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Publication in any form is a nice way to start the writing year! 🙂

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c.b.w. 2016