World Book Day

Today is World Book Day!

And by World Book Day, I mean British Book Day. I don’t know why we call it World Book Day, when there’s already a World Book Day, and it takes place in April. I guess “school children dress up as book characters and they all get a free book token” day was a bit too clunky for a name.

But in honor of the day, I’m gonna chat about a few of the books on my shelves right now.

Maid at the King’s Court by Lucy Worsley

I actually just finished this one, and I have loads of thoughts. It’s the fictional story Catherine Howard’s cousin, who comes to Henry VIII’s court to be a maid to Anne of Cleves and gets caught up in all the chaos that follows.

Lucy Worsley is actually a curator at Hampton Court, which was one of Henry VIII’s favorite palaces, and where most of the key events in Catherine Howard’s downfall happened. So although the novel has a lot of invention, in terms of characters and plotpoints, the historical details are A+++.

 

Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

I just started this! At first glance, it’s a pretty familiar set-up. Magic users are society’s elite. Non-magic users have less powers and rights. A revolution is brewing, and a teenage girl might just end up at the center of it. BUT one really cool element, which I didn’t realize until I started reading, is that it quickly moves away from London to 19th century Hungary. How many books have you read set in 19th century Hungary??? I don’t think I’ve ever read any. So I’m super intrigued. I’m only 25% into it, but I’m enjoying it so far!

 

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

My new non-fiction book, to read first thing in the morning instead of obsessing over the news. After reading Frankenstein for the first time last Halloween (I know, I’m a bad English major), I looked up a bit about Mary Shelley, and I never knew how insane her life was. I’d heard the story of the ghost story competition with Shelley and Byron, but I didn’t know that was just one tiny bit of the epicness. And then her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a major feminist writer and a total rebel as well.

 

Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr

A new Sara Zarr novel! I loooove Sara Zarr’s stuff, but it’s been a few years since I picked up anything by her. I actually don’t even know what this book is about. I just know that it’s by Sara Zarr, so I needed it. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to break my heart. It can be my Literary Contemporary Fiction YA of the year, before I jump back into courts and magic and spaceships.

Sidenote:  I miss Sara Zarr’s writing podcast so much. If you’ve never listened to it, you should definitely check it out.

 

Spindle by EK Johnston

The sequel to A Thousand Nights, which is an absolutely gorgeous feminist fantasy novel. I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of months, and I can’t wait to read it, but I’m kind of waiting until I’m in the right mood to properly appreciate it. I’ve learned not to read anything too similar to my own books around a book release, and since A Wicked Thing and Kingdom of Ashes are my take on Sleeping Beauty, I think I need to let my book release anxieties from Long May She Reign settle a bit before I delve into this. But I’m so excited to have this lined up and ready to read.

 

The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge

Rory Gilmore reads a lot of books. A lot of books. 339 in the original series, if Buzzfeed is to be believed. And who doesn’t trust Buzzfeed?

Meanwhile, I’m a bad English major. There are so, so many books I should have read that I haven’t ever opened. But it’s really hard to know where to start in that whole “filling the gaps in your reading” thing. I love lists and that rush of accomplishment at checking things off them, but a good “must read” list is hard to find. There are a million of them, all with different things, all skewed or flawed or biased in a million ways. And the whole idea of “must read books” kinda bugs me, because “must read” according to who? According to boring old conservative white male professors? Some random critic at a newspaper? Why do they get to decide? But I need some kind of outside list, to remind me of the things I’ve been meaning to read and introduce me to the things I might otherwise have missed out on.

So, I’m attempting the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, a classic of online book nerdery. Take the list of books that Rory mentions during the course of Gilmore GIrls, and read as many as you can. It’s not a definitive must read list, but it’s a good list, or at least a varied one. It has the classics, but it also has a lot of non-fiction, feminist essays, modern novels, iconic children’s literature, poetry, science fiction and fantasy and trendy self help books and mega bestsellers and all sorts.

I’ve read 57 books on the list. 55, before I dipped my toes in the water and finally read 1984 and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I just finished today. And let’s be real. I’m not going to read all 339 books on this list. I wouldn’t read another word of Faulkner if you held a gun to my head (I read roughly half of The Sound and the Fury for the Literature GRE before I lost all will to live. Never again). But with the combined powers of the library, the local charity bookshops and the wonders of out of copyright ebooks online, I’m going to give the list a good try. There’s a lot of stuff there that I want to read, along with a lot of stuff I’ve never heard of, and it’s fun to have a reading challenge. I have a lot of other reading to do at the same time, but making any mark in the “omg, you’ve never read this??” pile is a good thing to me.

At least, I’m going to tackle the “A”s, because there’s a bunch on there I want to read, and a list of 15 (or 13, minus the two I’ve read before) is far more manageable than one over 300. We’ll see after I finish those. But so far, it’s fun!

Two (plus 55) down, only… 282 to go.

Blogmas #20: Best New Releases of 2016

Sure, 2016 has been pretty crappy. But there have been some amazing books!

Turns out, I read a lot of epic fantasy and quite a bit of non-fiction this year, and I wasn’t as excited about some of the new additions to ongoing series as I expected to be, so I don’t have a mega long list of 2016 YA releases to recommend. But I read some great standalones, especially in contemporary YA, so if you haven’t read them, be sure to check them out!

The Imposter Queen by Sarah Fine

Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic.

Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

I was absolutely obsessed with this book, and I can’t believe how little buzz it seems to have gotten. Amazing world-building, a fantastic main character, really fun magic, great shippiness, a bisexual protagonist, tons of danger and feminism and adventure. This is such a great fantasy novel, and everyone should read it.

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Blogmas #13: Double Speed Entertainment

I read the strangest article in the New York Times last night, about people speed-watching TV. The concept, basically, was that there are so many must-watch series these days that no one can possibly keep up with them all, so some people watch them at up to two times their normal speed.

My initial reaction was pretty much “… what??” I mean, to me, that doesn’t sound like actually watching whatever it is. It’s like trying to listen to a song at double speed. It’s not the same song any more. You’re going to get a super-extended summary of the story, but you’re not really experiencing it. Like, maybe, instead of watching at double speed to cram more TV into their free time, they could just watch less shows? Curate what they watch more precisely? Entertainment isn’t another life checklist item to get through as quickly as possible.

But I thought about this article a lot today, and I suddenly realised: this is my approach to books. Endless piles of books to read. Constant awareness of how many pages until the end of the chapter, how many pages until the end of the book, what percentage of the way through am I, how long does Kindle think the rest will take me? Read quickly, read more, check things off the list and jump onto the next, because there are so many books, and there’s so little time. If there was a button that allowed me to read at double speed, I would probably use it. I certainly don’t have the patience for most fiction audio books, because they go sooo slooowly.

I don’t think this is going to change my thoughts on double speed TV. That doesn’t sound even vaguely relaxing or entertaining to me. But maybe I should consider the benefits of reading slower. Taking my time. Enjoying the idea of all the books in the world I could possibly choose to read next, rather than panicking because I haven’t read them already.

I mean, I don’t know how to take that approach. This idea of always having one eye on the page count is pretty deeply engrained. But it’s something to consider. Turning off the timer at the bottom of the Kindle. Not flicking ahead to find the end of the chapter. And maybe, maybe, not worrying too much about all the books I haven’t read yet when there’s a book to enjoy reading right now.

Blogmas #11: Reading Generously

A while ago now, John Green said something in one of his Youtube videos that I’ve been thinking about on and off ever since: “for stories to work, readers and writers must both be generous.”

It’s a simple sentiment, but it’s really made me rethink my approach to reading. How many times have I persevered with a book that I wasn’t really enjoying, and found myself getting increasingly eye-roll-y at every little thing, even things I might have liked if they were in a book I was otherwise enjoying? How many times have I thought, “I bought this book, so I’m going to read it ALL,” or continued to read series I knew I thought were kinda junky, because I was addicted to that kind of superior feeling I would get every time I rolled my eyes?

Persevering with a book I’m not enjoying isn’t exactly going to make me happy, but it also does a disservice to the book. I’m sure no author wants their work hate-read, and hate is probably the only feeling that’s going to arise if you’re forcing yourself to read hundred of pages that don’t jive with you.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the mass of a TBR pile, trying to race through books as quickly as possible and not really giving them a chance to shine. It’s also really easy to pick up books expecting them to be bad, either because we read scathing reviews after we bought them, or because we think they sound bad but they’re popular so whatever. And if we just bring cynicism and nitpicking to the experience, well… that book’s gonna suck, no matter what it is.

I want to be a generous writer, in all different ways. But I also want to be a more generous reader, even if that means reading less books in the long run, or missing out on “must read” books that I know, from page one, aren’t for me.

Book Love: This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

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More and more recently, I’ve been reading books that I LOVE, but that I don’t feel like I can review on Feminist Fiction. Not because they’re not feminist, but I don’t have anything to say about feminism in the book. So this is a new blog series where I just get to straight-up squee about recent books I’ve really loved. 

Sloane isn’t expecting to fall in with a group of friends when she moves from New York to Florida—especially not a group of friends so intense, so in love, so all-consuming. Yet that’s exactly what happens.

Sloane becomes closest to Vera, a social-media star who lights up any room, and Gabe, Vera’s twin brother and the most serious person Sloane’s ever met. When a beloved painting by the twins’ late mother goes missing, Sloane takes on the responsibility of tracking it down, a journey that takes her across state lines—and ever deeper into the twins’ lives.

Filled with intense and important friendships, a wonderful warts-and-all family, shiveringly good romantic developments, and sharp, witty dialogue, this story is about finding the people you never knew you needed.

This book was so WONDERFUL. So readable and so fun, and all the characters felt so REAL. At first, I overlooked this one on my “to read” list, because the “missing painting” plotline didn’t feel too interesting to me. Then I started hearing people rave about it, and after reading a couple of serious non-fiction books, I reeeally needed a good book to cheer me up.

Not that this book is fluffy. God, it hits where it hurts. But the characters and the friendships? Gah. It was so perfect. I just want to squish all the characters. I want to crawl into this book and hang out with these people forever.

And it has a side-plot about fandom
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I’ve read quite a few books recently that have attempted to tackle fandom, but I haven’t come across anything that felt real since Fangirl. But This Adventure Ends absolutely nails it. The addiction, the excitement, the community. How fanfiction and fandom in general take on a life of their own, separate from the source material. What the characters come to mean to you. The weirdness and wonderfulness of AU fic. And also the why. Why people love fanfiction so much. Why it’s so enjoyable. Why we need the happy endings.

Fangirl was about BNF Harry Potter fans, which is a little out-of-date with actual fandom these days, and not exactly an experience many people have. This Adventure Ends was about everyday fandom, about finding solace in stories about stories, and omg it’s so good.

I need to buy a physical copy of this to sit on my bookshelf. And then I need to go and buy Emma Mills’ debut novel, First & Then, because I’m in LOVE with her writing. I’m so in love.

Thoughts from a Harry Potter Reread: Prisoner of Azkaban Edition

aka “the best book,” according to people who don’t realize the true awesomeness of Order of the Phoenix.

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1. An Insufferable Know-It-All: The more I reread, the more I realize just HOW MUCH I’m like Hermione, including her not-so-great points. Like thinking she Always Knows Best. Always. I can’t even imagine how obnoxiously like her I was at 13.

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2. Dying Words: HOW did I not realize how horrific this book is? 13 year old Harry hears his mum’s dying words whenever he gets near to a Dementor. And there’s a part of him that wants to keep hearing it, because it’s the only thing he remembers her saying. WHY, JKR, WHY.

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3. A Class Of One: I know Hermione is dedicated to her studies, but if she literally the only person in her other classes? How could she have one at the same time as Charms, when all the Gryffindors take Charms together? Why were the exams scheduled at the same time — because, again, every single Gryffindor is taking Divination. And if it was just her, why weren’t they just scheduled in free time?

(Also, as someone who fought the administration for the right to take extra subjects in highschool… SO RIDICULOUSLY LIKE HERMIONE, guys. Why would I want to put myself through that?? If I’d had access to a timeturner, I’d probably have taken every subject too).

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Thoughts from a Harry Potter Reread: Chamber of Secrets Edition

I’m seeing Cursed Child at the end of the month, which means it’s time for my first full Harry Potter reread since Deathly Hallows came out!

Obviously, I have some thoughts. Chamber of Secrets was always my least favorite of the books, and the one I’ve read the least. So a lot of stuff stuck out to me this time. Like…

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1. Evil Brother: are we supposed to assume that Percy is opening the Chamber of Secrets before the big reveal? The book seemed to go out of its way to make him look Really Suspicious.

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2. Possessed by Voldemort: As a kid, I never realized how sad Ginny’s story is in Chamber of Secrets. She’s only 11, and she’s possessed by Voldemort. She tells Voldemort all of her feelings and her secrets, and because she unwittingly confides in him, he steals her soul and forces her to do terrible things, including attacking Hermione. Poor, poor Ginny.

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Starting my Hugo reading

I’ve been having a mini-vacation over the past week, which has given me the perfect excuse to start my Hugo Award reading for the year!

The Hugo Awards are great, because anyone can get a membership and vote for them. They also suck, because the voting system can be easily gamed, leading to incredibly excessive drama over the past couple of years.

My summary of the drama last year:

And a quick blog post of the drama this year.

But whatever. Despite all that, I’m hyped to read pretty much every novel on the nomination list. I’m reading so much YA most of the year that I don’t get around to many books that aren’t YA. Hugo Award season is my chance to catch up!

So. I just finished reading Uprooted by Naomi Novak, which had the double honor of being a book I’ve wanted to read for ages and for being the most easily borrowed from my library. Full thoughts will be going up on FeministFiction when I come back from vacation next week, but for now, I’ll say that I really, really liked it. It’s an original fairy-tale-esque fantasy, and it’s so creepy and compelling and wonderful. I’m not sure I liked it quite as much as other people seemed to, but I’m glad I read it!

Next for me is probably The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin, which I know very little about, except that it’s supposed to be good. It looks like a fantasy end-of-the-world type novel, about a woman crossing to the ends of the earth to rescue her daughter.

Then there’s Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It looks like more of a ~conceptual~ novel than the others, which could be good, could be bad. Last time I encountered Neal Stephenson, it was his cyberpunk Snow Crash, when I was in college. I was supposed to read it for a class on science fiction and colonialism. I only got through maybe three chapters of it. I was super stressed and busy with my thesis, so it might not be the book’s fault that I ditched it and faked my way through the discussion class. Then again, it might be. We’ll see.

Next, Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. This is the final book in her trilogy about gender and colonialism and identity and all those things my college sci-fi class would have loved, and I’m excited to read it. I looooved the other two books, and find the protagonist fascinating. But still, haven’t read this one, because it’s not available in my library, and seriously, that’s how far behind in my non-YA reading I am. So. Soon!

And finally, there’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher, which seems like the one I’m least likely to enjoy, based entirely on the cover, which is very Dude Goes On An Adventure. Buuuut I’ve been told that I probably will like it when I pick it up, so I’m intrigued about what it’s going to be like.

Then on top of that, there’s all the novellas and short stories and categories like that… those are far more affected by all the weird drama this year, and I had a very bad experience reading the drama-voted short stories last year, BUT there’s some Brandon Sanderson and some other intriguing looking things hidden there, so… we’ll see.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my cat is trying to steal my frappuccino, and I think I’m going to have to fight her for it. Later, guys!