My Year of Rereads: July Review

As July was a Camp NaNoWriMo month, I spent some time working on my current project, an Urban Fantasy novel (working title Awesome Lady Adventure). There are some significant pacing issues with the story that I’m still working on, but I needed to read some Urban Fantasy—particularly some of my favorite Urban Fantasy—for clues as to how to fix those issues. But then instead of writing, I ended up reading and reading and reading. Whoops? I was able to complete most of an outline—the whole main story structure and some of the necessary flashbacks, though I still need to figure out some of the secondary character stuff—but not a whole lot of actual story writing got done. However, I think I have a better idea about pacing, and the rhythms of the rising actions and the falling actions, and what kind of character I want the story to be about.

On the other hand, I also had a dream that I’m going to novel. (Novel is a verb now, don’cha know?) While transcribing as much of it as I could remember (twice), various pieces fell into place—and I continued to add and expand on it. It all just flowed out, and it was glorious. It’s been long enough since something like that happened that I was starting to think maybe it never would again. I may put ALA aside and work on this thing for a while, because I like it that much.

49. Iron and Magic (Iron Covenant 1)* by Ilona Andrews

It’s an interesting trick, turning an antagonist/villain of one series into the romantic lead of another. As the antagonist of a series, Hugh d’Ambray isn’t a POV character, so the reader only gets to see his actions, not the reasoning behind those actions. But as the romantic lead of this series, Hugh becomes a POV character, and all those villainous actions are explained. The things he’s done are given reasons—maybe not necessarily reasons the reader might agree with, but reasons that we can understand—and those reasons humanize him. That could be a trick to try out.

50. Moon Called (Mercy Thompson 1) by Patricia Briggs
51. Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson 2) by Patricia Briggs
52. Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson 3) by Patricia Briggs
53. Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson 4) by Patricia Briggs
54. Spinning Silver* by Naomi Novik

The story of this book is utterly delightful. I will read as many “mortal maid falls in love with Winter King” stories as people write, and this was a delightful twist on that trope. Russian folklore, a twist on the fae, and even a little touch of history. That all being said, I thought some of the POV switches were confusing and occasionally boring—and unnecessary to the plot. I still loved the story, but there were parts that dragged because of these switches, and they felt like I had to get through them.

55. Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson 5) by Patricia Briggs
56. River Marked (Mercy Thompson 6) by Patricia Briggs
57. Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson 7) by Patricia Briggs

Except for maybe the first four, I originally read these as they came out, usually about a year apart. Reading them back to back is a very different experience. Partly, I noticed how time passes in the series. Books that are released a year (or more apart), were set only a few months apart. It works really well, somehow. That’s certainly something to try to learn. The character development is just excellent, too. I really love Mercy: she’s kick ass and strong and her relationship with Adam is probably my favorite relationship in Urban Fantasy because it’s so stable and healthy. I can’t wait to see where the next book takes Mercy when it’s released next year.

Nine books for the month is pretty good! Only January (16 books read, and a fluke I’m pretty sure) and March (10 books read) beat it out, and it matches May (also 9 books read). And it was a useful month, as the rereading did help me in a tangible way with my own writing.

August threw a whole bunch of curveballs into my life—and the repercussions of those curveballs are things that my husband and I will be dealing with for months to come—but that translated into a lot of reading as a way to either pass time or to escape. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily get higher numbers for the month though, since the next series I started rereading is Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series (more learning, this time for that novel I dreamed up!) and those books are ridiculously long. On the other hand, I have read the whole series through several times, which means I go through them very quickly. I guess we’ll see at the end of the month!

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My Year of Rereads: June Review

Somehow, I keep thinking we’re still in the first week of July. Spoiler: We are not. If this is a little late, well blame that fact that I keep thinking we’re barely out of June.

I ought to check and see if I always slow down in my reading as the weather gets nicer. 2018 is my 11th year keeping track of the books I read, so I have a fair amount of data about my reading habits. It’s not even that I’m spending significantly time outside (although I am outside somewhat more often than when it’s freezing cold), and yet somehow I’m still spending less time with a book.

Also, despite this being my self-declared Year of Rereads, this month I read as many new books as I reread favorites from my list. I knew I would be reading new releases that I was highly anticipating through the year, but I forgot how many of them there are. Authors I love just keep writing new books.

43. Forever Fantasy Online (Forever Fantasy Online 1)* by Rachel Aaron and Travis Bach

I love Rachel Aaron’s Heartstriker series, so of course when I heard about this book I immediately preordered it. This one is a collaboration with her husband, but it doesn’t feel like two people wrote it. While the split POV of the two main characters makes it tempting to believe that each author wrote one character’s parts, it didn’t read that way to me. If that is their method, the styles of the two authors mesh really well. There were little things I didn’t like about both of the characters, but they made some amount of sense, so I was able to accept them. I’ll definitely be reading the next book when it comes out later this year.

44. The Riddle-Master of Hed (Riddle-Master 1) by Patricia A. McKillip
45. Heir of Sea and Fire (Riddle-Master 2) by Patricia A. McKillip
46. Harpist in the Wind (Riddle-Master 3) by Patricia A. McKillip

One of the things I find most intriguing in McKillip’s novels is how she can make the reader suspend disbelief, or make the reader believe something is true, simply because the character does. Her worlds often abide by strange laws, but for the people within those worlds those laws aren’t strange, they’re just normal. So the reader can be almost tricked into accepting those things as normal—which is to say, things that don’t necessarily require explanation—because the characters already accept them. That’s something I would love to incorporate into my own work (and I can think of at least two projects where it might work really well).

47. Starless* by Jacqueline Carey

I was surprised to learn that this book is a standalone, given that Carey’s previous “epic fantasy” books tend to come in a series. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I was constantly comparing it to her Kushiel books, and in that comparison this book falls short. This book moves much faster than her Kushiel books, and I think part of where this book suffers is in the character development. There just isn’t enough time spent with some of the key characters to make me really feel for those characters. I think this book could easily have been two books if all that character development had been done, and would have been even better for it.

48. Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World 1)* by Rebecca Roanhorse

After the first chapter I knew this book would be going on my Best of 2018 list. This book doesn’t stop to ease you into the story, and it doesn’t soften the main character for the reader either. I texted a friend I knew was reading it at the same time after the first three chapters with just, “Holy shit, this book goes HARD.” And it does. I think it has all the trademarks of Urban Fantasy, but also borrows from Dystopian Futures and even from Horror. I like the blending, and it’s that and the breakneck pace it sets from the beginning that are the things I would be most interested in emulating.

July is another Camp NaNoWriMo month, though so far I haven’t written much. But I’ll just keep plugging along. I don’t know if that will mean less reading or not (I’ve finished three books already and have started a fourth) but I suppose we’ll see. I didn’t reread as many Patricia A. McKillip books as I thought I would in June, but they’re not going anywhere, so they’re still on the list.

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My Year of Rereads: April/May Review

Oh hey, I’m back! Imagine that!

Doubling up here because I never posted a recap for April. I didn’t read as much in April because I was Camp NaNo-ing, but four books in a month is still a dent in my list, so I’ll take it. Even slowing down on my reading, I still didn’t get as much done in April as I would have liked, and as always that was due to poor planning on my part. I’ll be spending June working on planning for July Camp NaNo, and I’m hoping that will mean more progress next month. (I’m also hoping that I will remember to do status updates.)

April
30. The Astonishing Color of After* by Emily X.R. Pan

This is a little outside my usual fare, but Emily is a good friend and this is her debut novel, so I knew I would be reading it no matter what. And I’m glad I did! Emily is an excellent writer (and has been since we first met nearly 15 years ago). I don’t usually read YA because of my various hangups with the most common tropes, but it was interesting to me see how she used or didn’t use the tropes of the genre. Definitely recommend this book, even if it might be outside your usual fare too.

31. A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quartet #1) by Madeleine L’Engle
32. Many Waters (Time Quartet #4) by Madeleine L’Engle

I didn’t realize until rereading just how much A Wrinkle in Time scared me as a child. I’m not entirely sure what did it—possibly the 2 dimensional space that nearly kills them, or possibly the mind control/assimilation—but whatever it was, it somehow meant that I hadn’t reread that book as often as I thought I had. Many Waters, on the other hand, I’ve probably reread more than any of the books in this series because it is my absolute fave. Sandy and Dennys and seraphim and nephilim and the Noah’s Ark story were right up my alley as a kid, and a reread of this only served to remind me of just how much I love this book. It’s interesting to read “children’s books” (Middle Grade, I guess?) as an adult from a writing perspective, because it seems like a completely different style. You can leave things out that adults would insist be explained, and you can just say something is without explaining why it is. It might be interesting to see something like that used in writing geared towards adults, and how you could use that. I ended up not rereading the middle two books because… I just didn’t feel like it, honestly. I started A Wind in the Door and then reading it felt like a chore, so I put it down again. I expect I’ll go back eventually, but maybe not this year.

33. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This book remains a favorite of mine. No other book has quite captured the magic I felt in high school being a part (in my small way) of the Harry Potter Fandom in what I like to think of as its Golden Age, and the various things—friendships, writing skills, stigmas—that come with that. The other parts of the story—Cath deals with crippling anxiety, coping mechanisms that may or may not be working, as well as her sister’s addiction problems, her father’s own manic depressive episodes, and the trauma of a mother who walked out on her family—have all been parts of my own life at various points, and somehow seeing all those pieces together always makes me remember that Things Will Get Better.

May
34. Cold Magic (Spiritwalker Trilogy #1) by Kate Elliott
35. Royals (Royals #1)* by Rachel Hawkins

This book is a delightful little romp that I devoured in half a day. I might not have read it if I hadn’t been following Rachel Hawkins on Twitter for her #SexyHistory threads (which are amazing, go forth and read, if you haven’t already), and you may not know this, but European Monarchical History is one of my fave things. Relatively straight forward YA, but with a Royal Wedding twist. I laughed out loud a lot while reading this.

36. A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3.5)* by Sarah J. Maas

The A Court of Thorns and Roses series remains one of my favorite series, and I’m so excited to see where Maas goes in the second trilogy in this world. In the meantime, this novella bridged the gap, and gave us something to look forward to. And it looks like the other two Archeron sisters are going to be taking center stage in the next series!

37. Cold Fire (Spiritwalker Trilogy #2) by Kate Elliott
38. Cold Steel (Spiritwalker Trilogy #3) by Kate Elliott

This was my first time rereading these books. I read them a few years ago and absolutely loved them, but hadn’t gotten around to a reread before now. The first thing I really noticed is that there were definitely things I skimmed over—exposition that I still remembered from my first read, or slower parts. I suppose rereadability is a thing that an author might consider when actually writing a book (though, honestly, I have no idea how one might make things more rereadable, I’d have to think about that) but I think these are the first books that I’ve felt like I skimmed through large-ish sections. (These are also the first of the larger books on this list, so I’ll have to see if I end up skimming through things in some of the other longer books when I get to them.) The second thing that I noticed was that I still love these books. There’s a lot of twists and turns that I was expecting my second time through, but got to watch for signs of this time, and they’re very well done. It helped me to think about the various twists and turns in my own current WIP, and how I want to set those things up for the reader. I’ll definitely be adding hard copies of these books to my shelves in the near(ish) future.

39. Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1) by Patricia C. Wrede
40. Searching for Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #2) by Patricia C. Wrede
41. Calling on Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #3) by Patricia C. Wrede
42. Talking to Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #4) by Patricia C. Wrede

This series got added to my reread list shortly before I actually picked it up and worked my way through it. I’m not entirely sure why it wasn’t on there to being with, but I was reminded of it because I’m reading another writer’s book right now and some of the main characters are dragons, so I wanted a refresher on how that could work—both for characterization, and for physics. (How big are dragons anyway???) Morwen and Cimorene remain my faves, and I would someday like to be as cool as them. And also I want a dozen talking cats.

Summer will officially begin later this month, and we’re busy busy little bees at my work right now which means less on-the-sly reading time for me. I have some manuscripts that I’m working on for other people, too, which always takes precedence over reading, but I’m still going to try and up my numbers for June. (Especially since I anticipate lower numbers again for July.) Summer finally feels like the right time for a little Patricia A. McKillip reading, and I ought to be able to get through a bunch of her novels to boost those numbers before Camp NaNo steals my time. This way I can save the other large books for the cooler months later in the year, and hopefully make a big dent in my list before we cross into the second half of 2018.

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My Year of Rereads: March Review

Oh goodness, already into April a good ways and I haven’t posted my reading recap. Well, I’m not too far behind to do some catching up.

March slowed down, compared to January and February, and slowed down enough to feel like normal time. I didn’t read as much as January, but it was a lot more than February, so I guess that’s something. There were things that I had to read this month—Ready Player One and The Queens of Innis Lear—and so other things that I might have wanted to read more got pushed out of the way in order to accommodate them. Books read are books read though, and I’m still working my way steadily through my (ever-changing) list.

We should be coming out of the winter doldrums soon. We did get snow here in Colorado yesterday—in fact, it snowed all day, though we didn’t get much accumulation—and I expect it won’t be out last snow of the year. But it also looks like we’ll have a whole bunch of warm days too. I love reading in my cozy house when the weather is absolute shit as much as the next person, but I also like reading when it’s perfectly nice out. Maybe my moods are generally better when I’m not so cold all the time, which makes reading a nicer experience, or maybe it’s all in my head? Either way, I’m looking forward to consistently nice weather. (Knock on wood.)

20. Last Dragon Standing (Heartstrikers 5)* by Rachel Aaron

This is the last book in the Heartstrikers series, which is one of my fave series ever. I’ll definitely be doing a reread of these books in the future, since I’m curious about how they read when they’re read back to back to back.

21. Alpha & Omega (Alpha & Omega 0) by Patricia Brigs
22. Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega 1) by Patricia Brigs
23. Hunting Ground (Alpha & Omega 2) by Patricia Brigs
24. Fair Game (Alpha & Omega 3) by Patricia Brigs
25. Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega 4) by Patricia Brigs
26. Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega 5)* by Patricia Brigs

I reread the first four books (and one novella) in this series in preparation for the fifth (and I’m glad I did, because I didn’t remember the plot of the second or third books), and also because I was planning a rewrite of my own Urban Fantasy novel and I wanted to read some by an author I admire. Briggs continues to deliver with her most recent installment, and even to build on both of her series. I’m not sure I got as much out of this series as I might have her other one, but it was nice to get back into Urban Fantasy, since I love it so much.

27. I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land* by Connie Willis

This was a NetGalley review read, the first one I’ve managed to squeeze in this year. It happened to be a short one, a novella (I finished it in about an hour and a half), but holy hell, this book. I guess my takeaway from this is that small things can be incredibly powerful. My review is forthcoming.

28. The Queens of Innis Lear* by Tessa Gratton

I got this book for review from NetGalley, and really liked it, while at the same time having some major issues with the main protagonist. You can find my review for this book here.

29. Ready Player One* by Ernest Cline

I promised my husband I would read this book before we saw the movie, and I try to keep my promises. My take away from this book was that this book wasn’t written for me, but that it wouldn’t have taken much to make it so that it was. It was entertaining, and it’s easy to see how it will translate to an equally entertaining movie, but it seems unlikely that I’ll be reading anything else by this author.

April should be an interesting month because I’m also working on my Camp NaNoWriMo project, the previously mentioned Urban Fantasy rewrite. (Blog posts about my progress will start on Monday.) I tend to slow down my reading when I’m also writing (see last November when I read all of one book while I was writing) but I’m going to try not to slow down too much. I feel like I could manage at least one book every five days, so that’s my goal for this month while I also try to learn how to do this whole rewriting thing.

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Review: The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

When I first saw this book on NetGalley, for a moment I thought it was the next book in Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series. Even the summary—three sisters all fighting for a crown—seemed familiar. It was both similar and different enough to be be appealing. And it was clear from the very first words that The Queens of Innis Lear would give me something that mistaken series wouldn’t: three adult sisters. (Look, I have some issues with YA was a genre and the tropes that appear within it.) It was only after I was several chapters in that I realized another important detail I had some how missed: The Queens of Innis Lear is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. It’s been several years since I last read King Lear (though now I’m considering rereading some Shakespeare, because I really need more things to add to my reread list this year), but I remember enough to be familiar with the story.

The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

As much as I love a good fairy tale retelling, I also love a good Shakespeare retelling. There’s such a wealth of things to explore in Shakespeare’s plays, not the least because he often draws from folk stories and fairy tales himself. I wanted so so so much to love Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban, and I just didn’t.

But this book. I enjoyed the hell out of this book. And, at the same time, I have some major issues with the main character. Regan and Gaela were wild and passionate, and I loved both of them. It was Regan and Gaela who set the tone of this novel, whose passion pulled me into and along with the story. Their flaws were relatable and eventually led them to understandable ends. I loved every minute I spent reading their POV chapters.

Then there’s Elia, the main protagonist. It’s not that Elia is unlikable, because I did like her. She’s compassionate in a way that no one else in this novel is—or can afford to be—and she clings to that compassion even when the world is falling apart around her. That’s an admirable quality in anyone, even more so in a queen. But at the same time, I mostly found her rationale to be completely incomprehensible.

Elia spends the first half of the book doing absolutely nothing. Even when she acknowledges that she isn’t doing anything and declares her intent to act, she seems to go out of her way to do the barest minimum and refuse to do what’s needed. The reader knows she’s no stranger to sacrificing for her family and for her island, having given up everything else in life but the stars for her father, so her refusal to take up the crown of her island even when she doesn’t want to, is incredibly frustrating to read. Even with the island, given it’s own magical voice in the trees and the winds, is practically screaming for her to be the queen it needs to heal itself, and she still would rather put one of her sisters on the throne.

Then there’s Elia’s two love interests.

Morimaros, King of Aremoria, admits to his desire for claim Innis Lear as part of his kingdom, admits to sending Ban to damage her country so it would be vulnerable to invasion. He makes these admissions because he has fallen in love with her, something else he admits to her, and states his intention to give up his desire to claim her kingdom. The two are, when working in concert for the good of their kingdoms, remarkably well suited. The chemistry between Mars and Elia only grows through the novel and it seemed obvious to me that, between him and Ban, Morimaros of Aermoria was the better man. Both in strength of character, and his devotion to her. That Elia couldn’t see this—or refused to acknowledge it—was a constant source of frustration.

And it is Ban who returns to Innis Lear to wreak havoc, it is Ban who sets himself in opposition to Elia and allies himself with her deadly sisters. It is Ban who kills her beloved father. And yet, inexplicably, it is also Ban who Elia forgives. Despite their contradictory views of the world, it is Ban who Elia loves. As far as I can tell, she loves him and forgives him where she cannot do the same with Morimaros simply because Ban is her first love and a man of Innis Lear.

But people grow and change. In real life, certainly, but also in books. That’s the whole point of most novels: to chronicle the change and growth of a character. If a character doesn’t change, doesn’t learn and grow, then nothing meaningful has really happened and the reader is left unsatisfied. Elia does learn and grow and change… in other aspects. I can understand the author’s desire to give her some constancy, something that grows with her. But the place of that constancy seemed poorly chosen.

Elia is loved by two men, and loves both in return. But in the end she forgives the man who refuses to apologize for the immeasurable hurt he has caused her and her island, and scorns the man who humbles himself and asks for her forgiveness. I found that wasn’t something I could forgive her for.

The Queens of Innis Lear is written by Tessa Gratton and was published by Tor on March 27, 2018.

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My Year of Rereads: February Review

February both flew past and dragged. Individual moments seemed to linger—long days at work, or lazy days at home—but looking back it’s hard to believe that the month is already over and done with. And, reading-wise, the month significantly slowed down. That’s ok, given that my list should theoretically allow me some breathing room, and I should still be able to read everything by the end of the year. (It’s only March, but still somehow the end of the year seems like it’s looming up ahead… Clearly my sense of time is a little weird.)

It’s also possible that general Winter Blahs slowed me down. The winter here in Colorado has been pretty mild (*knocks on wood*), especially compared to the east coast. But at the same time, it’s still been cold. Maybe not as cold as some places, but since I start out at a baseline of “already cold” (yes, I’m That Person who still needs a cardigan in the summer), it feels colder to me at all times than it really is. And while that usually means plenty of inside time that could be spent reading, in reality it seems to have meant sleeping longer, and playing more video games with my husband. Which isn’t a bad way to spend that time, but certainly doesn’t make my book list any shorter. Luckily, I have some flexibility, so even if I add more books to my list, I should still meet my personal goal.

17) A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell 2) by Laurie R. King
18) A Letter of Mary (Mary Russell 3) by Laurie R. King
19) The Moor (Mary Russell 4)* by Laurie R. King

I learned two important things reading these books: First, they really, really slow me down. They aren’t incredibly long, but there’s a lot in them, and I felt the need to pay extra close attention to everything—even on the ones I was reading for the second time—so I didn’t miss any details. Second, there doesn’t have to be some little detail that suddenly becomes important or that was overlooked in a mystery. Sometimes you solve a mystery by finding a clue, then finding another, and so on until you get to the end. It’s always seemed like mysteries took another level of planning and foreshadowing that I didn’t think I could do, but now I’m not sure it has to be that way.

I definitely want to read more Mary Russell books, but I don’t think now is the right time for that. I thought I might be able to go through the whole series in one go, but I have other books I need to get to. Maybe I’ll try to get one Mary Russell book in every month… Or maybe I’ll just have to save those books for next year and beyond.

In particular, A Wrinkle In Time will be hitting theaters in early March, which means I need to read those books asap. Although, I haven’t quite decided if I want to read all three plus Many Waters (my fave of those books) before the movie, or just read A Wrinkle In Time before the movie and then read the sequels after I see the movie… Then there’s Ready Player One which comes out at the end of March, and I promised my husband that I would read that before we see it, so I’ll be doing that too. I haven’t read that one before, so that will be one of my few “new” books this year.

Added to those things some Patricia Briggs rereads in anticipation of a new book from her, it looks like I’ll be leaving the historical mysteries behind and returning to my dearest friend, Urban Fantasy for a little while.

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My Year of Rereads: January Review

I was expecting that this year would likely move just as quickly as last year, and hello, January is already gone. Expectations: met. While I’m still working on my other New Year’s Resolutions (someone talk to me about scheduling free/fun time and how to not waste it), I’ve been doing really well in my reading. Or, I should say, my rereading.

As suspected, I do read faster when it’s something I’ve read before, which is how I averaged 1 book per day for the first 10 days of January. I slowed down a little after that—breaks between things were required, and some books did actually take more than one day to read—but still read more books in a single month than I have in many, many years. Final count: I’ve read 16 books of my (now) 98 book list. (When I started this project, the list was 92 books. And I might be adding more, because I guess I’m actually crazy.)

So far I’m having a really good time! Rereading a favorite book is like returning to a favorite place, catching up with your favorite people, eating your favorite foods. Some of the books on my list are books I’ve actually reread already, but some I will be returning to for the first time. At least one is a book that I’ve said for years is one of my favorite books ever… but I’ve only read it once, and that was over ten years ago at this point. Some refreshing of my memories can’t hurt.

Part of the goal of this project was to pay a little more attention to how the stories that I love are crafted. A little bit “Why do I love them?” but also “Why does this story work?” Sometimes I’m better at this than other times. It’s easy to get swept into these stories as thoroughly as if it were the first time I had read them, and not the second (or third or twelfth). To that end, I’m trying to find one “nugget of wisdom” in every book (or series). This is, for me, more difficult than it sounds. Partly because of the aforementioned sweeping, but mostly because my critical reading skills are vastly out of practice.

Knowing that, though, I assume I can only get better. Knowing is half the battle, right?

1) The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air 1)* by Holly Black

I actually started this year with a new book I hadn’t read. Black’s YA books—particularly her more recent ones—are really adept at flying in the face of expectation when it comes to romance in a YA book. And I love that. If I can emulate anything from her books, I’d like it to be that.

2) Sandry’s Book: The Magic in the Weaving (The Circle of Magic 1) by Tamora Pierce
3) Tris’s Book: The Power in the Storm (The Circle of Magic 2) by Tamora Pierce
4) Daja’s Book: The Fire in the Forging (The Circle of Magic 3) by Tamora Pierce
5) Briar’s Book: The Healing in the Vine (The Circle of Magic 4) by Tamora Pierce
6) Magic Steps (The Circle Opens 1) by Tamora Pierce
7) Street Magic (The Circle Opens 2) by Tamora Pierce
8) Cold Fire (The Circle Opens 3) by Tamora Pierce
9) Shatterglass (The Circle Opens 4) by Tamora Pierce
10) The Will of the Empress (The Circle Reforged 1) by Tamora Pierce

Sometimes the goal of the story is to defeat the antagonist, but sometimes it’s just to overcome some difficult task, and it’s the difficulty of that task—the failures that the characters encounter along the way, their learning how to overcome those failures and not to do it again—that gives the story its climax. Stories about mastering power or going on a treacherous journey don’t necessarily have a villain, and they don’t necessarily need one. Power is dangerous—so is the world—and the story of overcoming those odds can be a complete character arc.

11) Trickster’s Choice (The Daughter of the Lioness 1) by Tamora Pierce
12) Trickster’s Queen (The Daughter of the Lioness 2) by Tamora Pierce

The events of the story’s world can be outside of your character’s control, and how the character reacts to those events is also a valid story. Those reactions will tell the reader as much about the character as if the character were controlling them. Sometimes there’s a villain involved, but maybe that’s not necessary for this sort of story either. These events can culminate in the Difficult Task to be Overcome.

13) The Enchantment Emporium (The Gale Women 1) by Tanya Huff
14) The Wild Ways (The Gale Women 2) by Tanya Huff
15) The Future Falls (The Gale Women 3) by Tanya Huff

Inside jokes between characters make them more believable as real people. But don’t explain the jokes; anything the reader comes up with is a) true (yes, anything and everything), and b) probably funnier than anything the author could come up with. Sometimes not explaining things (jokes, but also things like how the magical system works) is actually much more in character than explaining things. It’s written well, the reader will probably just go with it if the characters just go with it.

16) The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell 1) by Laurie R. King

This was a first reread, and the story is twisty enough that I had to concentrate just on following it. Also it had been a while, so I didn’t remember it as well as I thought. I have at least one twisty sort of book that I want to write, so I should probably pay more attention as I continue reading this series.

February will continue with more Mary Russell books. Originally, I only finished the first three books before I got distracted by something else, but at some point I started the next two and didn’t finish them. Those five books are on the list of 98 books, but depending on how into them I get, I might just keep going on the series… It’s not part of the original plan, true, but plans can be flexible. Also if I read 15-16 books every month I will finish my list well before the end of the year. So I can afford some flexibility in the plan.

And I’ve already thought of three more books to add to my reread list…

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Thinkin’ About: 2018, A Year of Rereads

I have recently found myself looking at my bookshelves and thinking longingly to myself, “I wish I could read some of those books again.” Which is silly. Of course I can read those books again! What’s stopping me??

The only thing that’s stopping me is myself, by telling myself I need to read “new” books.

So I’ve decided that 2018 is going to be my Year of Rereads. I won’t actively avoid new books—and there are some books coming out in 2018 that I’m looking forward to reading, so I will certainly pick those up as they’re released—but I am going to actively go through my favorite books and read as many of them again as I can.

There are two reasons for this exercise. 1) I like those books! I like those stories, and I want to enjoy them again. 2) I want to pay attention to the craft that went into them. I don’t always notice the craft of writing when I’m reading something for the first time, and as I’m beginning to write more myself, I’m feeling the need to continue my education, even if it’s solo this time around.

So I have a list. A slightly obsessively organized list. The list is 92 books long: that’s 23 different authors, and only 15 books that have yet to be published. (And 8 books I haven’t read yet but are part of a series, so I might as well read them too.) That’s my reading list for 2018. Since I read faster when I’ve read something before than I do when I’m reading it for the first time, I think a slightly higher number of books for the year is manageable. Things keep getting added as I remember more and more books that I love that I want to read again, so the final number might be higher. I find myself hoping it will be. I’m not sure how much more I’ll be able to fit into the year—like any of the other books that are still on my To Be Read list—but we’ll see I suppose.

(I expect that this will mean that 2018 will have a limited number of book reviews here, but I do have a bunch that I need to catch up on, so I might try to squeeze those in. Somehow. Somewhere.)

So that’s my 2018 Reading Challenge. What are your reading plans for the new year?

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Best Books I Read in 2017

How is this year almost over? Wasn’t it April yesterday? This year has positively flown by. 2017 has been… well, let’s say “hit or miss” for a lot of people. But, just like last year, this year was pretty good to me. Last year I had moved, started a new job, gotten engaged… Lots of great things. This year, I started a new new job, got married, adopted a kitten, and wrote 27,357 words for NaNoWriMo. 2018 has a lot to live up to if it wants to top all that. And in the midst of all that, I read some amazing books too. As always, these aren’t necessarily books that were published this past year (although some of them are) and are listed in the order I read them.

A Season of Spells by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
      Three years after taking up residence at the University of Din Edin, Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pragmatic Lucia of Alba and the romantic Prince Roland, and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison.
      Gray sets off to track the fugitives abroad, while Sophie tries to spark a connection between the bride and groom by enlisting them in her scheme to reopen a long-shuttered women’s college at Oxford. Though a vocal contingent believes that educating women spells ruin, what Sophie and her friends discover in the decaying college library may hold the key to protecting everything they hold dear—as well as a dark secret that could destroy it all.

I really loved this series, and books two and three were almost both on this list. But book three won out. Even though they seem to spend an awful lot of time apart in these books, Sophie and Gray continue to be exactly the sort of loving couple I love reading about. If you like historical fantasy or… almost-alternate history fantasy, you should probably do yourself a favor and read these books. Now I really want a trilogy about ladies studying magick at a women’s magickal college. And having adventures while doing it, obviously.

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Witness the fate of beloved heroes—and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell—once assumed to be the last surviving Antari—begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace—but never common—thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Oh hey, all three books in this trilogy were on my “Best Of” lists. Gosh, I must really like these books. Schwab excels at hitting her readers right in the feels, but I felt like this book raised what were already impossibly high stakes even higher, and she definitely didn’t pull any of her emotional punches. I was thrilled that this book wrapped up just about everything she set in motion in the first two books, since even the end of a series can often leave the reader hanging. While it’s always sad to get to the end of a series, this was finale was great. And, since the author has already said she’ll be returning to this world, I’m of course looking forward to reading it.

A Court of Wings and RuinE by Sarah J.
Maas

      Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.
      Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.
      As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.
      In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

The theme of this year’s list seems to be “Series Endings.” It’s hard to be too sad about the endings when they end so well, and given that this author has also announced that she’ll be returning to this world in forthcoming books. At the same time, it’s always sad to say goodbye to the characters we’ve come to love. The climax of this book just kept amping up the tension—seriously, you think she’s turning it up to eleven, only to realize she’s not stopping there—and somehow never managed to tip me over the edge too soon. It was a delicate balancing act and Maas seemed to handle it easily. While her other series is set to wrap up in 2018 (and I fully expect that book to end up on 2018’s Best Of list) I can’t wait to read the next books Maas adds to this world.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
      After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent—dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.
      And yet—after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia—the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure—scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland’s enemies—and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.

Another ending of a series. This book felt like the natural conclusion to the series, like everything else had been leading here. At the same time, once we get there it doesn’t go quite how we might have imagined. I was skeptical about this series when it first came out, but Lady Trent’s unwillingness to be told what to do and how she should act quickly won me over. And also, you know, dragons. In a genre that is full of friendly talking dragons, I absolutely loved that the dragons of Lady Trent’s world were wild and dangerous. This conclusion bridges that gap a little, and while there is probably a whole lot more to explore in Lady Trent’s world, Isabella herself is done writing about her adventures. I haven’t read anything else by Marie Brennan, but I’m looking forward to doing so.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock
      In a world of soaring continents and bottomless skies, where a burgeoning new science lifts skyships into the cloud-strewn heights and ancient blood-borne sorceries cling to a fading glory, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs is about to be married to a man she has barely heard of, the second son of a dying king in an empire collapsing into civil war.
      Born without the sorcery that is her birthright but with a perspicacious intellect, Isabelle believes her marriage will stave off disastrous conflict and bring her opportunity and influence. But the last two women betrothed to this prince were murdered, and a sorcerer-assassin is bent on making Isabelle the third. Aided and defended by her loyal musketeer, Jean-Claude, Isabelle plunges into a great maze of prophecy, intrigue, and betrayal, where everyone wears masks of glamour and lies. Step by dangerous step, she unravels the lies of her enemies and discovers a truth more perilous than any deception.

Do you know, while I was initially interested in this book’s summary, when I actually started reading it I was suddenly worried I wasn’t going to like it much. I thought, “Oh dear, this might go someplace I’m not sure I’m interested in.” But it went to all the right places. This is the beginning of a series, which is good because the ending sure left a lot open for future books. If you like court intrigue, princes in disguise, musketeers, and smart as hell princesses, this book should be at the top of your TBR pile. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
      Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.
      But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.
      Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

I read this on the recommendation of a friend, and I’m so glad I did. How this book ended up being one of my favorite books of the year is still a little baffling to me, particularly given that for most of the book I didn’t much like the main character. Or at least, I sympathized with Percy in sometimes wanting to strangle him. I like to think that was intentional on the author’s part, because it made the end that much more satisfying. Monty grew and changed, and that’s always satisfying to read. I believe that there is more coming from this author and in this world—even possibly with these characters—and I’m curious to see where Monty and Percy go next.

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire
      For once, everything in October “Toby” Daye’s life seems to be going right. There have been no murders or declarations of war for her to deal with, and apart from the looming specter of her Fetch planning her bachelorette party, she’s had no real problems for days. Maybe things are getting better.
      Maybe not.
      Because suddenly Toby’s mother, Amandine the Liar, appears on her doorstep and demands that Toby find her missing sister, August. But August has been missing for over a hundred years and there are no leads to follow. And Toby really doesn’t owe her mother any favors.
      Then Amandine starts taking hostages, and refusal ceases to be an option.

October Daye returns! McGuire herself has said that the more recent books have a lot of payouts for things she set up earlier in the series. And this book, more so than the previous few, does just that (while at the same time still setting up things for future books). It’s a really impressive feat of writing, especially given that this is book 11 in this series, and just thinking about the planning involved makes me want to applaud. You can really feel McGuire getting ready for Big Things in future books, and I can’t wait.

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
      Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
      Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.
      Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

I devoured this book. If I could have read it all at once, I probably would have (but instead I was a responsible adult and went to sleep at a mostly reasonable time, and then finished the book at work the next day). By now, it’s probably obvious that I love books about faeries and all the trouble that can be gotten into when a mortal gets involved. This book had a refreshing twist on the “becomes the Queen of Faerie” ending, and I won’t say more than that, but suffice to say that I was both thrilled with this book and devastated that it was only a standalone novel.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
      Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

Sequel to a book on last year’s list. (Is anyone even surprised anymore?) If you’re a person who is easily made cold, I would recommend reading this book in warm weather, or with the heat turned all the way up. I got sucked in immediately, and once again the coldness of the Russian winter seemed to seep out of the page. This book builds beautifully on the first book, and I loved getting to see Vasilisa as a little more grown up. I’m really looking forward to the third book—which, according to Goodreads, thankfully should be hitting shelves while it’s still warm. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.

A Dragon of a Different Color by Rachel Aaron
      To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.
      Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.

The action in this book is non-stop. Seriously. I felt like I hit the ground running, and for the entire book I never stopped running. There’s so much action, so many things that are all happening all at once, so many threads of the story beginning to come together. All your favorite characters are back—yes, I mean all and for those who have been reading this series, you’ll know that for some of those characters coming back seemed… unlikely—and they are kicking so much butt. This is the penultimate book in this series, and you can tell that Rachel Aaron is ramping everything up for what’s likely to be an action-filled finale, and I absolutely cannot wait.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
      Even gods can be slain…
      The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.
      Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.
      This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

Even though multiple friends around the internet had said this book was great, the thing that finally pushed me into reading it was a random blurb about this book being the canon lesbians one reader had always wanted. And it is, it absolutely is, but this book is more than that. This book is a love letter—literally. It’s an epistolary book, written as a letter from one woman to the other, recounting their story. There’s still so much left to do in the world K. Arsenault Rivera has imagined—there’s still a Big Bad to slay after all—but I’m looking forward to seeing how the author will write the second book, given that the same epistolary style might not work a second time given where she left it. Book 2 should hit shelves next year, and I’ll definitely be getting my hands on it asap.

You can find all my “Best Of” lists here. Enjoy!

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Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

After I reviewed the first book, Katherine Arden’s publisher reached out and asked if I wanted to review this one as well. Of course I jumped at the chance! The Bear and the Nightingale was one of my favorite books last year, so I fully expected The Girl in the Tower would at least live up to that one. And wow, did it do all that and more.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

I made the mistake of beginning this book on the first really cold of the season. If I hadn’t waited so long, I could have read this book while the weather was still mild, even nice. Instead, I waited until I was cold—and then this book made me colder. Such is the power of Katherine Arden’s words and story.

Of course, the real reason I shouldn’t have waited so long to read this book is because it’s so good. Whenever I paused, and I read most of this book while I was at work so there were frequent pauses, I found myself asking, “But how?” How is this book so beautifully written? And how can I write something like this someday?

The first book was set in the snowy forest and a small town in the wintery and perpetually cold landscape of medieval Russia, and Vasilisa was a small girl. This book has its fair share of freezing forests, but it also takes the reader to Moscow in that day, a metropolitan city. Moscow is a place where women are kept in towers, away from the men, and Vasilisa struggles to come to terms with the wildness in her heart in a society that would rather burn her as a witch than let her ride a horse. She handles this by, as the blurb says, disguising herself as a boy and living as she wants. The tone of this book doesn’t suit the “wacky hijinks” that sort of scenario might normally come with, and but it works and is well done all the same.

One of my favorite things about the first book is also back in the new book: the continuing romance between Vasilisa and Morozko, the death god and frost demon. I’m usually all about the gratification—the moment when it all pays off, when they finally both know how the other feels and when they can finally be together—but the slow burn (heh) of this romance is really delightful. Neither of them really knows what to do with the other, given that neither of them falls into the traditional roles of the time and place. Even as they come to realize their feelings, there is still so much going on—outside of their relationship as well as in—that they aren’t given an opportunity for that “climax.” Arden even uses the reader’s expectations of a romance against them at some points, and wow do I need that third book asap.

Finally, this book answers some questions that were left over from the first book—who was Vasilisa’s grandmother?—but also asks new ones—now that we know how her grandmother’s story ended, how did it begin? What I liked best about those questions and answers were how they integrated with the rest of the plot. Her grandmother’s fate has always been a large part of what set Vasilisa on her path, and how that plays out is really well written. I’m already speculating on how the new questions will be answered in the next book.

The Girl in the Tower is written by Katherine Arden and was published by Del Rey Books on December 5, 2017. It is the second book in The Winternight Trilogy. My review for the first book can be found here.

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