top ten books people have been telling me to read

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | | 9 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

Except for one over-achieving stint in high school where I tore through a suggested reading list of classics, I have never been very good at reading what I am supposed to read at any given moment.  If I'm not completely taken with the writing or concept or cover art or even the idea of a book, I will find anything else to do other than read it.  This applies when friends recommend books as well.  It's not them, it's me.  I certainly believe my friends think I will love the book.  It's just that I am rarely in the mood to pick up an untested text at the exact moment of recommendation.  I am also picky as heck these days about my reading, and the TBR (to be read) mountain of books isn't getting any shorter.  All this to say: I have a very long list of books that people have been telling me to read, and this post only skims the surface.

Top Ten Books People Have Been Telling Me to Read


1. Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor – It's not just bloggers who have been hyping this one to me... no, my real life friend Amy burned through the series recently and implored me to read it too (so we can discuss it when we hang out, naturally)(given how fast I read books we may never hang out again!?).

2. The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier – I visited with the lovely Kate Milford (author of The Boneshaker, and the forthcoming Greenglass House) for a bit at BEA, and she told me wonderful things about this book.  It's on hold at the library as we speak, I swear!

3. West with the Night by Beryl Markham – So, funny story.  I saw a blogger's review of this title (or maybe it was mentioned in a review of Code Name Verity?), and I thought, "My friend Leigh will love this book."  I gave it to her for Christmas, and she adored it.  She thinks I'll love it too.  I'm inclined to believe her.

4. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson – I fully expect to love this book (and series), because Sanderson does really amazing magical systems.  Also because Grant Hollis told me I would love it.  Grant, you better not be wrong.  That's a warning. *grin*

5. Divergent by Veronica Roth – Dear best friend, YES, I know.  One day soon!


6. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – To my entire (lovable) DC Forever Young Adult book club... I bought the book.  I will eventually read it.  And you will be able to say "I told you so" as much as you like.  Okay?

7. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein – I don't have a great foundation in classic sci-fi, but Heinlein is always on the suggested reading list when I ask those who know what they're talking about.  One day when I get around to my sadly-neglected sci-fi education, this will be the first on the list.

8. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – Something I'm good at: recommending books.  Something I'm not good at: accepting recommendations from friends. Lauren recommended this to me... oh, two years ago now? I trust her, and I know I should trust the book. *le sigh*

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Last summer I spent my Tuesday nights playing trivia with a fun group of geeks.  They suggested this book.  I have been eyeing it doubtfully, wondering whether most of the allusions would go over my head (I didn't get out much in the 80s, being a small child at that point...).

10. The Walled City by Ryan Graudin – Emma at Miss Print wants me to read this book so that we can discuss.  She even sent me a copy!  I have no excuse.

What books have people been recommending to you lately?

the castle behind thorns

Reading is a weird, personal experience.  Likewise deciding what to read.  Once I’ve settled on a book (enticed by the cover art, title, summary, author or the recommendation of someone I trust) my strange behavior escalates.  I tend to avoid (or at best, skim) reviews of the chosen book.  And after I’ve made a decision not to spoil a book for myself, years may go by, I may even change my mind about reading it, and still steer clear of reviews.  It’s slightly obsessive behavior, but it’s just standard operating procedure.  So: The Castle Behind Thorns.  I loved Merrie Haskell’s middle grade debut The Princess Curse, but her following book, Handbook for Dragon Slayers, didn’t strike my fancy.  Still, I’ve been waiting on this third Haskell title since last year, but I’ve been pretending reviews didn’t exist.  I didn’t even let myself dwell on the summary.  Once I started reading, though, it was all enchantment, and I hardly looked up until I’d finished the book.

the castle behind thorns by merrie haskell book coverWhen Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn't this in the stories?

To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle's forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?

Unexpectedly, Sand finds the lost heir, Perrotte, a girl who shares the castle's astonishing secrets and dark history. Putting together the pieces-of stone and iron, and of a broken life-is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it's the only way to gain their freedom, even with the help of the guardian saints.

With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, Merrie Haskell's The Castle Behind Thorns tells of the power of memory and story, forgiveness and strength, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.

Thirteen year-old Sand wakes one morning in the fireplace of a broken castle, with no memory of the night before, and no way out.  But his arrival is just one of the mysteries of the castle.  First, the castle itself and everything in it has been rent in two – violently.  It was clearly caused by some magical or miraculous event – but what?  Second, there’s an impenetrable wall of thorns growing around the castle walls, and they’re not exactly a benevolent presence.  Third, Sand discovers that the castle’s long-lost heir Perrotte is trapped with him.  While Sand sets about doing what he knows best – mending the castle through his blacksmithing skills – there’s the matter of survival.  These two will need to untangle history, myth and emotion to free themselves and set things right once and for all.

Don’t be fooled: while this tale has the traditional castle-surrounded-by-thorns, it’s not a typical Sleeping Beauty retelling.  The lovely mix of mythology, fairy tale, religion and medieval French setting is all its own.  Unique too is the dual narrative structure, though Sand is certainly the focus. 
Sand misses his loving family, but he’s struggling to forge his own path and this brings him into conflict with his father.  His removal to the Sundered Castle forces him to adapt to independence quickly, and to face a few choice facts.  Young noblewoman Perrotte’s past comes back to her slowly, and emotion threatens to sweep her into rash action when it does.  However, Sand’s presence and her interest in the natural sciences combined lead to growth, and eventually, a future she could learn to love.  At the most basic level, they’re two adolescents making the transition to adulthood, and while they urgently need a way out of the castle, their time of isolation also gives them time to know themselves and each other.

That’s the story, then.  I enjoyed it, though it didn’t set my pulse racing – it’s a quieter sort of story (though not peaceful… there’s quite a bit of remembered violence).  What really shines in The Castle Behind Thorns?  Haskell’s writing and the world-building.  Just A+ stuff!  Haskell’s writing is like a mash-up of the best of Karen Cushman (The Midwife’s Apprentice) and Robin McKinley (The Blue Sword).  It is finely wrought medieval fantasy setting plus fairy tale, magic and mysticism.  I’ve never read anything like it (and I have read a lot of fairy tale retellings, folks).  Haskell is breaking ground, but not in a flashy, plot-above-all sort of way – no, this is heart-driven, mythic storytelling with appeal for anyone who likes smart fantasy with layers of meaning (my preteen self would have loved this book and all of the female agency!).

I’m not sure, rereading my review, that I have convinced you to pick up the book yet.  Let me try again.  My favorite things: Sand as a character – so grounded, perfect temperament for his chosen work, and yet not a perfect cardboard cutout ‘type.’  The inclusion of religious symbols, saints and miracles alongside magic.  Real danger!  Unkindness and tragedy paired with examples of strength and courage.  Good parental figures, as well as ambiguous ones.  Gray areas!  And of course, a historical heroine interested in science.  This one, in case you couldn’t tell, was a total winner.

Recommended for: fans of Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty (don’t expect a romantic thread!), Elizabeth Gray Vining’s Adam of the Road, Sherryl Jordan’s The Raging Quiet, and all-ages (10+) fans of beautifully crafted historical fantasy.

top ten books i'm not sure i want to read (anymore)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | | 14 comments
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, where we all get to exercise our OCD tendencies and come up with bookish lists.  If you’d like to play along, check out this post.

top ten tuesday

Today’s topic is a funny one.  I’m going to list the top ten books I used to be excited about reading, but for one reason or another will probably never get to now.  This is the sort of thing that strikes me as equally sad (giving up on books!) and wonderful (banishing reading guilt!).  Of course, my mind isn’t completely made up – these books do still live on my shelf after all, and they’ve survived weeding for years.  I just don’t know when I can see myself picking them up.  Feel free to tell me in the comments if I ought to strongly reconsider my current stance (or if any of these are hidden gems!).  Kthxbye!

Top Ten Books I’m Not Sure I Want to Read (Anymore)


1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Oh, this book.  The hype machine had its heyday, and then there’s the fact that it’s contemporary (I don’t read much contemporary these days), and on top of that, it’s a sad book.  I have a notoriously hard time reading sad books.  I’m almost ready to donate my signed first edition. 

2. One of Diana Wynne Jones’ backlist titles – Clarification: I have not lost any of my enthusiasm for DWJ’s hilarious and creative fantasies.  No, this is pick is one of those “I know she passed away, so I never want to run out of her books” things.  You do that too, right?  Okay, I’ll go sit in a corner now.

3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett – My mother is not a reader.  My mother has read this book.  I am going to call this feeling shame and dispose of the book quietly, to a good home.

4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – I just don’t know if I’ll ever read this book while I’m still blogging.  I once got halfway through it, but put it down in order to finish something slimmer for review.  It has that abandoned look to it now.  In case you’re wondering what an abandoned book looks like, it means: spine cracked (but only halfway through), thin layer of dust, on a shelf that I haven’t touched in months (possibly years).  Sad trombone.

5. Dingo by Charles de Lint – I went through a pretty heavy de Lint phase in high school and college, but I think I may have turned a corner… I haven’t finished a de Lint book in ages, and they don’t appeal to me much anymore, to be perfectly frank. I bought this one in a hopeful mood several years ago, but I don’t know when/if I’ll ever read it.


6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I broke down and saw the film before reading the book.   And I wept throughout most of the film.  Like, red eyes and a headache afterwards sorrow.  I don’t know if I could handle that going in, knowing what I do…

7. Cecilia by Fanny Burney – Burney's work was a influence on Jane Austen (and I love Jane Austen, obvi), but I think we all know the reason I tracked down a copy of this book.  For the title character/heroine.  In person it’s a brick of a book with paper-thin pages… and again I face the conundrum of a big book vs. blogging urgency.  *le sigh*

8. Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley – See explanation under Diana Wynne Jones’ books, above.  I freaking adore McKinley, and it has to be madness that has kept this one unread on my shelf for so long.

9. Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore – I waited for this book like everyone else who was entranced by Cashore’s first two titles… and then I read in a review that it wasn’t very magical.  Excitement plummeted, and now… I just don’t know?  Maybe one day I’ll do a series reread of the Graceling books and zip right through this one.  Maybe.

10. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein – I did mention above that sad books = hard, right?  Yeah, that.  BUT Code Name Verity!  It hit me in the feels!  So I still haven’t made a final decision.

What are some books you used to be excited about? 

love in the time of global warming

Anticipation is one of the constants of my book blogging life.  When I began blogging lo, these many years ago (okay, fine, five and a half years!), I looked around to see what the community was doing.  A weekly event called Waiting on Wednesday (WoW) drew my attention, and I’ve been participating on and off ever since.  It’s all about finding books that aren’t released yet and highlighting them while you wait for the release date to come around.  Since then, I’ve been much more aware of what books are coming, when, and whether I’m interested or not.  A year and a half ago when I saw Francesca Lia Block's Love in the Time of Global Warming cover art and heard Greek mythology, retelling, and post-apocalyptic in combination, I coveted it.  Now, after no less than three library fines and several ultimatums to myself (I’ll finish it by Tuesday!), I’ve finally read it.

love in the time of global warming by francesca lia block book cover
A stunning reimagining of Homer's Odyssey set in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, written by a master storyteller. 

Seventeen-year-old Penelope (Pen) has lost everything—her home, her parents, and her ten-year-old brother. Like a female Odysseus in search of home, she navigates a dark world full of strange creatures, gathers companions and loses them, finds love and loses it, and faces her mortal enemy. 

In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

Pen lives in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.  Two months after an earthquake opened a huge gash in the earth, and the sea came rushing up to her house, she’s still hiding from the broken world outside, surviving on stockpiled canned goods.  She hasn’t seen her family since the disaster, and fears the worst...  When her fragile denial and ‘peace’ is broken, Pen must venture out into a changed landscape.  She will see unbelievable things, meet mythical creatures, mine her strengths, and adopt a dangerous quest, all in the name of love.  Whether or not she comes home again will be a matter of will, of luck, of the strengths of her companions, and a bit of magic.

My summary above makes this book sound rather concrete!  I’m actually proud that I could distill it down from concepts and allusions and magical realism into something that makes linear sense.  Warning: Love in the Time of Global Warming does not make much sense, in a traditional plot sort of way.  Yes, it is about a journey that mirrors Odysseus’ in The Odyssey.  But.  This version of the story is full of flashbacks and foresight to other times, musings on art and its importance even in a world where survival is paramount, queer identity, being good to the earth, and possible gifts/powers that have sprung up amid the desolation.  All of those things overwhelm the ‘journey’ thread, making the book seem more like a series of related vignettes.  The effect is fable-ish.

Pen herself is a confused, grieving teen with a bent toward the fantastic.  Her mind loops around a blend of memory, religion, art, symbolism, and story, and in the midst of it all Pen finds pieces of herself that weren’t evident in life ‘Before.’  While she occupies the post of narrator, she’s not always the central figure in the tale.  I found myself frustrated in the extreme with this Pen-narrated, unfocused storytelling.  Experiences had a vague quality to them, so even though the end of the world sounded terrible, it never made it into my mind’s eye.  In addition, the themes of sexuality, gender, and addiction were never fully explored.  I could tell that the book was making statements, but I felt as though I was being asked to unravel a muddle that could have been made explicit.  Feeling stupid while reading makes me grumpy, folks.

In the end, I have found two ways to describe this book: one is kind, the other one… honest.  Feel free to take your pick.  1) Love in the Time of Global Warming is an elliptical, fantastical tale that takes on the theme of identity and claims art and love above all. 2) Love in the Time of Global Warming is a book that tries very hard to be meaningful, but in the end feels like reading an extended nightmare or drug-addled dream.  As I said… take your pick.

Recommended for: readers who like trippy fantasy and sci-fi as long as it is pretty (and for whom coherency is not a number one priority).
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