A Bookshelf of Writing Books

Reading Railroad: August’s Reading

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting as much lately. With 3 jobs, a baby on the way, and wanting to finish up my novel by the end of the year, I’ve had to cut down on my blogging. But I do hope to blog more in the future, and I’ll keep posting my monthly reading updates. And of course I still write at least two posts a month for Book Riot.

I also haven’t had as much time for reading. I’ve only read 5 books this month, which isn’t bad, but it also means I’m running behind on my goal to read 100 books this year, a goal I’ve met since I started keeping track a few years ago. But I’m not so behind it’s hopeless, so I’m considering reading shorter books, and more young adult and middle grade. Maybe. Sometimes the books I crave aren’t short, and I want to read the things that make me happy! And do numbers really matter that much? What do you think?

In August, I read two books in particular that I really enjoyed, and I’ll review those first. And all but one are new releases (and the only one that isn’t was published just last year).

Novels

Book cover for The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora GossThe Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. Published August 10th, 2017. Rating: 4/5

This is such a fun romp through classic horror fiction. I couldn’t wait to read it, and put it on hold months ago with the library so that I could have a copy as soon as it came out. The central cast includes: Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Justine Frankenstein, Catherine Moreau, and Beatrice Rappaccini (though I should not forget Mrs. Poole — the housekeeper — and Alice — a house maid). These monstrous daughters team up, with the occasional help from Sherlock Homes and Watson, to solve a series of murders that may or may not be wrapped up in their own past.

This first in what I can only hope will be a series sets up all the characters and their stories. These women are unique, outspoken, smart. Exactly my kind of mystery. Despite the grizzly theme, it maintains a lighthearted Victorian-era tone that made it a fast read. I look forward to more such books! Maybe I need to be reading more light-hearted mysteries (not typically my genre).

Book cover of When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace LinWhen the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin. Published in 2016. Rating: 4/5

Another charming middle grade novel by Grace Lin. Influenced by Chinese folklore and mythology, it’s full of fairy tales, magical creatures, and amazing characters. Pinmei, the storyteller’s grand daughter, must learn confidence in her quest to save her grandmother from an evil overlord. Stories have power, and as Pinmei retells the stories her grandmother has taught her, she starts putting pieces together of a larger story. The illustrations are lovely (Grace Lin does those as well). I’ve already read the companion novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and am looking forward to reading Starry River of the Sky. While Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the first chronologically, they can be read in any order. I did pick up connections that I otherwise would’ve missed, but then, you would pick up the same connections by reading the series backward. 🙂 I will definitely be buying these for my own shelves, and I’m looking forward to reading them to Marian! (Well, I did read bits of it to her, but I doubt she grasped all the complexities of the story.)

Book cover of A Secret History of Witches by Louisa MorganA Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan. Published September 5th, 2017. Rating: 3/5

An entertaining, generational family history of witches. Each section features one of five Orchiére daughters and their story of how their magic develops, and how they find love in their lives (or not). But witches must always hide their powers from everyone else, for a woman with that kind of power is a danger to society. The novel begins in Brittany and ends in London, and moves from early 19th century all the way to WWII. It’s at its strongest when the history comes alive and plays an integral part in the women’s lives. This happens at the beginning and the end. The middle fails to utilize the rich history of the time periods they take place in, but it’s still fun, especially if you’re looking for a light read with romance and witchcraft, and nothing too heavy. I enjoyed it overall, even if it left me craving a little more substance.

Thanks to Netgalley and Redhook for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book cover of The History of Bees by Maja LundeThe History of Bees: A Novel by Maja Lunde. Published August 22nd, 2017. Rating: 3/5

In The History of Bees, Maja Lunde traces the eventual extinction of bees through three story lines. William, a myopic, British biologist who eventually begins building bee hives, set in 1852; George, an American myopic (this is a general theme) beekeeper in 2007 who experiences Colony Collapse Disorder; and Tao, a Chinese pollinator in 2098, on a desperate search to find her young son.

What all three of these characters have in common is the inability to communicate basic human emotions, and seeing their children not as human beings, but as ideal versions of themselves. Tao is the most sympathetic of these characters, since she’s only allowed an hour a day with her son. With such a short amount of time, it’s impossible to really get to know your child. But George and William have no excuse, and come across as idiots much of the time. And of course they have bees in common, but the bees end up more of a set piece to these characters.

I originally picked this up expecting something more along the lines of The Bees by Laline Paull, especially with it being compared to Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go. What I found instead read more like a family drama. Which is fine, it just didn’t meet my expectations.

I also feel like the translation might have made it a clunkier read. Here’s an example: “The yellow color was completely real, nothing I was imagining. It came from the brocade tapestry my wife, Thilda, had stuck up on the walls when we moved in a few years ago. We’d had a lot of space at that time.”

Okay, there’s nothing wrong here, but it’s not very engaging or inspiring prose.

Despite these reservations, I did like the concept of weaving three stories together to tell the history of bees.

Thanks to Touchstone and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Short Story Collections

Issue cover of Uncanny Magazine Issue 17Uncanny Magazine Issue 17: July/August 2017. Published July 4th, 2017. Rating: 3/5

The two stand out stories from this edition were Children of Thorns, Children of Water by Aliette de Bodard and The Worshipful Society of Glovers by Mary Robinette Kowal. Both were rich in context, with complex characters. And if you like birds, then you should read A Nest of Ghosts, a House of Birds by Kat Howard. There were also 2 poems I would recommend: Starskin, Sealskin by Shveta Thakrar and Sara Cleto and Questions We Asked for the Girls Turned to Limbs by Chloe N. Clark. You can also read my review of every story, essay, and poem in this edition.

What have you been reading lately?

2016 Favorite Novels and Reading Stats


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I exceeded my expectations in 2016 and read a total of 105 books (goal was 100). Yay! Before I list my favorites, here are some stats, for those interested:

  • 70% women writers, 35% men writers (overlap due to some collections having multiple editors)
  • 25% people of color writers (aiming for 33%)
  • Longest book Middlemarch by George Eliot at 904 pages
  • 20 the Library of Congress labels as nonfiction
  • 15 Young Adult and Middle Grade
  • 24 published in 2016
  • 9 published before 1950

Without further ado, here’s my top 10 list of favorite books I read in 2016, in no particular order. I’ll list my favorite short stories next week.

Books

  1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Published in 2015. Adult Fantasy and Apocalypse. If I had to pick one favorite book of the year, this is it. It won the Hugo award, so I’m not the only person who feels this way. The magic in this world is orogeny, the ability to manipulate geologic formations, and the ‘fifth season’ occurs when a massive upheaval of the earth causes an apocalypse by wiping out most of humanity until the survivors rebuild once more. It’s book one of The Broken Earth trilogy, and book 2 — The Obelisk Gate — was released earlier this year (I enjoyed it though not quite as much as Book 2), and book 3 is forthcoming in August of 2017.

 

  1. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Published in 2015. Adult Fantasy. This one’s a super fun read. I wrote a full review on this blog. While book 1 of a series, it stands on its own well. Two magicians try to save England’s magic, but they both have very different ways of going about it. Zacharias, a freed slave and now a Sorcerer Royal, likes to follow the rules, but Prunella, his magician-in-training, chooses efficiency over obedience, especially since the ‘rules’ have never included her anyway. A lot of fun ensues. Book 2 is slated to be published in 2017, though I couldn’t find an exact date for release.

 

  1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Published in 1993. Adult Apocalypse (though could be read by teens). This is such a page-turner. I’ve been remiss for a while in failing to read Octavia Butler, so this year I finally sat down and read 3 of her novels, and this is my favorite of the 3. Lauren Olamina is not your normal teenager, even compared to the other teens in the gated community she lives in during an economic and social apocalypse. After the community fails, Lauren starts a new religion and collects followers as she travels. A must read, especially in the current political climate. I didn’t like book 2 as much — Parable of the Talents — but notably in book 2 a presidential candidate emerges whose campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again” (seriously), and though he never admits to being racist and bigoted, his followers commit hate crimes with his support. Super scary.

 

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Published in 2015. Adult Nonfiction. I wrote a joint review of this and Kindred by Octavia Butler earlier this year. Written as a letter to his 15-year old son, it explores what it means to be a black man in America, where your body can be taken, beaten, and killed without repercussions. It’s a powerful and essential read.

 

  1. Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World edited by Heidi Anne Heiner. Published in 2013. Fairytale Collection. I wrote a full review earlier this year. Any fairytale lover needs to read this, and especially “Beauty and the Beast” fans. But even if you’re not a B&B fan, there are versions collected here that I like much better than the most popular tale.

 

 

  1. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. Published in 2005. Poetry. Mary Oliver may be my favorite contemporary poet (I really hate picking favorites), and this collection is excellent. If I hear anyone say they don’t like poetry because it’s too inaccessible, this is the collection I will give them. These are lovely, clear and poignant nature poems.

 

 

  1. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. Published in 2016. Adult Fantasy. This debut novel explores sisterhood and art with the fae as a backdrop, and it’s a rare stand-alone fantasy. I wrote a full review of this one on this blog too.

 

 

 

  1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Published in 2016. Adult Genre-mashup. I wrote a full review on this blog — but for the low-down: AI + witchcraft + apocalypse + 2 quirky nerds = super original read.

 

 

 

  1. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Published in 2015. YA Fantasy. Hazel and Ben, sister and brother, live in what would be an ordinary small town — except that the faeries live there too. Another fun, fast read, and a stand-alone fantasy.

 

 

  1. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Published in 2009. MG fantasy. This is an adorable mix of Chinese folktales, with fantastic illustrations. It’s book 1, but it stands alone fine, and the entire series is now complete.

 

 

 

Runners up

What were your favorite reads this year?

 

Reading Railroad: July’s Reading


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Everything I read in July. 

Novels

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Published in 2009. A pretty darn adorable middle grade novel that’s also illustrated by the author. It would be perfect for reading aloud to 6-10 year olds, but it’s also a lot of fun to read as an adult. It’s based on Chinese folklore, and tells of how Minli travels to find the Man on the Moon to discover how to make her family a fortune, and on her way rescues a dragon, frees a talking goldfish, and meets a king, among other adventures. Read my full review on Goodreads. 4.5/5

 

The Book of Heaven by Patricia Storace. Published in 2014. This book has a wonderful premise — feminist retellings of women in the bible, yet, if it weren’t for the synopsis, I would have no idea that these tales were from the Bible. Also, the 4 parts lack development, though there is some interesting and well written stuff. Read my full review on Goodreads. 2.5/5

 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Published in 1993. What a page-turner! It’s a post apocalyptic novel about a minister’s daughter, Lauren, who creates a religion and decides that surviving is more important than prayer. I’m surprised more people haven’t read this, with survivalism being such a hot theme. It’s such a compulsive read, both thought-provoking and energetic. Read my full review on Goodreads. 4.5/5

 

Someplace to Be Flying by Charles de Lint. Published in 1998. According to some Native American mythology, the world began when Raven stirred his pot, pulling out the earth, the sky, and the animal people. In Newford, the animal people still walk the earth. And some humans have animal people blood running through their veins. A complex urban fantasy. Note that while this is book 5 in the Newford series, they can be read in any order. Read my full review on Goodreads. 4/5

 

Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle. Will be published in September 2016. What happens when the mythic intersects with the mundane? It changes everything, of course. Full review coming soon.

 

 

 

Nonfiction and Other

Modern Life by Matthea Harvey. Published in 2007. Poetry collection. The poems in this collection were hit and miss for me. They’re much more, well, modern than I’m used to, lacking the nostalgia (both in terms of form and content) of most collections I read. Obviously, given the title, that was Harvey’s intent, but honestly, a poem about ham flowers? (Look it up if you don’t know.) But there were some really intriguing poems in here as well. Harvey is certainly an inventive writer, and I’d read more from her despite feeling mostly iffy by the collection. Read my full review on Goodreads.  3/5

 

Short Stories and Collections

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman. Published in 2015. Wonderful novelette that turns the passive Snow White and Sleeping Beauty into not so passive agents of their own futures. Chris Riddell does the artwork, and it is lovely. 5/5

 

 

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman. Published in 2015. Short story and poetry collection that’s full of the creepy and unsettling, but also some fantastic characters. It would make a great entry point for those unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman. For a more detailed review discussing favorite stories, check out my Goodreads review. I may post a more detailed review on this blog as well. 4/5

 

Uncanny Magazine Issue 11. Published in July 2016. Usually I notice a thread between stories in Uncanny’s issues, but I didn’t notice one this time around. My favorite pieces were: “Travels with the Snow Queen” by Kelly Link, a popular fairytale retelling I’ve read many times; “So you want to run a podcast” by Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, an essay about podcasting; and an unsettling poem about witches and neighbors by Jessica Wick called “Good neighbors”. This may be my least favorite issue, but I still enjoyed reading it. Read my full review on Goodreads. They’re also running a Kickstarter right now. I highly recommend the magazine. 3/5

 

“Balin” by Chen Qiufan. Read free online in Clarkesworld Magazine. Published April 2016. A father gives his son a paoxiao for his birthday, a creature that mimics others. The boy and his friends abuse the paoxiao, but when the boy becomes an adult he defies his father by becoming a scientist and the paoxiao becomes central to his research. 2.5/5