What I Read: 2016

2016 was…pretty terrible. Not completely awful, but the stand-outs are pretty bad, you have to admit. I’m not going to list all of the crappy things that happened because we already all know went down and we’re all tired of hearing about it over and over again. Luckily we have books so we can ignore our own dystopia by reading about someone else’s!

In 2016 I visited The Book Thing in Baltimore at least once before it experienced a fire in March – but they’re rebuilding and still taking donations every weekend! – and attended the National Book Festival for the first time. I also said that I was going to do NaNoWriMo and then didn’t write a single word, so like 2016 itself, I clearly had some ups and downs with books this year. Unlike 2016, my book year was more good than bad:

  1. The Wednesday Sisters – Meg Waite Clayton
  2. Longbourn – Jo Baker
  3. Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between – Jennifer E. Smith
  4. The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide
  5. How I Paid for College – Marc Acito
  6. Good Enough to Eat – Stacey Ballis
  7. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa – Nicholas Drayson
  8. Mosquitoland – David Arnold
  9. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  10. Yes Please – Amy Poehler
  11. Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
  12. The Summer I Turned Pretty – Jenny Han
  13. It’s Not Summer Without You – Jenny Han
  14. We’ll Always Have Summer – Jenny Han
  15. Suite Français – Irène Némirovsky
  16. The Last Summer (of You & Me) – Ann Brashares
  17. Hotel Pastis – Peter Mayle
  18. Jane Austen in Boca – Paula Marantz Cohen
  19. Pawleys Island – Dorothea Benton Frank
  20. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
  21. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
  22. Daughter of Smoke & Bone – Laini Taylor
  23. Days of Blood & Starlight – Laini Taylor
  24. Dreams of Gods & Monsters – Laini Taylor
  25. Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
  26. I Remember Nothing – Nora Ephron
  27. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  28. Mr. Darcy’s Daughters – Elizabeth Aston
  29. Lily and the Duke – Helen Hardt
  30. A Man Called Ove – Frederik Backman
  31. Dear Elizabeth – Sarah Ruhl
  32. The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin
  33. The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher

Top five, in no particular order:
A Man Called Ove
Hotel Pastis
How I Paid for College
All the Light We Cannot See
Yes Please

Honorable mentions:
The Princess Diarist
Dear Elizabeth
Suite Français

Wouldn’t read again:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (though I would see it onstage because I’ve heard that it’s SO much better performed than read…and I can only hope that that’s true because on paper I could barely even finish it.)

Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what your favorite books for escaping the real world were in 2016!

What I Read: Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy

My family has always had a very good relationship with the owner of our local book store. He always had a reading suggestion for my sister and me when we were kids, and the last time I was in the shop was no exception. Knowing that I’ve always had a thing for YA fantasy (I was 12 when Twilight came out, sue me), he recently suggested that I check out the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor. He warned me that it would start out sounding like a vampire book but that it’s not a vampire book and that it would be worth it if I could make it through the first chapter or two, and he was right.

Without giving away too much, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is about a centuries long war between angels (though not quite as we know them) and chimera (half human/half animals) in a universe parallel to our own. The protagonist, Karou, is a 17 year old girl living in Prague who finds herself caught up in the war in ways that she never expected. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an engaging read, full of enough romance and adventure that I was Googling for the sequel as soon as I finished reading. Days of Blood and Starlight, book 2 of the trilogy, fell slightly flat, but it honestly wasn’t the plot’s fault – I’ve found this happens often in sequels (it took me three tries to get through The Two Towers). While it’s full of action and character & plot development, it drags without much actual movement as most of the characters are stuck in one place for almost the whole book. Remember the camping chapters from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? It’s kind of like that. Days of Blood and Starlight was also a lot darker than Daughter of Smoke and Bone – I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a trigger warning for attempted rape in my review. Things get a little bit lighter and the momentum picks back up in book 3, Dreams of Gods and Monsters. The trilogy actually ends in such a way that could have left the possibility for at least a book 4, but instead Taylor wraps things up in an epilogue, leaving the reader to assume future successes rather than dragging the plot out past where anyone could even want to follow (hem hem Supernatural, Pretty Little Liars, I could go on). 

The Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy was very well thought out, with specific language and terminology invented for the plot’s mythology. The tone felt very reminiscent of fan fiction – there were a lot of tropes and cliches that I’ve seen before (teenage girl somehow allowed to live completely on her own even in high school, her spunky best friend who is of course only 5 feet tall but who comes with twice the personality to make up for it, romance with little present development based on a past life, etc.), and some of the dialogue definitely seemed stylistically familiar. As I’ve said before, you can wait and try to pry fan fiction from my cold dead hands, so the stylistic choices and tropes didn’t bother me at all, but they were noticeable and I can see where another reader could be turned off by the tone before getting far enough to be engaged by the actual plot (see: my sister).

Despite how much I did enjoy the trilogy, I was frustrated and disappointed by a romance that seemed very shoehorned in at the end of the last book. SPOILERISH: A character who definitely seemed coded as aromantic ends up surprising even herself by falling for someone at the end of the war. Is it really too much to ask to have some queer representation in a YA series? I mean especially in fantasy, out of everything that we read in the whole trilogy, having a character who isn’t romantically attracted to other people doesn’t seem like the most far-fetched thing in the world.

Overall, despite my disappointment with some of the romantic subplots, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy was a super entertaining read that I devoured in about three days, and I would definitely recommend it to other lovers of YA fantasy.

Comment below if you’ve read it – what did you think?

What I Read: Mr. Darcy’s Daughters

Is it intellectually acceptable to squeal over published fan fiction of classic works (although let’s be real, so much classic fiction is just fan fiction in disguise anyway)? Because I did it in my living room for an hour the other night and I’m about to do it here. Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, a 2003 work by Elizabeth Aston and published by Simon & Schuster, was a wonderful soap opera of a novel.

The year is 1818 and Mr. Darcy has traveled to Constantinople for business with Elizabeth following close behind, because can you really imagine Lizzie Bennett turning down a free trip to a new exciting country with her beloved, brooding Darcy? I don’t think so. In the meantime, their five daughters, aged 16-21, are staying in London with their cousin Fitzwilliam (the one who spilled the beans about Darcy sending Bingley away!) and his wife Fanny (but fear not, the Darcys do have 2 younger sons at home preparing to safely inherit Pemberly – this isn’t a total rewrite of Pride and Prejudice). The girls have a magical first season in London, making friends and enemies and enduring more drama and scandal in just a few months than I hope to ever experience in my whole life. The novel wraps up nicely by the end, everyone ending up with their perfect match, 90% predictably with 10% unexpected squeals from the reader.

Aston does a fair job imitating Jane Austen’s tone and style, though I have to admit that it’s been years since I last read Pride & Prejudice or Persuasion and don’t tell Professor Wang but I only read the first third of Emma in ENGL312, so I may not be the best judge of the attempt.  I enjoyed it at any rate – as an unabashed lover of fan fiction, I’m usually not a harsh reader of works like this, and I always appreciate a good cliche or well-written trope. The five daughters are clearly the Bennett sisters born again, though in a different order with some personality quirks traded around. There was enough new life breathed into each girl that I didn’t totally get caught up in the similarities, but they were definitely there. You’ll easily spot Darcy’s doppelganger as well, and will be happy to know that Caroline Bingley – excuse me, now Lady Warren – hasn’t changed a bit. I was able to guess most turns taken by the plot and continually put the book down to exclaim to my empty living room when my predictions were correct. I squealed for most of the last 50 pages and was literally upside down in my chair by the end from rolling in excitement.

Mr. Darcy’s Daughters was a pretty quick & easy read, perfect for a Sunday afternoon & evening after doing chores and running errands. It was nice to escape into someone else’s dramatic life after a week of my own family vacation, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves a good romance.

What I Read: 2015

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be an adult because I could just read as much as I wanted and I would never have to worry about if I wasn’t doing homework or if I wasn’t in bed by 10 o’clock because I wanted to finish a particularly good chapter. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my priorities have shifted a bit. I still love reading as much as ever, but I definitely don’t spend as much time doing it as when I was younger. 2015 particularly wasn’t a huge year of reading for me, and I only made it through 19 books between January and December. I have a huge to-read list piled up in my room though so here’s hoping I get through more in 2016!

What I read in 2015:

  1. May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Holmes
  2. Stardust – Neil Gaiman
  3. Horns – Joe Hill
  4. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
  5. Saint Anything – Sarah Dessen
  6. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
  7. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford
  8. The Shell Seekers – Rosamunde Pilcher
  9. Empire Falls – Richard Russo
  10. Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
  11. My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry – Frederik Backman
  12. One Thousand White Women – Jim Fergus
  13. Attachments – Rainbow Rowell
  14. The Friday Night Knitting Club – Kate Jacobs
  15. Sleeping Beauties – Susanna Moore
  16. The Aviator’s Wife – Melanie Benjamin
  17. Grace’s Guide – Grace Helbig
  18. You Deserve a Drink – Mamrie Hart
  19. The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

Top 5: Stardust, Horns, Fangirl, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, and The Glass Castle.

Honorable mentions: May We Be ForgivenYou Deserve a Drink, and Go Set a Watchman

Wouldn’t read again: One Thousand White Women

Let me know if you read anything especially good in 2015 that I should check out!

What I Read – July 2015

“I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember” – A true statement. “Studying English in college means I still read more books than I can count” – Not so much.

Just because I spent four years studying literature doesn’t mean that I read 3, 4, or 5 books a month (or even the ones that I was supposed to be reading for class – sorry Professor Coletti!). And even though I don’t read many books in a row anymore doesn’t mean that I don’t want to – it just means that sometimes life gets in the way. College was a very busy time, as I’m sure many of you know, and there just always seemed to be so many other things to do (studying, attending student org meetings, watching Netflix…)!

Cue Summer, the happy season in which I always seem to do the most of my reading. Free time, especially time spent on vacation, always passes so much quicker during the summer, and I’m happy to say that I do spend a lot of it catching up on my “to-read” list. This July was busier than others, spent recovering from my trip to Europe, going to the beach with my family, and moving into a new house, but I did get through two books while I was on vacation.

Hotel_on_the_Corner_of_Bitter_and_Sweet               the_shell_seekers

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is about a Chinese-American man, Henry Lee, who was a child in Seattle during WWII. Ford uses a mix of flashbacks and present-day (well, 1986) narration to show both Lee’s experiences as an Asian-American during the time of prejudice against Japanese-Americans and how those experiences still affected his life as an adult. Lee befriends a Japanese-American classmate just as the US is beginning to set up camps for Japanese-Americans during the war, and he faces criticism from society and his family as he tries to sort out his own confused feelings.
My mom had wanted me to read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for months, so I thought it would be the perfect book to take with us to the beach, and I loved it! I’m a sucker for historical novels anyway (especially anything involving WWII or the Civil War) and I think that HotCoBaS gives an interesting view of how Chinese-America, especially those on the West coast, dealt with racial prejudice as a result of the war.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher was also a suggestion from my mom, and it was a great beach read. It follows Penelope Keeling and her relationship with her three adult children as they each try to tell her what to do with her prized possession, a painting by her father worth thousands of dollars. I loved the use of flashbacks (also during WWII – apparently this was a theme for me this July?) to give context to their relationships and how the text explored how family members can hate and love each other at the same time. I also personally agree whole heartedly with what Penelope eventually decided to do with the painting (and was pleased to have guessed it before it actually happened!).

I would definitely recommend both of these novels to anyone looking for a good read – neither text was difficult to get through at all, and I think they both tackled emotion very well and gave a good look into how people function as individuals within relationships.

What’s your favorite book that you’ve read so far this summer?