“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (January 28, 2015)

“What are you reading?” Wednesday has been absorbed into Musing Mondays over at Should Be Reading, but I’ll continue posting on Wednesdays.

What are you currently reading?

Lately, I’ve had a hard tine focusing on any one thing in particular even – especially? – if it’s really good. I’ve been on the same page of Iron-Hearted Violet for almost a week now, though I did get halfway through Capture the Flag before one of my students borrowed it off my desk. I checked out The Hobbit from our secondary library, too. I think the difference is, Capture the Flag and The Hobbit are in print, but Iron-Hearted Violet is an ebook.

I hope I can snap out of this slump soon. As a young and unsettled expat, 99% of my library is on my phone.

What did you recently finish reading?

When You Reach MeI read When You Reach Me in about two days, after an SLJ review suggested it for people who liked The Riverman. I still haven’t made up my mind about The Riverman, and I won’t until at least I’ve had a chance to read The Whisper, but probably not even then, until the third book comes out. I’ve accepted the possibility that I might never know.

I do know how I felt about When You Reach Me, though, and that is: it was awesome. It was awesome in a quiet, creeping way that sticks with you, but I dreamed about it both days I read it, and that’s always a sign of a book really sinking it’s teeth into you and not letting go. (This book was also in print, from our school library.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

I need to get through Iron-Hearted Violet. It’s really frustrating me that I’m having such a hard time focusing on my phone, because, you know, this book is really good and filled with things I love (headstrong, imperfect girls! the multiverse! things seeping through the walls between worlds! clever metafiction!) and for some reason, I just go crosseyed looking at it. Sigh.

If this ebook slump continues, then I’ll make my way through The Hobbit and then, if I’m still having a hard time, onto The Fellowship of the Ring.

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Top Ten Tuesday: FREEBIE: Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is a freebie and it’s too much responsibility!

I decided to write about my “Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread.” Some books stand up well to rereading and revisiting at every stage of life, but others fall flat when you’re older and wiser.

… and, since I’m still pretty new to this book blogging game, I thought it would be a good “getting to know you” list.

  • More More MoreMore, More, More! Said the Baby, Vera B. Williams I haven’t read this book in years – maybe literally even a decade, at least – but it was my absolute favorite book when I was just a baby and toddler. I asked my mom to read it to me so many times that she eventually got sick of it and hid it on top of the fridge, forgotten until I grew tall enough to reach up there for the chips I wanted for an after school snack.
    I always loved books, no doubt thanks to my mother’s patience in reading this book to me over and over and over again, until I can still – twenty years later – recite some of it from memory. (I probably would have hidden it from me, too.) Maybe I didn’t just learn to love reading from my parents, but to love rereading, too.
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry My fourth grade teacher read this one out loud to us, and I remember the dreamy feeling of knowing I had just experienced something important but not quite knowing what. I knew that I didn’t understand it, not really, and I understood that understanding would come in time and there was no need to rush it. I was basically Hermione when I was in school – know-it-all, frizzy hair and everything (see below, about Harry Potter) – so it really was incredible, knowing that I didn’t know and that knowing would come in time. Now it’s my honor to read this aloud to my fourth and fifth grade students and hope it touches one of them the way it touched me.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneThe Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien I finished reading Fellowship of the Ring in the theater, frantically turning the last few pages as the lights went down on the Saturday matinee. (Spoiler: Boromir dies at the beginning of The Two Towers. Imagine my surprise.) My dad took me to see it. I was so excited. It was hard – I fought harder to read The Lord of the Rings than I have ever struggled to read a book in my life – but it was so worth it. I return to this one periodically when I need a reminder of my dad, or of who I am – as a person, as a reader. Every time I reread it, I feel like I understand it differently; I used to identify most with Merry and Pippin, or Éowyn, but last time I read it, Boromir really… I finally got Boromir.
  • Harry Potter (series), J.K. Rowling I loved books before I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (USian), but I haven’t loved something so completely before or since. I doubt I ever will. Growing up with Harry was a thing, and nothing quite like it will ever happen again, I think. I dressed up for the book release parties of Book 4, Book 5 and Book 6. (I was in China when Book 7 was released.) Whenever I feel sad, or nostalgic, or homesick – or, let’s be honest, just whenever – I like to pick this up and reread it, revisit Hogwarts. Every time I read it, I identify more or less with other characters. I’ve always been very much like Hermione – she’s probably what made me adore the series so much – and as I’ve grown up, I’ve understood or identified with Tonks, and McGonagall and Remus.
    I read Sorcerer’s Stone thirty two times before I stopped counting (and I stopped counting in seventh grade/2002).
  • The Golden CompassHis Dark Materials (series), Philip Pullman The only books that mean more to me than Harry Potter are His Dark Materials. While Harry Potter was a lot more fun, His Dark Materials moved me, when I was a tween, in a way I didn’t really understand. I only knew for certain that I had experienced something monumental, something huge and life-changing, and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t even say what had happened; I still remember sitting in the library parking lot trying to explain to my dad. Every time I reread this, I understand it a little bit better, and I feel like Lyra (re)learning how to read her alethiometer.
    I never really identified with Lyra – never in my life have I been half as wild or wily as her – but I admired her, and I still do. I wanted her as my friend, even as I was a little frightened of her; now I want to protect her, and I want Mary Malone as my friend.
  • TSUBASA: RESERVoiR CHRoNiCLE, CLAMP I’ve only read this series front-to-back, first-to-last twice, because it’s long, and because my entire collection is, inconveniently, located on the other side of the planet. But I would be lying not to include it, because I would read and reread volumes over and over (… and over and over) waiting for the next release when it was in English-language serialization and I just love it soo much. I can acknowledge that the plot is … unstable, what with all of those plot holes, but gosh, I just love the characters and I swear, this silly manga series got me through college with at least a little sanity left over, even if it is completely ridiculous.
  • TSUBASAThe Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice Unlike the other books on this list, The Vampire Lestat has no particular deeper meaning to me. I don’t have, like, a deep attachment to it, or anything. It’s just fun. It’s some funny brain fluff and Lestat is a really great narrator. I’ve reread some of the other Vampire Chronicles books, but this one is my favorite, no doubt. Maybe it’s because I like Nicki? Or because Lestat is my favorite member of the Coven of the Articulate?
  • The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (Dark Tower series), Stephen King I can’t honestly include the whole series here, because I usually skip The Gunslinger and lose interest again somewhere in Song of Susannah and I always skip the middle flashback bit of Wizard and Glass, but man, some of the scenes in The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands (and even Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla) are so cool. Like, I just know it will be soo satisfying to watch Eddie Dean destroy Blaine. I’ve already read that part a million times but I always cheer anyway, even though I know what’s going to happen.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Suess I’ve mentioned before that I reread this book every year around Christmastime. It’s true. My mom used to read it to me every Christmas Eve, and now I read it to my students during their last library visit before winter vacation. I love the rhyme and rhythm of the story, and I love the memory of my mother reading it to me, and I love that, once again, I have it nearly memorized. Most pages I can say without even looking, and the rest need only a glance before I’m off.
    I have to like the books I read aloud, as I usually read them between six and fourteen times a week, depending on my lesson plans, but this one is always my absolute favorite.

What about you? What are your favorite books to reread? What did you choose for your Top Ten Tuesday list this week?

Irregular Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World (Vivian Versus the Apocalypse)

Vivian Apple (2)

Vivian Apple at the End of the World
Katie Coyle (Vivian Apple, #1)
★★★☆☆ (I liked it.)

Goodreads summary:

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.

So, Vivian Apple.

The Good

I could not put this book down. It’s one of those things that I would sneak in pages at any opportunity – on the train, during lunch, under my desk, in the middle of a conversation. I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know if the Rapture happened or not. (I won’t say. Spoilers.) Some twists, I sooo called before they were revealed. Others, I didn’t guess. It was a good mix; it shouldn’t be too obvious, or too difficult. This wasn’t a mystery novel, although the mystery of the Rapture is the question Vivian has to answer, and why she goes on her Great American Road Trip out west.

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending, and I think the sequel, Vivian Versus America, will help me decide whether or not I liked it. How things shake down from here will put the end of the first book in perspective.

Vivian felt real to me, and I think a certain kind of goody two shoes will relate to her, although personally, I think reading this as a high schooler, she would have annoyed me. But Vivian was very “likable.” She’s the sort of person you’d want to befriend.

It’s subtle, but there’s an undercurrent of feminism throughout the whole story. Vivian drives the plot, and most of the time, the car. The Rapture happens to her – and her parents disappear, leaving holes in the roof of their home – but after a little bit of wallowing, she takes action to get to the bottom of this mystery. It’s Vivian who decides to leave the New Orphans and Vivian who decided to take this road trip in the first place; Harp and Peter are just along for the ride.

Along the way, she articulates her discomfort with the Believer’s anti-feminism, how women are controlled by Frickism, following “their” men a step or two behind, dressing “modestly,” punished for their sexualities. Frickian homophobia becomes a plot point, but that’s not something that happens to Vivian, but it happens to scare Vivian.

Which brings me to…

The Bad

Vivian is a straight white girl. Her best friend, secondary character Harpreet Janda, is Indian-American. Harp’s brother, Raj, is gay. So, points for inclusion, but this is still Vivian’s story and, given the unsubtle message about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism, it would have been stronger if Vivian had been a person of color, or a queer, or disabled, or something that put her in danger from the remaining Believers.

As a non-Believer, Vivian is an outsider. Most of America has converted, and the “left behind” Believers are focused on a passage from the Book of Frick about how “the road to salvation is overcrowded with the damned” and some have taken that to mean they must exterminate the “sinners” – non-Believers, generally, but in particular, “harlots” and “fags.”

I would have found the story much more compelling if Vivian had more at stake – if Peter, the love interest, were Petra, for example. Even Vivian’s non-Belief isn’t a thoughtful articulation of her theological or even moral qualms with Christianity in general or Frickism in particular, she just floats along, not believing. How would this story go if she did believe, but in something else? What if Viv was Catholic? What if Viv was Muslim?

I don’t want to hate on this book for everything it wasn’t, but I think it could have been stronger if Vivian had more left to lose after the Rapture.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (January 14, 2015)

“What are you reading?” Wednesday has been absorbed into Musing Mondays over at Should Be Reading, but I’ll continue posting on Wednesday because I am a creature of habit and I hate change.


Vivian Apple (2)What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading Vivan Apple at the End of the World (also known as Vivian Versus The Apocalypse across the pond). I’ve only just started, but so far, I like the style, I like the POV character, Vivian, I like her makeshift family of her bestie, her bestie’s brother, her bestie’s brother’s boyfriend, and her bestie’s brother’s boyfriend’s little sister.

Like, did the Rapture really happen, or something else? Only a handful of chapters in and I’m already concerned about Vivian, which is a good sign; usually I can’t “do” apocalyptic stories, so I have to be really invested in the character to not just bow out and head for the safety of the real, not ending, world.

I happened across this one by accident, but I’m already glad I did.

I still have both Diane Duane’s So You Want to be a Wizard and Laura Lam’s Shadowplay all set up on my ereader, but somehow they both fell by the wayside, so I’m kinda/sorta still reading. During my lunch break at work, I’ve been reading 1990 Newbury Award winner Afternoon of the Elves, by Janet Taylor Lisle, via Open Library.

What did you recently finish reading?

RivermanThe Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t even remember where I heard about it but as soon as I did, I knew I had to read it that very instant or I would die. I made it through my work day, got home, acquired the ebook immediately, and started to read. I devoured it, but I’m not sure what to make of the ending, and I don’t even know whether I liked it or not.

On one hand, it feels like Aaron Starmer wrote this book for me. On the other hand, I won’t know if I like it until I find out if Aquavania is real or not, and what happens in the sequel, The Whisper, due out later this year.

The other book I read last week was Thanha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again. One of my library regulars adores this book, and I finally got around to reading it as part of my resolution to read more poetry and read more books by/about people of color, but mostly because this is a community of readers, I respect this patron as a reader, and I wanted to read the book she recommended me, because this can’t be a one-way street.

It was amazing.

I took photos of my favorite bits.

Iron Hearted VioletWhat do you think you’ll read next?

I already have Iron Hearted Violet transferred over to my phone (which conveniently doubles as my ereader, because I’m cheap), ready to go. I enjoyed The Witch’s Boy, also by Kelly Barnhill, when I read it last year, and Iron Hearted Violet promises a lot of the things I love in books: a princess who is “plain, reckless, and … too clever for her own good,” a storyteller, taming dragons, magic books, you name it. From the description, it reminds me of a Book of Shadows, at least, I think it sounds like Violet and Charlie would be good friends.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I’m suddenly ravenous for books, and I’m tearing through them at a decent clip – at least for me, while working full time, etc. I have a bunch of stuff lined up, but does that mean anything? Nah.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (December 24, 2014 – Christmas Eve)

A Christmas CarolWhat are you currently reading?

‘Tis the season and all, so I’m reading A Christmas Carol. I grew up with the 1983 Disney special Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the Muppet’s Christmas Carol, and I designed a book jacket to fit the local library copy for a project during high school, but I’ve never actually read it; my one encounter with Dickens (Bleak House) scared me off of that for a very long time. Now that I have the time and motivation to read it for my own edification and of my own free will, I’m finding that it’s not actually so bad.

I do have a problem with hearing some parts in Gonzo’s voice, because they’re directly quoted in Muppet’s Christmas Carol. 

I’m happy to finally be reading this book. It’s helping me to keep in the Christmas spirit and not be such a Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol

The colors matched up when printed. This is the problem when designing in RGB for print in CYMK.

What did you recently finish reading?

I’ve been on vacation, so I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reading this week.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish LieutenantI read Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant in two sittings: once right before bed and then immediately as soon as I woke up (and wrote my morning pages). I grew up on black and white manga, so I struggle with the information overload of full color comic books, but it was beautiful – the art and the story, both. I guess it’s the first in a series, and I hope I get the chance to read the rest of it.

I finished Pantomime and it was excellent. (Review.)

Keeping with the season, I read My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, which I enjoyed, but I also docked a star because there was one token queer couple, two cis gay boys, and exactly zero queer women or trans people, which is just such a bummer.  You’ll have to do better than that if you want an ally cookie. (Review.)

Then I read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which I liked a lot at the beginning and wanted to like at the end, but it didn’t quite work for me. (I can’t really say what bugged me about it without getting into spoiler territory, but it really just didn’t seem to “fit” for me. Suffice to say, I think the ending would have been better left ambiguous.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not really sure why I haven’t immediately jumped into Shadowplay, considering the first thing I did when I finished Pantomime was run out and get it? (Metaphorically.) So… probably that!

I’ve read 98 of my 100 books for the Goodreads challenge. This isn’t to say that hitting 100 will stop me, but expect some MATHS soon. For someone who had to take my math gen ed pass/fail, I really like crunching numbers.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays are hosted by Should be Reading.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (December 17, 2014)

What are you currently reading?

Pantomime

When I first head about Laura Lam’s Pantomime, I really had no interest in reading it, because the blurb made it sound like some kind of hetero paranormal steampunk fantasy romance. Which, I mean, okay, fine, that’s cool I guess but I don’t really care.

Oh, except that Micah is a bisexual intersex trans man. That is much more relevant to my interests, thank you. I didn’t learn about that until I read the blurb for the sequel, which made me go back and get the first book. I’m glad I didn’t recognize Shadowplay as the sequel of Pantomime when I first saw it, or I would have skipped over it and gone to something else. Instead, I went back for the first book and it’s really good. I’m looking forward to the second already.

I also got a shipment of library books to my place, since they were arriving after vacation started, which means that I have a copy of Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant just sitting there, waiting for me. I’ve read a few pages and I’m already in love with Delilah.

What did you recently finish reading?

I finished (re)reading Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday, a book I’ve mentioned that I adored in high school. I’m not sure it entirely stood the test of time, but part of that is because it’s so dated. 2004 is a decade ago, and because so much of the story relies on trendiness and cutting edge technology, it’s a little jarring to read about tiny, blurry pictures taken on flip phones as a cool new thing.

PlayI also picked up Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. We got it for the professional development collection at work. It was okay. The research was interesting, but the author’s casual classism and sexism really made it hard to focus on the science. It was very, like, “boys will be boys and girls will gossip.” Uhm, no.

I also, admittedly to catch up on my Goodreads challenge, marked Shadowscapes Companion as “read.” I’ve been using it for tarot since February, and I’ve memorized most of the cards. It’s not really the kind of book you read front-to-back, but I figured it was close enough. I’ll never really be finished reading it, as long as I still practice tarot with that deck, you know?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Shadowplay. Obviously. I can’t wait to get started on it. I only picked up Pantomime on Monday, and I’m already 150+ pages into it. (I read really slowly. That’s a lot for me.)

I also borrowed The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic from the library at work to read over vacation when none of the students needed it.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays are hosted by Should be Reading.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

Top Ten TuesdayTop Ten Books I Read in 2014

With the caveat that I am not quite finished reading for this year – I still have two whole weeks and seven books left to meet my goal! – here are the Top Ten Books I Read in 2014 So Far.*

*in no particular order

  • AfterworldsDoll Bones, Holly Black When I was sixteen or so, Holly Black was my favorite author ever (except for maybe JK Rowling). I adored her book Tithe. Despite that, I never really read much else by her, except for short stories in anthologies. But when I saw this one, I somehow knew I had to read it, and it was just so perfect… all about make believe and growing up and losing the magic or maybe it was never real anyway. I loved it.
  • Afterworlds, Scott Westerfeld This was another new book by an author I loved in high school. Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday was the defining book of my years at tech school (junior and senior years), but, like Holly Black, I never got into any of his other books. But this was the year I read books about books – Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones – and this one was the best of them all.
  • The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien I’m way late to this party. Guess what? I also loved The Lord of the Rings in high school, but despite multiple attempts, could never get into The Silmarillion. I still think The Music of the Ainur is possibly the most boring chapter of fiction I have ever read, at least voluntarily, but the rest of it was so good. I have a lot of feeling about elves.
  • Akata WitchAkata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor Okay, finally something new. Oh, man, was this new. It was excellent, and everything I like in a book – contemporary fantasy and magic and best friends – but also totally unlike anything else I had ever read before. Okorafor was on my list of Top Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2014, too.
  • Welcome to Bordertown, Holly Black This must have been the year of returning to my roots as a reader, because although I had never read any Bordertown books before, I remembered most of these authors from the Firebird anthologies I devoured in – guess what? – high school. I enjoyed this so much that I wrote fanfic of it for my Camp NaNoWriMo short story.
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post, emily m. danforth Speaking of high school, what would I have given to have this book back then? I would have given a lot. This book was just so perfect. Usually, when I finish an excellent book, I have a “book hangover” and I can’t decide what I should do with my (reading) life. This one was so good it just left me starving for something, anything, to keep that feeling alive.
  • Boxers & SaintsCastle of Shadows, Ellen Renner This one was totally new to me, but again, it had a lot of my beloved tropes of tomboyish, clever girls wearing trousers. It was a lot darker than I was expecting. I picked it up completely on a whim, devoured it, and can’t wait until I can share it with my students – and get the next book in the series, City of Thieves.
  • The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani This is definitely in the running for most fun book I read in 2014. I’m not going to lie, sometimes fairy tale retellings get a little old. I don’t want to say there’s a finite number of things we can do with Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, but it takes a lot to stand out. This is not strictly a retelling, but it uses fairy tale tropes – and turns them on their heads – so cleverly that it really grabbed me.
  • Boxers & Saints, Gene Luen Yang Oof. After I finished reading this, I just sat on my bed, saying “holy ****” over and over again because I didn’t know what else to say about it. Just “holy ****.” It was so good. It really stuck with me, and I can’t shake it.  I still get parents who complain about their kids reading comic books. Maybe next time, I’ll give this to them. (The parent. It’s not really for my elementary students.)

Okay, I said that this wasn’t an ordered list, and it’s not, except:

  1. The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, Laura Miller This is it. This is the book of 2014. I read it in late summer/early autumn, but it is the defining book of 2014. It’s the best thing I read, and it completely changed how I read. I don’t even care for Narnia, really, but the idea, the idea of the Magician’s Book, that one book against which all others are measured, and the difference in a childlike grace and a grown-up grace as a reader. I understand my reading completely differently now, and it’s, well, magical.
    The Magician’s Book also set me on a path of reading nonfiction. I dabbled a bit earlier in the year, which is what lead me to reading this, but The Magician’s Book taught me that nonfiction can be every bit as fun and moving and enjoyable as fiction.

The Magician's Book