Category Archives: Adult Books

Books of February and March

In two months, I only managed to finish 11 books.

There have been times when I didn’t read much on purpose, or read slowly, or decided to read long books. But in the last two months, my company bought a company. Then I went on a very good vacation on about the last days one could take a vacation. When I got back, my company had still bought a company, but we were transitioning to working remotely (and despite everyone’s wishes, it is not necessarily more efficient to work this way, nor can all of my work be done out of the office, so I get through each day trying to end with no more emails than I started with, and if I can pare down my inbox by one or two, that is a victory against my laptop screen that defies multi-program tasks and my laptop guts that are, frankly, meant for shopping and homework, not business–honestly, I do not have time for multiple restarts every day, thus I’m indulging in complaint, even though I definitely know nobody is going to be able to fix this right now).

Eleven books. Only.

I read more slowly when I am able to read as a reader–when I am transported, along for the ride, perhaps not even anticipating and simply letting the story flow over me. Otherwise, I am a fast reader, a fast skimmer when I’ve decided to abandon a read. But in these months, especially March, I’m reading slowly because I simply can’t concentrate.

Abject terror will do that to you.

It’s getting better. I still can’t concentrate. So here’s what I read.

17. I don’t usually count books I don’t finish as read, but I read the vast majority of this and #18. This was a popular YA fantasy that was way too messy to keep my attention, though I suppose fantasy has to be very, very good to keep it as I’ve read so much of it. Whatever you just guessed this book to be, you’re likely wrong.

18. An older middle grade contemporary that I’ve wanted to read for ages. Alas, it hit severe fat-shaming early and kept doubling down on it, and I couldn’t look around that. Really disappointing.

19. Nonfiction picture book on a topic I adore and have personal experience with. It didn’t know what it wanted to be; it can be tough to get the text and the concepts just right, and in concordance.

20. Graphic novel; not this author’s most famous work. I thought I’d been doing so well with learning to read and enjoy these, and I struggled so hard–with where to look on the page, with what I was even looking at. It might have been the limitations of the color scheme; I wanted desperately for everything to come into focus, because I thought I might love the story. Instead, I was just sad.

21. YA contemporary; beautiful, but I was quite surprised to see that what it’s known for is only the tiniest sliver of the book, which raised some questions for me. That’s a more nuanced discussion than I’m going to have here.

Skipping 22 and 23 because I don’t have any particular comments; YA fantasy and MG adventure. By the time this posts I’ll have forgotten them, though they entertained me for the reading moment.

24. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I guess I can count a re-read if it doesn’t happen more than once a year, and even if it was one of my favorites of last year so I’ve mentioned it more than once… The first time I read this book I worried that I wasn’t smart enough for it even as I was riveted. The second time it bloomed more for me, and rooted; I’m glad it was as good when I went back. I was able to better identify some of what I loved about it–the way the two characters are consumed by each other, how they write their love into existence, how they start enemies to lovers (not a trope I love–can go so wrong) but morphed into conspirators/rivals to lovers (so much better, because they challenge each other and I love a working partnership, and this also finds a solution to tech v. nature), how they began to spiral into each other like DNA, how they have to leave the system to be together and do it anyway despite the risks. How their want to be together is the biggest adventure and absolutely worth the wait.

This book makes me ache.

25. Severance by Ling Ma. Perhaps it amuses me too much that a book about a production coordinator in the time and aftermath of a (fungus-based) world pandemic eschews quotations marks almost completely, and always for dialogue–who else would calculate the spaces saved, the pages, for a story? I liked this because I read it when things were just becoming real; it might be too real for now. Also, my copy was missing the penultimate signature, the climax, and I can’t figure out if that was on purpose or not.

26. Wild Life by Keena Roberts. This is a fun memoir that Kady Heron would have written, about growing up part time in Botswana with parents who are field researchers and part time in the no less wild and dangerous suburban US.

27. Romance; you’re not reading the same ones I am, so I’m saving my fingers.

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Filed under Adult Books, Fantasy, MG, Picture Books, Reading, SF and SpecFic, YA

Top 11 Books I Read in 2019, Out of 130…

When this posts, it will be almost the end of the year, so it’s time to round up my top reads. I’m currently grumpy that I’ve read 129 130 books and despite getting some good recs on how to handle that, I can’t decide if I’m reading one LONG book to close out the year, or trying to read six short ones. If it’s one, I’m likely to finish early; if it’s six, I might not make it…

Because the FTC sometimes gets grumpy about things, here are my top two that I loved, in alphabetical order, that I was involved with this year, and consider that your official disclaimer (also I want two more slots):

Cover image for Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin Gough. An empty schoolgirl uniform in shades of purple and blue is illustrated on a bright pink background.

1. Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin Gough: A contemporary feminist rebellion rom-com with two very different girls at its heart–who, by the end, have come into their power and started interrogating some of the their own privilege. And they get to overthrow the status quo.

Cover of We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett. An intricate red and gold phoenix seems to rise from the rubble of a ruined city.

2. We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett: In this feminist fantasy that spins off from the real-life history of the WWII Night Witches, two girls fly magical planes and try to find a purpose in a wartime that doesn’t want them, even though it really needs them–and in they end, the thing they really need to save is each other.

And next up, my non-related top 10. This is anything from the 129+ books I read in 2019 (I wrote this mid-December, planning to finish a few more), but my personal favorites (provided I’m willing to share, because sometimes, I’m not…but these, definitely). And I do count the occasional re-read in my total, but they’re not eligible for top 10 of the year; I don’t count manuscripts, at all, even though I read a lot more of them. In no particular order other than chronologically when I read them:

Cover of The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg. Two women reach for each other's hand, and on a black background, we see a ship floating on water, surrounded by constellations.

1. The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg: This graphic novel retelling of Scheherazade is both a love story and a love of story. In an intriguing twist, the Scheherazade character is actually a lady’s maid, and through her telling of the stories, she becomes the titular hero. There’s much here to love and to be frightened by in the stories of how hard it is to keep and tell and even read stories when others want them taken away.

Cover of Willa and Hesper by Amy Feltman. Two girls stand under the branch of a lemon tree.

2. Willa and Hesper by Amy Feltman: Okay, this is a sad one–two young women (who dated briefly) have contrasting journeys to find themselves and family histories during trips to Europe. They were never meant to be, and this isn’t a love story, and yeah, it’s a lot about dealing with grief and self and such. This gets on my top ten for having really stunning writing, the kind that even non-underliners like me want to underline and read over and over to feel them squeeze you.

Cover of Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. A woman holds a curved blade in front of a draped US flag.

3. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland: I kept trying to read this in 2018, but every time I picked it up, I’d have to put it down–emergency tasks, emergency reads, emergency something, and I’d lose momentum, and it would slide down my TBR just one or two spots. But 2019 was my year, and I loved this story about killing zombies and kicking ass, including racist ass, in a zombie-infested post–Civil War America. I rarely like zombies, but Jane, the main character, is awesome, and I’m so in for the upcoming sequel.

Cover of Love, Z by Jesse Sima. Six robots huddle around a smaller robot, who has a heart-shaped thought bubble that reads "Love, Z."

4. Love, Z by Jesse Sima: Sometimes I read books that are not about two girls! This is a charming picture book about a little robot who leaves home in search of the meaning of love. While out in the world, the robot asks other robots–who are all wondering, themselves. And sometimes love is already right there, where you weren’t even looking….

Cover of Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi. A girl with a long braid, wearing Spider-Man pajamas, looks up at a ghostly tiger, horses, and peacock while books swirl down in her direction.

5. Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi: A fun and heartwarming adventure that also draws on the Mahabharata. Aru and her new friend Mini are trying to solve some epic problems with time, and Aru’s…wearing Spider-Man pajamas. Also Mini has to cry before she can get up and go on her adventure, and I find that so relatable, even though I can’t remember the last time I got to cry before I had to get up and go.

Cover of The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite. Two women in ballgowns embrace.

6. The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite: This romance has a half-dozen tropes I despise, and it’s still the best, or among the best, I’ve read in a decade. (It also has a few I love, like realizing you dodged a bullet and moving on after bad relationships, and characters having interests besides each other, which makes me care about them while they care about each other because they are fully realized characters. Also a thing I love is that this is a historical, published by a major publisher, and I’m still kind of surprised that they did it. I’m cynical.) There’s a great twist ending, and a related book about the grumpy print shop lady on the way in the spring, too.

Cover for The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake. The title is set over an illustration of seaweed.

7. The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake: I have previously described this as “this book fucked me up,” but actually, it really didn’t. When it comes to retellings, I like them retelling-flavored, and this is exactly how much Twelfth Night I want in a retelling. Yes, please convince me of a love triangle, even if I don’t like them. Yes, please give me messy, complicated characters figuring out what they’re doing wrong and not being able to go from nothing to everything fixed in a minute. Give me siblings and struggles with history and mental health. Give me a foggy coastline and sea air. Give me some pretty fantastic kissing. And let me feel the hurt, but healing, too.

Cover of Heartstream by Tom Pollock. It says "I just wanted to connect..." on a red background, and there is a black phone shattering into pieces.

8. Heartstream by Tom Pollock: Amy is a heartstreamer—think YouTuber, but with emotions instead of videos. You can follow heartstreamers to feel what it’s like to live on a yacht, or to confirm other people feel the way you do, or to just feel. On the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, a woman wearing a bomb takes Amy hostage, and Amy keeps streaming to save her own life. In alternating chapters, Cat, and her friend Evie, are important players in a boy band fandom; everyone waits for their updates on what they hope is the boys’ romance, but Cat is dating one of the boys…and the news gets out. Amy’s fans are coming to help her—and the boy band’s fans are coming to harm Cat. And just as their lives are falling apart, their worlds collide in a high-stakes thriller about celebrity, secrets, and online obsessions spiraling out of control, for fans of Black MirrorSwipe Right for Murder, and Kill the Boy Band. You’ll have to get an import of this, as it’s not published in the US, but it is available. (Clearly I wrote a formal review and I am not ashamed to re-use it here.)

Cover of The Vagina Bible by Jen Gunter. A pink zipper is unzipped.

9. The Vagina Bible by Dr. Jen Gunter: The best of the books I read about vaginas this year. (What, didn’t YOU read more than one?) It’s very informative, especially in how it goes into so many studies that show up in places like women’s magazines but aren’t really that reliable, as well as rumors, old wives’ tales, and so on, plus there’s handy medical info. While it definitely gets into how people feel about women and women’s issues, it’s fairly trans-inclusive.

Cover of The Queens of Animation by Nathalia Hold. A woman colors in an animation cell with deer on it.

10. The Queens of Animation, Nathalia Holt: You know how women really haven’t been allowed to do a lot of things? Well, that includes being an animator, particularly for a company we shall not name. I learned so much from this book–certainly, some of the complicated stories behind certain animated films and how the necessity of having a lot of cooks in the kitchen means a lot of cooks are in the kitchen, but also about how there are some visuals that are deeply embedded in Certain Company that are the work of a handful of very talented people who go uncredited. If you liked Radium Girls, The Rise of the Rocket Girls, Hidden Figures, etc., you’ll be into this narrative nonfiction.

Cover of This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. A red bird and a blue bird are mirrored.

11. This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone: Two women, real and robotic, are locked in a dance across the threads of time. There is a red faction and a blue faction, and they are agents of those, embedded in different timelines trying to swing things just enough to win a war far, far in the future. And there is the wonder of a game well played, a worthy opponent, and the slowest burn romance you ever read but the book is short so you also get some immediate gratification. Packed with cultural references, this is the book Ready Player One wishes it were.

Honorable mentions, partly those things I remembered just now: A beautiful picture book about family and survival on not much, Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler; a Kickstarter manga called Roadqueen: Eternal Roadtrip to Love by Mira Ong Chua that was a hilarious personal rec; Ocean Meets Sky by Eric and Terry Fan for being the kind of whimsical I really enjoy; Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Véssid and Paola Zakimi because girls should get to stab people too; Maid by Stephanie Land for picking up where I miss Barbara Ehrenreich; Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug by Jonathan Stutzman and Jay Fleck because I too am a dinosaur who wants longer arms to give better hugs; You Are Light by Aaron Becker for being one of the most beautiful board books I’ve ever seen; Dreadnought by April Daniels for its complex dive into saving others and yourself, but I actually first read it years ago so it wasn’t exactly eligible for this post; Turn This Book Into a Beehive by Lynn Brunelle and Anna-Maria Jung because you can; a “we got married in Las Vegas by accident” romance that’s so bad I’m not otherwise admitting I read it; probably some stuff I’m forgetting; and anything I read between now and the end of the year (because I don’t know if I’m going for 130…or 135).

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Filed under Adult Books, Fantasy, MG, Picture Books, Reading, SF and SpecFic, Thrillers, YA