2018 Books: June

Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novel)

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2011 edition)

Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novel)

 

Less reading this month than I expected, but I’m in the midst of some wonderful books heading into July. Also, Neil Gaiman, whew. The man writes stuff with equal parts profundity and profanity. I wish more authors understood the nature of idolatry and sacrifice as well as he does.

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2018 Books: May

Here we go for this month…listed in the order read, as always.

The Graveyard Book, Vol. 2 by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novelization by P. Craig Russell)

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

A shorter list this month, but I blame the hazards of graduating, moving, travelling in Europe, and starting a new job. So instead I read pt. 2 of one of my favorite Neil Gaiman books, a book of semi-autobiographical Vietnam War stories, and a YA trilogy with gorgeous writing that I’m still not sure how I feel about. And in between were three other books that don’t belong on this list because I’m not done with them yet. See ya soon, June.

2018 Books: April

April

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

To Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance**

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novel)

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers

The Graveyard Book, Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novelization by P. Craig Russell)

**cheating with this one. It’s a memoir, so not fictional, but it was a weighty non-school read that I felt accomplished–and pleased–to finish.

P.S. This is one of the first book lists that I have wanted to write a review for nearly every book. Maybe because I devoured the books so voraciously, maybe because they were both the removal from reality and the placement in reality that a good book should be, and because they were just darn good writing. Also because one or two needed a content warning sticker.

2018 Books: Jan-Mar

This year I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading already, trying to set a pattern of reading fiction every day in some form. As usual, there’s no goal involved (although this pace is tempting me to try for 100 books this year. If I find that goal impossible in December, maybe I’ll start raiding the juvenile fiction section again?). With the rate this list is growing, it’ll be an enormously long post if I don’t break it up. So here is the year so far:

January

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

February

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

The Girl Who Stayed by Tanya Anne Crosby

Silence by Shūsaku Endō

March

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers

Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers

Make Me by Lee Child*

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Per the rules, an asterisk is a re-read and nothing on this list is explicitly recommended (although many of these could be). I forgot how thrilling YA fiction can be, at the same time that I miss the rich literary presence of the classics. So I read and read and read again. If you’re curious about one of these entries, please ask!

2017 in Books

I read a few books this year. Not from a reading list, because I’m perennially disappointed in my inability to stick to one. When you read for the love of reading, you tend to pull books off the shelf because they look appetizing, not because they’re on a list.

This past summer I studied abroad, didn’t work, slept like a hibernating bear, and read voraciously. This past semester, I was buried under several thousand pages of theology, but I came up for air with a few fictional texts. For the year to date, here’s my catalog of fictional things devoured. Let’s pretend that they were all on that book list at the beginning of the year, shall we?

Asterisks are re-reads. And yes, I included children’s books, but only if I deliberately read them, not drive-by read them during my frequent library loiterings. As always, there’s a substantial segment of YA, an odd spattering of middle-grade, and a few lofty classics. I think I read the way I drink coffee: I’m not [yet] snobby enough to shun Starbucks or cheap paperbacks.

 

Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

Persuasion by Jane Austen*

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë*

Night School by Lee Child

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima*

The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima*

The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima*

The Enchanter Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Sorcerer Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Cocktail Party by T.S. Eliot

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston*

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis*

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis*

Phantastes by George MacDonald

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Jackaby by William Ritter

Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry* (Katherine Woods, y’all)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams*

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski*

The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club of 1931

P.S. Please note: this is not a recommended reading list. The proper title is “The [fiction that filtered into Rae’s brain this year and may influence later writing] List.” Quite a bit of this would overlap with a recommended list, but if you want that, we’d need to sit down and chat over coffee. Because I can’t recommend a book until I know you. Cheers.

Summer Reads

School ended 54 days ago, and I’ve been celebrating ever since. Sort of. I’ve been celebrating the end of required reading by doing it voluntarily: checking out a steady stream of books from the library and devouring them like they’re going out of print. Here are a few:

(Full disclosure: this is not a “Recommended Reading” list. Not all of these are books that  I would hand to a friend, or wave in the air and say, “Look, Mom!” Because…well…keep reading…)

Finished:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Firebirds edited by Sharyn November

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

The Killing Floor by Lee Child

Make Me by Lee Child

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funk

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Sabriel by Garth Nix (reread because <3)

Currently:

What’s Best Next by Matt Perman (technically this is a list of fiction and this one doesn’t belong here, but here you go.)

Next up: 

Lirael by Garth Nix (and then Abhorsen and then the one that’s not a reread: Clariel)

The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel, Vols. 1 & 2) by Neil Gaiman

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas (maybe)

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Smoke & Mirrors by Neil Gaiman (yah, a lot of him on this list. Neverwhere is still one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. He’d almost have a free pass, if I gave that sort of thing [can’t do it, but that’s another post for another day].)

Rebel by Amy Tinterra

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Watership Down by Richard Adams

…[∞]

Yeah, summer has been pretty fantastic. But…(full disclosure continued)…

Here’s the funny thing about reading: you can read a lot of good things, or a lot of bad things, or a lot of bad things disguised as good things, and you can read things because you want to finish, or you can read things because you want to know, you can read out of curiosity, and you can read because you want to be brave, you can read because you think you should be able to, and you can read things because you think you don’t care. I love reading, and admittedly, some of the things I read are less than wonderful or read for less than wonderful reasons. For example: sometimes I read because I don’t like what my brain does in the silence of a train platform when the day is over or just beginning. I like to keep occupied, to stay involved, to color my world with something other than now. The Purple Line still reminds me of those wonderful little Ray Bradbury stories I read; just short enough to read one or two between work and the apartment, and gripping enough to feel the emptiness of space. How can one become claustrophobic on a train car when the unexpectedness of a story and the sense of another time and place has already caught you? I read because I love words and the way they can replace every other sense. You can see, touch, smell, taste, hear – all from the page. It’s powerful and freeing and extraordinarily personal.

It’s also dangerous. Dangerous because you have to come up for air and reorient yourself. Dangerous because the world within a story builds its own moral compass, and you’re cheering and pursuing and being dragged down paths that you would never choose in the daylight. You have to step back and revisit and resettle and understand what is real, what is true, and what, most importantly, is right. Reading a book to find your way is like using a compass in the Bermuda Triangle: it will be wrong, and you will probably get lost.

So in the midst of catching up on Book 1, Book 4, or Book 20, whether it’s the “innocuous” kids book or the “temporary” thriller, the most important book I’m reading is still the one next to my bed when I go to sleep and there when I wake up. It’s the one in my backpack wherever I go, and the one that will forever and always be the most rewarding and most fulfilling, and the one whose compass never needs readjusting. I have to read it first and last and in between and let it tug away at the things that shouldn’t be there and pull in the things that should. And that doesn’t just apply to the books.

tl;dr: Aslan says it best

THE LUCY VARIATIONS

I said I was going to read The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr, before it was due back at the library today. So I did. I got home from work yesterday, ran 2 miles, sat down with this book, and didn’t get up until I was done. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that everybody read books this way, but I knew that if I put this one down, I wouldn’t pick it back up.

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.
That was all before she turned fourteen.
Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl’s struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It’s about finding joy again, even when things don’t go according to plan. Because life isn’t a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.

Let me say first that I’m not sure I’m able to give an unbiased review of this book. It felt too close to me, a little too emotional for me, to be able to talk about it objectively. This book was frustratingly accurate. The reason I feel like I can’t/shouldn’t review this is because I was in that world. The music world. There’s a lot of my life that was completely different from Lucy’s, but I was amazed at how accurately Sara Zarr depicted the pressure of being a young musician. The times when you feel you have no agency, and this thing you loved is out of control and you no longer love it and you walk away…I did that. I was far from a musical prodigy, but I walked away from piano after I graduated high school. The pressure to make a career out of music soured the entire thing for me. The only way I felt that I could make myself heard, make everyone around me understand, was to walk out. I didn’t walk out on a recital, but I did walk out. No more lessons, practicing, nothing. You want to know what it’s like to win a few competitions, lose your first love, wonder what happened? This book will tell you exactly how it feels.

I’ll admit that there were parts that had me in tears. Tears because of the love and loss of music and the way it feels inside of you, and the way talent and expectations and selfishness are held in the same fist, the way family dynamics and sibling relationships can pressure and distort your perspective into something you don’t want it to be…they were all fabulously written exactly the way they are in real life.

But the rest of it was frustrating. Let me say this up front: Lucy was an unlikable heroine. I don’t want to spoil it, but her friend Reyna tells her something about her need for an audience, and how that plays into her interactions with those around her. Absolutely true. The one thing that redeems Lucy is the fact that she understands this near the end. She makes some frustrating decisions along the way, but she realizes some of the reasons and is able to realistically come to see some of the alternating perspectives. The characters are not one-sided, and Lucy eventually comes to see both sides. How she gets there is frustrating and occasionally stupid, but in an accurate teenager way. You know what I mean? I wanted to be mad at her, but I felt like I couldn’t because Sara Zarr wrote it all in such an understandable way. Frustrating, but accurate.

So. I loved it, cried over it, got mad at it…yep. Well written, but not for everyone.

Have you read THE LUCY VARIATIONS? What did you think?