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Monthly Archives: December 2014

New Year’s Eve and the Last Twelve Books

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Well, it’s New Year’s Eve again. One year ago tonight (not to the minute or anything–I think it was later in the evening), I was sitting in my kitchen in Concord, NH writing a blog post about the five best books I’d read in 2013 when I decided I should read 50 books in 2014 and blog about them all.

Guys. I really sucked at the blogging part of that.

It’s the first time I’ve ever really made a resolution. I mean, maybe when I was little, but never before had I made a serious this is something I’m going to do next year commitment on New Year’s Eve. And I put absolutely zero thought into whether it was a reasonable thing for me to do–I figured I probably read at least a book a week. Actually, it was probably more. I think I spent a lot of the past few years taking a weekend and binging on a YA trilogy and rereading series that I’ve read a few times already and just fly through. I wasn’t figuring that a book a week was accurate to what I was doing at the moment. I was figuring that a book a week would be a good goal. Because if I’m reading too much more than that, then I’m clearly not challenging myself at all. And honestly, the books that took me a whole lot longer than a week were the ones I got the most out of.

I keep writing more, but I really wasn’t intending for this to be a reflecting-on-the-project type of post. I’ll do one of those soon when I discuss my 2015 project.

So this year, I’m having my favorite kind of New Year’s Eve. Reading and writing and maybe a little Mario Kart and some Chinese food. And the first thing I’m going to do is finish up last year’s resolution and blog about the final twelve books.

I didn’t read 50 books this year. Officially, by my notebook, I read 52 books this year. You could be really picky and say that since 1Q84 was three volumes in the edition I had but more commonly only one it should only count as one, but then I would point out the number books that I did not record. I read most of What If by Randall Munroe, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores, and about 500 billion picture books but it seemed ridiculous to count every single Elephant and Piggie in my end-of-the-year tally. Anyway, even if you’re being picky and refusing to count 1Q84 as more than one book, I still read 50 books this year. (And my boss, aka the owner of a bookshop, says it totally counts as three books since they’re individually bound, so nyah.)

Anyway! Here are the final twelve.

Book 39: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Here’s the thing about reading Murakami. When you finish, it’s so easy to put the book down and get lost in questions about specifics, such as: What the fuck just happened? But if you do that, you’ll miss the point of his books. The story—the plot, the actual things that happen in the book—those things aren’t the point when you read Murakami, I don’t think. Those things make the point. And there will be some point in your future, whether it be five minutes later or eight months later, that you suddenly completely forget whatever you’re doing at the moment and say: OH! Because you figured it out. You realized what the point was. And not only did you realize what the point was, but you realize that it’s so applicable to your life at this very moment, because his books don’t make stupid small points. (In fact, he doesn’t try to make points at all, which is probably why whatever I figure out in terms of the points always seems super relevant.) If you’ve read this book, or if you’ve read 1Q84, let me know because I would love to hear what you got out of them.

Book 40: A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

If you’re a science fiction fan, you’ve got to read this book. It’s about a group of scientists, human scientists, living in a research lab base on a planet that’s entirely under water (or some other sort of liquid, not sure if it was actual water), studying on of the native species there. But there’s another alien species out there that makes laws about this sort of thing, and the rule is that they can’t interfere, they can’t even let the species they’re studying know that they’re there. And the species they’re studying, it turns out they’re sentient, they’re intelligent, they’re scientific. And the thing that is so cool about this book, that brought it from being a pretty good science fiction story to something amazing, was that you get to hear each point of view. Each species has one representative with POV chapters. So instead of the whole book being about humans looking at the other, we get to think about ourselves as the other and realize that our point of view isn’t the only one that matters. And it was just so cool. I’ve been recommending it to everyone.

Book 41: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

I really, really like Saladin Ahmed. I follow the guy on Twitter, and his tweets either crack me up or make me think hard about something or, on a not-irregular basis, both. His book, The Throne of the Crescent Moon, was really good. I enjoyed it. It’s a fantasy detective sort of novel—well, he’s really a ghul hunter and not a detective, but it follows the same general idea—set in a medieval made-up Middle Eastern city. I loved the idea from the first time I heard about it, because, well, does anyone else get a little sick of everything in science fiction and fantasy being so…western? So that was this book. It was kind of like if you took the Dresden Files, except instead of making it about a wizard detective in modern-day Chicago, you made it about a ghul hunter in medieval Dhamsawaat. The characters are complex and multi-dimensional, with detailed lives and thoughts going on behind their ghul hunting ways. The world is built well around the characters, too—I really liked that, while magic was a fact of this world, it wasn’t there only for the convenience of our main characters or villains. It was built into life in the city. Now, you might be reading this thinking, Rachael, this sounds like the sort of thing you’d love but up there you wrote that you “really enjoyed it,” which, I mean, I read your blog and you love saying you love books! And you’re right. I do love saying I love books, and I would be lying if I said I loved this book. I really liked it, and I wanted to love it, but characters had a touch more religious fervor than I generally like in my fantasy. So, since I was comparing to The Dresden Files already, if you’re a fan, imagine: Michael is Dresden’s constant companion through the entire series, but rather than responding the way he does to Michael’s religious comments, Dresden also talks about God a whole lot, just in a slightly different way. Now, I get that it’s completely reasonable within the context of the story for the characters to be highly religious. I didn’t think it didn’t make sense. It’s just not really my thing. On that note, however, I am very much looking forward to the next in the series.

Book 43: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Before I start talking specifically about Raising Steam, I want to talk a little about Sir Terry Pratchett. He’s hard to talk about right now because talking about him makes me sad and angry. For those of you who don’t know, Pratchett has early onset Alzheimer’s. I’m not sad and angry because I want more Discworld books than he will be able to write. I mean, I do want more, I want them to keep going forever, but that’s not why I’m sad and angry. I’m sad and angry because, over the years, I’ve read so many of his books and they have given me so much that I absolutely hate knowing what he’s going through. It’s awful. Of course, he writes about it better than I ever will, and I urge you to read some of what he’s written—both about living with Alzheimer’s and choosing to die.

Anyway. Raising Steam. Guys, this book was amazing. My two favorite Pratchett characters are Sam Vimes and Moist von Lipwig. I bought this book knowing it was part of the Lipwig series, but having no idea that Vimes would play such a major role! (Uh, I mean. Spoilers. Not big spoilers, though. Shh.) This is the third Moist book. The first, Going Postal, was about con man Moist von Lipwig after he’s saved from his execution only to be sentenced to a career as Postmaster General in a city where the postal system is a complete joke. Not surprisingly, a former con man is perfectly suited to government work. In Raising Steam, Moist has been a pillar of the community for a number of years when someone invents a steam engine. Like everyone else, Moist is drawn to the shiny new technology, but Lord Vetinari gives him a task that seems impossible…but is it?!! When I read these, I feel just like someone in the book: An outsider, looking in, completely enthralled, wondering how Moist is going to pull this off, completely convinced that he’ll fail, because how could he succeed? And it’s wonderful. If you want to read this book, though, I highly recommend starting with Guards! Guards! and reading all the Vimes and Moist books (at least) before starting on this one; you really need the context of both stories.

Book 44: Bathing the Lion by Jonathan Carroll

This book was so good I added a sixth star to my rating system. It was like Neil Gaiman, Philip K. Dick, Haruki Murakami, Roger Zelazny, and China Mieville all had a brain baby and this was it. I read it while on a family vacation to visit my grandfather in Florida and at some point my brother asked what it was about, and I was about two thirds of the way through at that point, and I just—well that’s a really good question, I have no idea yet. If you don’t like being slightly unsure of what’s going on when you’re reading, or if you don’t like subtlety in your endings, this book won’t be for you. For everyone else, I still can’t tell you what this is about because there is literally no way to do that without spoiling the ending, so let’s just say it’s about humanity. It’s about the absolute necessity of human passion and curiosity and creativity. The one downside is that it’s only 280 pages. Over way too fast. (Also, has anyone ever taken a book on an airplane and had it grow? Like, even the guy sitting next to me commented on it. It tried to expand. Sadly, it didn’t grow more pages.)

Book 46: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I kept having to turn back to the front of this book where the author’s picture is located because, every few pages, I’d become absolutely convinced that “Robin Sloan” is a pen name that John Green used to write an adult book. I absolutely loved it. (I’m still wondering if authors who use pen names sometimes use a fake picture to really pretend it’s not them.) You’ve got a narrator who’s kind of in a weird point in his life, and he’s got this weird crazy group of friends who all have one completely random and very specific thing, and he meets this crazy weird fun quirky brilliant woman, and then weird stuff happens and there’s a crazy adventure and you learn something important about life when you’re done reading it. It’s so much fun, and you won’t be able to put it down, and then when you finish it you won’t be able to shut up about it for a while. Oh, and this is important: There’s nothing in this book that would make it inappropriate for anyone for whom John Green’s books are appropriate.

Book 47: Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

There’s a science fiction book club in my town, and this book was the first book I read for it that I was actually able to make it to the meeting for. (The first meeting after I joined was about Neuromancer, which I read recently enough, but since the meeting was at a member’s house and he was cooking, I wasn’t about to show up and say, hi, you’ve never met me before, give me your food, I hated this book that you love. The second was for A Darkling Sea, and it broke my heart to be stuck on an airplane on the way back from Florida when they had that meeting because I loved it.) Everyone in the club who finished the book liked it, but no one seemed to have loved it. However, it did have a fascinating idea behind it that a lot of space opera fails to consider or creates an explanation around. Traveling faster than light seems like it’d be completely impossible. So let’s say, in a few thousand years, we’re at a point where people are scattered all over the universe. Traveling from one planet to another could take hundreds or thousands of years. So, in the book, they’re not human, they’re kind of post-human androids that can basically go into sleep mode for most of that time. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, what does that mean economically? Like, let’s say I hire someone. I pay them a certain amount to come do a job for me, and it takes them 400 years to get here. I’m still here and they’re still there because we’re kind of robots with uploadable consciousness, but what about the money? Economic systems and values change quickly enough that by the time they can use the money, it’s worthless. So in Neptune’s Brood, Stross writes about that. What does that mean? What systems might be put in place to avoid that? How could those systems fail? So if you’re into science fiction and economics, this is the book for you. If you’re not so much into economics, you might struggle through it at points, but it’s still a good story and fascinating to think about.

Book 48: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I very nearly read this entire book in a weekend, but I didn’t quite finish it, and then the week started, and the week was crazy and weird and I barely had any spare time so it took me a while to finish after an initial whirlwind of addiction (and a whole lot of exasperation when I really just wanted to sit down and read but had too much other stuff to do). It takes place in the early 1900’s in China, beginning in a first class courtesan house owned by an American woman named Lulu Minturn. The story centers around her daughter, Violet, as she grows up an outsider and is forced to face circumstances beyond her (or her mother’s) control. Over time, she begins to understand some of the decisions her mother had needed to make. In classic Tan style, it’s a beautiful story of the love that families have for each other, and it manages to be that without being even remotely boring. I absolutely loved it and I’m already looking forward to Tan’s next book. (I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything Amy Tan has ever written. I don’t think that’s true for very many authors who have written more than a book or two. Amy Tan and good ol’ JK are the only ones I can think of at the moment.)

Book 49: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

SO GOOD. (I’m becoming incoherent, huh? I can’t wait to go to bed!) I’ve decided that I’m going to continue buying any book that looks remotely interesting and has a quote from a review by Neil Gaiman on the cover, because seriously, I am never disappointed. This book is about a young hacker in yet another made up Middle Eastern city. He writes a code that shouldn’t be possible, then comes into possession of a book that shouldn’t exist, and finds himself on the run in the company of his next door neighbor, an American student, and a possibly evil djinn. This book has something for everyone—some politics, some love, some magic, some technology, all with well-rounded, interesting character and some beautiful writing. I absolutely loved every second of this book. It was about the importance of ordinary people doing things to try to change the world, even if they don’t think what they’re doing will matter, because everything matters. Or, you never know what will matter. It was wonderful.

Book 50: Dawn by Octavia Butler

How have I never read Octavia Butler before? I’m so disappointed in myself. This book was absolutely wonderful. I felt like I was reading a perfect episode of Doctor Who (except, you know, without most of what makes it Doctor Who). It’s science fiction, but the science is alien and so far beyond any understanding that we have of science right now that it seems almost like magic as you’re reading. And it’s about humanity, again, and I really think that all the best science fiction and fantasy is at its core about being human. Lilith has somehow managed to survive a world-destroying war, along with a small number of other humans, all of whom have been taken by an alien race onto their ship. But the aliens are going to use the humans to change themselves, and in doing so, change the humans and the future of humankind. As soon as I finished this I went and got the rest of the series and I’m looking forward to reading a whole lot more Octavia Butler in the future.

Book 51: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

You know what I said earlier, about eventually saying OH! and understanding what Murakami’s book was about? I finished this two days ago. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m still in the “…what?” phase of having finished a Murakami book. This one in particular is strange. It’s got a jacket that goes the wrong way around it. The font is huge and it’s got pictures taking up about half the pages, and the whole thing reads a bit more like a piece of art than anything else. It’s appropriate for younger audiences, but I’m not sure I’d agree that it’s a kids book like at least one review I’ve read. It’s definitely not a full-length novel—I think it’s a novella, or possibly a novelette, though I’m not sure what the difference is. Anyway, I’m looking forward to having my moment of epiphany and reading it again when I do.

Book 52: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Have you ever read a book that took place in a town where you lived? This book was extremely weird, because it took place in Concord, NH, where I lived for three years until this July. And damn does this author get Concord. It was so much fun to read it and say, yes, I know that place, I’ve been there, oh that restaurant where the people were having lunch makes the best burgers ever, and if you said the streetlight at Warren Street works I know exactly which intersection you’re sitting at, and that weird science fiction movie series is exactly the sort of thing that movie theater would do. It’s a pre-apocalyptic detective story. A giant comet has been discovered heading directly to Earth, and impact will occur in about six months. People all over the place are committing suicide, but when Detective Palace comes across what looks like another hanger, sometimes seems off. Most people think he’s crazy for pursuing it as a case, given the end of the world, but he’s got sort of a Batman complex and is determined to do his job. It had just enough science fiction in it to intrigue me, but I’m really not sure which shelf this belongs on. I read it in approximately two days and can’t wait to start book two.

 

Okay, readers, that’s all for 2014! I’ll be back soon for some big reflections on this year’s reading and details about what I’m doing next year, but for now, it’s almost midnight and I have plans tomorrow, so I’ll be watching the clock (well, no, okay, I’ll be reading) for a little longer and then going to bed. (Sorry about the lack of pictures and links here. I might come back and edit them in later, but I’m really not committed to it. I’m tired and I might actually have the flu and it just doesn’t sound like that much fun.)

Does anyone have any book-related resolutions?

On NaNoWriMo, Sucking at Blogging, and Playing Catch-Up

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Someone asked me at some point whether I was planning on doing National Novel Writing Month this year. I hadn’t been. I’ve never done it before, and I had this whole reading/blogging project going on and a lot of catching up to do with that, so I didn’t really even think about it. But then, at approximately 3pm on November 1st, I realized that this year was different from past years when I have declined to participate in NaNoWriMo: This year, I had an idea.

This isn’t to say that I don’t normally have ideas. I have three distinct books bouncing around in me, all of which I care deeply about. But every time I sit down to work on them, I get a bit bogged down in details. I can’t go any further with this story until I pick a city for it to take place in and there isn’t a city that exists that is perfect so I guess I’m stuck. Or, This isn’t working from this point of view so I’ll put it on hold until I think of a better POV for it. Which, inevitably, results in these books being put on hold forever, because I want them to be perfect. And I don’t want to write these books without a detailed outline, either, because whenever an author of a book I’ve read discusses in an interview whether they used an outline or just “pantsed it,” I end up saying, yeah, I could tell. So I’ve got a bit more percolating left to do before I’m ready to write those.

This year, however, I had a new idea: An idea for a story I didn’t care about. A story that I could have a lot of fun with and not have to worry too much about whether it took place in the exact right city or which character should be the primary narrator, because as it turns out, I suck at that sort of big decision. This story, I could just sit down and puke out onto a screen and see what happens, and when I publish it, maybe do so under a pen name so that perception of my big three won’t be affected by this silly little story.

And it was a little crazy, and I went a little crazy. There was one night when I went into the basement and opened up some packages of magnetic poetry and organized them on a fridge by part of speech while singing Schoolhouse Rock songs under my breath. There was a vacation to Florida halfway through, which I thought would make finishing much more difficult than it did–as it turned out, the time that my computer freaked out and reverted to a version of the document from 5,000 words ago was much more of a hiccup.

And I won! Over 50,000 words in a month. I took a total of 8 days off (actually, that’s a lie–more like 6 or 7 because one of the days that I’m counting as ‘off’ is a day that my computer just lost my progress for so I might as well have taken it off). I learned that I have a lot more time to write than I previously thought, but a lot less than I was taking during November, and it’s nice to eat real food and get real sleep again. I learned that on a day off, I have no problem writing about 4,000 words if I have a sense of where I’m going with the story.

So, the question I’m left with is: Why do I suck so much at blogging? I clearly have time for it.

And the only answer I can think of is: When I have free time that I want to dedicate to my reading project, I use it to read. And when I’m not using it to read, it’s probably at least in part that about 80% of my life revolves around books right now. I work at a little bookstore, so I spend 8 hours a day playing with books, talking about books, touching books, et cetera. I leave 15 to 30 minutes early so I have time to read and relax before the day starts, and I go on my lunch break and read, and I go home at the end of the day and read, and I curl up in bed and read myself to sleep. In between, I go on Facebook to check updates from pages such as Book Riot and I Have More Books than Friends and NPR Books and other book-related pages for those of us who are completely obsessed. And then, sometimes, I try to write books. Don’t get me wrong: I do other things. I like to cook and I have a number of TV shows that I thoroughly enjoy watching. But for the most part, it’s all about books.

(If you’re reading this thinking, Wow, you must be so much fun at parties! allow me to stop you. I’m not. There used to be an inner Rachael who was good at parties who I would let come out sometimes, but I discovered when I tried to call upon her last night that she’s dead. I specifically selected my fancy-dress purse because it can comfortably hold a trade paperback (or squeeze in a smallish hardcover). Small, quiet gatherings of good friends are great, but large gatherings with lots of noise result in me lamenting the fact that while it’s perfectly socially acceptable to pull out your phone and stare at it in the middle of a shindig, it’s still frowned upon to pull out a book and read. However, the Rachael who cares that it’s frowned upon is, likewise, dead.)

The point that I’m trying to make is that it’s no surprise that when I’m on the computer, once I’m all caught up on the book-related news I get via Facebook, my first instinct isn’t necessarily to run over here and write about books. However, I made a commitment to blog about 50 books this year, and I’m right on track reading them—halfway through number 47—but have only blogged up to number 26, so here I am with a sort of quick and very dirty update of the next, oh, let’s say 14 books on my list, giving me ten left afterward. Here goes.

Book 27: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Do you know how hard it was to find this picture and not the movie cover picture? Kind of. It was kind of hard.

I picked up Gone Girl before I got my job at a bookstore, but long after I had begun hoping to get a job at said bookstore, and I figured, everyone I know seems to have read this book. Maybe I should read it for, you know, product knowledge. And then one day when I was away with my mom for a weekend, I finished a book (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) and asked my mom which of the three books I brought with me I should read next. She selected Gone Girl because she’d read it and we could talk. I finished it over the course of the weekend, and I absolutely loved it, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized that I loved it because I read it wrong. “How did you read it wrong?” you’re asking, confused, and I understand your confusion. It’s a book! You read it! Yes, I know, and here’s what happened: I read Gone Girl and thought it was absolutely hilarious. The same thing happened when I went to see the movie. All the big dramatic moments, everyone is creeped out, and I’m sitting there laughing hysterically. And if you’re reading this thinking that I’m some kind of psychopath, well, I have no way of proving that you’re wrong.

Book 28: Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

Look! Paint!

Okay, I mean, just look at the authors. Philip K. Dick, author of the book that inspired pretty much every good science fiction movie ever made, and Roger Zelazny, one of Neil Gaiman’s biggest influences and author of the Chronicles of Amber, one of my favorite series. There was no chance that this would be bad. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland of a world, the man who pulled the trigger on doomsday has been elevated to the status of a god—specifically, the God of Wrath. Christianity has been reduced to this small fringe group, scrambling to survive. One of the greatest painters among the worshippers of the Deus Irae has been commissioned to do a portrait for their church of the God of Wrath, but he only paints from life, so he must go on a pilgrimage (“pilg”) to find his god. One of the things I love about science fiction and fantasy is that it can handle real world issues in a way that doesn’t feel too heavy-handed, and this book handles the themes of art and religion (and each one’s role in the other) perfectly.

Book 29: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

I’m still not sure what’s going on with this cover. I think they just wanted it to look like Snow Crash.

Holy crap, guys. This book. Everyone talks about Snow Crash when they talk about Neal Stephenson, but they’re talking about the wrong book. Not that I didn’t love Snow Crash. I did. But The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer blew my mind. It’s fairly difficult to describe. There’s a rich influential dude in an neo-Victorian society who thinks that children, young girls especially, are learning mostly useless stuff and should be taught how instead how to think and how and when to be subversive, so he commissions a book-like device for his granddaughter. It gets stolen and ends up in the hands of a girl who lives just outside of the neo-Victorian city who is poor, whose brother is a thief, whose mother is a drug addict and possibly prostitute with a string of horrible boyfriends. The Diamond Age tells the story of this girl, her life (from her mother’s pregnancy to age 17), and how that book in her hands ends up influencing the entire world. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It blew my mind.

Book 30: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

Look! An owl!

After two fairly heavy science fiction books in a row, I was ready for some literary cleansing. It’s necessary, once in a while, after reading a whole lot of intense books that involve a whole lot of thought, to cleanse your palate with a few lighter, fluffier reads. So I came across The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. A great work of feminist literature this is not. It starts with PhD student Nora, struggling with her thesis, recently dumped by her long-term boyfriend, going to a wedding and moping about being single and wanting to find a man. But she takes a walk in the woods to clear her mind, only bringing with her a copy of Pride and Prejudice, and finds herself in an alternate reality where magic and fairies rule. She’s immediately swept up in the glamor of the fairy lifestyle, and at first, seems to have found the happy ending she wanted, but something’s wrong. She eventually makes her way to freedom with the help of a local wizard, but seems to be stuck in this world. We follow Nora as she finds her place in this new world where women can’t be scholars or do magic. It’s clearly meant to mirror the plot of Pride and Prejudice—there’s even a red-headed suitor—but we don’t get the whole story in this book, and the author’s sort of teased a sequel though I’ve heard no official announcements as of yet. I, for one, can’t wait for it—this was the perfect fun, light read, a little magical adventure for when your brain is sort of tired. However, no matter what anyone tells you, don’t go into it expecting Harry Potter. And if you’re really looking for a sf/fantasy book about a thinking woman, go back one and read The Diamond Age.

Books 31, 33, 35, 37, 42, and 45: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott

This is the first book. They all look different.

This YA series about a pair of 15 year old twins who suddenly find that their world isn’t what they thought, but instead a world filled with magic and secret pathways to other worlds and mythological creatures and gods and goddesses and even historical figures who were supposed to be dead but, surprise, are immortal, was recommended to me by a friend. She told me it was just like Harry Potter. Guys, you’ve heard this rant before, so I’m not going to repeat it, but suffice to say that while I was reading book 1 of this series, I was writing my post about Skin Game, and the feelings that I had about that book may or may not have leeched into that post. That being said, this was a super fun series to read. I almost stopped after the first book. There were so many gaping plot holes that I couldn’t go on. But I did pick up the second one, and quickly found that the author answered many of the questions I had in there. By the end of the series, most (but not quite all) of the holes had been filled in. There were a few little details that bugged me, like when a character freezes a big chunk of ice around something and it immediately sinks in the water under the weight—if you can’t get past that sort of thing, don’t read this series. But it did have some really great points, and I was excited to pass it on to my 12 year old stepsister who I think will absolutely love it in part because of those points. My absolute favorite part of this series was that there’s no clear right or wrong throughout the whole thing. At the beginning, it seems very good guy/bad guy, hey twins, choose the right side which by the way is super obvious to anyone paying attention, but as it goes on, you learn about some of the not so great stuff the “good” guys have done in their lives, and the “bad” guys become more developed and you learn their histories and reasons for everything. And in life, things aren’t black and white, so I think it’s weird that in YA lit, things so often are. I love that this series gives kids heroes to look up to who have to make tough decisions about what they think is the right thing to do, rather than just whether they will be able to do it. That was wonderful. I also loved the multiculturalism. Every old god exists and they all know each other. Niccolo Machiavelli and Billy the Kid team up. An old Celtic goddess and Joan of Arc are BFFs and, hey, they all know Shakespeare pretty well. (Okay, yeah, I rolled my eyes a bit when Shakespeare turned up.) It was a really fun series to read, though if I’d tried to read it all in a row I probably would have gotten sick of it. I feel like the target audience for these is ages 10ish to 15ish, and in that age range I highly recommend it. For anyone older, I still recommend these, perhaps not quite as highly, as long as you’re able to overlook little details that don’t quite make sense.

Books 32, 34, and 36: The MaddAddam series by Margaret Atwood

You know what would make a really good Christmas present for anyone over age 16 who likes to read?

Have you ever picked up a new book, read the first paragraph, put the book back down because that first paragraph was so good and so, well, beautiful that you want to have a blank slate and experience it for the first time again, read it again, put it down again, read it again, then read it out loud to your cat because it was just that good? Yeah, Oryx and Crake, the first book in the MaddAddam series (which, by the way, is the first series I’ve ever seen that’s named after the last book in the series), is that good. And, spoiler alert (is it a spoiler if it’s the first paragraph?)—that paragraph is about a homeless man waking up on the beach and rummaging through some trash to find some food or alcohol. I don’t know how she did it, but that was one of the most beautiful paragraphs I’ve read in a very long time. I feel like, with this trilogy, Margaret Atwood read a bunch of the post-apocalyptic dystopian trilogies that are out there, and said, “Ugh. Guys, please. Let me show you how to do this.” The entire series blew my mind. I don’t want to tell you anything about it because it will be spoilers and I don’t want you going into it with expectations. Just read it. Please. All of you. It’s that good.

Book 38: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Even this cover is kind of depressing. Her head is fading away.

And now for something completely different: A murder mystery! Not my usual thing, unless of course J. K. Rowling wrote it under a pen name, but when fall rolled around I wanted a murder mystery. But I’m picky. I can’t just pick up any mass market someone else writing as James Patterson book. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with picking up a random not-actually-James Patterson book, but they’re not my thing. So I asked my boss what there might be in the mystery section that would appease both my desire for a whodunit and my desire for something more literary to balance my fun YA series out, she found this. Turn of Mind is told from the point of view of the primary suspect in a murder investigation, the victim’s best friend. The reason she’s the prime suspect is that she’s a retired orthopedic surgeon who specialized in hands and the victim’s fingers were all cut off with surgical precision. And the reason they’ve had such a hard time proving or disproving this suspect’s involvement is that she has Alzheimer’s. This book does an amazing job pulling the reader into the mind of a confused older woman who occasionally knows what’s going on, but is sometimes somewhere else in her mind, as the police question her and investigate her friend’s death. It was terrifying to read, and incredibly sad, but also amazing and beautiful and poetic.

Ten books left! And I still need to read three and a half of them, so it’s time for me to get back to reading. Or possibly make dinner. One of those things. So I’ll be back, and soon, like, this month, I promise, with the next five, starting with more Murakami. Hooray!