Reading

February Reads

by sarahenni on March 3, 2014

It’s March! And, though it’s hard for me to believe it as I watch the snow drifts build outside my window, that means spring is on the horizon. But I want to look back in this post to the great reads I had in February!
NKJesmin

  • N.K. JemisinThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Broken Kingdoms

Highly recommended by my friend Sumayyah, this is the most engaging adult epic fantasy I’ve read since Game of Thrones, and it’s got much more subtle beauty and relevant social commentary weaved throughout. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are real – and as many of my YA friends have been calling for lately, complicated – and the world is rich, problematic, challenging. I tore through the first book (one of those, awake-at-3-a.m.-and-read-till-the-sun-comes-up situations) and downloaded the second to my Kindle the minute I was done.

This series also proved to me that my vow to read better this year can only have great results. N.K. Jemisin is a female POC writer with diverse characters who are black, white, gods, humans, and everything in between.

A huge benefit of going to Canada was checking out different covers for my favorite books, and finding this copy of my agent-mate’s book, which won’t be released in the U.S. until January 2015, as Vivian Apple at the End of the World.

It’s a cult book, it’s an apocalypse book, it’s a road trip book, it’s a romance, it’s a friendship and coming-of-age story… This book was everything, and at its center a timid main character I found myself relating to implicitly. Her struggle for a sense of safety and structure as the world around her goes horribly, oh-so-believably insane is something many a young adult (and me… like, now) can relate to. What Vivian discovers on her trip for the truth, and the ending!!, have me on edge for 2015 and the sequel beyond!

 

A kind of YA Sliding Doors, this cute, funny contemp follows Heart on two different versions of her prom night. The dialogue is witty, Heart is  silly and thoughtful in equal measure, and the romance at the core of the story is really sweet. I love this kind of contemp – it was every bit as good as my warm blanket and a hot chocolate on our recent snow days.

I read an ARC that I got at ALA Midwinter, so be sure to check out Liz’s book when it comes out March 15!

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2013: A (Disappointing) Reading Analysis

by sarahenni on January 1, 2014

I recently wrote a post for YA Highway encouraging every reader to do an examination of the books they read in 2013. Not just a cursory glance at the list – a real breakdown of subject matter, and gender, sexual orientation, and ethnic diversity (of authors and characters). The post was inspired by Science Fiction/Fantasy blogger Aidan Moher’s 2013 challenge to read an equal number of books by women and men, and by playwright Stephen Spotswood’s personal “self-dramaturg” (self-analysis) of representation in his own plays.

In my article I said the results would surprise people. Well, it isn’t really fair for me to throw that out and not come clean with my numbers, is it? So, here we go!

I read a total of 40 books in 2013. (Not all percentages add up perfectly. Some categories overlapped, some main characters did not have a gender or sexual orientation [Thanks, Book Thief], and other things. Plus, mathematician, I am not.)

Books:

Of the books I read this year, 36 (or 85%) were fiction, and 3 (7%) were non-fiction.

Books, Fiction and Non Fiction

I read 15 adults books – 38% of the total – and 24 young adult books – 60% of the total. I read just one middle grade book in the year.

Books, Age Group

Of those, there were: 16 contemporary books, 8 fantasy books, 4 paranormal, 3 science-fiction, 2 historical, 2 dystopian, 1 mystery, 1 short story, 1 biography/memoir, and 1 graphic novel.

Genre

Authors:

Exactly 75% of the books I read (30) were written by women, and 25% (10) by men. (This is actually my target stat. I have no problem with this balance.)

Authors Gender

 

Of those authors, 4 were people of color, and 5 publicly identify as LGBT. I’m pretty darn embarrassed about the graphs below.

Authors, Ethnicity

Authors, LGBT

Characters:

In the books I read this year, 19 had female main characters (48%), 11 had male main characters (25%), and 7 had multiple points of view (1%).

Main Characters Gender

There were black characters in 3 of the books (0.08%), Asian characters in 2 (0.05%), Latin@ characters in 1 (0.03%),  Middle Eastern characters in 2 (0.05%), and 7 books with LGBT characters (1%).

Main:Major Supporting Character Ethnicity

The love interests in 7 of the books were people of color (1%). I did not read a single book with a main or major supporting character that had a disability, or was Native American.

Needless to say, I was surprised – and disappointed – to see the statistics from my own reading in 2013. I’ve set out to do much better in the next year, even starting a GoodReads list with a more diverse representation that I hope to make a decent dent in.

Make Your Own List!

I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my reading throughout the year, and to follow representation among both authors and characters. If it sounds interesting to you, you are welcome to download it here and use it as a jumping-off point to track your own progress in 2014.

Happy New Year, and happy reading to everyone!

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Superlative Blogfest: Popularity Contest

by sarahenni on December 18, 2012

 

Superlative Blogfest 12.18
* I feel the need to add a disclaimer that I have in fact been choosing from books that were not released in 2012. Oops! But these books were all ready by me in 2012, as you can see in this handy list from Goodreads!

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Superlative Blogfest: Head of the Class

by sarahenni on December 17, 2012

So excited today to participate in the Class of 2012: YA Superlatives Blogfest, hosted by Jessica Love, Katy Upperman, Alison Miller, and Tracey Neithercott. It’s always fun this time of year to reflect back on what awesomeness the books of 2012 held… and I just can’t resist a list.

Superlative Blogfest 12.17

And if anyone is interested, here is the list of books I’ve read in 2012!

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RTW: On A Reading Mission

by sarahenni on December 12, 2012

Welcome to Road Trip Wednesday day, a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway posts a weekly writing- or reading-related question and anyone can answer it on their own blogs. Check out the original post for links to other Road Trippers’ answers!

This week’s topic is: About how many books do you read in a year? Do you want to read more? Or, less?

A peek at part of my TBR pile

Ahh. The last couple of years I’ve set a very lofty goal for reading. In both 2011 and 2012 I hoped to read 100 books. Even with being generous in allowing re-reads to count (once per year), I still fell crazy short of that target, hitting about 50 in 2011 and it looks like I’ll be right around that for this year as well.

My problem is I read in starts and spurts, and much of the time I’m drafting (which has been… all year) it’s sometimes difficult to make time to read, or to find something to read that won’t interfere with my output. This year I stated my goal to read all the Printz-nominated books and, well. That just didn’t come close to happening. I find it very hard to pick up and book and get into it when there’s pressure to read it. (Apparently I am very much a reading diva.)

Still, 50 books in a year is fairly good, and I’d say my hope would be to keep that consistent—maybe make the goal 52 books, or one book a week.

What about you? Do you set reading goals for the year? Have you kept track of the number of books you’ve read?

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Alec Baldwin and Self Improvement

by sarahenni on December 10, 2012

I’ve spent a good amount of my time lately thinking about what “growing up” has been and/or meant to me, post-college. Once those training wheels of organized education were gone, I gained perspective on how I really learn best: trial and error. And failure. When I try, fail, and get ready to try again, I tend to prepare myself better. Preparation includes research and observation.

I was reading Tina Fey’s memoir a few weeks ago and the glowing praise Fey gave her 30 Rock co-star Alec Baldwin caught my attention:

Anything I learned about Real Acting I learned from watching Alec Baldwin. … Alec knows how to let the camera come to him. He can convey a lot with a small movement of his eyes. He speaks so quietly sometimes I can barely hear him when I’m standing next to him, but when you watch the film back, it’s all there. It may not have made me a better actor, but at least now I know why what I’m doing is terrible.

Tina Fey, Bossypants p. 188

Tina Fey may not feel as though noticing what made Alec Baldwin great helped her improve, but she knew, in specific, what he was doing that was different. Making that observation was her first step to improvement. It’s hard to try to be better without identifying what “better” is.

What art form besides writing is as amenable to trying, failing, and editing to improve? First drafts simply don’t get published. I have a special shelf filled with books that gave me those “Alec Baldwin” moments, so I can go back to reference them later. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins when I want to get inspired about voice. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor when I want to study how to pull a reader into a setting. Where She Went by Gayle Forman for pacing and male POV and so many other things.

What about you? What books or authors give you Alec Baldwin moments? How have those books helped your writing process?

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Read Your Emmys!

by sarahenni on July 20, 2012

The 2012 Emmy Nominees are in, but the awards ceremony isn’t until September 23. While you wait to see tearful speeches, anondyne celebrity-on-celebrity ribbing, and of course the red carpet, I thought I’d pull together some books related to the nominees and their work.

Tina Fey, Best Actress in a Comedy Series

Liz Lemon… I mean Tina Fey’s memoir outlines the beginning of the 30  Rock series, including some of her favorite jokes from the show that had me dying. It was the perfect airplane read.

New Girl, Best Comedy Series

In New Girl, this book was referenced toward the end of the season by my personal favorite character, Schmidt (apparently this is the only book on his Kindle) when he [SPOILER] broke things off with his model girlfriend, saying she should go, be free with her fashion friends who are better than he is. Bonus quote from Schmidt: “I have more than one book on my Kindle. I have a subscription to Cricket. And a lot of PDFs.”

Downton Abbey, Best Drama Series

The tremendous popularity of Downton Abbey (which got something like 19 nominations, despite a definite sophomore slump in its second season) has stirred up something of a literary frenzy for books about the show, set in that time period, or just generally about the very posh and the people that serve them.

Dexter, Best Drama Series

The Dexter series was inspired by Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, and actually won the 2005 Dilys Award for Book to Television adaptation, presented by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

Game of Thrones, Best Drama Series

Obvs.

The Hatfields & McCoys, Best TV Series or Miniseries

Downton Abbey wasn’t the only show translating to resurgent book sales. The timeless story of the fueding Hatfields and McCoys was translated to the celebrated miniseries, and ignited sales of a few different non-fiction titles, including Lisa Alther’s Blood Feud.

Sherlock, Best TV Series or Miniseries

Sherlock Holmes has been getting a lot of love from television and movies in recent years, and in my opinion the BBC’s Sherlock is the best and most interesting adaptation to come about (sorry RDJ!). But did you know that The House of Silk, by erstwhile children’s author Anthony Horowitz, also came out in November and is the first time the estate of  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle approved a new  Sherlock Holmes novel? It’s on my TBR pile and sounds really amazing.

Those are some of the literary tie-ins I’ve found among the Emmy noms—what about you? Can you think of any more?

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RTW: Best Book ‘o the Month

by sarahenni on March 28, 2012

Welcome to another Road Trip Wednesday, a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway posts a weekly writing- or reading-related question and anyone can answer it on their own blogs.

This week’s topic is:

What was the best book you read in March?

March has been a disturbing drought in reading, as a million other things have popped up. But I was lucky enough to read one book in particular that left my brain whirring.

I was exceedingly fortunate to have received a copy of the ARC (thanks, Sash!), and set about thinking I would devour Bitterblue as I had Cashore’s other books, Graceling (to which Bitterblue is the sequel) and Fire.

But this book resists purge-style reading. It is truly different from any YA—actually make that any—book I’ve read before.

I’m going to make this post spoiler-free, so I’m sorry if it’s frustratingly vague. Let’s start with what everyone knows, the description from Goodreads:

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Even after eight years, Monsea has hardly begun to recover from having its collective mind warped by King Leck. Bitterblue herself is still struggling to deal with the death of her mother, at Leck’s hands. Though Bitterblue believes she’s doing what she can to bring Monsea back to normal, odd stories in town and strange statues, topiaries, and wall-hangings in the castle hint that Leck’s madness still taints her kingdom.

Cashore weaves an intricate story that reads almost more like a mind experiment: when you wake up from a fog to realize your mind has been toyed with, how do you determine what is real? How do you find the courage to trust it again? And words, story, history—the power of communicating among a people what happened and what is happening, of finding a common narrative—play a major role as well.

Bitterblue is confused, sad, naive, and privileged. She’s impulsive, needy, brave, and compassionate. Cashore spends more than 500 words giving Bitterblue layer upon layer of depth and growth, and still at the end she is a woman in progress. It’s a beautiful thing, something I relished especially after reading Phoebe North’s lovely post urging the propagation of more complicated, imperfect women and girls in YA.

I recently lent the book to a friend, and I’m dying for more people to read it. Because I genuinely felt, as I finished the last page (hell, I felt it even more after I read the acknowledgments) that this is a book that requires time and discussion to be truly appreciated. For this, for Graceling and Fire, and for her recent incredible post on The Hunger Games that made me strangely emotional, I’d like to thank Kristin Cashore, and urge her to please, please keep writing. She’s given me another wonderful journey.

What about you?? What was the best book you read this month?

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Love Triangles: When the Best Choice is None

by sarahenni on December 23, 2011

A few weeks ago the hilarious and whip-smart Erin and I were having a (lengthy, very entertaining) email exchange on the subject of love triangles in fiction. Her insights were so spot-on, I wanted to fist bump my computer screen. But instead of threatening the integrity of my technology, I asked Erin to summarize her points in a guest post, which I’m so excited to share with you today!

Note: This post contains like, mega-spoilers. Be warned.

So you’re reading a book/watching a TV show/Netflixing a movie. There is a love triangle, and you’re eating up every second. Who will she choose? you think each time you flip a page, as though the answer tantalizes you just from the end of the next paragraph. The feeling is total intoxication – it brings you back to every unrequited crush you’ve ever had, revives the often-lost feeling of being pursued, makes every loaded exchange feel worthy of a good, old-fashioned Victorian swoon.

And then, the character chooses… unwisely.

Thus commences a series of actions: kicking all the sheets off the bed, yelling expletives at the book/TV, and silently fuming into the early morning hours. You feel betrayed. You feel as though YOU just let The One slip through your fingers. You have, at this point, only a tenuous grasp on the difference between your life and fiction.

This is you. You, the Gale-shipper. You, in your Team Jacob jersey. You, who also thought the name ‘Blaine’ sounded like a major appliance. You, who threw your cosmopolitan at the movie screen when Carrie married Big anyway.

So I’m here to make a bold statement:

Maybe more of our female protagonists should end up *gasp!* alone.

The main pitfall for women in storytelling is that she chooses the ONE grand gesture over the HUNDREDS of consistent little gestures of the better man. (*LOUD THROAT CLEAR* Carrie, I’m looking at YOU. And Aidan. And wishing you’d made it work.) She thinks with her heart and not her head. She is, simply, impetuous and foolish, making irrational decisions on the fly and letting herself be swept away in romantic gestures that don’t signal themselves for longevity. The female protagonist claims to want consistency but then makes decisions inconsistent with that. Of course, even I, the Grande Dame of Insensitivity, don’t read these moments like that – I swoon momentarily like everyone else. But I think some characters are written to be better than that. (See also: Season 3 of The Office, wherein Pam calls off her wedding and doesn’t end up with Jim or Roy. Commendable, Office scribes!) Plus, wouldn’t it have been nice to see if Bella could’ve taken just a few steps on her own instead of fumbling into the arms of either Jacob or Edward? (Sidenote: Speaking of solid guy characters, are any of us completely clear as to why Bella never gave poor Mike Newton a fighting chance?! Jussayin’…)

 

Some characters I wouldn’t have minded to see hit the singles’ scene:

Katniss Everdeen

She is an alpha female (read: the anti-Bella Swan) (read: She’s a total BAMF), and who – let’s be honest here – didn’t really need a man. She kills instead of being killed; she can provide sustenance by her own hand for herself and those she loves. And by the end of Mockingjay, both Gale and Peeta are so thoroughly unlikable that it would’ve been entirely understandable if Katniss would’ve chartered a hot-air balloon with the words ‘THANKS, BUT NO THANKS’ spray-painted in block letters on the side and peaced out to District 12. Dare I say, it would have even made sense. We as readers wanted a resolution, but she is a strong enough character to warrant a satisfying lone-wolf ending.

Hell, I might’ve even saluted such a conclusion.

Carrie Bradshaw

To me, Carrie should’ve been the poster child for ending up with none of them: not Big, not Aidan, not Petrovsky. Particularly after that Downtown-Macy’s-window-at-Christmas display of douchebaggery in the movie when Big left her at the altar. The framework for her being in that echelon of liberated woman was in place: She was self-sustaining, successful, and with a great support system of friends. She could’ve flipped Paris the bird, hijacked a 747, and completed a solo flight right into LaGuardia International, and we wouldn’t have pitied her a bit. The men in her life were not as powerful as the relationship she had with herself. (Cue after-school special music.)

I don’t find this a pitfall of the way some female protags are written and portrayed – in fact, I find their strength laudable, until those last, and sometimes unfortunate, seconds before they go down an inadvisable path to romance. So what say you? Can you think of other romantic scenarios where the protagonist should have just walked away? Do you find a character’s choice of a flawed individual some kind of weakness? Discuss!

 

Erin Ladd is a writer and editor living in the Bay Area. She managed to write this whole blog post without thinking of the name ‘Renesmee’ even once. She thinks that Theodore Roosevelt just might have been America’s finest president, and that Peeta can frost her cupcake anytime.

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New Zealand Reading List

by sarahenni on December 19, 2011

In addition to bouncing around the left-hand-side of New Zealand’s roads for a few weeks, our sub-equatorial trip will also require some forty-odd hours in a plane/at airports overall, so a HUGE part of our prep for the trip has included Dr H and I stocking our Kindles with reading material!

The name of the game for this trip? Predictably, nerdtastically, Dr H and I will both be gorging on epic fantasy. Our literature just has to suit the scale of the landscape we’ll be exploring, you know? Behold, my choices:

And Dr H (in addition to Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings) is going with:

And, because he’s like that, he will also be reading some New England Journal of Medicines. I won’t share the covers with you, because frequently they are disgusting to me and I freak out at the mailbox.

What about you?? Do you prefer to read a particular kind of book while you’re traveling? Do you use a Kindle, or do you pack seven real books in one purse?

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