starfishstar: (books)

So first of all, we’re halfway through 2017 and I’m currently reading my 59th book of the year. I feel like I’ve been reading less this year than last, but so far apparently I’ve read more?? (I’m not done with it yet, so I can’t count it for this quarter, but book number 59 is On the Move: A Life, Oliver Sacks’ memoir, and it’s delightful!)


Second: it’s time for this quarter’s book post!


It rarely happens that I’m able to pick just one clear favorite, because I like so many books, but this time I’ve got one:





Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

            This book floored me. For the beautiful, subtle prose that fairly slips by – I’d read half the book almost before I’d realized it. For the deep, emotional place it hit me – I want to call it an allegory for the current real-world refugee crisis, because it is, but to say that also sells it so very short. If I call it that, you might think it’s overtly political (it’s not; it’s a love story, among many other things). You might thing it’s a sad, tough, weary tale of people in abject poverty, people very different from us, “other” people that those of us who are Western-first-world readers will sympathize with but maybe also struggle to relate to, but it’s not that at all – and that’s just one of many things I found so brilliant about the book. It’s a story of two young urbanites, going about life with their smartphones and their jobs and all, until their city gets overtaken by war. Like anyone’s city might get overtaken by war. It hit me so emotionally in part because – though the protagonists’ homeland is carefully never specified – I couldn’t help thinking of a Syrian friend of mine who was in Berlin as a highly qualified student…until circumstances back home changed and all of a sudden he was in Berlin as a refugee. That can happen to anyone. This is not about Muslims or third world countries or however else it’s easy to “other” refugees. It’s about people, trying to get on with the daily business of being people to each other. But I’m still selling this wrong, because it’s not a book about war. It’s a magical realism book (a bit). It’s a slightly-sci-fi book set in a near-future world, with a surprisingly optimistic view of humanity offering up both the worst and the best of itself. It’s stunningly encompassing, for a slim little book of little over 200 pages, and yet very specific, a story of two people trying to hold their love together against the odds, and it walks that balance incredibly well. Mohsin Hamid IS BRILLIANT in other words.








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Time to talk about this quarter in books! I read 31 of ‘em over the past 3 months, which I guess has become a fairly standard average for me. Ha ha ha ha let’s see if I can actually narrow that down to only a few favorites…

Later, after going through my list of what I read: Nope, I’m terrible at narrowing; once again it’s going to be a long list of books I love!


The Color Purple by Alice Walker
     This book starts out deceptively simple and gets richer and richer and richer. It unfolds from the painful, tight, short single-page first chapters of childhood abuse and degradation to a beautiful story of a woman who's found herself and built a found family around her. My pitiful words aren't doing this justice. Can anyone tell me if all of Alice Walker's books are this brilliant?

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
How did I not know about prolific writer Seanan McGuire? This slim book pulls off not just one but many worlds' worth of world-building, because it's set at a boarding school for children who've tumbled into other fairytale worlds...and then accidentally fell back into our world again. So good. Also, bonus asexual character representation, and trans character representation, all presented totally matter-of-factly as "this is who I am, why would it be an issue?"

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Dawwww this book is so charming! I just want to cuddle it! (I literally sometimes have to pick it back up and cradle it to my chest and grin about how much I love it.) Not-yet-out gay high school student Simon might be falling for his secret penpal, Blue. Blue is someone who goes to Simon's school, but Simon doesn't know who. Their online friendship is perfect, so do they risk ruining everything by telling each other who they are in real life? (Becky Albertalli was a school psychologist before she became an author and it shows. Here is a YA writer who knows teenagers.)

the “Hereville” graphic novels by Barry Deutsch (How Mirka Got Her Sword, How Mirka Met a Meteorite, and How Mirka Caught a Fish)
    My colleague's two kids were kind enough to loan me this series about the adventures of, as the tagline says, "just another troll-fighting Orthodox Jewish girl." Mirka is stubborn, brave, sometimes a brat, always awesome, as she fights trolls and shapeshifter meteorites and dangerous magical fish. The books also present a loving, detailed picture of Orthodox Jewish family life, while still allowing Mirka to push against her culture's double standards for girls.

Forgive Me if I’ve Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters
     I read this on the recommendation of one of my students, which always makes me really happy. A beautifully written coming of age novel about a girl in rural Oregon growing into herself and her identity as a lesbian. Feels very different from the usual YA fare both for the poetic language, and because it's clearly drawn from the author's own experiences and is set in the early 90s, rather than now.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
    This book had me laughing out loud. Helplessly. A book that promises to be the opposite of all those "inspirational story about a kid whose friend gets cancer and they all learn a life lesson" type books, and delivers on that promise, and yet sneakily makes you feel stuff, too. All while yelping with laughter.

don't stop there – here are even more books! )

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I’ll be back at some point soon to do my whole-year reflection about my whoooole year’s reading, but first, this quarter’s top books!

Sheesh, I guess I read 33 books this quarter? A couple years ago, that probably would have been my total for a whole year.

And, huh, I’m having trouble picking one or two favorites, like I would usually do. This quarter I read a lot of books, and liked a lot of them, but nothing’s jumping out as an obvious far-and-away favorite. So instead I’ll list quite a few that I liked and recommend!

booooooooks )
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I didn't read quite as much this quarter because I was traveling, but apparently I still have plenty to say... Believe it or not, this is still only a portion of what I read:


I’m gonna go for “extremely eclectic combinations” once again, and name these two as my favorite books I read this quarter:

Beloved by Toni Morrison
  This is an incredible portrayal of the real, human devastation of living through slavery, and Toni Morrison’s writing is amazing, weaving so many elements together even while making the whole thing seem effortless. She’s not a legend for nothing! I’ve read/watched/learned a fair bit about slavery over the years, but I honestly think nothing has ever brought home the raw, personal trauma of it like this book did. I’m in awe of Morrison now.

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
    I think I’m developing a minor obsession with Australian YA literature, purely on the strength of Melina Marchetta. This book is so strange, almost surreal, especially in the first half where nothing’s particularly clear. (The kids at the school are having a mock war with their rivals? Or an actual war? Wait, what’s going on?) But every single detail, down to seeming throwaway bits like the cat or the Kenny Rogers song, turns out to connect to the overarching plot. Masterfully done. Plus, the characters are wonderful! I can’t remember the last time I so desperately wished I could stay inside the world of a book, that it could go on and on and never end.

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Hi from Berlin!  ....or actually, at the moment, from Ghent, Belgium.

(I'm based in Berlin for a month, on a long visit just hanging out and seeing old friends – it's WONDERFUL – but this weekend I decided to spontaneously hop over to Belgium for a few days to see some other friends. I'm also going to meet up with a fandom friend IRL for what I think is only the second time, ever, for me? Yes, I've been shy and slow at making fandom friendships, but I treasure them once I do make them!)

Meanwhile, books! Recommendations and thoughts from my second-quarter-of-the-year reading. Luckily I was clever and drafted most of this post ahead of time, before I set out traveling. :-)


I read a lot of books, and I love a whole lot of what I read, but sometimes this bit where I look back over the last three months to think about what really stood out still takes me by surprise. Out of the 20+ books I read this quarter, it turns out I’m naming this as my favorite:

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
     My reaction to word of a new Sherlock Holmes adaptation tends to be equal parts “ooh, exciting!” and “…but does the world really need yet another take on Holmes and Watson”?
     In the case of Brittany Cavallaro’s “A Study in Charlotte,” emphatically yes.
     Teenagers Watson (Jamie, a boy) and Holmes (Charlotte, a girl) are the great-great-something descendants of the famous Holmes and Watson, and are both more than aware of the legacy they carry. They meet at boarding school, first repel each other but then quickly bond, and soon (of course) find themselves solving a murder. This book has everything a YA book should have and more – smart dialogue, engaging characters, a dash of romance, a dash of danger, a very relatable POV character in Jamie, and a very intriguing, brilliant, prickly and entirely feminist Charlotte Holmes. I agree with the reviewer who said, this is the Holmes you didn’t know you were desperately waiting for!

even more great BOOKS here )

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So...I read 35 books in this first quarter of the year. 15 of them just in the month of March. So that's a thing that happened.


And I've been looking forward all this time to writing up some thoughts about them! Here we go...


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
     I can only second the Toni Morrison quote on the cover of the book: “This is required reading.” Framed as letters to his teenage son, reflections on race, on racism, on the struggle, even the beauty of the struggle… Slim little volume with unbelievable power. I want to recommend this to every American…every person, really.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
     Very much like the above; no description of mine would do this book justice. Rebecca Solnit is so smart, wise, incisive, witty, terrifyingly insightful… She takes apart sexism and misogyny and deep-rooted cultural issues and brings all their pieces and moving parts to light. Recommended reading to everybody.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This book has slightly surprised me by slipping into my “very top books” out of 35 books, but how can I resist it? It really floored me. A graphic “novel,” though actually it’s a book of short stories in graphic form – is there a word for that? Gorgeous artwork and chilling, off-kilter stories, with odd, ambiguous endings. Just masterful. I don’t think of myself as much of a graphic novel person, but I may be changing my mind.

the adventure for MORE TOP BOOKS! )

It's trite, but true:

So many books, so little time!
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Once this year has officially ended, I will of course do a year-end post about alllll the books I read this year. (I am so stupidly excited about getting to write a post about the year's worth of books! I am such a nerd!) But it occurs to me that this final quarter of the year deserves its own post, too, like I did for the first three quarters of this year... So here are a few favorites from the last three months:

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Books! Another quarter of the year past, another chance to do a round-up of what I've been reading! (It wasn't meant to become a set quarterly tradition, but I've been enjoying it...)


* Among Others by Jo Walton

This book. I really loved it. I love its unusual take on "how magic works." I love its protagonist, who is prickly and not always even necessarily likable, but always relatable and real. I love how it's not quite categorizable – it's a fantasy book about a character who loves sci fi, and my local library at least had it in the regular adult fiction section, rather than fantasy or YA or whatever else – I love a "genre" book with crossover power (because I kind of hate the whole genre thing anyway). This is also a fairly rare instance of a book I want to go track down and own, right away, even though I initially read it from the library and could theoretically take it out again any time I want.

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Well! I read 45 books in the first half of this year.

I certainly don't expect to repeat that feat in the second half of the year – it had to do with being temporarily unemployed at the beginning of the year, which I very much no longer am – but right in this moment, I'm feeling pleased with myself. Read the last pages of book number 45 right around midnight on the last day of June, so that all seemed very fitting.

Also, looking back I see I've posted 17 fics so far this year (of much-varying lengths and across a range of fandoms), and that's not even counting the 4 more currently in progress on my desktop (one enormous, two quite mini, one collaboratively written and multi-chapter), so I've not exactly been idle, have I?

The original fiction, not happening so much, but instead I've put my time into learning how to properly write songs for the first time, which is incredibly exciting. And I do some beta reading, and I do think I get a better and better eye for what works and doesn't work in writing, the more I look at it from an editor's perspective. So that's a writerly activity, too.

Sheesh. Why do I spend so much of my time berating myself for not accomplishing enough?
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Ah, well, I fell one book short of reading 30 books in the first 3 months of the year. (Yes, I have been unemployed, can you tell?) I finished two more in the first two days of April, though, so maybe that makes up for it?

FAVORITE BOOK out of those 30-ish books:

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

I think Dorothy Sayers is now my hero. HOW was she this smart, thoughtful, progressive and forward-thinking in the 1930s? This book has it all, well-developed characters, strong prose, fun interactions, an intricate mystery plot which itself pales in comparison to the other aspect of the book that unfolds in parallel: a complex, incisive, yet quite delicate examination of what it means to be a woman in the 1930s. And on top of it all, there's a romance so passionate and yet so restrained, it will melt your heart. Dorothy Sayers! Brilliance in action!



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September 2017



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