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

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

 

 

 

Re-Reading Doesn’t Count??

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After watching ABC Family’s Harry Potter Weekend earlier this summer, I decided to re-read every Harry Potter book. Normally, this would be an easy goal, but because I’m wrapped up in Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge it’s not that simple.

I challenged myself to read 35 books in 2015 and it stands to reason that any book I read should count towards that total. It shouldn’t matter if I’ve never read the book or if I’m choosing to re-read a book I read five years ago. However, Goodreads is currently unable to assign more than one date to a finished book. That means, once I read a book it only counts one time towards my “Read Shelf.” That also means a previously read book will not apply towards the reading challenge.

On the surface, the one time read date sounds reasonable. Most people read a book once and they’re done, right? Wrong! Most readers I know have favorite books they love to revisit. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read Jane Eyre, the entire Twilight series, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and so many others. Yet, every time I re-read them, I can’t log the additional read in Goodreads. Not cool! Especially since each new read brings new insight and therefore new perspectives for a review and discussion.

When it comes to the Harry Potter situation, I rated all six books as a means to build my account and foster recommendations when I first signed up on goodreads four years ago. In doing so, I made it impossible to count any Harry Potter re-reads on this year’s goals.

To solve this problem, I had to do the unthinkable – I deleted every Harry Potter book off my shelves and hoped it would wipe my reading history for each volume. It worked for all of them except HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone. While this solves the problem, I’m mad I had to do it in the first place! I’m still reading Harry Potter in tandem with other books, but at least they will now count towards my challenge total.

Despite finding a solution for the Harry Potter Situation, the fact remains that I’ve re-read more than few books this year and those efforts will remain under the radar. I love Goodreads, but the lack of a re-read feature definitely needs to be fixed!

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Where do you stand on the re-read issue?

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c.b.w. 2015

Book Review: What I Was

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what_i_was_1At the cusp of adulthood, we are all looking for one thing: identity. Some find it quickly, while others linger in a fog of confusion. Meg Rosoff captures this enigmatic aspect of life with a powerful and emotional tale of self-discovery and friendship.

Near the end of his life, “H” reflects on his troubled youth. Bouncing from one boarding school to another, he finally lands at St. Oswald’s on the eastern coast of Britain. Despite being well aware that this is his last chance to prove to his parents he can rise to their expectations, he questions whether his path in life involves learning Latin, mastering maths, and wallowing in a second-rate boys school.  H is lost in a world constantly trying to force him into a life of conformity and he has yet to decide if he will join the masses or step outside the box.

Framing H’s dilemma is a beautifully crafted atmosphere of fog, chilly wind, mist and gray skies. Rosoff brilliantly allows the scenery to mirror the melancholy and isolation breathing inside of H as he struggles with the pain of growing up. The drab walls of St. Oswald’s could almost be the pale skin of a young man trying to find his place in the world.

As the tide begins to shift, so does the trajectory of H’s existence. One day, while walking on the beach, he meets Finn. What follows is an infatuation that drives H to break every rule in order to spend time with the young man who lives in a hut on the shoreline.

Finn is beautiful and everything H wants to be. Independent. Alone. Free. H’s emotions are intense and all-consuming, but much like everything else in his life they are hard to define. The question of whether it is love, friendship, or envy is never answered, as H himself is unable to sort through the feelings driving his connection to Finn.

The relationship between H and Finn grows into one of comfort of companionship, but forces beyond their control pull them in different directions. Both find themselves fessing up to truths they’d rather forget and making choices that can’t be avoided. While this sounds like a typical coming of age story, Rosoff crafts a brilliant twist ending that leaves both H and the reader with a surprise neither saw coming.

Final Verdict: On goodreads, I gave this book (a rare) 5 stars. If it’s not on your shelf, if should be.

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c.b.w. 2014

30 Reads Went Fast!

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When I signed up for the Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge, I expected it to play out much like 2012. I would start out strong  by reading one book every week or two, but then summer would hit and all my time would be devoted to writing (and crafts). By the time fall hit, I’d slowly get back into the swing of things, but not fast enough to avoid a December scramble to reach my reading goals. Whew! Now that I’ve written it out, I can’t believe I put myself through this every year!

To my great surprise, 2013 turned out to be quite different from my usual reading year. On October 13th, I officially completed my goal of reading 30 books.

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An incredibly lucky streak of fantastic books prevented the summer lull from taking hold and I suspect the extra time afforded to me thanks to having a student teacher had something to do with it as well.

Some of my favorite books this year include:

The Maisie Dobbs Series

A feisty, smart, and compassionate female lead sits at the heart of this series. Set in post WWI London, historical fiction has never been more engaging with interesting (and highly accurate) insights into the culture of the time. As a mystery series, Maisie Dobbs never fails to offer up unorthodox cases of intrigue that always tie to the evolution of the main character. All 10 books are unputdownable!

Original Bliss by A.L. Kennedy

A subtle, sparsely written novel about two disillusioned people who find comfort in one another. As their impossible relationship flourishes, they find reasons to feel alive, again. A truly remarkable read.

Divergent (Series) by Veronica Roth

Easily one of the best Young Adult series I’ve read in a long time. Roth’s wholly original take on the concepts of free will and choice pushes these ideas to a new level. Her apocalyptic world of a faction-based society poses powerful questions about government, society, and truth.  Anything that challenges young people to question perception and think for themselves is well worth reading!

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Rather than write another biography about Jane Austen’s life, the authors of this book instead pick apart the world she lived in. Meticulous research of primary sources reveals incredible details about marriage, childbearing, childhood, work, religion, healthcare, clothing, and death in the early 19th century.

Gabriel’s Inferno (Series) by Sylvain Reynard

The fact that this is a romance novel with an intellectual edge makes this guilty pleasure one of my favorite books. Thematic references and quotes from Dante’s The Inferno  are brilliantly linked to both the story and characters. In many respects, it is refreshing to read a romance novel that works both the brain and the heart.

The Odd Sea by Frederick Reiken

Don’t let the minimalist style fool you. Reiken’s tale of a family coping with the tragedy of a missing son is a highly emotional and powerful read. Grief is explored from multiple angles and the ending invites serious contemplation.

Even though I’ve reached my 30, I’m still reading. My lucky streak of good books is still going strong and I have the additional goal of reading 2 more non-fiction books about writing and/or the publishing industry.

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How’s your reading life?

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c.b.w. 2013