alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
Happy New Year! It's been some time since I posted; it was a busy year at Casa Abbott for non-writing reasons. We've welcomed baby Fish into our family, joining his sister Bug, Three-stripe, cats Jack and Tollers, and I as members of our household. But while I'm behind on many things, I've continued to read a lot! Since I posted last year and the year before about my reading goals, I wanted to post last year's results and this year's goals before 2015 progressed too far!

This year, I did not count all the picture books I read, but I did count all my review picture books individually. For the year, I totalled 163 books, which is up from last year's 129 (probably in part due to counting all the review books individually). There was a method to my madness, however: I wanted to see what percentage of titles were review books as compared to non-review books. Here's some of the interesting breakdown:

  • 89 titles were review books

  • 106 were children's or YA books

  • Only 12 were graphic novels, which is rather low

  • I read 7 romance, 69 SFF, and 2 nonfiction


I did reasonably well on my goals. The 2 nonfiction titles beat my goal to read just 1. I read 13 out of the 15 novels from my TBR pile I'd hoped to read, 4 titles by autobio writers, 6 rereads (out of a goal of 3), and read one non-genre novel.

The most interesting statistic I kept last year was print vs. digital. I surprised myself by reading 91 books in paper and 72 digitally. I thought I skewed toward e-books, so it's interesting to me that I'm not even at 50% digital reading. Some of this is due to reading for the MFAs. I rely heavily on the library to provide me with MFA reading, and though some are available as e-books, most are more readily available in print.


Highlights of the year?
  • Rereading Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead--and seeing it make the MFA finalists list--was great fun. It's been especially fun to read more of the Craft books, both post-publishing and in mss format, in combination with playing Max's Craftverse game Choice of the Deathless. Without the books being required for the game and vice versa, they work so well in conjunction!

  • Finishing Devon Monk's "Allie Beckstrom" series was bittersweet, but starting the "House Immortal" books makes me confident there's more excellent reading to come.

  • I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Gene Luen Yang for the autobio project, and I read The Shadow Hero and Boxers and Saints in preparation for that. They were both some of my favorite reading for the year, for very different reasons. I'd recommend The Shadow Hero to anyone, but especially readers who have a fondness for Golden Age superheroes. Boxers and Saints is a fabulous moral and ethical investigation of a historical period with a lot of magical realism thrown in, and I found it both enjoyable and tremendously moving.

  • The biggest surprise read was probably Eleven by Tom Rogers. It's a book about 9/11, mostly from the perspective of a boy who's just turned 11, and it's fantastic both as an exploration of the event through fiction for middle graders and as a coming of age story. It was also pretty wild to realize that 9/11 happened before the middle grade age group was born--so it qualifies, on some level, as historical fiction.

  • I'd also recommend without reservation the Super Lexi middle grade books by Emma Lesko. Lexi is neurologically and developmentally different from her peers, which makes her a fascinating POV character, and Lesko's commitment to neuro-diversity in children's books shows in how beautifully she captures Lexi and makes her so easy to empathize with.

  • I loved finally finishing Shanna Swendson's "Enchanted, Inc." series, which for ages looked like it wouldn't get to continue beyond book four. (I'd still read more books in that world!)

  • I'm also really eager to see where the "Kate Daniels" (Ilona Andrews) and "Safehold" (David Weber) books end up next!


There were, of course, a lot of other great books, but listing them all would be fodder for TLDR (if I haven't already hit that point).

I was pretty happy with this year's goals, so I'm planning to keep them the same. Here's to another year of good reading!
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I wanted to post this on Monday, but, well, I had a deadline yesterday and had to finish reading a few series of review books at different grade levels before I could justify posting. So, just pretend this is my Valentine's Day post, ok?

You know that I read a lot of romance novels, and that I love the genre. You may also remember that we're reading the Safehold series as a family, and we're currently in the middle of By Schism Rent Asunder, the second book in the series. As I'm sure you've guessed, the Safehold books are not romance novels. However, like a lot of my favorite SF and F books, there's definitely romance inside the rest of the court intrigue and derring-do. But I think this is one of the first times I've seen compelling romance minus the angst that normally accompanies it.

I don't use angst as a pejorative here. As I posted on one of [livejournal.com profile] sartorias's recent Book View Cafe entries, I love me some romantic angst. My two top favorite novels of all time are both YA, and both involve the main character loving someone who she can't believe actually loves her back (which causes a heart-wrenching moment or two along the way!). In one case, the heroine doesn't actually know she's in love -- and that he might return her affections -- until she realizes she's put herself in a situation where it looks like she's betraying him utterly, and she might lose him after all. In the other, the girl knows very well that she's in love, but due to the hero's sudden absence, and his return in the company of her sister, she believes that, like in everything else in her life, her sister has proven better than she has. This opens her up to temptation by a faerie queen -- because how else will she win her heart's desire? And, of course, both have happy endings. (I'm not revealing the titles here, because these moments happen right at the end of both books, and they're complete spoilers as such. Some of you, of course, may recognize the moments. Or remember my listings of top books from earlier posts.)

Graceling by Kristin Cashore has some moments like this, also, with the exception that heroine Katsa thinks that, to have the life she wants, she has to reject all romance. Po, the hero who loves her, has to convince her that she can have romance without sacrificing herself. This may seem like a completely different moment, but the reconciling that Katsa goes through to decide what being in love would mean for her selfhood had that same kind of poignancy for me that the other stories did.

As much as I love those moments, there's no denying that they're angsty. They're full on teen torment, questioning of the self and one's relationship with the world. But that kind of angst isn't reserved for teens or YA novels. What would a good romance novel be without that same kind of questioning? If the hero and heroine knew from the very beginning that they were going to reach their happily ever after -- the way we readers do -- romance novels would be a lot shorter. The barriers that get thrown up between the hero and the heroine could be battled together, because hey, that's what teamwork is for! There are rare romance novels where this happens, but most of the fun in the romance novels I read is the will-they, won't-they push and pull, especially when it's driven by concerns that make a lot of sense -- or the world threatening to implode -- rather than miscommunication and stupid decisions.

Of course, in a SF or F epic, the romance isn't the center, and it doesn't need to take up the same amount of space. It can happen in small moments (there's a gorgeous moment in The Lord of the Rings when Aragorn notices that Eowyn is in love with him and he realizes that he has to reject her -- it's slipped in there, very quietly, and amounts to about one line of text; the love story between Eowyn and Faramir is equally quiet and lovely). It can be the hinge around which the final happy ending swings. Relationships can go through various possible incarnations or progress from fresh young love to passion to comfort (the Inda books follow a lot of relationships through various incarnations and succeed at showing love at many stages, for example).

Or romance can be a digression from the major plot that enhances the lives of the characters -- and makes readers like me squee just a little bit. This is the case with the romance currently transpiring in By Schism Rent Asunder. Two characters (unnamed for those who haven't read the series) have decided on a political marriage before meeting. There's already initial mutual respect, or the marriage would not have been the preferred form of alliance. When the characters do meet, there's instant attraction -- and, thus, relief. The marriage is the right thing to do: there's a new hope that they may actually enjoy it, as well. They each brooch the potential for romance a little tentatively -- the hesitation and uncertainty that the other may not feel the same spark -- but it's quickly acknowledged that, yes, the spark is there. And thus they can progress, without all of the will-they, won't-they push and pull, because the relationship has already been committed to. I don't think I've ever seen a romance done quite this way before, and while I'm sure that there may be quarrels and tempests in the future (they've only just begun on the relationship where I am in the story), I think the way their relationship has been presented thus far makes me as a reader fall in love with them just a little bit. And that, to me, is a great mark of success, whether or not the happily ever after is looming at the end.
alanajoli: (Default)
A couple of links today. The first is to the new Slate online serial novel, My Darkling, which, along with its weekly posted prose, features characters with facebook and twitter accounts, where they will give readers extra clues to solving the mystery. The novel is apparently a send-up of the YA vampire craze, though whether it's kind to that genre's fans or not, I'm hesitant to guess. But here's the best sentence in the article: we have long been amazed at how young-adult novels make up one of the most popular and dynamic segments of the publishing industry. Hurrah for YA being acknowledged in this way!

Speaking of popular, dynamic, and vampiric, the New York Times ran an article today about Justin Cronin's new novel, Passage. This is apparently going to be the hot book of the summer, and it's news because Cronin, previously, was a literary novelist making no money, and now he's expected to be a hit marketplace seller. It sounds like he's always been a vampire and horror guy -- in other words, one of the "us" that includes UF writers and fans -- and he notes in the article that he feels the difference between the literary and commercial markets is overblown. It'll be interesting to see the kind of critical reception the novel, the first of the trilogy, receives, given the too-often-hostile relationship between established critics (in, for example, the New York Times) and the SFF genre. [livejournal.com profile] rosefox and her Genreville partner Josh Jasper have written about several times on that blog (most recently here), and I hope they'll follow (or comment on) this story as it develops, as well.
alanajoli: (Default)
When What I Saw and How I Lied won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, I was a little surprised. I'd known when I started reading it that it was intended to be a young adult book, but I wasn't sure if teens would be as enraptured with the depiction of post-World War II United States as I was. The narrator exists so thoroughly in that time that instead of feeling like the historical fiction I grew up with, it feels in the moment--but the moment is sixty years passed.

Then I finished the book. Wow.



I was drawn in initially by just the cover image. I still think it's a beautiful and fabulous cover. And it captures exactly the feel of the story as the story plays out. By the last page, I think I was convinced that this actually is a true YA novel, and brings out some of the best elements of what can be done inside the genre.

That said, I'm still on the fence about whether teens will enjoy it as much as adults. And I'm afraid that the YA label might mean adults won't go for it. But I know that, given the folks who read this blog, I'm preaching to the choir. We all know how good the YA section is. And you all know how seldom I recommend a book here that isn't science fiction or fantasy. So seriously, if you have any inkling to go and read this one--pick it up. I'm really glad I did.

(Geek addendum: Judy Blundell is the real name of her pseudonymous identity, Jude Watson, author of tons of Star Wars books. I haven't read her under that identity, but I felt it pertinent to pick out the SFF link I discovered after the fact.)

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Alana Joli Abbott

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