Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

I’ve read 32 books this year, and I’ve liked most of them. Here are the highlights, with a quick explanation of what I loved about each. (The list is in no particular order.)

1. Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander

cover love and other unknown variables

This book made me laugh and cry at the same time. The story was so much more than just a “cancer book.” I loved everything about it.

2. Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

cover heir of midnight

The Throne of Glass series just keeps getting better! I loved the new side of Celaena this book exposed, and the fantasy elements of the story came to the forefront–right were they belong.

3. The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

cover the alloy of law

This action-packed, humorous book was exactly what fans of the Mistborn trilogy needed to heal their broken hearts. I loved seeing the Mistborn world grow out of Elend and Vin’s accomplishments, and the Wild West feeling the book had reminded me of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. LOVED IT!

4. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

cover for darkness shows the stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars provides an intriguing look at a world terrified of technology. I loved the conflicts the main characters faced and how they grew under pressure. The romantic tension between Elliot and Kai made me unable to put this book down.

5. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

cover since youve been gone

Finally, a contemporary book driven by friendship, with sweet romance and lots of character growth. I could not have related to Emily more, and I could not read this book fast enough.

6. Uprooted by Naomi Novik

cover uprooted

This might be the best book I’ve read this year. It is YA fantasy written in an adult style that pulls no punches and achieves almost the feeling of a horror movie, while still having a strong, bold protagonist and a dynamic love interest. This book grabbed me and didn’t let me go until the last page–actually, I don’t think I’ve gotten over the ending yet.

7. Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

cover dangerous girls 1

This book wasn’t perfect, but it was so powerful. I read it in one sitting–I had to find out what the truth was. The ending was exactly what it had to be (even if it angered me), and it took my breath away. An incredible story about friendship and, you know…murder.

8. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

cover the summer of chasing mermaids

I just finished this book, and it was so sweet and powerful. A protagonist without a voice was a unique lens to see a story from, and her character growth was simple but inspiring.

9. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

cover the wrath and the dawn

Shazi is probably the strongest, boldest, and must stubborn protagonist I’ve read about this year. The relationship that developed between Shazi and Khalid kept me entranced.

10. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

cover firefightI think it’s pretty clear how I feel about Brandon Sanderson: I love him. Firefight was just another book in a long line of action-packed, surprise-filled, and character-driven novels.


What about you? What books are on your Top Ten? Have you read any of these books?

A Long Weekend of Reading

Last weekend, I went on a trip with my family to San Clemente State Beach and camped at the state campground. Since I’m not really into the beach, I spent most of my time reading. Here’s a recap of the four books I read. I will write full reviews for these later, but here are my initial thoughts on each.

Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

cover the summer of chasing mermaids

4/5 stars

I loved this story. I was surprised by the complexity of the plot and the different themes it touched on. I loved the romance, the discussion of gender stereotypes, Elyse’s healing process, and the role each of the parental figures had in the story. The main plot surrounding the boat race carried the rest of the plots effortlessly, making this a well-paced read. I found myself tearing up almost every other page, and I was amazed at the character Ockler created without the ability to speak. My only complaint is that some of the characters felt flat. Truly a unique and powerful contemporary read.

P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #2) by Jenny Han

cover ps I still love you

3.5/5 stars

P.S. I Still Love You was a strong continuation of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before story. I came to appreciate Lara Jean’s character more, and I was glad that the family drama took a back seat to other (less aggravating) subplots. The romance clearly showcased a real relationship with imperfect characters making human mistakes. However, the plot had no clear rise and fall, and I felt that the story dragged a bit without a clear central plot line to carry it. I would be interested to read a third book, but I also feel like the series could be over after this book.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer #1) by Michelle Hodkin

cover the unbecoming of mara dyer

4/5 stars

I haven’t read anything paranormal in a long time, but this book reminded me what I used to love about the genre: creepy plots, troubled protagonists, and hot as hell love interests. Mara’s voice came through clearly in the story and her PTSD issues were written well. The story grabbed me and I could not stop reading; as soon as I finished it, I used my phone to order the next book. However, I felt like the paranormal elements of the plot were revealed too late in the story, and the romance strayed into Instalove territory.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

cover the wrath and the dawn

4.5/5 stars

Wow. Just wow. This story was amazing. Shazi was a strong, stubborn, and loyal protagonist, and her conflicted emotions as she fell for the caliph were agonizing. I loved the romance between Shazi and Khalid, as well as the strain his “murderous habits” put on their relationship. Watching Shazi grow into her role in the palace put a smile on my face–it was hilarious, powerful, and cringe-worthy awkward at the same time, in exactly the right way. The other plot lines did not grab me as much, but I can tell that in the second book, they will feel more congruous with the main story. I cannot wait to read the next one!


What books did you read this weekend? Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with me, or disagree? And what should I read next?

Balancing Blogging and Writing (Second Draft Journal #2)

I’m starting a series of posts called my Second Draft Journal. It’s nothing fancy, just a collection of posts inspired by and following my progress as I write the second draft of my novel, Devil May Care. I’ll talk about everything from writer’s block to character development, but today I’m focusing on how being a blogger affects me as a fiction writer.

paperwork
ever feel like this?

I love being a blogger. I like that it is an easy outlet for writing and that I get to be a part of a reader/writer community.

However, as I’m working on my second draft of my WIP, I can’t help but notice that when I’m blogging, I’m not writing fiction. If I have a random pocket of time, I am much more likely to sit down and write a blog post (like this one) than commit myself to Devil May Care. Blogging is easier for me, and I can do it while watching TV (I’m rewatching an episode of Psych right now). If I’m writing my WIP, I’m really working hard to make my fiction writing strong. And that takes a lot more focus, energy, and commitment.

Especially during summer, focus, energy, and commitment are not exactly my bywords. Television multitasking is much more my style. So here’s my question: am I blogging too much, sort of using it as an excuse to avoid fiction writing? Where is the balance between blogging and writing?

I like that blogging gives me a break. If I have actually written during a day, blogging is a nice break that keeps my mind thinking about writing but also lets me relax. Blogging has helped me develop a conversational writing tone and pushed me to go outside my comfort zone occasionally. Blogging has an element of instant gratification and real-time feedback, which my WIP (which I keep fairly private) lacks. Blogging and fiction definitely work together positively in my mind, sort of a left/right brain interaction.

If you ask me if in five years, I’d rather be a successful blogger or a published fiction author, I’d say an author 100%. But I also know that I don’t want to stop blogging, and I like that I’ve kept myself committed to three posts a week.

Going forward for the rest of my summer (I only have like six weeks left! *crying*) I am going to try to make sure that however long I spend blogging, I match with fiction writing. Will I be able to do it every day? Probably not, to be honest. But I have to find a balance, and this seems like a good starting point. Does this mean I might have less blog posts, might read a few less books? Yes. But sometime  soon (eventually) I’m going to have to prioritize my fiction writing, and this summer is the right time.

What is the relationship between blogging and writing? To you writers out there, how do you balance your time blogging and your time writing?

Book Haul #6, AKA My Summer TBR

For a while, I had been keeping a mental list of books I wanted to buy and read this summer. Finally, last week, I used up some old gift cards and splurged on six new books to read this summer. (They were actually shockingly cheap, which was pretty nice.)

As far as a summer TBR list goes, these books are the only books I know for sure I will try to read. They won’t get me to my goal of reading 20 books this summer, but I plan to reread books and catch up on sequels as well.

(All plot descriptions are from Amazon)

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His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik

cover his majestys dragon

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies . . . not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

Napoleonic Wars with dragons?! Count me in! After taking AP European history last school year, I’ve found myself enjoying alternate/fantasy historical fiction more than I used to, mainly because I actually know the historical context. After reading (and LOVING) Uprooted by Naomi Novik, I had to pick up her other series, even if isn’t young adult.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

cover the perks of being a wallflower

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

This book has been on my radar for a while (what with it being famous and everything), but I haven’t read it. I am always in the mood for high-quality YA contemporary stories, and I hope that this “classic” lives up to its reputation.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

cover strands of bronze and gold

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.

Well, I’ve never heard of the Bluebeard fairy tale, but the premise of this book sounds interesting anyway. I love the eerie tone of the description and can’t wait to see where the story goes.

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler

cover the summer of chasing mermaids

The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

Of all the books in this haul, I am the most weary of this one. Contemporary books that focus on damaged protagonists often don’t work for me. Romances that center on playboys are also a mixed bag. But I love the title, and the cover, and the mermaid motif, and I’ve heard some good things about this story, so I’ll willing to be proven wrong.

PS I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #2) by Jenny Han

cover ps I still love you

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

Again, I am weary of this book. The description basically spells out a love triangle, and promises lots of cringe-worthy awkward moments. However, I enjoyed the first book in this series, and it left me curious to see how a sequel would go. I am hopefully that this book, like the first installment, pulls off a love triangle and continues to deliver a fairly unique story.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

cover the wrath and the dawn

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

This book is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights–another story I don’t know. The description promises such an amazing story, however, so I don’t care what the original plot was. I feel like I’m going to love the protagonist of this story, and I hope that the romance will be appropriately swoon-worthy. My sister has already read this book (in all of one day), and (from the sounds she was making) seemed to enjoy it–though she screamed a lot about the cliffhanger ending. Also, I love the cover–it breaks from stereotypical YA covers and creates a breathtaking effect. (I didn’t even notice the girl standing there the first time I looked at the cover!)


Have you read any of these books? Which ones do you recommend?

And what books are on your summer TBR or just joined your shelves?

 

Top Ten “Top Ten Tuesday” Topics I Wish I’d Taken Part In

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Every week, they post a new Top Ten topic and other bloggers respond with their own lists. I take part in this meme when I have something to say for the topic and I remember what day it is.

This week marks the 5 year anniversary of Top Ten Tuesday. Technically, this week’s topic is Top Ten Topics We’ve Done, but since I haven’t been on the TTT bandwagon very long, I didn’t have a lot of topics to choose from that I’ve actually done. So here are ten topics that were “assigned” before I started taking part, that I wish I’d responded to. To make it more interesting, I’ve included a few of what I think my responses would be.

1. Villains/Criminals/Other Nasties

  • Mayor Prentis from The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness
  • Ruin from the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

2. Favorite Heroines

  • Katsa from Graceling by Kristen Cashore
  • Vin from the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
  • Puck from Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

3. Fictional Crushes

  • Gansey from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Eugenides from The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Zak from The Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter

4. Fictional BFFs (I’m taking this as characters I want to be friends with)

  • Cammie Morgan and Liz from The Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter
  • Emily from Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

5. Book’s I Just HAD to Buy…but are still sitting on my bookshelf

  • Shades of Earth (Across the Universe #3) by Beth Revis
  • Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

6. Books That Made You Think

  • Going Underground by Susan Vaught
  • The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

7. Book Covers I Wish I Could Redesign

  • Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas
  • Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik

8. Books I Had Very Strong Feelings About

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (HATED IT)
  • The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (LOVED IT)

9. Best Book Covers

  • The King of Attolia (Queen’s Thief #3) by Megan Whalen Turner
  • The Cormorant (Blackbirds #3) by Chuck Wendig

10. Books To Read if You Want Something Light and Fun

  • Heist Society by Ally Carter
  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
  • Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

A Different Kind of Review: Word Clouds

Word cloud making technology has been something I’ve played around with for a while. You paste in a bunch of text into the website and it analyzes it by how often you use each word, discarding filler words like “I” and “don’t.” The more often a word occurs in the text, the larger it appears in the cloud.

A few days ago, I got the random idea to paste a ton of my book reviews collectively into a cloud generator. I tried to use Wordle (which I’ve used in the past), but something went wrong with Chrome/Java and I ended up using Word It Out, which actually worked really well and gave me a nice amount of control over my cloud.

book review cloud 2

I used the text from my book reviews for the months of May and June this year: For Darkness Shows the Stars, To Kill a Mockingbird, Since You’ve Been Gone, Graceling, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, All American Girl, Uprooted, The Burning Sky, The Perilous Sea, and Dangerous Girls. I removed the plot descriptions from the text, so that the only words being analyzed were my own.

book review cloud 3

I then played around with the settings, trying to find a word cloud I liked. I used the full size image for this post, so if you can’t see the smaller words in the cloud, clicking on the image should give you a big enough view to see the details.

But what did I actually get from looking at the resulting clouds?

Words I expected to see (and did) in the cloud:

Book/Story: This one is obvious. Since they are book reviews, I’m doing a lot of talking about well…books and the stories they contain.

Romance/relationship: Also, fairly straightforward. Most of the books I read, being YA, have a central romantic relationship driving them, which I always try to touch on. I did expect these words to be larger, though.

Actually/really/just: These are words I can’t seem to keep out of my vocabulary when I’m reviewing books. Half of the time, I enjoy my writing voice, and the other half of the time, I wish my diction was a little more professional. Seeing these words in the cloud gave me an idea of how prevalent they are in my writing.

Things that surprised me about the cloud:

How big plot was: I know I talk about the plot a lot, but in my head I always talked about characters more than I focused on plot. Probably, I still do, I just refer to the characters by their names, but it was still surprising that plot was the second largest (ergo, most common) word.

Specific character names: Lots of character names from the books included in the text made their way into the cloud. This shouldn’t be surprising, but I assumed that they wouldn’t have been mentioned enough individually to get to the size they are on the image.

The randomness: I’ve made a lot of these clouds before from my fiction writing, and the thing that always stands out to me is the randomness of the words that make the cloud. Everyday words that you don’t even realize you use as often as you do suddenly shine in your face. I always find words on these clouds and wonder “What sentences did I write so that that word made it on here?” For this cloud, the words “guy” and “two” stood out to me.


As a bonus, I made some clouds from specific reviews. (Can you tell I was having fun with this?) For these, I tried to use color and font to capture the mood of the book. I love how with these specific clouds, you can actually get the idea of what I was saying just from the words that I ended up using the most.

from my review of the Mistborn series
from my review of the Mistborn series

For instance, from my Mistborn series review, you can clearly see that I want people to “read” this “series/book/books” because of the “power” and “themes” and “characters”–“everything,” basically.

from my review of Since You've Been Gone
from my review of Since You’ve Been Gone

Have you ever thought of the words you use to write your book reviews? Have you ever put your fiction writing or WIP through one of these websites? What do you think about my clouds?

To Read (Quickly), Or Not To Read (Quickly)

Hey guys! My summer is already two and a half weeks old and I’ve settled into my usual summer routine. Laziness abounds. Yay! But I’ve also been doing a lot of reading (though not as much as I probably should), and it’s gotten me thinking about how differently I read books during the school year and during the summer.

When I read books during the school year, I read them in small chunks whenever I have time: when I’ve finished my classwork, after a test, in a loll of teaching. I sometimes read books after school, though I’m usually doing homework or watching TV. I’ll usually pick up books for a few hours on the weekend. This ends up with me taking about a week to read a book, depending on how “into” the book I get and how much free time I have on my hands. The story is interrupted by lessons and homework; sometimes I only have time to read a page before I have to refocus on school. Climactic moments are splintered across days, never read in their entirety. Some part of a scene’s glory falls through the cracks, it seems, when I have to wait an hour between someone firing a gun and the other person dodging the bullet. 

But during summer, my reading style completely changes. I end up reading books for hours without pause, reading more quickly and intensely. Often, I’ll power through a book in one sitting, with breaks only for meals (though I can read through those often) or running errands. I love this style of reading. I get completely immersed in the story, never coming up for air. I don’t have to put the story down during key reveals or climactic moments–there is barely a second between the trigger being pulled and the hero dodging out of the way. Little details stick out to my mind and link together, never forgotten because of the pace at which I consume the story.

But I often wonder, looking back, if reading books so quickly hurts my appreciation of them. 

The problem with reading a book in a matter of hours is that I stop remembering specific scenes or details. When the entire story is crammed together into a morning, individual scenes stop mattering. Everything blurs together into a tidal wave of plot, and though I get the powerful rush of the story crashing over me at once, I sometimes feel like I’m overlooking the great little scenes and details of books. When I am forced to read slowly, only a scene at a time, each scene is a lot more important in my mind than when I let myself read quickly and continuously.

reading accident

During breaks from school (whether that be winter break or summer break), I end up reading lots of books quickly and close together. Do I enjoy the process? So much. But when I think back to the books I read this way, my memory of them is vastly different from my memories of books I’ve read slower. My recollection of books I’ve sped through is not complete: just a few major plot points, a couple scenes or characters that I loved, and an emotion tied to how much I enjoyed the book. Also, if I read books that are similar, (lots of Chicklit, for instance), the novels themselves blur together in my mind. Books I read slower have more thoughts attached–simply put, I remember more of them.

So is reading about the enjoyment in the moment, or the ability to remember what you read and get pleasure from flashing back to beloved scenes? Does reading a book in one sitting give it power or detract from its message? Are books a collection of chapters, each to be enjoyed in their own time, or a continuous plot to be ideally devoured in one sitting?

What about you? Do you read “too quickly” or “too slowly”? How do you like to break up your reading, especially when you have a lot of free time?