2019 Reading Challenge: Halfway Point!

Refresher: One of my goals this year is to read 40 new (to me) books. Not to toot my own horn, but I am #crushing this goal…

toot toot

I’m already halfway toward said goal, and nowhere near the midpoint of the year. And before anyone tries to argue that maybe some books are short/superfast reads (like the graphic novel) I’ll have you know #20 on my list was a whopper of 500+ pages (which all flew by, honestly–LOVE me some Mark Zusak!). Without further ado, here are all the lovely tales I’ve met so far this year:

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards – a child born with down syndrome is sent away to be raised by the nurse who delivered her, unbeknownst to the child’s mother.
  2. The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by Clint McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Griffin McElroy, and Carey Pietsch – it’s the graphic novel version of their amazing podcast!
  3. Wildcard by Marie Lu – a gamer/bounty hunter is enlisted to hunt down a hacker during a worldwide tournament
  4. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne – Jane Eyre but with spaceships!
  5. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker – All-girl pirate ship on the hunt for revenge…until they learn the captain and first mate’s brothers may still be alive and in enemy hands
  6. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer – a twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, in which Aurora has a blind sister trying to find her true love to break the sleeping spell
  7. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donad Maass – pure writing-craft book, but some really great insights for what attracts readers to story and character
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery – see this post for all my feels
  9. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart – sisters separated by bad luck and worse consequences fight to stay alive and find a way back to each other
  10. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman – ’nuff said, these two are the cutest and their written “oral” history is a delight
  11. Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody – intrigue, a hunt for lost loved ones, high stakes gambling
  12. Courting Darkness by Robin LeFevers – a duology quasi-spinoff of her FANTASTIC His Fair Assassins trilogy
  13. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – see link for my thoughts on how adorable this story is
  14. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – the wonderful sequel
  15. The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg – the fantastic ending
  16. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – two women’s stories intertwine–a young woman searching for her cousin after WWII convinces an older woman, a former spy during WWI to help in her quest. Really beautifully told story based on an actual female spy-ring
  17. “I Give You My Body…” by Diana Gabaldon – full disclosure, this one is about the craft of writing sex scenes. Incredibly helpful for dialogue and action scenes as well. Maybe not so much “for fun” reading (though there are PLENTY of steamy excerpts from her Outlander and spin-off works) wink!
  18. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman – classic western, complete with a hunt for gold, gunfights with a band of outlaws, and a sexy cowboy who doesn’t realize our MC is a girl at first…
  19. A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro – the final in her Charlotte Holmes series, one of my favorite book series I’ve come across.
  20. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak – I’ve already mentioned how much I adore his writing style. This book is full of his poetic language as well as heartbreakingly beautiful depictions of 5 brothers raising themselves the best way they can. Lots of fist fights, swearing, and love in this book.

 

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Rambling Recommendations: The Paper Magician Series

I am OBSESSED with these stories! I got The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (the first installment) to check out for free through Amazon Prime Reading, and I just fell in love with Ceony and Emery.

I wasn’t sure at first–fairly early on, Ceony goes off on an adventure (seemingly) far from the magician she’s apprenticing for (the adorable and charming Emery Thane–a pairing I was already shipping HARD) so my interest waned slightly. But, guys, there’s still a pretty great love story woven into her battle for Emery’s literal heart, one that I think is sustained really well throughout the three books. Full disclosure, there’s a fourth book in the series but I haven’t read it…yet.

The summary, for those who need more: in this world, magicians are bonded to a certain material that they’re able to manipulate (paper, plastic, metal, glass, rubber…). Ceony is assigned to a paper magician despite her desire to become a Smelter (one who works with metal). She grudgingly learns all the weird lessons Emery assigns her, until a woman breaks into his home and steals his literal heart (she’s evil/bonded to flesh, so *mom disclosure* there is some fighting involving tossing vials of blood around, but it never really struck me as graphic/gruesome, so I think even the more squeamish will be ok). Ceony creates a paper placeholder heart and chases her down, determined to save her mentor’s life.

Also, there’s an adorable paper dog who just melts my heart. The whole thing is so imaginative and delightful. It’s a fast read; I read through all three books in about a week (granted, I was on vacation for some of that time, but we were exploring Louisville so my reading time wasn’t *so* extended). I highly recommend this series for anyone looking for a fun, easy read that will still linger in your mind long after you’ve set it down!

My First 10 Books Read in 2019

Well, I’m a quarter of the way to completing my goal of reading 40 new books this year. I’m trying to expand my reading palette from the usual YA fiction I prefer, and I think my list so far reflects that I’ve at least dipped my toe in other waters. I’ve found a few real gems, a couple felt more like a trudge-through in parts, but my world has expanded regardless.

Without further ado, here are the first 10 books I read this year:

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  2. The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by Clint McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, Griffin McElroy, and Carey Pietsch
  3. Wildcard by Marie Lu
  4. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
  5. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  6. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
  7. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donad Maass
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
  10. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

If I *have* to pick one, I’d say Grace and Fury is probably my favorite of those first ten books. Stay tuned for a full blog post about it. Wildcard was also incredibly satisfying–Marie Lu is one of my favorite authors, her stories never fail to fully engage me. I’d recommend checking out the first book in that series: Warcross before moving on to Wildcard, but definitely another excellent duology.

Rambling Recommendations: Anne of Green Gables

I know, I know: What?? Annie, your favorite movie of all time is Anne of Green Gables. How are you only just now recommending the book?

I’ll tell you: So I’ve seen Anne of Green Gables more times than I can count. I’m talking the 1985 Sullivan Entertainment Anne of Green Gables (I adore the trilogy, but the first one is 100% my favorite movie that has or ever will exist). Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie will forever be the true Anne and Gilbert. And speaking of Gilbert, other girls can keep their Prince Charmings and their Mr. Darcies. Gilbert Blythe is the bar I measured my potential love interests against (fun side story: extremely early on in dating my husband, there was a day I kept pushing back our date to continue spending time with friends until one of them said something along the lines of ‘you can’t keep delaying, he’s going to get pissed’ and I just laughed and naturally as could be said he would “stand on his head if I asked him to!” which I knew to be 100% truthful, and recognized to be the same level of confidence Anne had in Gilbert’s affections and that’s how I knew I’d found my Gil).

Sometime around middle school, I picked up my mom’s copy of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I *maybe* read the first page or two before putting it down. It had been (and continues to be) my experience that the movie is never as good as the book. Already, I adored Megan Follows’s Anne Shirley with the core of my being. I simply couldn’t bear the thought that this book might tarnish in anyway the perfection of my favorite movie. What’s more, I didn’t want to read a book and think “that’s not how they did it in the movie” the entire time. I resigned myself to the idea of never reading the series in favor of cherishing the movies.

But then I was searching for the exact wording of one of my favorite quotes (Anne Shirley is the source of so many excellent ones), and noticed a Kindle special: the entire 8 book series for $0.99. Um WHAT. I figured it is time.

I told my mom it’s really nice that I’ve waited nearly 3 decades to read the book. Now, Anne and Gil, Matthew and Marilla, Mrs. Lynde and Diana Barry are all like dear friends, and as I began reading that first page, it felt like that’s all this was: a book about dear friends. Some things might be a little off, not quite what I *know* the truth to be, but an entertaining and rich view of those I love so much.

I’ve only finished book 1 so far, but it was rather delightful. Full disclosure: I skimmed over a lot of the setting exposition. But then, I already know what Green Gables looks like. 😉

Rambling Recommendations: Brightly Burning

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne was the 5th book I finished this year (because OF COURSE I’m counting) and it was such a delight.

It takes my favorite classic: Jane Eyre, teases out all the modern-day young-adult themes I know and love, and plops the storyline on a futuristic space ship orbiting Earth.

Stella, our main character, is a delightful young woman who is both bold and understands her “place” in terms of social structure. I could relate whole-heartedly to her, preferring to keep to her quarters and read or draw rather than socialize with her peers, getting brazen only under the influence of a few strong drinks, or once she’s comfortable. Hugo, the love interest (yes, that’s the role I’m designating for him–I suppose he could be a quasi-antagonist much like the Mr. Rochester he’s based upon), is mysterious and broody, maybe more handsome than the original but I let that slide. Personally, I liked the mysterious Mr. Rochester being so much older (maybe it’s my thing for Bruce Willis making age gaps feel so irrelevant), and so was a touch disappointed Hugo was around Stella’s age–but then I figured it’s way less ok for a 17-year-old to start a love affair with her older employer in this day and age than it might have been in Charlotte Brontë’s time.

I loved that this story had that comforting familiarity of a well-loved story, yet enough new twists/plot points to keep things fresh. More than once I found myself thinking “well Jane Eyre went this direction, but there’s no way for that to happen here” or “how will she handle X if Y is so different in this version?” so nothing felt stale.

If you like SciFi YA (that’s science fiction young adult, mom), hundo p–this book is for you. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I’d also highly recommend this novel.

I Guess it’s Time to Talk About Nanowrimo

It’s been long enough. First off, I completely get why people do it. It makes sense that taking a month to discipline yourself into carving out chunks of time to write, a time when so many people around the world are also writing, encouraging you on, all of that goodness would help a person get 50,000 words onto a page.

I’m very competitive. I do not like to lose. As soon as I start to feel like I’m losing, I hate whatever game I’m playing and just want to quit.

I’m also not a quitter. It makes for a really uncomfortable experience when part of me wants to pout and storm off and the other part is like nah we gotta at least finish this bitch.  Add to that the desire to be more forgiving and loving towards myself and you get a hot freaking mess come mid-November.

I think I got around 20,000 words written, which is no small thing. But unlike last summer, when I was churning out several thousand words a day, my heart wasn’t in it. My head was barely in it–more focused on word count and “sprints” and the desire to edit my current story rather than start working on the sequel. Plus my husband was around, which makes it so hard.

That’s the best problem to have as a writer/human being, though. I have someone in my life whose very presence makes it hard to focus on other things. Even if he’s in the other room working on schoolwork or watching TV, a part of me just wants to be beside him, and feels like any moment I’m not is ultimately squandered. That also makes it difficult to pursue my writing sometimes, which is frustrating and makes me angry with him for making me love him so damn much. There was a lot of moodiness in November that only added to the misery of failing at Nanowrimo wordcounts and falling behind in working on my current novel.

So, for me, it was a very good lesson learned: National Novel Writing Month is not a thing I’ll participate in again, at least not in the near future.

Rambling Recommendations: The Adventure Zone–Here There Be Gerblins

First and foremost: I wanted to change the name of these posts because let’s be honest, I don’t write very good, balanced “reviews.” I’m only telling you about books I recommend, so let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? It does make for an obnoxiously long title, which I’m beginning to think will be a theme this year. 2019: Because Sometimes You Don’t Need to Make the Long Story Short.

Yup, that feels right.

Anyhoo… on to the recommendation!

Okay, second confession: this is more a recommendation of a podcast than the actual book. Partially because I’ve always felt “meh” about graphic novels and “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins” did not really shove me headfirst into a love of them. Don’t get me wrong, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. I just love the podcast adventures of Magnus, Merle, and Taako so much more.

If you’re looking for a relatively quick, fun, humorous read, definitely check out this book! IF you’re interested in hearing more about this podcast, you’re in luck, because as we’ve established, this year is all about rambling on and on…

The Adventure Zone podcast began as three brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) introduced their father to the wonderful world of Dungeons and Dragons. Considering the nerd-level of my beloved Wildcards, I’m a little shocked this was *my* introduction to D&D as well. Side note about that link: I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but you’re gonna want to scroll to the bottom of the page and click “last” to start this bad boy from the very beginning. Partially because that’s how stories work–not starting in the middle or skipping to the end like some monster (Mom)–and partially because they’ve long since moved on to other role-playing games, so you won’t get a taste of that good, good D&D magic if you start with Amnesty. Go all the way back to the very beginning, “Here There Be Gerblins,” and you’ll meet Magnus Burnsides (the folksy human fighter), Merle Highchurch (the ornery dwarf cleric) and Taako from TV (the sassy elf wizard–and quite possibly one of the best characters ever created).  These three characters embark on a series of adventures, following an engrossing storyline that veered almost immediately from the D&D playbooks and was written by Dungeon Master Griffin McElroy, that delighted and enthralled. I seriously wept at some parts, laughed hysterically at most of their antics, and fell completely in love with these characters.

One little “Mom” note: there is a good amount of swearing, some dirty jokes, and a lot of creature-slaying.