2017 Year in Review

Time to see what I did this year! 

I have a bittersweet announcement, which is that I will not be continuing this blog in 2018. As I keep writing with the goal of publication and face other varied demands on my time, I can no longer keep up with these reviews. I will be sad to leave it behind–I met so many nice readers and writers!–but I began this blog for fun, and unfortunately it is becoming more stressful than enjoyable for me now. I will still be active on Goodreads and Instagram, and you can follow my reading habits and reviews there! If you need recommendations, I will still have you covered on those platforms. This was a fun project, and I am so grateful for each person that liked what I created here! Thank you so much! ❤

Whew, all right, so what did my 2017 look like?

I read 86 books this year (27,420 pages)! Not bad considering my goal in January was 50.
I bought 36 books and received 5 as gifts!

CP Manuscripts read: 7! So really, I read 93 books and 30,000 pages? It was a lot, and I am so excited to see these manuscripts become bound books on my shelves!

I’m still trying to keep up with recommendations from friends/family – I think I succeeded!

CP’s: Furthermore, Emma, Wintersong, Memories of Silk & Straw, Orange vols 1-2, Annarasumanara, Aristotle & Dante, Emotional Craft of Fiction, Want
Friends: Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter vol. 1, Runaways vols. 1-3

I had a few other little challenges I wanted to complete this year! Clearly I was most passionate about reading more nonfiction, and I have to say that this was a very rewarding adjustment to my reading schedule each month.

Read one classic novel a month: 2
Read one nonfiction book a month: 13
Read the Harry Potter series again: 2

Debut novels: 21! Including two from my friends Amanda Foody and Axie Oh!

How did I like what I did read this year?

5 stars – 40%
4 stars – 44%
3 stars – 16%

Overall, a very satisfying year!

Out of all of these books, which one was my Best Read of 2017?

This crown is much harder to give away this year! And since I’m retiring this blog, I thought I would cheat and do a top 7 for 2017. I can do what I want! I loved all of these for a variety of reasons, but here are just a few. I highly recommend adding all of these to your list next year:

  1. The Night Circus – Best world
  2. The Hate U Give – Best family
  3. This Adventure Ends – Best friendships
  4. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns – Best protagonist
  5. When the Moon Was Ours – Best romance
  6. A Crown of Wishes – Best magic
  7. When Dimple Met Rishi – Best humor

THIS IS MY LAST POST FOR 2017 AND FOR THIS BLOG. It has been so fun sharing these reviews with all of you! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

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The Savage Dawn

28872472by Melissa Grey
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

I was determined to catch up and finish this series and I got to it only a month after it ended, so…success! Echo and her band of allies has come a long way from an ill-timed museum heist and they managed to stay optimistic in the face of unbearable darkness in this book.

Tanith is the vessel for the kuçedra, the opposite of Echo’s firebird in every way. Tanith is determined to unmake the world and remake it into one that the Drakharin rule. Echo and her fragile Avicen/Drakharin alliance are left scrambling, always one step behind, wondering if any power they possess can combat Tanith.

From the beginning, Echo’s sharp wit and ready jokes combined with the alluring and sometimes dark magic of her world drew me in, and in the second book I was even more impressed with the balance of bravado and gravitas. This time, things grew so serious that I found their attempts at humor a bit off. I was so struck by the dire events surrounding them that jokes fell flat for me.

The inexorable pull of threads to tie up keeps the pages turning, but the stakes rose so rapidly I struggled to pace. There were bold choices made in this installment which I admire. Overall, this is a good end for the trilogy and it holds true to its themes throughout. I just love this cast of characters! 

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Savage Dawn is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor – The massive and spell-binding conclusion to this trilogy about seraphs, chimaera and star-crossed lovers that hoped to stop their endless war. Karou and Akiva’s splintered relationship is all that remains to ally them against Jael’s army of seraphs that want to rule all of Eretz and Earth. See my review here.
  • Valiant by Holly Black – When Val runs away to New York City, she falls in with a group of friends and their mysterious, at times dangerous magical contacts. They live in the subway system, and Val quickly learns that monsters come in many forms.
  • So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane – I was enthralled with this story when it came out! Nita finds a “how to” guide book in the vein of learning a career, except this book teaches you how to become a wizard. Once she meets fellow wizard Kit, they are drawn into adventures. It’s like an American “Harry Potter” before HP hit it big.

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

1383168by John Truby
Nonfiction
3 of 5 stars

This came highly rec’d from many YA authors and I was excited to dive in! Especially since I hadn’t read a craft book in far too long. (If like me, you are not familiar with the author, here is more about him). What I found was a book that rang truer to the 1970s than today, despite being written in 2008…

Personally, when I am studying the mechanics of storytelling it helps me to have a broad range of examples, especially ones that subvert known patterns. Show me a variety of settings or characters or plots that take the basic principles and explore them in new ways. For a book about coming up with original stories, I found this to be very unoriginal itself, which was disappointing.

There are some good tips and nuggets of wisdom here, but the scope of “good storytelling” is so narrow it becomes distracting. Aside from a couple of Jane Austen’s works, the examples you study in each chapter are mostly white male-centric stories from the ‘70s or older. Tootsie, Casablanca, The Lord of the Rings, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Godfather, Star Wars…these are all good stories, yes, but they begin to blend together when you are discussing character arc. How many rising king/wise mentor/bromances do we need? This would bother me less if the critiques of poor storytelling were not confined to female authors (i.e. Jane Austen and Emily Bronte let their emotions get in the way of satisfying endings). Or if the only character not assigned an archetypal role in Star Wars was Princess Leia – deemed “The Princess,” which was not an archetype on Truby’s list, when it arguably could be, feminism aside. (Even R2-D2 – who does not speak – was designated a prince-magician-warrior archetype).

The eponymous 22 step process is a little muddy, mainly because 22 steps is a lot of steps, and because they can be moved around in nearly any order. (Again, I would have liked a few more examples of this bit). Studying the 22 steps individually and reviewing the prewriting exercises are the most useful things in this book. It is easy to see where your own manuscript might be lacking when you look at the key points, and there are some excellent brainstorming tips for each step.

I read this as I was beginning revisions on my rough draft, and I didn’t feel that I missed out too much. I tend to discover themes and connections through writing the first draft that I can’t plan in advance – this is a book that I think you can approach for prewriting work on a story or while you are revising to get some fresh ideas, depending on your own approach.

I found myself drawn to the key points called out in the text, and the helpful exercises at the end of each chapter and skimming the rest. Overall this was very similar to my college courses in writing. I guess I just expect a little more now!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Anatomy of Story is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood – A collection of photos and prompts to help you scribble down a scene or short story whenever you feel like writing but do not have a guide. I love this little book!
  • The Positive / Negative / Emotion Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman – These are three invaluable guides to psychology and character motivations! Also a good way to find the most accurate and interesting way of writing your characters’ emotions and plans as they try to survive your story’s plot.
  • The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff – This presents several short stories in various states of revision with notes from real-life critique partners, so you can see how a story goes from draft to finished product.

2016 Year in Review

Time to see what I did this year!

I read 76 books this year (29,359 pages)! Not bad considering my goal in January was 40.
I bought 42 books, received 12 as gifts and 1 as a prize!

One of my goals was to read more recommendations from friends/family – I think I succeeded!

CP’s: Captive Prince, Prince’s Gambit, Kings Rising, Wolf by Wolf, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Finnikin of the Rock, The 3 Writing Thesauruses (Emotion, Positive and Negative Traits), Three Dark Crowns, Milk and Honey
Grandfather: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, The Mill on the Floss (partial)
Friends: Pax, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, When We Collided, The Start of Me and You

I had a few other little challenges I wanted to complete this year but I think I failed pretty much all of them!

Read one classic novel a month: 5
Read one nonfiction book a month: 6
Read the Harry Potter series again: 1

Read the 10 books on my Goodreads TBR the longest: 1
Debut novels: 14

Better luck next year, Future Me!
How did I like what I did read this year?

5 stars – 33%
4 stars – 48%
3 stars – 16%
2 stars – 4%

Out of all of these books, which one was my Best Read of 2016?

29396738

It was an incredibly hard choice – until I read Monstress! (See my review here!) I can still barely talk about this book without screaming–I absolutely love this story and I can’t wait to buy the next bound volume! It’s dark and feminist and has beautiful as well as brutal moments. The art is a bonus–every panel is lovingly detailed and kept me from reading too quickly. If you want deep world-building, flawed characters fighting for their goals, and a story that demands you keep up with it, grab this now! I enjoyed every page.

And Best Surprise Read of 2016 goes to….

22453777

I had seen this cover pop up a couple times on Instagram and I finally picked up a copy of this debut novel because I was curious about the magical realism. (See my review here!) This book had me enthralled! The themes of family, identity, growing up, traditionalism vs change, what makes a full life–Carolina and her family felt so real to me and I savored their story. It is a rare example of a perfectly packaged tale with that nostalgic feeling you normally reserve for something old. I look forward to coming back to this again and again!

What did I achieve with my writing?
1) Revised and polished YA fantasy
2) Attended my first writing conference
3) Pitched to agents for the first time
4) Chose to shelve YA fantasy and begin a new project
5) Completed the 83,000 word draft for Fox Story in 3 months
6) Learned. So. Much.
7) And of course, I posted twice a week here, rain shine or deadline!

New things coming for 2017

Give this year’s goals another chance:
-1 nonfiction book a month
-1 classic novel a month
-Read Harry Potter again
-Get through those books that I’ve meant to read for years!

THIS IS MY LAST POST FOR 2016 – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

The Hundred and One Dalmatians

16650024by Dodie Smith
Classics / Children’s Lit
3 of 5 stars

This little book is probably better known as the Disney film, but I picked it up last year and loved it, and I enjoyed reading it again this year.

There are some big differences between the two, for instance the fact that Pongo and Missis have the 15 puppies, and Perdita is a lost dog the Dearlys take in to help nurse them all. There are characters removed from or changed for the film (Cruella’s white cat, Perdita’s husband, the puppy Cadpig was combined with Lucky, the two nannies were combined into one, and the farm cat Tibbs is female in the book, to name a few).  They have a series of adventures both searching for and bringing back their puppies, and its charm is irresistible. There are fresh surprises here even if you’ve seen the film.

The best part of this story is the author’s knowledge of dogs. She owned seven Dalmatians during her lifetime and this cute story is packed with facts, jokes, and tips on how to have a happy Dalmatian in your home. It’s also quintessentially British in its descriptions (Mr. Dearly is “not handsome but has the sort of face one does not grow tired of” and Pongo “chewed the wicker on his basket as a man might smoke a pipe”) and each interaction Pongo and Missis have with other dogs is ruled by etiquette and manners.

This is a fun read for a night by the fire in December! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Hundred and One Dalmatians is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd – Another Christmas tale about a girl in the countryside during WWII. She and the other children are sick, but she is the only one who can see the winged horses in the mirrors of the mansion-turned-hospital. See my review here.
  • Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman – A silly story with fun illustrations about a father explaining to his young children why it took him so long to get the milk.
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo – A brave little mouse is sure his destiny is to become a knight, and when the Princess Pea is endangered, he sets out to save the day. I love this story! It’s so cute and such a good representation of the light and dark in us all.
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – A winter tale about two sisters, a family of fox kits, and the way their lives intersect after a terrible accident. See my review here.

The Girl Who Fell

girl fellby Shannon M. Parker
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 1, 2016

The concept of this book grabbed me from the start, and when I read about the author’s background and experience, I was sold. There are plenty of YA books about the magic of falling in love, but this one is about what happens when you fall for the wrong person–when you fall for someone who isn’t what they seem, who doesn’t treat you right, who controls your every move.

Zephyr Doyle is on track for her life plan: graduate and attend Boston College. Play field hockey there. Generally be a success in life. Her friend Lizzie teases her about not having time for a boyfriend. But then Alec comes along, sweeps her off her feet, and Zephyr finds herself in a place she never thought she would be. Love isn’t supposed to scare you, isolate you, change all your plans. Or does that just mean it’s the kind of crazy intense love everyone wants?

There were many things I liked about this story. First of all, Zephyr’s best friend Lizzie. A true best friend, who sticks around even when Zephyr becomes too absorbed with Alec to be a good friend. Even when Zephyr blows her off. Because Lizzie knows Zephyr will need her when it all falls apart, and she is going to be there for Zephyr. Their friendship is the strongest relationship in this book and I loved it!

I love a main character who is good at sports–there are too many bookish ones!

Zephyr’s world feels concrete–the ordinary home scenes, the school scenes, the dates–all of it well-written and it feels like you’re there, experiencing it with her (including her adorable dog)!

Finally, Zephyr’s relationship with her father. Her father has walked out on her and her mom when the story starts, and as the months pass her mother begins seeing her father to see if they can patch things up. The way Zephyr deals with his absence and his re-entry to her life is emotional and a perfect balance between hope and wariness.

A couple of things bothered me, though. First of all, the story opens and closes like a horror movie, and some of the drama took away from the serious subject matter for me. Second, Zephyr’s long-time best guy friend Gregg. He’s the “good” guy, the foil for Alec’s controlling, abusive behavior. Except Gregg has no respect for Zephyr either! He repeatedly kisses her and flirts with her despite her repeated lack of interest. It was as if because he’s a “good guy” it’s okay for him to kiss a girl knowing she doesn’t return his feelings, when she has said no, you shouldn’t do that–and that’s not okay with me. For a book about control and consent in relationships, his actions were very uncomfortable yet never addressed.

Overall this is a good story and definitely needs to be out there. It has good intentions and I think Zephyr will connect with a lot of readers.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Girl Who Fell is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – Cassie is ready to start college with her past behind her. No more thinking about her mother or the fact that she locked Cassie in an asylum for two years against her will. But then her mother shows up, promising all the love Cassie always wanted, and she wonders if they can start over. See my review here.
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – This harrowing story of a girl who escapes a cult is incredibly well-done. Minnow is arrested when the Kevinian cult’s village burns down–despite having no hands, they believe she knows something about what really happened. The police aren’t wrong. See my review here.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – This is a moving story about a girl who must learn to speak up for herself in the wake of a traumatic event. A classic that has stuck with me for years.
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is a Mexican American girl just trying to survive her senior year with one best friend pregnant and the other one coming out to unreceptive parents, her father’s meth habit, and the poetry that feels like an escape. See my review here.

Deep Blue

18601430by Jennifer Donnelly
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars

I feel I need to start by saying I am so conflicted about this book! There is nothing inherently “wrong” with it…but it didn’t grab me until almost 75% in, and there were a few reasons for that. But I feel conflicted about my reasons! It’s not often a book leaves me just scratching my head, unsure what to say (especially since we aren’t talking about philosophical or physics theories here)!

For the most part, the issue I had was the pacing. The first quarter of this book is an info-dump about the world, the characters, side characters that play no role in the story, mythology, and magic. So many names—so many factoids—my head was spinning. From there, we move on to a plot that stutters and stops between crazy action sequences, leaving little room for character development or time to process events. There’s a lot of telling vs. showing. The dialogue is dramatic. Finally, the 10-page glossary in the back is to help you understand more sea-puns and made-up vocabulary than I could handle, but that is entirely a matter of taste! I will say that this more than anything made it seem like a middle-grade story instead of YA, with the exception of a few violent scenes.

Why did I finish this book then? Because there are many things I actually liked!

The mythology is addictive. There are six (SIX!) female heroines teaming up and becoming friends and working together. The central relationship of this book is not a romantic one—despite dealing with a betrothal, and several princesses— it’s the best friendship between Serafina and Neela. By the way, each of the six mermaids hails from a different country—female teens handling alliances, politics, different cultures, and finding common ground as they represent entire nations! The wise figures in this story providing prophecy and wisdom are all older mermaids. There’s also a light exploration of how humans are affecting the sea’s population and ecology and I’m betting this will continue to play a role in the series. Yes, the themes throughout the book are presented in a slightly cheesy, very Disney manner (which makes sense since Disney is the publisher), but these are good themes all the same.

The last quarter of this story is the best by far. I’m disappointed that most of the book felt like set-up for the remaining story, but I would not be surprised if the rest of the saga is much better. Be warned, major cliffhanger ending!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Deep Blue is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Emerge by Tobie Easton – A California mermaid stuck on land due to a curse affecting all the mer is just trying to blend in—until another girl sets her eyes on Lia’s crush, Clay. This girl is dangerous, and Lia must save Clay, despite her parents’ disapproval and the dangers of getting involved. I haven’t read this yet but Tobie is an amazing person and I’m sure this will be great!
  • Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon – A retelling of the fairy tale with both a mermaid and a princess in love with the prince. Lenia is a mermaid who saves a prince’s life. Margrethe is a princess who see a mermaid pull a man to shore, and realizes he is the son of her father’s greatest rival. Margrethe nurses him back to health, hoping for an alliance and true love. Lenia makes a deal with a witch to sacrifice everything for the chance to meet and win over the prince she loves. An interesting take on the traditional fairy tale.
  • Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli – Sirena is a siren whose voice lures sailors to their deaths during the Trojan war. But after one shipwreck, she defies Hera and nurses the only survivor back to health. They fall in love, but does he truly love Sirena, or just her voice? And defying the gods brings its own price. I read this a long time ago and I’d probably appreciate it more now!
  • Tides by Betsy Cornwell – Not mermaids, but selkies, seals that can take on the form of humans but must hide their sealskin in order to change back. Whoever holds their skin controls them. Siblings Noah and Lo spend the summer at their grandmother’s lighthouse, and begin to suspect that a girl Noah rescues from the sea might be a selkie. An atmospheric mystery with excellent writing! See my review here.

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