I had some struggles this month – a lot of big reading plans I was very excited about, a lot of big reading plans that didn’t get completed. I had a hard time with my vision this month, which I’m sure you can imagine, makes reading A LITTLE BIT DIFFICULT. I do have periods of time every day where the double vision is not bothering me, but it’s broken up in chunks some days, and that’s really affected the KIND of books I’ve been able to get into this month. Like do you read different books in different ways? If I’m reading something like just contemporary lit or a beach read kind of thing or even some light thrillers, I have no problem picking it up and putting it down as needed, reading in little bits here and there, like back when I had a very small kid and it took me a near literal year to get through A Discovery of Witches not because I didn’t like it, but because I could only read it bit by bit, because of the general life circumstances of someone living in a newborn-harassed way. No problems. Other stuff, though, I need to really SIT DOWN and GET INTO in a long unbroken chunk to get reading – fantasy, heavy-ish sci-fi, some thrillers and mysteries, etc. Really need to get a momentum going to get properly stuck into reading it.
So I had a lot of DNFs this month – more books than I actually finished, as it turns out. I thought it was going to add up to being a REAL SHIT reading month, but when I was looking over my ratings for the stuff I did finish – I really liked almost all of it. Like, truly enjoyed the stuff I did manage to get read. So I’m calling March a good one.
Here are some quick reviews of the things I managed and didn’t manage this month.
I have already said it, this bitch loves a Backman, and this is a Backman, and I did love it. It’s a novella and is a pretty quick read — I read most of it in one of my old lady crumple body epsom salt baths. It’s told from the perspective of a man who is mostly spending time with his grandson throughout the story. It’s a sort of inner world look from the eyes of someone who is declining from Alzheimer’s. It’s about him, his life, his late wife. His son, his grandson, and his time with them. It took a minute to hook into the way the story was being told, but it turned out to be a pretty brilliant way to explore that concept — someone continuing to live while aware of what’s slipping away. It’s a bit like Still Alice by Lisa Genova in that the narrator is someone with the disease, but told in a slightly fantastical, metaphorical way, rather than a clinical day to day decline witnessed through the character’s eyes. It’s sad, but it’s not, but it is — it’s tragic and upsetting but it’s also not a devastating reading experience. I’m not quite sure how to explain that — it’s a painful topic, it’s painful to witness, but the way it’s told makes it almost bearable. It is not my top favorite Backman, but it is a good one, and I think it’s worth a read.
I didn’t end up finishing this one. I actually didn’t end up getting very far in this one. I don’t think it fell victim to my vision issues, because I don’t feel any urge to return to this later. This one just isn’t for me. Thrillers/mysteries aren’t really my genre, so I guess I am a bit extra picky in that area, but this book was just doing several things I didn’t like pretty early on, and I couldn’t get into it, and knowing I was having trouble getting into it colored my attitude and made me start getting extra nitpicky and resentful about what I was reading. It’s got multiple POVs, which is generally fine by me, but pretty much all of them are a wildly overblown caricature of the type of person they’re meant to be. On top of that, almost every POV chapter ended with some sort of “and there’s a deep dark secret the character has/knows, but we can’t talk about that right now…” in a really leading sort of way that really grated on me. I got too annoyed with everyone and lost my give a fuck before I could get any momentum going, and if I rated DNFs, this would be a solid, unquestioned “not for me” one star. THAT SAID, many people I know who have generally excellent taste in books HAVE liked this book, so if a multiple POV murder mystery set on an island in a storm sounds like your jam, by all means give it a shot. Maybe from the library. Use the library.
I think I’ve already talked about this one – link to post here. I finished it and I liked it quite a bit, and I do think I will pick up the next book in the series. It’s about a school called the Scholomance, where magical children are kind of … ZOOPED up into it at a certain age. There are no teachers, there is no supervision, there are only the children, and the school is FILLED WITH FUCKING MONSTERS. Monsters that just KILL THE HECK out of the students. I’m not going to rehash everything I said about it, because I had a LOT to say about it — a couple of weeks on, I still feel basically the same way. The main character was grating and hard to sympathize with, I didn’t really understand her motivations until the book got rolling, and when it did get rolling and everything connected together and the reasoning for everything was explained and so tightly woven, I just ended up finishing this book really impressed. Just super impressed. I am absolutely 100% going to read the next book, as well as check out more Naomi Novik, and I am GEARING UP TO FANGIRL HARD.
This is a book of short stories, which are not usually my thing (as you will see further down in this list). They’re connected stories that proceed from childhood to adulthood throughout the book. The synopsis on Goodreads includes the following:
“In her brilliant, hilarious, and at times shocking debut, Mona Awad simultaneously skewers the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside their physical appearance, and delivers a tender and moving depiction of a lovably difficult young woman whose life is hijacked by her struggle to conform. ”
I can’t really think of a better way to describe it than that. That’s exactly what it is. While it’s on the surface about the very specific experience about growing up fat, I don’t think the book’s impact is limited to people who have lived that experience. I do think it is particularly cutting for those people, but at the core of it, it’s about growing up in a world where your earliest social impressions and norms and ability to find value in yourself as a human is based on how you look, and what that does to a person on the inside — stuff that really feels normal is laid out completely bare. I think just about every woman can see some example of her own personal youth, or her own young adult behaviors, or her own motivations in these stories, in ways that don’t pull any punches. It’s harsh. It is a harsh book. I really liked it, and I really recommend it.
I didn’t finish this one. I barely started this one. This is not a DNF like The Guest List is a DNF — I don’t rule out ever picking this one up again. When this and Circe were getting big hype, I wasn’t interested. I’m not really into mythology stuff and okay, look, I hated the covers. I was not interested and then the covers made me even less interested. Is that shallow? I don’t think so. I decided I didn’t care what it was ABOUT before I decided I didn’t like what it looked like, you see. That’s the opposite way round. Anyway, people DO love these, though. And you know I love a bandwagon, and I don’t use that word with the negative connotations people seem to give it. You’ve got a whole wagon of people enjoying something! LET ME IN THE WAGON. WHERE WE GOING? DON’T CARE, I’M IN THE WAGON. And I’d also seen a TON of people say they initially didn’t pick it up because mythology type stuff really wasn’t their thing, either, but ended up loving it. I believe what people say, I am too old and too tired to figure out if you’re bullshitting me these days, so if that’s what people said, I believed them, and I STILL believe them, but oh man, I don’t know if I just wasn’t in the mood for this or if it’s really just not my thing but every time I picked it up, I did NOT want to be reading it. Maybe some other time.
Loved it. LOVED it.
From Goodreads: “Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?”
OF COURSE THERE’S SOMETHING MORE AND I LOVED IT. The problem with graphic novels, though, is that they go by SO FAST. And the problem with my local library system is that they keep buying ONLY THE FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES. I was done with this in about 30 minutes and loved every second of it, but now I have to WAIT. Graphic novels are a CRIME. This is a CRIME SCENE. Gonna read the rest of the series, though. You should, too. YA appropriate.
I talked about this one in the same post where I talked about A Deadly Education and The Guest List. I had high hopes for it fitting some of my favorite stuff from this other post, but in the end, the fact that it read on the really young side of young adult just did me in. I almost certainly won’t pick this back up, but not in an “I hate this” kind of way. My own kid is gradually aging up toward YA reads and I’d definitely pick it up for her to see if she was into it. There’s nothing wrong with YA that reads really YA. I am an AA. Uh, an adult-adult. Some YA appeals, some doesn’t, and that’s fine, it’s not for me. Fun if I can get into it, but if I can’t, no hard feelings, no harsh reviews. Some YA books have adult appeal, and for me, this one just didn’t, and there’s nothing WRONG with that, it’s not SUPPOSED to, that would just be a BONUS. Am I covering my own butt enough here? It just wasn’t for me but it’s probably for a lot a lot of other people
Sometimes a book is weird and it works for you, and sometimes it’s weird and it doesn’t work for you? The only way to know if a book described as “weird” is going to work for you is to give it a try, so I did, and while I don’t dislike weird books on the whole, this particular weird book was not a weird book for me. However, if you are the type of person who likes weird books, I can tell you that this book is weird, and like all other weird books, you will have to actually try it to figure out if it is your particular kind of weird or not. I don’t think I’ll be picking it back up, but never say never for this one, I guess. I am, at the moment, unmotivated to do so, though.
It is by Mona Awad, same author as 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl mentioned above, so I do have pretty solid faith in her as a writer. This one just wasn’t for me, but if weird is something you like to try, I give you an encouraging nudge for this one.
Okay, so this is a book of short stories that didn’t work for me. Not on the whole, anyway. I didn’t finished it, but I DID finish SOME of the stories. A couple of them really hit me just right, like perfection, absolutely, love it, snaps, etc. And then the ones that weren’t those ones hit me VERY wrong. The wrong kind of weird for me. Not my kind of weird. I’m hesitant on if I rate this one or what or how things work with a book of short stories, because I really liked the ones I did read, and I would give them 4 to 5 stars for sure. But I don’t rate (on Goodreads) books I don’t finish, because that seems unfair to authors who may pull it out in the end without me knowing because I never made it to the end, and I didn’t finish this, because several of the stories were just NOT for me.
This is what I will say — the story that hit me the hardest is called The Husband Stitch, and it’s available to read, legally and for free, online. I think you should try that out. I think you should try it out today, especially if you’re a femme leaning person around my general age. I think you should try it out and see what you think, and if you really like it, pick up the book and give that a try, too. And if it’s not really your thing, I still don’t think you’re going to be sorry you read it. I think you will want to push it into other people’s hands just like I do. I think it’ll punch you in the guts. Link here.
Okay, I’m not going to say much about this one. Louise Penny books are going down big in my internet circle right now, so you know I wanted to be in on that. I listened to it on audio, and it just couldn’t grab me, but at the same time, I knew it COULD. I liked the tone of the writing a lot more than I thought it would — for some reason, I assumed it would be kind of pokey and slow, but it wasn’t at all. I liked the way the characters were sketched out, I liked that the dialogue was realistic and lightly funny, I liked the pacing that was set up. I just couldn’t sink myself into it right NOW. I’ve already re-added myself to the hold list to give this one another shot, so no rating or thoughts for now, but I am looking forward to reading this one again, whenever that may be, as it has been whooshed back into my personal storage (aka the library) and I am generously allowing others to read it before I take another turn, because that’s the kind of person I am.
So this was probably the clearest victim of my physical reading frustrations this month. With world building at play, I really need to be able to sit for a good amount of unbroken time to give a book a fair shot, and I just could not get ahold of a solid enough block with functioning eyeballs this month to make this work for me. On top of that, the lead is female, and I got it in my head that at this moment in time — not all moments, not every moment, but the specific moment at which I was attempting to read this book — I was really in the mood for a strong, kickass female lead. Pretty early on, though, I was getting hints of “not like other girls” vibes and also the set up for a potential love triangle with her and two dudes and you’ve got to understand — I’m not shooting that down as a concept or thing I hate forever and ever til I die. It just wasn’t what I wanted right then. And I DO want to read this book. Attempting to read this book when I know it’s veering toward something I’m NOT IN THE MOOD FOR is not really giving it a fair shot. It had to be put down to preserve it for future me, who has functioning eyeballs and is feeling less moody and picky about what she is and is not going to be willing to entertain at any given moment.
This is really the only book I’m coming out of this month with genuinely negative feelings about. I didn’t finish it, so I hesitate to tell you not to pick it up and give it a shot, but absolutely 100% I did not like this, it is not for me.
The concept is that a woman has the power to see the future through tea leaves and can’t control when her predictions come shooting out, because she was offered to learn how to train this gift with an aunt when she was a child but rejected it for whatever reason, and now shit has gone kind of fucky and said aunt is taking her away to Paris to finally get a grip on her shit or whatever. I’m sure you can tell I am already not describing this in the most generous of terms.
The concept of this book is fine, though a quick skim through the parts I didn’t read leads me to suspect it does not really live up to the concept as promised. It’s fine in theory, though. The thing that got me — the thing I could not stand — is that in addition to this being a book about a woman who can predict the future, in addition to this being a book about a woman who is learning to control a magical ability, in addition to this being a book about running off to Paris, in addition to this being a book about a tea shop, IN ADDITION TO THIS BEING A BOOK WITH A ROMANCE — on top of all of that, somehow the concept of being a foodie is crammed in there. And I’m saying foodie in the opposite way I say bandwagon — the disdainful way. I don’t object to the concept of people who truly enjoy food and call themselves foodies. I just felt subjected to it by this book. Endless descriptions of high end, fancy food and the descriptions had such a fan fiction feel — if you read a lot of fic, you’ll know — like when an author realizes they need to add more descriptive language to their work and just starts DESCRIBING FOODS and the sensation of biting foods, and unironically using the word “divine” as if that’s a thing people just say a couple of times per meal.
And if she’s a foodie — you know the type of foodie, the type who says, “you don’t understand – MY family REALLY loves food.” I DO UNDERSTAND. EVERYONE LOVES FOOD. If she’s such a foodie, why is her aunt explaining what tarte tatin is to her? Has she not watched a Bake Off?
And then — amidst all this fancy food description — the narrator took a smug, snooty, “above this” potshot at diners. Oh no. Oh hell no. I am way way WAY THE FUCK too Northeastern American for you to speak disdainfully of diners. Up this book’s. I’m not even couching this one in diplomatic “not for me, but maybe for you” terms. DINERS? HOW VERY DARE YOU. Right the hell up this book’s bum with a divine cup of diner gravy.
I finished this one! It’s a pretty quick read. I think it’s billed as a thriller/mystery, but I’d definitely call it more of a suspense novel. It’s about a woman at a sort of crossroads period in her life who becomes obsessed with a true crime podcast. When the true crime podcast host seems to disappear, Sera takes it upon herself to investigate. Through the course of just… things getting away from her and rolling downhill, she ends up almost stepping into the missing woman’s life as she tries to figure out where she’s gone and what happened.
The concept of this book? A+. I bet it sounds like something that’s right up your alley. It certainly sounded directed straight at me. I didn’t really like it, though — definitely an “it was okay” two stars. It just didn’t carry through the promise I felt like the concept had. I didn’t feel thrilled or suspended. I was alternately annoyed and bored, but also kept reading because, all right, let’s see what happened here. I don’t think it carried off or earned it’s ending — I didn’t feel satisfied or paid off in any way, and I felt like it was hasty and kind of hamfisted in the way it wrapped up. It was fine, it was okay, but ultimately forgettable and I will never think about this book again, other than to wish someone else had gotten a book deal with this same concept and done it better.
I really, really enjoyed this book. It has the same sort of character-driven story that I really enjoy in Fredrik Backman books, though Eleanor is a different sort of character written in a different sort of way, of course. There’s a bit of a bumpy entry, as Eleanor is extremely unpleasant as the book begins, but as it goes on, you get to see some real development as she interacts with other really, really great characters throughout the book. You get a vibe pretty early that not everything is as straightforward as it seems, a sort of unreliable narrator thing going on a bit, and at times the doling out of information does feel like it drags a little. Eleanor’s development and changes ring true, though, and feel supported and valid and realistic as the book moves on. I just genuinely liked Eleanor and Ray and Glenn and Ray’s mom. This was pleasant, it was exactly my style, and I liked it quite a bit.
This is a tough one to put into words. Not what the book is about, that’s easy enough. A woman whose life has not gone exactly the way she thought it would when she was a younger receives a request from an old school friend — one she has a complicated history with — to do a job for her. When she travels to see this friend for the first time since high school, she’s told that the job is essentially being a nanny for her two stepchildren, as her husband is currently being vetted for a soon to be open political position and everything is just very complicated right then. The thing is, these particular children — when they get upset, they catch on fire.
No, the part that is tough to put into words is what I liked about it. I don’t mean that in the “I struggle to find something I liked about this book,” because I liked it quite a lot. I’m just not sure what specifically it was that I enjoyed so much. I liked seeing someone who had no experience with children or desire to have experience with children jump in with both feet and get stuff done the best way she could figure out, like the rest of us do. I liked how complex but also kind of simple her relationships with the kids, her childhood friend, and her own mother were — they were not great but realistic and workable in an “it is what it is” kind of way. I liked the side characters, the way they were written and the roles they played. I liked how it all shook out in the end. I like that it’s about just doing the best you can when it comes to life and kids. I just liked it. You should try it.
That’s it! That’s what I read and didn’t read this month. It looks kind of shitty, with that long streak of 8 books I didn’t finish, but if you look at the 7 I did finish, there’s one 2 star, one 3 star, and FIVE 4 star books. That’s not bad at all. I was pretty careful — since I had such limited reading ability last month — to not force myself to books I wasn’t feeling, whether totally and permanently, or just not at the moment, so I didn’t end up sunk too deep in anything I was hating and resenting. Almost everything I did finish was pretty enjoyable, so even though my not finished outweigh my finished books this month, I’m going to call it all in all a pretty good one.
Coming up soon and/or later this month on no particular schedule because there is no law and I answer to no man or internet: reading plans for April that will surely quickly go all to hell, bigger reviews of The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren (Goodreads) and Fragile Remedy by Maria Ingrande Mora (Goodreads), an update on my ambitious reading projects, and something something goal for the year something something not fully fleshed out idea.
Thank you for your attention. Good bye.
You know I take a lot of books out of the library. I currently have a lot of books out of the library. Having a lot of books out of the library right at this very second doesn’t stop me from adding even more books to my hold list, many of which immediately look much more appealing than the ones I have currently sitting next to me, unfinished or as yet unopened. Perhaps this is the problem with considering the library your personal book storage area — I can just put some of these back for now and look at the other ones, and swap them around at will. It’s just storage after all, it’s not like they vanish into the void if I don’t read them. I will just go back into storage and get them again when I need them! Like my summer clothes when it gets warm.
I do not own any summer clothes, but I am trying to relate to you, normal humans with normal human lives.
In order to facilitate this process, I threw up some polls on my Instagram yesterday, one for each book I have out from the library currently. Two options:
👍 – Keep the book, read it now, or read a chapter before deciding
👏 – Send it back now, maybe take it out again later, perhaps never look at it again, with an understanding that if you selected this option and did not also message me to tell me the book was absolute garbage and would definitely be a waste of my time, I would definitely know and hold a grudge forever
I wasn’t feeling well last night — or today (yawn disease, it’s very serious) — so only took a quick look at the polls before slipping into a 12 hour light coma. I figured I’d look at the final totals after 24 hours and send what needed to go back out with Phil on Friday, when a whole bunch should be ready to be picked up. When I went to sleep, all the polls were leaning fairly heavily in whichever way they were leaning, and split pretty evenly among which ones I should read now and which should go back.
Well, when I woke up, they’d pretty much all shifted over the line into “keep and read now.” Every single one of them.
I’ve only got two eyes and to be honest, the one on the right is swollen closed a good 40% of the time, (am I winking? am I preparing to audition for Hook 2? is it trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias? I like to keep an air of mystery.) so while I appreciate your individual participation efforts, collectively you’re all terrible.
That said, everyone does enjoy a good quiz or participatory poll in which we get to voice our opinions and preferences about things that ultimately don’t matter in the grand scheme of the world but still allow for the space to hold Very Firm Ideas, so here are some book related This or That? style questions for you to answer.
I suppose this could be the difference between a character-driven book or a plot-driven book, though many books with heavy character development can also have tight and contained plots, and many books focused on a specific event can have a very defined cast of characters. But setting aside the books in the middle of the Venn diagram here, which do you prefer?
For following one character or perhaps group of characters, I think of something like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, or maybe A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Yeah, stuff happens, but mostly you’re on a long meandering path through life with these specific characters. For a more isolated event type thing, maybe something like a suspense/thriller novel such as The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena — a child disappears, we find out who is responsible; or The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker — the book starts with the onset of a virus and ends when the virus goes away.
So, for you: one character(s) or one event?
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but the next couple of questions are about series in general, so I suppose I should ask if you even like series to begin with, understanding of course that you could prefer one or the other but still pick up your non-preferred option if you’re feeling compelled enough.
I don’t think we need examples for this one, so for you: a series or a standalone?
When you find a book you like, do you want to just spend as long as possible in that particular world with those particular characters, or do you want several books-worth of one deep story arc?
For a series with multiple stories, I’m thinking things like say, The Baby Sitters Club — all the same characters, different stories. Or maybe the Shopaholic series. Again, same main character, different main events in each book. I think long running detective novel series could fit here, too, where it’s a million different murders and the same detective solving each one in different books and honestly isn’t anyone suspicious of this detective yet?
A series with one arc is pretty easy to come up with a bunch, what with the rise of the dystopian trilogies from a little while back. So something like The Hunger Games or Divergent – it’s several books, but there’s going to be an end to the overall story at some point.
For you: in a series, a lot of the same people or a lot of the same story?
This is one of my biggest problems — I want to be in on anything fun and exciting that people are enjoying, but like many or even most people, I imagine, I struggle to keep up momentum when I have to wait a long time between books. And I have a terrible knack for hearing about things just a little late sometimes, and joining in right when the second to last book has just come out. And then I have to WAIT. And if I have to wait a long time, I have to go back and reread the earlier books to prepare for the finale when it comes out.
If I wait for a complete series, though, I miss out on all the fun excitement and buildup hype as the series is released, and I HATE missing out on things that look exciting that I could have joined, I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO WAVE THE FLAG AND WEAR THE MATCHING JACKET. But on the other hand, I can read everything in one big swoop, and people who are very big fans are enthused that I am finally GETTING IT, and I get that because I truly love it when someone gets into something I have been into forever and demand round the clock text updates while I try to keep myself from exploding with glee that THEY’RE GETTING IT, THEY’RE SEEING IT.
For you: do you want to be in on it from the start and join the fandom from the ground up, or wait until it’s all done and possibly miss out on the excitement build up, but get the satisfaction of bingeing the whole thing?
Okay, look, there’s space for everything in all of our reading. There are a lot of important books out there. A lot of heavy books out there. A lot of stuff to make you think, a lot of stuff critics are going to call “beautifully” written, a lot of stuff that is going to challenge you and maybe make you uncomfortable and maybe be hard to get through AND A LOT OF STUFF PEOPLE CALL LITERARY FICTION which I totally know is a valid classification but causes an immediate SOUNDS LIKE HOMEWORK recoil reaction in me. And there’s also the other stuff.
Remember when 50 Shades was first a Thing and people were calling it Mommy Porn (shut the fuck up) and people were hiding that they read it or being kind of ashamed to admit that they read it or being outright shamed by smug asshole think pieces about why dumb silly women were reading dumb silly things when the men were reading Important Books (they were the fuck not) and ugh, you remember all that, right? Thank fuck that’s over, and don’t bother to tell me if it’s not, because I will read a book of wall to wall sex broken only by pages dedicated not to plot or dialogue but merely instructions to rest my chicken finger there on the page because nothing important like sex was going to happen on that page so it won’t matter if it gets a little greasy, I do not give a shit and I am not embarrassed, I am a goddamn adult and do what I want.
THAT SAID, there are a lot of very important books out these days, a lot of books that are hard or challenging to read, a lot of stuff we should read, and that’s all very good, but it’s lead to a whole new kind of guilt feeling, one not attached so much to what I am reading but more attached to what I am not reading at the moment instead. There are a lot of books these days I want to read and more than that, feel obligated to read, like feel like I must bear witness to this book, it is a responsibility and something I must do, and every time I hold up a different book, it feels — TO ME, I do not know what everyone ELSE is thinking because that is not my business but that will not keep me from thinking MY things — like I am announcing what I am not reading rather than what I am, and everyone is reading very Big and Important and Heavy Things and thinking Thoughts about them and I am over here like “I WAS TOLD THIS ONE HAS FAERIE SEX.”
So this is the question: understanding that we are all adults and we all have very limited time to read. Understanding that we do all truly want to be well-rounded people. Understanding that we all know the importance of exposing ourselves to hard topics and deep dives and new perspectives. Understanding that none of us are putting any value judgments on each other EITHER WAY. And understanding that for a lot of us, finding the time to read a single book a month at best often means choosing between the lightweight escape and the more culturally important or lofty “literary fiction” book (whether it is non-fiction, a novel, YA, etc) that everyone is talking about. Which way are you going?
For you: if you’ve got the time and brain space for one book a month, is it The Important One or The Other One?
Okay, five is enough for now because I just thought of fourteen more. I’m going back up to the title right now, braving the spikes, to add “Pt 1.” I will gather more opinions from you another time.
Okay, so here’s the thing. There’s a lot of different kinds of DNFing a book, I think. Or there’s just one kind, the kind where you don’t finish it. But this is my blog and my book pile and my reading choices, so you can believe there’s only one kind of DNF but you still have to sit here and listen to me tell you there’s more than one, because the door snapped shut behind you and there’s spikes or something, I don’t know.
When I took this picture, all three of these books were existing in various stages of DNF. But they were all still here and all still had the potential to be F’d, so more like Schrodinger’s F. Something like that. Spoiler: one got finished, one might still get finished, and one is never going to get finished, and if you stop this blog post right here, I think in theory they all exist in some kind of hovering finished/unfinished state. I think that’s physics? I don’t know. I have a philosophy degree.
Just now, when I stood up from the exhausting task of inserting an image and writing 150 words — which honestly is less than I say to my toothbrush and toothpaste each morning as I verbally walk them through the task of tooth maintenance — to wander to the pantry even though I’m not hungry and eye the kitchen even though I know there’s no food there, only ingredients to make food, and besides, I am not hungry, I was thinking the order for talking about these books and it suddenly struck me that what all of these three had in common, for me, was issues with characterization and not that they all, at one point or another, hovered in an undecided state of F’d/not F’d. You’d think I’d go back up to the title and reattempt my approach with this new angle in mind, but that’s because I took such a long time off blogging that you forgot that there’s no turning back for either of us, once we get going, and that’s how it’s been for like 15 or 20 years now. Spikes, etc.
I just took another break to think about who has actually been reading my various blogs for a whole 15 or 20 years and you know what, I think it’s Brien. Just Brien. Hello, Brien. A professional, at this point — probably doesn’t even look back anymore, well aware there’s no point. Spikes back there, only way out is through.
All right, let’s get all the mystery out of the way immediately – this is the book that is hovering in the state of “I haven’t finished it, but I am still allowing for the possibility that I might finish it.” I’ve sent two batches of books back to the library since I started this one, started and finished other books since I started this one, started and not finished and returned to the library other books since I started this one, but it has stayed on my shelf, started but not finished but also not sent away. I don’t know if I’m going to finish it. I’m not feeling especially pressed to finish it. I haven’t sent it back, though, because it seems like it should fall right into #1 on the list in my post of 14 unnecessarily specific features, tropes, and plot points I like in books, which is “any sort of game element.” It’s got “game” right in the title, and seems to call back directly to The Westing Game, with a mysterious unknown rich person dying and leaving money to the protagonist and the protagonist is like, wait, what the fuck? But also kind of rolls with it, for reasons.
Since it seems like it will fall so directly into one of my own listed favorite things, I feel like I have to give it more of a chance, because admittedly, so far, I haven’t given it much of one. We’ve found out that an old rich person has died, and we’ve found out that our main character has been left all the money and stuff, and there’s a ton of complicated family who has not been left the money, and there are conditions on the protagonist receiving the money, of course, which I guess will be the “games” portion. But I haven’t gotten to any games yet. Are there going to be clues? Is it a scavenger hunt? Is it a structured game or more of a free form thing? I must find out the nature of the game before I can quit entirely.
The reason I haven’t gotten very far, though, is a reason that isn’t exactly fair, and I understand that it’s not fair, so I hope you will understand that when I tell you this reason, I am not shitting on the book for this reason, or acting shocked and upset about this reason, or let down specifically because of this reason, it is just a reason that I have. It’s all going to be fine.
Within the first three pages of this book, we are hit with SO MUCH character info about Avery (I had to go look up her name, obviously I don’t remember characters’ names, you know you have to look them up, too). In three pages, this is what we learn: she plays chess with a homeless man in the park to earn the right to buy him food without him complaining, she doesn’t have much money herself though because she has no parents, she takes on extra shifts at work for more money in a calculated risk that she can afford to spare that time from schoolwork and get a 92% instead of a 98%, she’s the first person ever to get a perfect score on a teacher’s physics test, which the school authorities are suspicious about, so she insists on taking a makeup test right in front of them, which she knows she will score perfectly again, she’s underestimated by adults, she takes care of herself, etc. I am not exaggerating when I say this is all within three pages, and it does carry on past that, laying on thickly how she works, supports herself, crushes it in school, is more adult than her older sister, is basically a take no shit, no-nonsense high school junior with all her ducks in a row and plans for the future and basically perfection, oh but also, “invisible” at school as people like her are meant to be, so she’s definitely unassuming, too.
I am not saying any of this is bad, I am just saying it was a lot, and leads into what has made me really hover with this book – it reads very distinctly YA. “BUT,” you bellow at me, “IT IS YA, SO HOW DARE YOU FAULT IT FOR BEING YA?” I’m not faulting it, calm down. Lots of adults read YA knowing they’re reading YA and being totally fine with it. I read a lot of YA knowing I’m reading YA and I’m totally fine with it. It’s just that I don’t find that this YA book is appealing to me in the same way it might appeal to a Y-er A. You know? You know what I mean? I would… hm, not necessarily relate better to the character if I was a Y-er A myself, and I don’t need to relate to every main character in every book I read. And it’s not that I find her unappealing. I just do not find her compelling to me now as I can imagine I might have in my Y-er days, and besides, the book is still here. I still might read it! Calm down!
It’s got a game (maybe!) and I’m into that. I will give it some more chance. I will update you.
Although, I did just go look it up to get the Amazon link for above and I see it’s a duology and ehhh that one Chrissy Tiegan grimace gif. You know the one.
This is the DNF. It is not getting F’d. For me, this book is un-F-able. I don’t rate books I don’t finish, for the most part, nor do I log them in my totals of books read, which really chaps my ass when I look at my read count for the year, and makes me seriously consider changing my tracking to books processed instead of books read because I process way more books than I actually finish and I feel like that should count for something, especially when I have given a book more than a fair shot. If I did log and rate books I don’t finish, though, this would be a solid 1 star “not for me,” respecting of course that it may be exactly the thing for you.
Again, characterization was a problem for me in this book. It has a fairly decent-sized cast of characters and a rotating first person perspective each chapter. Fine by me, I like that kind of stuff.
The book opens with a blackout, a scream, and an apparent murder, so no spoilers or surprises there. The set up is a wedding on a semi-remote, largely uninhabited island. The only people who live on the island are the couple who owns the venue, who are also the wedding planner and the chef, and the general do everything-ers in an event space. The perspectives we get in this book are the bride (an online magazine editor, which, come on, we all know is just a blogger who has outsourced some of the writing) who is marrying a hot Bear Grylls-esque outdoor adventure TV star guy; the bride’s sister and only bridesmaid; the wife of the bride’s childhood best friend; a groomsman who is one of the groom’s childhood friends, and the wedding planner.
The chapters are short, and almost every single one of them has a sort of not exactly cliffhanger line, but one of those “allude to a dark past/tragic event/bit of deep information unknown to the reader” sort of things, the kind of “and I almost told her about THE THING and I never tell ANYONE about THE THING and I thought better about telling her about THE THING,” with the implication that THE THING matters or will matter, and we’ve been informed that there’s A THING, but we’re not going to be told about THE THING until later in the story and come on. Tell me or don’t. It’s a suspense/thriller/one of those novels, I know there’s going to be THE THING or several THE THINGS, giving me five different notifications about five different THE THINGS two hundred pages before you’re going to tell me what any of THE THINGS are is just maddening. You can bait me with one THE THING. Maybe two. MAYBE. But so many THE THINGS and I am not eagerly flipping pages to find out what THE THING is, I am instead thinking “wow, this book has too many THE THINGS and it feels like it’s going to be exhausting.”
I could have possibly been interested in a THE THING or two, maybe, if any of the characters were compelling, but giving them each a THE THING that clearly matters to the character/is part of the character and the character’s motivation, but declining to tell me any of the things seemed to leave the book relying on almost cartoonish character development since we can’t actually know THE THING that has made them this way. The bride is so exacting and fussy, she can’t finish the table arrangements and harps constantly on her sister. The sister has some kind of traumatic THE THING, but we don’t know what, so all we get is extremely closed off and spooked “everyone look out for my poor sister” outline. The wife of the childhood best friend has some kind of complex about the bride. The groom’s childhood best friend is unsettled and disconnected and seems to know something, but WE DON’T KNOW THE SOMETHING SO ALL WE KNOW IS HE’S BEING A WEIRDO. And on and on.
You gotta tell me THE THING or you’ve got to create characters I give a shit about until I can discover THE THING. I lost patience, it’s gone back to the library, goodbye.
I read this one! All of it! And I liked it! But it did, at one point, hover in the F’d/not F’d space, and again it came down to characterization, in part.
This book is set at the Scholomance, a school for magical kids. If you’ll recall, both boarding school and magical/other training schools come up on my list of SHIT I LOVE, so this was another one that was right up my alley, which kept me pushing through when I initially thought I might put it down. On top of that, Naomi Novik was also mentioned in the comments of my post about my project with the ultimate goal of joining as many enthusiastic fandoms as I can (link), so two birds, one book.
I’m not gonna lie, this was a rough start for me. Likable characters is not something I require in a books I read, unlikable or evil or mean or bad or morally grey characters are all valid things in all kinds of books, and I have enjoyed books featuring all of them. But from the start, our main character Galadriel (who goes by El, not that anyone speaks to her) is so unpleasant, so bitter, so unhappy that it is just not a good time to be in her head. The actual reading experience was harsh, because she was so harsh. Add on to that the fact that the book throws you right in with a lot of information that can feel like a bit of a slog, and it left me feeling a lot like “why am I even doing this, I am not having ANY FUN.”
I did stick with it, though, for the same reason that I will probably pick up The Inheritance Games again – it’s got some of my stuff in it, and I seek out and want to enjoy that stuff.
The Scholomance has no teachers, no authority, no school holidays, no breaks. On top of that, it is full of monsters who absolutely will kill you. You get zooped right in there at a certain point in life and you stay there for several years until graduation, at which point you must battle your way out the single exit which is absolutely PACKED FULL OF MONSTERS WHO WILL ABSOLUTELY KILL THE SHIT OUT OF YOU.
Obviously, this would make one wonder why the fuck anyone would want to go to this school, and it does take a while for that to come to light. While all the pieces are being doled out via not-quite-info-dumps but still quite a lot of information to absorb along with the plot, we learn a lot about how the school works. Specifically, about how there’s pretty much NO WAY to be able to live, let alone get out, all on your own, and alliances must be made, and about how certain privileged kids come from long-standing magical alliances/families on the outside and have entered the school already loaded up with every advantage possible, which is not the case for El, who is not just on her own but a magical person of a whole different type all together.
All of the information about the way the school works and how one would eventually leave the school is part of what made reading about El so hard in the beginning — she knows she needs people, she even currently exists by hovering around the outskirts of groups who will acknowledge her, just to be able to halfway ensure her own safety when doing basic ass shit like eating and showering. When we enter the story, she’s started to figure out how she’s going to put some kind of plan in action to show the students what she’s actually capable of, maybe killing a big ol’ monster in front of them, in order to make herself an appealing asset for a possible alliance, as her own graduation is approaching the next year. Her plans keep getting foiled, though, by this guy Orion Lake from one of the powerful family groups. He just runs around rescuing everyone from everything, seemingly inexhaustibly, and she is NOT THRILLED to be rescued by him.
She’s existed this far on the absolute edges of what could be considered “social” groups in a school where you’re just trying not to die and is frankly kind of a real dickhead, so I didn’t know if I wanted to follow this whole thing — I didn’t think I’d be super compelled by a story where she kind of just pity-latches herself onto one of the advantaged groups, nor one where AND SUDDENLY SHE WAS VERY POWERFUL AND KICKED ASS ALL ON HER OWN STRAIGHT OUT THE DOOR, but none of that happened.
Instead, we follow her slow but steady process as she makes the necessary alliances and forms what could be called solid “friendships” (again, murder school, hard to judge what counts as friends) with people who will have her back just as she will have theirs. On top of that, she starts to find out a bit more about Orion Lake, the school hero, and why he does what he does, and further along, the consequences of his actions.
What really ended up kind of blowing me away about this book is hard to put into words. There is a lot of info in this book about how magic works, how one uses their magic, the different ways one might use magic. What the outside world is like, why the school exists, how the school exists, why the school is important even though it is ABSOLUTE MADNESS in there. Some things go wrong in the school (WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONGER IN A MURDER MONSTER SCHOOL, YOU MAY WONDER), some interpersonal stuff between both individuals, groups, and those inside and outside the major groups in the outside world is revealed. And the thing is, the thing that got me… there are no loopholes. Everything is wild and everything makes sense, right down to why Orion Lake is running around rescuing people all over the place, why El is not, why something went wrong, why the ways some people want to fix what went wrong are motivated the way they are — again, it’s hard to explain, but when you step back and look at this book and the world building and the society and the magic system and the interpersonal relationships among the kids inside the school and how the school itself exists and functions — it’s all so connected and so solid with such an unshakable thread of internal logic that holds it all together that it’s a fucking feat and a half of writerhood. Like, holy shit, for real.
I liked it a lot, but it’s not my favorite thing I’ve ever read, but at the same time, I am absolutely going to read the sequel as soon as I can because what the fuck? I’m just impressed. I’m just, you know, wildly impressed and it’s not even that I want to read more of the story (though I do), I just want to sit on the sidelines and wave a Naomi Novik pennant and CHEER HER ON. LIKE MY PROJECT GOAL SAYS. IT’S ALREADY ALL HAPPENING!
Anyway, F’d, not F’d, un-F-able.
That’s it. Thank you for your attention.
I mentioned in another post that I do not buy a lot of books. It’s not that I don’t want to own books (it is, it is that I don’t want to own books), but owning the number of books I would end up owning would be impractical on so many fronts.
First of all, we only have one bookshelf, and it is in my child’s room. She owns a lot of books. I cannot resist a Scholastic flier or a book fair and I’m not sorry. She also came into my bedroom the other day and said to me, “Didn’t you say you’d buy me anything I want as long as it’s a book?” Hmm, yes… that does sound like something I’d say. The manga has begun to arrive.
Second of all, I moved a bunch after college and then I married a guy in the military, and I’ve moved so many times. So many times. Moving books is the most hateful thing. Such a pain to pull off the shelves and gather from all around the house. So many very small, very heavy boxes. Such a pain to put BACK on the shelves.
Third of all, series. What if I buy one book of a series and it’s got a number on the spine, but I don’t like it, or I start it and don’t end up picking it back up to finish until some other time, and it’s just sitting there on my shelf with a number on it, clearly part of a set, and I don’t have the rest of the set, and it’s just existing in my house, INCOMPLETE? Who can live like that? I’d never sleep again.
Fourth of all, the way I read is a combination of mood reader/trend reader/obligation reader and it’s just inefficient to buy books — I can’t afford to buy them 15 – 20 at a time knowing that I’ll only read a few of them any time soon, leaving the rest to multiply in the night in my house, which they do. Even as a non-book buyer, every day in this house I come across a book that must be mine, because I am the one who lives here, but I have no idea when or where I acquired it or what made me acquire it in the first place and the obvious answer — book sex in the night.
The library is the solution for me. I can take out as many books as I want, read them, or read a chapter of them, or not read them at all, and send them back when I’m done. If I really liked something, I can get it again. If I thought I might like something but didn’t get to it, I can renew it, or get it again. If I started something and it wasn’t for me, I can send it back, and later if someone insists that I definitely will like it if I give it another chance, I can get it again. Nothing is gone forever, but in the meantime, someone else is storing it for me. Bless a library and all their shelves for storing all the books I have read and might want to read again, or meant to read but didn’t get a chance to, or started to read and thought maybe I’d like it better another time.
Okay, I understand that the library is not my personal book storage, but also… isn’t it? It kind of is.
I’ve talked about my extensive and obsessive holds management on a couple of platforms and it’s become clear that some people either aren’t using library holds at all, aren’t using them to their full power, or are very bad at using them. Elizabeth. So I’ve decided to do my best to tell you how I use them, though I appreciate that my methods might not be for everyone. If you just like going to the library and wandering and choosing a few books that happen to be there, that’s fine. If you only use holds when you’re after a popular book with a waitlist, that’s fine, too. If you’re suffering from “fuck, all my holds came in at once and I have normal human life obligations” syndrome, I can help you with that. If you’ve never used holds, don’t know what you can do with them, oh boy, let’s do this.
First, for those of you who have never used holds at all, you might think the holds system is limited to just waiting in line for a popular book, and you can absolutely use it that way. A sort of “set it and forget it” type of thing, where you place a hold on a book and you’re 253rd in line and you just go about your life until the library alerts you that it’s your turn. Then you go and get it. Very handy.
What you may not know is that you’re not limited to placing holds just on books not currently physically in the library. I mean, most of you probably know, but bear with me, we should bring everyone along on the library holds system journey, even the ones totally new to the concept.
In reality, what you can do is basically online shop for your books. Search the online catalog while logged into your library account and when you find something you want, you should be offered the option to place a hold. If you live in an area with interlibrary loan, this can include books that are at other branches, even really inconveniently located branches. There doesn’t have to be a waitlist for the book — it’s fine if you’re the only one interested and it’s just sitting on the shelf in there. Of course, you could use the online search to see if it’s just sitting on the shelf in there and just walk in and get it yourself, but you don’t have to.
Once you’ve submitted a hold, or 15 holds, or 50 holds, the librarians will go and get them off the shelves, if they’re physically present in your home branch, and if they’re not there but they are physically present in another branch, they will order them for you. In my library system, the inter-library loan… vehicle? — I want to imagine it’s a cargo van painted with books but it’s probably some boring car with a small library system logo on it because no one likes fun or wants to see me live my dreams — travels between all the branches once or twice a weekday and delivers all the requested books to the home branch of the person who requested it. When your books are ready, the library will alert you.
I don’t know about your branch, but mine is not especially economical with the notifications — I have been on the phone making a doctor’s appointment only to have my phone go off with 15 texts in a row. “So — Sor — Sor — SORRY — just a sec — just — hang on — sorry — just a — okay. Sorry about that. Library books.”
Then you just go into the library and they’re all waiting for you at the counter, like curbside pickup. Except it’s books, not hamburgers.
I bet they could make a KILLING if it was also hamburgers, though.
When I first started doing this and the numbers of books I was requesting at a time started creeping higher and higher, I worried that I was being a real pain in a librarian’s ass. However, I have since been assured by multiple sources that one, taking out lots of books is good — the more books are circulating, the more it helps the library’s budget. I don’t know how, that’s why it’s called library science, you need experts to explain that part. Moreover, the task of wandering through the library pulling the requested books off the shelves is one of the less tedious tasks one might find in a library. So really, have fifteen or twenty books at a time. It’s your job to boost circulation numbers, and it’s their job to get your books for you, and they PROMISED me they don’t hate it.
Holds can be active — they’ll pull the book for you as soon as it’s available, even the same day if it’s in the building right then, or suspended — you have taken your place in line (even the first place in line), but don’t want the book right now for whatever reason. Anyone else requesting the book can have it, and people behind you in line will jump over you, but if you’re 3rd in line when you place and suspend your hold, you are 3rd in line when you activate your hold.
When I am specifically looking for book recommendations or watching booktube videos or scrolling through bookstagram or doing anything at all that is exposing me to a lot of books I haven’t read but might like to, I always have my library account open in another tab. I search the book and if I find it, I put it on hold and immediately suspend the hold. By the time I’m done dicking around online for the night, I’ve usually added 10-20 suspended holds to my list.
Once I’m done, I check in to see where I stand with everything.
If I’m way far back on the list, I’ll usually immediately unsuspend the hold so that I keep moving along the list as people take their turns. Also, this may be particular to my library system, I don’t know, but the “on XX copies” is never accurate. I don’t know how they’re counting their copies of books — best I can figure, it includes the physical books, the ebooks, the audiobooks, whatever versions they have. Even then, I assure you, there are not 95 copies of a single book in this small town library system. Some of them will say I’m hold #5 on 0 copies, all while cheerfully moving people along the line. If there are zero copies, what are you lending, library? I don’t know what that’s about, but it’s weird and I ignore it. Point is, if I’m something like #141 on a supposed but suspicious 95 copies, I know I’m not making it to number one soon. I’ll keep an eye on my place and as I finally get to number 4, 3, 2, etc, I’ll either leave it unsuspended, or suspend it then to hold my place at the front if I’m not quite ready for it.
Next I look at the ones where I don’t care where I am in the line, first or millionth, I want it as soon as it’s available, and unsuspend those, as well. Our trips to the library will revolve around when the books I am most excited for become available. These could be new releases or backlist, doesn’t matter, I don’t know what’s going to blow my skirt up at any given time.
Everything. Else. Stays suspended. Poor management of the suspend feature is how you end up with your book cycle synced up to a reader of similar style who also is poor at holds management, landing you repeatedly in the “oh fuck, all my holds came in at once and I have normal human obligations” situation over and over again.
This does not happen to me, do you know why? Because I am an expert at holds management and also I have no normal human obligations.
My negotiation with suspended holds revolves around my husband, really — trying to minimize his trips to the library because I can’t drive — I do want you to know, though, and I don’t know why it’s important to me that you know but it is, that I can drive, I am capable of driving a car, it’s just that at the moment, I don’t have a license, because when my husband was in the military, I was allowed to have an expired license, and when he retired, I had to get an updated license, and it had been so long since I’d had a valid license (my expired license was technically valid!) that I actually had to retest and reapply, which involved getting my doctor to sign off, and she was like “oh, honey, no.” I didn’t get my license taken away, I just… have not yet gained the medical authorization to possess a driver’s license again.
I know how to drive a car! I’m just not allowed!
My suspended books are my fill in books. If I wanted/needed them the second they were available, I wouldn’t have them suspended. Rather, they’re just things that caught my interest for one reason or another and I mean to get to them at some point. Sometimes books languish on there for so long that by the time I get them, I am getting books from when I was deep in an “oh yeah I’m definitely going to be a thriller person” phase and turns out I was wrong. Eight months ago.
When one of my non-suspended holds that I want right away becomes available, I look through my suspended holds and see where they’re at — this does involve tediously clicking on each link to see how many physical copies there actually are and what branches have them. If my husband is going to return some books due that day, I’ll unsuspend some holds that I’m the only person in line for that are also available at my specific branch — if I do that in the morning, they’ll be ready for him to pick up after work. I don’t like to send him in for just one book, even though he also assures me that library business is no chore, since it’s directly on his way to and from work.
No, I have to engage in my LEAST favorite book trope — “I have to do what I think is best for you even though you have given absolutely no indication that you need or want me to be high handed in this manner as you are perfectly capable of deciding what’s best for you on your own.”
If I know I have books that have to go back within a few days, I’ll also unsuspend some holds that are located at other branches — they usually show up within a day, two at most. If I think they’ll arrive at my branch before books in my possession need to be returned, I’ll switch them to active so they have a chance to arrive, saving Phillip a trip. Well, in theory. In reality, I still send him to the library with obnoxious frequency, but I do my best. Books that get pulled have a few days grace period where they stay reserved for you, so this is where I practice my most intricate juggling — when things I have must go back, how long I have before the things that have been pulled for me will be given to the next people on the list or put back on the shelves, how many books I have coming from other libraries and when I think they might arrive and sometimes — sometimes — I’ll check when a book I am next in line for is due to be returned, and take a gamble on the person who has it actually returning it on time and unsuspend that one, too.
I’ll be honest, that last bit fails a bunch, especially now that books are being held in quarantine for 72 hours once they’re returned. That’s usually the reason Phil ends up at the library twice a week.
I send books back almost as soon as I’m done with them, and I try to make it so Phil doesn’t go to the library to drop things off without also having a stack waiting there for him to collect. I’m efficient. My bed is also usually absolutely covered in library books that he unceremoniously throws onto my legs when he gets in bed at night (by “absolutely covered,” I mean I put them in my book storage, and by my book storage, I mean Phil’s side of the bed).
I have to keep pretty good track of due dates, too, because the books come in to me in batches, but they don’t leave me in the same batches. I almost never renew a whole set at once — if I know I’m just not going to pick it up soon, I send it back. I can always get it again. If I finished one from a batch of books I got two days ago and one from a batch of books I got three weeks ago, I’ll send them back together (and of course more come home, with yet another due date). It is absolutely unreasonable of me to tell you, a person with normal human obligations, to keep track of 15+ books, all with different due dates and different numbers of renewals left and absolutely nothing able to be efficiently batched together to make sure books are read and returned in an orderly fashion to suit your probably pretty orderly life. The way I do things is absolute nonsense and no one could reasonably be expected to obsessively manage their holds in such a manner, but I THINK IT WOULD BE REAL COOL IF YOU DID.
In exchange for putting up with my nonsense, I will tell you a cool trick — as soon as you hear about an upcoming book that you’re very interested in, search your library for it. If they’ve ordered it, it will say “on order,” which means… they ordered it. They don’t have it because it’s not out yet. You can drop yourself right into the first in line spot for that book as soon as it arrives. YOU FIRST.
And? And? And? If the library does not have the book on order you can just REQUEST THAT THEY BUY IT. And this varies from library system to library system, but chances are good that they will! Then get in line! And store your new book at the library in your personal book storage!
I am interested to hear how you are using library holds. Not at all, just browsing the shelves in person and picking up what looks interesting? Only for popular books where you want to make sure you’re in line? OBSESSIVELY AND IN A DEEPLY, DEEPLY COOL FASHION, LIKE MYSELF?
Thank you for your attention to my library neurosis.
Obviously we all want to read new and interesting and novel things, completely unique stuff we’ve never encountered before that ends up being like absolutely nothing else we’ve ever seen before and is also somehow incredible (because we must assume that part of the reason we have never seen certain things before is that they suck and never make it into our field of attention). Sure, yes, of course, excellent, I would like to read new and interesting and novel things.
But also I want to read the same things over and over until I die, and I’m not sorry about it.
While I will absolutely read the same books over and over again until I die, I think I am only about halfway finished with life, probably, so will also allow for the idea that I would like to read different versions of the same things over and over again until I die.
That said, here are fourteen unnecessarily specific features/tropes/plot points I like in books. If I hear one of these things is in a book, I am going to read that book. If one of these things is in a book and I read that book and I don’t like the book, I will be bewildered and howl to the skies, which are actually just my bedroom ceiling because I don’t go anywhere, “BUT IT HAS THE THING I LIKE, WHAT THE FUCK.” To be fair — or spectacularly unfair — though, I’m not only overly specific about these things, but also incredibly picky in a way I will not be able to fully explain, as well.
Knowing I am a fussy asshole about them will not stop me from feeling a mighty and righteous betrayal should one of these things fail me. I was born like this. I can’t do anything about it at this point.
I will do my best to explain things in a way that doesn’t boil down to “this is this way because this is the way it is,” and provide examples, as well. Some of these are infuriatingly nebulous, some go all the way back to books I read thirty years ago that imprinted on me or something. Some I am wildly dedicated to, yet can’t provide an example of it being done in a way that satisfies me properly. Including them may feel like I am breaking some sort of rules, but we’re less than 400 words into this post, so you can still scroll back up to check and see that I haven’t set any rules and I do what I want.
We’re over 400 words now and I haven’t even gotten started with the list, if that gives you any indication of what sort of supplies you should lay in for the rest of this journey.
Here are the 14 excessively specific yet somehow also vague features, tropes, and plot points I like in books and will read variations of over and over until I die. All book titles link out, something I will have to verbally inform you of until I fix this beshitted blog.
Ok, this one I can definitely trace back to being a kid the first time I encountered it – The Westing Game, obviously. I have been looking for The Westing Game in different books for thirty solid years. Another that I remember from childhood is one called Serendipity Summer, one I can’t actually find on Goodreads or Amazon, so perhaps halucinated it? I believe it was by Paula Danziger or someone in that general area, you know what I mean. Two sets of siblings have to spend their summer together, and their parents set them up a sort of scavenger hunt/list of activities to do in NYC. If they complete everything, they win some international trip at the end of the summer. I think. I am not certain. I have not read either The Westing Game or Serendipty Summer in 30 years, so I have no idea if they hold up, or if I even have an accurate idea of what they are. The point is, I like a book with some kind of game element, and not just children’s literature, those are just the two I remember inspiring this. Another example is Ready Player One.
A scavenger hunt or a mystery set up by an eccentric billionaire or even some sort of Amazing Race-like competition would work here, and I can imagine there might be some mysteries/thrillers out there with a similar feel, but more of a higher stakes sort of thing — like instead of completing a game to win a prize, it’s following clues from a killer to catch them before they kill the protagonist/someone else. Did I just describe mysteries? You know what I mean. Murder, but make it a game.
Let’s knock out another childhood-originating concept. When I was a toddler, I went to an in-home daycare. My sister, less than 2 years younger than me, also went there, and my brother, who no one ever remembers exists because he’s 8 years younger than me and to be entirely fair, I routinely forget to mention he exists, also went there, so my family had a pretty long relationship with the woman who ran it. When my brother was still attending, I was in the third/fourth grade and reading like a child raised before the internet existed, because that’s what I was. Knowing I was plowing through books at an absolutely unreasonable rate, the woman who ran the daycare gave my mother a box of her daughter’s old books for me, which is why so many of my formative books are a bit… dated. Anyway! The Caitlin Series by Francine Pascal, you know that one? It’s about a girl who attends a super upscale boarding school, with horses and stuff, and maybe she isn’t a really great girl, even though she kind of seems like an excellent person on the surface. There’s an accident that she is responsible for but lets someone else take the blame for, and she spends the trilogy just developing into a non-shit human as a result. That doesn’t matter. The point is, from there on, boarding school books are my thing.
I am hoping to get a lot of recommendations for this one, even though recommendations might be spoilers. By “secret identity,” I don’t mean superheros or the like — though I suppose I could. No, the particular version of this I like is when two people are talking online, and either one or both of them doesn’t know they know the other one in real life. Maybe they’re just friends in real life, or maybe they hate each other, doesn’t matter. It’s fun when neither of them know they’re talking to each other, and it’s fun when one knows and they other doesn’t and they’re trying not to get caught. Or something like Eliza and Her Monsters, where Eliza is writing a very well known and popular web comic, and the people around her are all very aware of it, but none of them know she is the writer. Same as Fangirl, really — which I did not really like, but please search this post for the word “asshole” for a reminder.
I think this could also pretty easily be referred to as a “found family” trope, which I also enjoy, but more specifically, I like when a friend group is all male or all female (non-binary inclusive, sexuality not a factor). More than that, I like when the friend group is solid. Maybe there are conflicts, arguments, etc, like you’d find in any friend group, but conflict within the friend group is not the plot of the book. Perhaps they are on a mission, or are solving a mystery together, or it’s just a slice of life book following this group of friends. Not “what happens when two of the guys in the group go after the same girl,” or any conflict that centers the plot around disruption of the group. Also, no token opposite sex members of the group — I like straight up explorations of female friendship or male friendship, without any sort of plot points revolving around gender. Just bros being bros, you know? Can we get some men platonically loving the shit out of other men up in here? Two that I can think of are two of my favorite books: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
For this one, I specifically mean just existence on a spaceship. I’m not super interested in the plot being a space mission, or the cast of characters being a spaceship crew with the plot focusing around the trials and tribulations of piloting a spaceship. Rather, I mean just people existing on a spaceship. Maybe they’re on a long travel somewhere, or maybe people just live on spaceships now, I don’t know, I can’t see the future. I can think of a few different things that fall into this area for me. Across the Universe by Beth Revis, the Illuminae Files, the podcast Wolf 359 (y’all. Y’ALL. YOU MUST.), Battlestar Galactica, which I watched while I was on 12 weeks of bed rest and flat refused to eject my child until I finished it. One of the very first fan fics I ever read, which was about the vampire Armand and Tempus on a long haul space journey where of course they were awake while everyone else is in cryo-sleep because they’re VAMPIRES and it was called Kiss of a Kinder Sun and if you can find it I’ll owe you something enormous that I probably won’t follow through on.
It makes sense to bring this one up now because IN KISS OF A KINDER SUN? THE SPACESHIP WAS CALLED LINNET AND IT TALKED TO ARMAND AND TEMPUS AND WAS COOL. I don’t know what it is about this one, but I like the idea of some kind of always-accessible universal AI that knows everything and can do everything and automate everything and maybe I’m just pathologically lazy and want a robot to do things for me and also be my friend? The Thunderhead in the Scythe series by Neal Schusterman is a good example here, too.
Another one that follows closely from the one before, because I was thinking about how The Oasis in Ready Player One basically has everything you need, you can do everything there, everything is accessible, wish-fulfillment kind of stuff. Warcross by Marie Lu is another book that has an immersive virtual world, and I’m not sure yet how deep it goes, but I have Slay by Brittany Morris on my TBR. It’s about Kiera, an honors student who is one of the few Black kids at her high school who spends her free time playing in an online game called SLAY, which ends up having real world consequences. This also fits the secret identity category, since no one knows that Kiera is actually the game developer, as well. VERY EXCITED FOR THIS ONE.
Let’s keep running one right into the next one, because for this one, I’m talking about stuff like Ender’s Game – kids at a school specifically designed to train them to be specialized at something. I particularly like the sci fi genre for this one, but fantasy as well — Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder is one that comes to mind. I suppose Never Let Me Go fits here as well. Anything about a specialized academy of some sort — I’m reading A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik right now, which I think is a good fit, and I have Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas on audio that I have high hopes for, as well. I think Lev Grossman’s The Magicians fits here, and I especially like the aspect of “I didn’t even know such a school existed, much less that I’d be a candidate for such a place, and yet here I find myself.” Harry Potter-esque, I suppose.
I think this one comes from reading The Boxcar Children, The Secret of NIMH, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. They’re not strictly survival, but the aspect I like is characters in situations that require them to develop plans and methods and devices for doing things that protect their position, like how the rats built a whole civilization with enormously advanced technology, considering their rathood, or how Claudia and Jamie sourced money from a fountain and slept in museum display beds. The Martian fits this as well, with the protagonist left alone on Mars having to develop his own methods for survival through trial and a lot of error and repurposing what he has. Another good example for my needs is the show The Wilds on Amazon, depicting a group of girls stranded on a desert island after a plane crash. This is actually a pretty wide genre for me, because I also include any kind of civilization building — whether a post-apocalyptic thing, or a group of people striking out on their own kind of thing. Even The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker fits in here for me, thinking about the kids left on their own when their father is infected with the virus, and the two college kids who don’t know what else to do but pitch in and help, utilizing “borrowed” cars and homes.
I assume this is more accurately called dystopian, and that’s fine. Specifically what I like is “wow, look how advanced we are, look how great everything is, pay no attention to the fact that something/many things are deeply fucked up here.” Obviously The Hunger Games comes to mind, with everything in District 1 being so great at the expense of literally everything else. Scythe is another good candidate here, with the concept of having conquered death. I’d even put The Circle here — the adoption of a massively handy yet massively invasive piece of technology and the consequences.
I don’t know how to explain this except to say that I want to read more books like the Silo series by Hugh Howey but don’t know how to ask for them. Please help me.
By obsessive romance, I mean like the stuff that gets reviews about how irresponsible the author is to even have written it, don’t they know that children could read these things and think it’s okay to become that deeply entwined with another person, or to think it’s an appropriate model for healthy relationships, and how dare the author publish such a thing, ZERO STARS.
No. No. FIVE STARS. FIVE STARS FROM ME. I am on board with the completely irresponsible depiction of romantic relationships, as I am not a child and there is no law. I prefer when the obsession comes from both sides and is wildly dysfunctional, but can also get into one-sided obsession as well, especially if it develops into two-sided obsession. Is this the world I want to see? No. Is this what I hope my own child finds in a romantic partner some day? HELL NO. Am I going to read about Travis Maddox in Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire every other year until I die? Absolutely.
I think Twilight can also fall in here, if more examples are needed. Two people absolutely wrapped up in each other to the point that you think “maybe get some fresh air, guys?,” except no, don’t get fresh air, stay right up each other’s butts, please.
This one’s got a lot of room for activities. For this, I think of things like Liane Moriarty books that have a large cast of characters, all connected in some way — family, social group, etc — and we get some of each of their perspective as they go through the same series of events. Or it could be books with rotating POV, where the characters are unconnected but experiencing the same events from different sides — John Marrs does a lot like this, like The One and The Passengers. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman is a good one here, too. Another option — multiple POVs from seemingly unconnected people that end up with all the various plots converging somehow at the end. I don’t want to tell you any examples for this one in case you don’t want to know but, like, totally unrelatedly? Apropos of nothing? Read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. You know. If you feel like it.
I like fan fiction, okay? I JUST LIKE FAN FICTION.
Anyway, these have been the 14 extremely specific but possibly also non-specific elements/tropes/plots I like in books. I am interested to hear if you have any of your own, and I am especially interested to hear any recommendations you might have to fit one or more of these categories, which of course I will then take as some kind of binding contract and commit myself to reading every single one with an eye toward looking out for the specific thing I like and how your suggestion fits it, embarking upon yet another project no one ever asked for yet I feel absolutely morally bound to complete.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
It is difficult to remember that I should not just pick up talking on this blog as if we’ve been in the middle of a conversation for 15 years and we all know each other already, just in case it’s unearthed by archaeologists or something someday, but honestly haven’t we been in the middle of a conversation for 15 years and we all know each other already?
(On the off chance you are new to me, I will do this one time, but for the future, you should adjust to the fact that I do not do anything with this sort brevity: TL;DR – I’ve started a project with the intent to join as many fandoms as possible, scroll down until you see black hearts to find the list and offer your own suggestions.)
Since we know each other, you know that there is nothing I am more enthusiastic about than things people are enthusiastic about. If something has a fandom, especially a very big, very excited, very deep fandom, YOU NEED TO MAKE A SPACE AT THE TABLE, BECAUSE I AM COMING IN.
Unfortunately, I am usually pretty far behind the times on these things — I mean, except for kpop, how many times did I tell you guys, I TOLD YOU GUYS.
Since I’m so far behind the times, I am never in on the ground floor of a fandom or one of the initiators of any kind of hype. I only become aware of it later, when it is loud and noisy and like six books or movies deep, and my attention is grabbed and everyone looks like they’re having fun over there and there I am, knocking on the door while the party is already happening. Hello, how are you, sounds like a good time in here, what are we looking at? Do you have a banner I can wave or perhaps a pin I can wear or an inside joke I can pretend to get while I catch up? Thank you very much.
The way I figure it, there are two kinds of “hype” with regard to this type of thing and books specifically, and both are good and valid and real and worth it.
The first kind is the hype surrounding something upcoming — like we’ve heard about a new series or a book from a popular author and everyone is adding it to the books they’re looking forward to for the year, tracking the release date, counting down, and just generally generating some pre-existence hype. There is no question as to whether or not that hype is worth it, because it is excitement for a thing that is not yet in anyone’s hands, so it’s just excitement. It’s people excited about a thing and looking forward to a thing and have a goddamn speck of joy in their lives, so heck yes, that hype is worth it. Sometimes, the thing comes out and it’s not as good as expected, or isn’t quite what it was thought to be, or more people find it doesn’t suit them than they expected, and that’s all right. The pre-hype was still real.
The second type is the type that I think inspires “Worth the Hype?”-type videos and blog posts and other media. The thing — or book, or series — exists, it has existed for long enough that many, many people have read it. Maybe it is the first book in a series, or a second or third standalone book from a specific author that is enough to convince people that everything this author puts out is worth pre-hype AND post-hype. Whatever it is, it’s out there and people are talking about it — a LOT. And very positively. Encouraging others to read it. Building up a fandom around it. MAKING FAN ART, GODDAMN DO I LOVE FAN ART.
(Note: Please follow me on Twitter or Instagram and send me all of your favorite fan art of Mollymauk Tealeaf, thank you very much, also guess which fandom I am currently burying myself up to my neck in.)
I think the second type is also unquestionable, in the answer is that yes, of course whatever is it is worth the hype. If there are an enormous number of people hyping it up, it would be pretty odd for one person to declare it was not worth the hype, wouldn’t it? A thing can very easily not be your thing, but a thing failing to be your thing does not negate the hype of the thing, I think. It is like Music Dudes who get on Twitter and tell all of us the thing we are enjoying the fuck out of is actually Not Very Good, In Case We Didn’t Know. Thank you, kind fellow, for letting us know that this thing we are delighting in together doesn’t have the Mediocre White Man Stamp of Authorization to Think a Thing Is Good. We’ll stop immediately.
Shut up, you wet salad. Are you listening to yourself? You sound like a wet salad.
Anyway, it is with these two facts:
1. All hyped things are worth hype, and
2. I would like to join your club, please
that I’ve decided to embark on a what is probably an extremely ill-advised project, because this blog itself is a project I have not yet finished, and I also have two other somewhat ambitious TBR projects in states of preparation, plus I am regularly accosted with the “but I don’t feel like its,” but I don’t need to tell you that, because we have been having this same conversation for 15 years now. (We’ve known each other for like 15 years! Can you believe it! We’ve made it!)
I am compiling a list of books or book series with either 1) a huge fandom, 2) have a lot of current/enduring hype, or 3) are particularly popular among my particular circle or maybe yours, because I have to allow for the fact that we self-select who we surround ourselves with, and books that I have seen a lot of talk about from the particular booktubers I watch or Instagram accounts I follow may be things that are very big in a very insular circle and not heard of outside of it. So there will probably be things on my list that might make you think, “but I’ve never heard of that at all?,” which would be fair, and in exchange, I offer you the opportunity to give me suggestions that are big in your self-selected circle.
I am going to read these things — not all at once, not all in March, but fit in around the rest of my reading, in order to give myself a fighting chance — not with the intent to determine whether or not the hype they are getting/have gotten is worth it, because we’ve already discussed this and determined that of course it is, but rather to decide if I will be able to wedge myself into this fandom. Keep in mind, the ultimate goal is for me to WEDGE MYSELF INTO AS MANY FANDOMS/NICHES AS POSSIBLE. I am not going to force myself to like a thing I just do not like, because not everything is for me and that’s fine, but understand that I am going into this with the INTENTION to go full fan girl wherever possible.
These are some potential problems I see with this project:
I might get bored and quit – absolutely. Guaranteed.
Solution: We’ve known each other for 15 years, I always eventually make my way back. Handled.
There are things people might suggest, very good candidates that fit the exact parameters of this project, that I might not want to read.
Solution: I will not read those things. Not everything is for me, as I said, and that’s fine. Handled.
Most of the books that inspire such ardent fandom are fantasy series, from what I can tell, and that is decidedly Not My Genre.
Solution: But I want it to be my genre. They have fan art. Handled.
I might dislike something that you very dearly love.
Solution: I’ve been offering you kpop for years and you’ve been shutting me down and I didn’t die from it. You’ll be fine.
Here is the list I have come up with so far, more to be added because there’s no law:
🖤 Sarah J. Maas – I have chosen two major series – the one that starts with A Court of Thorns and Roses and the one that starts with Throne of Glass. They’re the ones I’ve heard about. If you’ve got another suggestion, let me know.
🖤 Leigh Bardugo – Obviously Shadow and Bone is getting a lot of excitement right now with the Netflix series coming, so I’ve got to do this one right at the start. And then the Six of Crows duology? Is this the right order for these? Help me I’m new here.
🖤 Louise Penny books – I’ve gotten a couple of suggestions for these. I don’t know how big the outside hype/fandom is, but I’ve seen a lot of my friends tearing through these via Goodreads and they need to make some space for me. I’ll be starting with Still Life and then going in order of the series that starts there, because that’s who I am as a person.
🖤 Alice Oseman – Alice Oseman standalones have been hit or miss for me, but the graphic novel series Heartstopper comes up a lot where I’ve been internetting these days, and this will serve not only as an entry into this Heartstopper circle, but perhaps the graphic novel gateway drug I’ve long been searching for.
🖤 Carry On – Rainbow Rowell’s book about the story from the book that was about the person writing the story and this is like FANDOM INCEPTION and I must.
🖤 The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater’s books about… I’ve got to be honest, I have no idea. BUT I’M GONNA KNOW SOON.
🖤 Brandon Sanderson – You know I’ve got to, but I don’t even know where to start, so please do me a favor and point me at something.
🖤 Cozy mysteries – Okay, this is more of a genre than a specific book or series, but I find the name charming, and I like to be cozy, so I am going to research this further to come up with some titles/authors to give a shot to see if I am a cozy mystery person, because I don’t know how to express to you how much I want to be a cozy mystery person.
Here are some things I am questioning:
🖤 Bridgerton – I’ve watched the show, and I probably owned some of the original run of the series. When I was in high school/college, regency romance and Harlequin romances were my thing. When I cleaned out my bedroom when I first left for college, I was specifically instructed to “do something with all those books.” I took so many to the used book shop they said to me, “We can’t give you that much credit, I’m sorry” and I said that’s fine, I don’t want any credit, because I would just use it to buy more of these, please just have them. I don’t think it is a particularly challenging idea for me to get into romance novels because I am 76% romance novel. Besides, I do think I might want to read my old favorites. For another project. This is me, cheerfully telling you I’m about to drown myself.
🖤 Lord of the Rings – This has all the things I want – an enduring fandom, movies, references, jokes. THEY PROBABLY EVEN HAVE A BANNER I CAN WAVE. I’m hesitant, though. I don’t know why I’m hesitant. Probably because I think of it as capital F Fantasy and am concerned it will be too much for me, and I’ll take it on before I’m fantasy-prepared, and get discouraged, and then never try it again, and my one shot at being a Lord of the Rings fangirl will be ruined. I might save this one until I get some of the other fantasy series under my belt. Until I’m a professional.
🖤 Percy Jackson, Lemony Snicket, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – am I too old to give these a fair shot? I’m not anti-middle grade. I have a middle grade range child who refuses to like anything I love, so perhaps I should read them and tell her I hated them and see what happens.
Here are some things I am not considering, from my own ideas and suggestions I’ve already received:
🖤 Outlander – I’ve read some of them. I liked them. They only seem to work for me on audiobook, and while I find them pleasant while I’m listening, I never finish one and feel compelled to get the next book. I like them, but I don’t think I can buy an enamel pin.
🖤 Game of Thrones – I’m not going to like it. I already know I’m not going to like it. I’ve got it in my head that it’s very violent in a very graphic way, and that isn’t my thing. I haven’t watched the show, I haven’t read any of the books, and I’m not interested in giving them a shot. Note, as outlined above, I am not saying they are not worth the hype. I’m just saying I already know they’re not for me.
🖤 Harry Potter, Divergent, The Hunger Games, The Selection Series – already read them, am a regular level of fan.
🖤 John Green books – I have nothing against John Green, and do appreciate them as fitting the criteria as anticipated, hyped, fanned upon. However, I assure you, I already know of John Green.
Anyway, none of these lists are complete. If you have any suggestions or comments on those things I’ve already listed, please leave them below – WHICH IS STUPID AND WHEN YOU CLICK IT, YOU’LL HAVE TO SCROLL DOWN AGAIN I SWEAR TO GOD IT’S ON MY LIST BUT AS YOU CAN SEE I’VE JUST EMBARKED ON AN ENORMOUS PROJECT – or message me on Twitter or Instagram (those are LINKS which you CANNOT SEE I swear to SUPERMAN it is ON MY LIST). I will add to these lists as needed, create a overall project page linked above… somewhere, and create a shelf on Goodreads that I will also link at some point, for keeping up with this specific project. I expect I will update… monthly? That seems about right? Depending on how these books fit in with my regular reading and how much I get done every month.
My lists are not done, my plans are… loosely made, at best, and yet, I begin.
So please let me know about any big hype you’ve seen, or big followings you know of, or fandoms that you’re a part of, and – AND – I cannot emphasize this enough – PLEASE TELL ME IF YOU HAVE A FLAG OR BANNER OR PENNANT OR PERHAPS SOME COOL JACKETS BECAUSE I WOULD LIKE TO ALSO WEAR THE JACKET. Okay, thank you.
I don’t know if I read a single book in all of 2020.
Well, that’s not true, I read a bunch of books at the start of the year, following my usual habits of loading my library holds list and carefully coordinating the timing of suspending and unsuspending holds and tracking inter-library loan transit in order to maximize the enormous piles of books I had my husband bring home to me, all with the dedicated unwavering focus of an air traffic controller. I never read all the books I request at a time, but I have assured myself via several librarians and library employees that circulation numbers are important and no one hates wandering through the shelves to pull someone’s requested holds. I translated that to myself as an understanding that boosting circulation numbers is my job and sending long and varied lists of holds is assigning someone a non-arduous and sometimes interesting task.
I’m sure I read some in the beginning of the year, but I don’t think I could pull a single thing to mind if you paid me (and you could, if you wanted to, seeing as how circulation numbers are my job and I’m doing it), and in March, the libraries closed, leaving me with an enormous stack of my most recent holds. And they sat there. And sat there. And sat there.
I had some false starts here and there — maybe I got through one or two of them, read the first couple pages of a few more. Took a look at some things that had been languishing in my Kindle, tried to read in the bath. Picked out an audiobook or two for tedious tasks. I did read some things at the very beginning of the year, stuff I really enjoyed: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, The One and The Passengers by John Marrs. But it definitely ground to a halt early in the year, when the situation kept going… and going… and going… and the STATE OF THIS COUNTRY kept giving me bigger and bigger eyeballs.
I guess it’s not quite accurate to say I didn’t read anything at all for most of the year, though, because I did read – I read a lot. It was just all fanfics, specifically fanfics that I’ve read at least a dozen times each. Similarly, while everyone was talking about new shows they discovered in quarantine, I was also watching plenty of things, it’s just none of it was new – I watched Sherlock for the jillionth time, I watched kdramas I’ve seen over and over.
80% of the media I consumed in 2020 could be summed up in two words: NO SURPRISES.
That’s what comfort media really is for me – it’s not characters I find particularly lovely or plots I especially like. It’s stuff I’ve read and watched to absolute death, to the point that not a single facial expression, not a single WARDROBE CHOICE is a surprise to me. I can’t be shocked or startled or scared or taken unawares, I have been through this a thousand times and I’m prepared to go through it a thousand more. Nothing new is appealing, because I don’t know what’s coming, and there was enough “I don’t know what’s coming” going on in the world for me, all full up, no thank you, run Doctor Who from the beginning again, please.
Recently, though, my reading picked up at an absolutely crazed pace. At the end of February, I’m already about to surpass the total books I read in 2020. This uptick started at the end of January — hmm, WEIRD TIMING to suddenly develop the mental space for literally ANYTHING AT ALL. I won’t speculate as to what possibly could have changed. At the end of January. In 2021.
If you are similar in that you spent a lot of 2020, or maybe even longer — maybe even the last four years — struggling to find the mental energy for anything but the most mindless of media consumption, or only the familiar, and you think you’re ready to get back out there and play the book field, I have got a suggestion for you.
If you’ve heard anyone talk about this book, you’ve probably heard words like “lovely,” “comforting,” comparing it to a warm hug, and other similar things that are not at all like me to actually say, but here I am agreeing with them. This might be exactly what you’re looking for if you want to read something, but you’re not quite ready to read Something, capital S.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is about a man named Linus Baker, who works for a government agency in charge of the monitoring of the care of magical youth. He’s something like a social worker, I guess, as the most accurate comparison. He’s tasked with visiting orphanages that house children of various magical species and abilities, following the strict guidelines set out in a thick rule book to determine whether or not that particular orphanage should stay open or if the children should be moved or sent to a government school instead. He’s good at his job in that he takes it seriously, he follows the rules, he remains objective, and files his reports on time.
He’s so good at following the rules and maintaining objectivity, in fact, that one day he gets called up to the big bosses and given a special task — extremely classified — to go spend a month evaluating an orphanage he’s never heard of. In fact, it doesn’t seem like anyone has ever head of it. The Extremely Upper Management members are very interested in a full and detailed report on this orphanage, the six children who live there, AND especially the man in charge, specifically from Linus.
He goes to this orphanage and, you know, hijinks ensue.
I think The House in the Cerulean Sea is a perfect Coming Out of the Comfort Cave book because it touches on a lot of themes that we’re dealing with heavily in the real world — discrimination, respecting and honoring differences between people, viewing things from another perspective, the value of children as whole people worthy of all the respect and dignity we assign to adult lives, whether who we are is predetermined or a factor of our environment and the people who surround and raise us. It’s a lot to think about. At the same time, these issues are all dealt with on the page, not left sitting on you and leaving you stewing in fury and helplessness. We get to watch Linus work through all of these things as well as confront his own life, why it is the way it is, what he actually wants from it, and what’s stopping him from having what he actually wants from it.
I enjoyed the shit out of the experience of reading this book. It’s smart and it’s funny and the characters are well developed. I’d call it an equal balance between character-driven and plot-driven, though I did find myself wanting just a little bit more from each side. While I feel like we could have learned a bit more about this or that character, or had a bit more world building or backstory into understanding why the world is the way it is and how it got that way (though I suppose that’s not especially hard to imagine on your own), those are personal wants mostly stemming from the fact that I was enjoying the hell out of everyone and everything and just wanted more and more of it. There is enough in this book – plenty, really – that the arc of the main character, Linus, feels authentic and believable and earned.
What I think is funny, though, now that I’ve finished this — now that it has been one of my initial steps out of the cave of comfort media I’ve barricaded myself into for the last year — is that I know I’m going to buy myself a copy of this book. I like to use the library, because as I’ve said a thousand times, CIRCULATION NUMBERS ARE EVERYONE’S JOB, and I don’t feel pressured to have the newest book immediately, I do like a deep back list, I moved 11 times in 15 years and moving books is hateful, I feel oppressed by all the things I own. But this book, I know I am going to want to read it again and again, essentially turning it into the exact kind of “no surprises, only pleasant” coping media I’ve been living on for the last hundred years and four days.
I’M NOT SORRY, IT’S GREAT.
Remember when you first got a Goodreads account and started adding every book you could ever remember reading and quickly realized that was an enormous and impossible task, but you couldn’t just add some of them because that would be incomplete and infuriating, but if you just picked up from where you were in book life right then, people might think you’d NEVER READ A BOOK IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE because obviously your Goodreads shelves are empty or have one sad “currently reading” book on them and the whole process of deciding what to include or where to start was so impossible that you just did nothing?
Normally there’d be some kind of introduction in a first blog post, but the only people who I expect to see this are already familiar with the blog that came before this and anyone who is new can get a good idea of who I am as a person from that first paragraph. The important thing is, I can’t start writing a book blog from just some arbitrary point. I don’t have time to be concerned about getting to know each other when I have to carefully decide where to start a thing and what where I start might say about me.
Fortunately, we are still close enough to the beginning of 2021 that I feel I can catch you up on all 15 books I’ve read since then (we are all going to ignore the fact that I finished a book last night, making it technically 16 books I’ve read since the beginning of 2021, but as you can see, that’s probably not a good technicality for either of us to point out to me if we ever want to get anything done here), and from there, carry on as I’d like, as if I’d always been here, which I have, if you think about it.
We all agree to acknowledge the fact that I have read books before 2021, but these are the ones I have read in 2021.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have said it before and I’m probably going to say it 800 more times: this bitch loves a Backman. The premise of this book is ridiculous – a bank robber who doesn’t want to be a bank robber accidentally takes an apartment full of people hostage. Similar to some other Backman books, the plot was almost an afterthought (to me, not the author). The way Backman writes characters is either very clearly Not For You or 100% Absolutely Your Shit, no in between, and it’s not hard to see what side of that fence I fall onto. I love that the quirks that all the characters have seem ludicrous and overblown, but also rooted in the backstory that Backman provides for each character, and truly believable and relatable once you find yourself thinking about them – you are that way, or you know someone who is that way, or you definitely see why this particular someone would be that way. I love it, I love every Backman I have ever read, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have found my own “I will read everything this author writes” author while they are still actively writing shit.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This book. It’s a dual timeline thing – in the past, Vanessa is a 15 year old student at a fancy boarding school who enters into a relationship with her 43 year old English teacher. I don’t like phrasing it like that, but so it is. In the present, several students have come forward with allegations of abuse against this teacher, and have contacted Vanessa to encourage her to come forward as well. The problem is, Vanessa doesn’t believe she was abused. The book jumps back and forth between the timelines, with the past detailing how the “relationship” began and progressed, and the present dealing with Vanessa’s struggle against reframing what she thought was her one true example of loving and being loved and how that affects the whole rest of her life that has already passed and will come to be. By the time I finished, I swear to God I had grown fangs. I think most women can see their younger selves in Vanessa and you can see how things in the past are playing out exactly how these kinds of things play out, exactly how they have always played out and how it feels like they always will play out. Reading this book was kind of a helpless and invading and strangling experience and it feels weird to say I liked it, so I’ll say I “liked” it. I could say so much more about this book and maybe some day I will, or you can message me if you’ve read it and want to talk about, or if you think you might want to read it but want a warning of exactly what kind of triggering content it contains.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This book contains a lot of my favorite things – isolated groups/locations, building a sort of civilization/community from scratch, group dynamics, but in the end, it was a bit of a letdown for me. The majority of the reading experience itself was fine. It’s about a group of families, lead by a sort of… I don’t know what to call him, a child development specialist? An expert in raising children with various developmental issues? I’m not sure. A guy who likes helping families and has big ideas. He starts a camp called Camp Harmony, with the idea that his core group of initial families (all of whom have children with developmental difficulties of various sorts as well as neurotypical children) will help create the camp/society and live and work there full time, while other families pay to come and stay at the camp for a week or weekend at a time to benefit their children. You know there’s something off from the beginning and it turns out that there is, but for me, this book didn’t really earn its ending.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
This was a perfectly pleasant adult contemporary novel. A recent widow and a baseball player with the yips end up sharing a duplex and hitting it off. The relationship developed at a reasonable and realistic pace, and was also a reasonable and realistic relationship. There’s some misunderstanding, but of the mature, adult variety – not one person getting offended and running off without giving anyone a chance to explain, not someone misinterpreting something they saw or heard and acting on that knowledge and making a whole mess of things. Just two adult people trying to do their best for each other and not always hitting the mark. Everyone behaved the way we expect adults to behave, or at least hope they will. It was refreshing and comfortable to read.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
I’ve said before that when I’m reading thrillers (is this a thriller? suspense? either way) that I feel like I’m a visitor in a genre that is not mine. I do enjoy them from time to time, but I feel like I don’t have a good grasp on what makes a good one vs a not so good one, so you’ll just have to take my opinion on this book as how it was for me, not how I am suggesting it would be for you, because I know that this book is well-reviewed and I absolutely trust the kind of people who like this kind of book to have a better idea of what is good and what isn’t than I do. That said, this crossed too far into weird for me. I didn’t feel so much thrilled or suspended? Suspensed? As I did just kind of weirded out. I didn’t feel like the main character had any sort of internal logic I could connect to. Not for me, but definitely take someone else’s advice on this one.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Chanel Miller is Emily Doe of the Brock Turner Stanford rapist trial. Know My Name is her story from the night of the assault all the way through the trial. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author, and I definitely recommend that route if audiobooks are your thing. Before I started this book, it was hard to imagine being more angry at the state of the world shown through the lens of the Brock Turner trial as it happened, and I don’t know if I’m more angry. I don’t think I could hold more anger on this topic. But I was angry all through that trial and the ridiculous sentencing and the bullshit, and through all of that, Chanel Miller was Emily Doe and we didn’t know anything about her. This feels like necessary context.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This is pretty standard suspense stuff, what we’ve become used to over the last few years. I am not a person who gets upset if I figure out who did a thing or didn’t do a thing or predict a twist that is coming – I don’t feel like I need to be smarter than the book to enjoy it, if it’s well written. And this one was. It was pretty good, for a while. Standard, like I said, but if a formula works, it works, right? It’s just, this one went to the toppings bar and added just a couple too many kinds of sprinkles. Just one or two steps too far.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Goodreads says I gave this book four stars, and since I rate things immediately after I finish reading them, I believe me, but at the same time, I can’t for the life of me remember why. This is another one that had more of my favorite stuff – special schools, weird dystopian elements. Other than that, though, I couldn’t really tell you much about it, and I only finished it a couple of weeks ago. This is a terrible review and this is exactly why I had to catch up on all 15 now and keep up from here on out, because obviously there was something about this book that made me think it was great, but I feel no particular pull to reread it or talk about it.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
Sometimes Christina Lauren is hit or miss for me, but I did like this one. Another of my favorite things, where two people are internet talking and either one or both of them doesn’t know that they’re actually talking to each other. I was really pleased with the way the female lead, Millie, uses her fake profile to explore/set free parts of herself that she’s held back from her closest friends in the past, and her path toward meshing those two parts of herself together as the story goes on.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I don’t know if you want to read a virus book in a pandemic, but if you do want to read a virus book in a pandemic, maybe it could be this one? It was published in 2019, and I think if I had read it then, I would have rolled along more merrily, but since I read it now, there was a whole new weight given to scenes of kids crowded in dorm rooms, sharing shot glasses, and kissing all up on each other. Also, the parts about the government and human response to the illness might have seemed “oh come on, that would never happen like that!” if I’d read it in 2019, but guess what I read it in 2021. There were parts of it that I wish were just more – more fleshed out, more explained, more with this or that character – but all in all, I liked it a lot.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This is a “not for me, but maybe for you” contemporary romance. It says on the tin that this book (and series) is about a group of guys who read regency romances in order to learn how to deal with/connect with/solve problems with women. I feel misled by that, I would have liked to see more of like… a book club! The guys sitting around and talking about a book together! You know, like one does at a book club! Not just handing a man a book and hovering around at random as he reads it on his own and tries to figure out what to do with a single fictional case study. To be completely fair, I should have by rights backed out of this book from the start, because I don’t generally like romance with an established relationship. Our main couple is married but currently suffering from a major issue – I will leave it to you to figure out what that issue is, exactly, but upon finding out myself, I had no patience for either of them.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is a book about an aspiring author, not yet published but closing in, living in the tiniest of places with the dickheadiest of landlords, working at a restaurant because she wants to and it suits her and the kind of life she wants to have, her supportive friends and her not so supportive man friend, her distant brother and the seemingly less great man friend. There are no big dramatics, no speeding or slowing of the plot, what the is of one. It’s about living your life in a way that lets you do what you want to be doing, about your personal good man and your personal potentially great man, fitting yourself into someone’s existing life while they don’t shove over for you or choosing to be with people whose lives flow around your life with no one having to displace or be displaced or feel out of place. I think. I liked it!
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Listen, I believed everyone who said it was good, I really did, but still, there was a spaceman on the cover and it was a Matt Damon movie and I didn’t DOUBT that it was good but perhaps not my kind of good but Y’ALL IT WAS SO FUCKIN GOOD.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐*
There’s a lot of controversy that surrounded this book before and when it first came out, and that makes it hard to know how to talk about it – I don’t want to dismiss anyone’s concerns as “not a big deal,” because I liked the book just fine. This is a fantasy book set in a world with a huge amount of systemic racism – against fantasy races, but the parallels are clear and easy to draw to real life. I find it really hard to grasp whether it is a racist book or a book about racism, and I want to read a lot more opinions from a lot more voices before I make a final decision on whether I’m going ahead with this series. That said, I did like the story, which is unusual, because fantasy isn’t really “my” genre. I hope to have more to say about it when I can organize my thoughts.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
I really like books that play with time in a lot of different ways and this is definitely one of the more unique ways I have seen. The whole reading experience of this book felt very on a knife’s edge, because you think something bad is going to happen, but then you think it might not, but then you think it might but possibly it’s justified, but then again you think it might not happen but maybe it should, then things move along in such a way that you think oh bitch that better not happen, but then again, if it did, maybe it would be fine, but also it seems like it has to happen, but does anything really have to happen? It’s like you’re standing on the edge of disliking it/liking it with every page turn.
So those are the 15 books I’ve read so far in 2021, and from here on out I will proceed as if I am a normal human who reads books a normal amount and tells you about them in a normal way. Mostly. There’s some other stuff I want to do. This site isn’t finished yet but honest to fuck I can’t stare at one more line of incomprehensible garbleage telling me how to change link colors and it not working for one more second today NOT ONE MORE SECOND. This will do for now. I hope the comments work, but I haven’t checked. If you follow me on Instagram where I’ve been posting a metric fuckton of book content on my stories, please consider following @hellokorio instead, a totally empty account, because I am terrible at taking pictures, but do intend to in the near-ish future move my book-specific content over there, because I feel like if a person is going to change up their whole THING, it is only polite that it be opt in rather than forcing you to unfollow me on my main account which I wouldn’t hold against you, but would pretend I held against you to make you uncomfortable because that’s who I am as a person and I’m too old to change.