Creative Writing Exercises

Confession: I often don’t love those books that everyone else in the world loves and proclaims to be THE BEST EVER. I found The Underground Railroad to be lacking an emotional heart; Fates and Furies just wasn’t worth the long library wait; and The Goldfinch had too many words not saying enough for my tastes.

So, maybe I’m not the SMARTEST reader. But I still love reading, read a ton, and often like books everyone else likes! Sometimes I even read the super-literary books and like them! I’ve read books with footnotes, guys!

Going into reading Lincoln in the Bardo, I was pretty pumped. One of my favorite bloggers recommended it and it has over 4 stars on Goodreads. And yet, I found it to be pretty “meh.” I liked the mixing of historical research (quotes from memoirs, letters, etc) with the fictional telling of Lincoln’s child in “purgatory” following the child’s death. But, this book was exceptionally skim-worthy, with too many characters, confusing motifs, and far too many mentions of throbbing members for my liking. I’ve said this about other books (primarily Fate and Furies), but this seemed just like an excessive creative writing exercise to me. At a certain point, I want more character and plot development and less clever literary techniques.

WHAT I READ:

Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 gravestones, I give this 2.5 throbbing members. (Ugh)

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

(What can I say… I’m done with trying to summarize it myself.)

The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War. On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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So, should you read it? I dunno, maybe. Perhaps if I in a better mood, or reading this in an educational setting where I had to discuss it with others, I would appreciate it more. As it stands, it just really didn’t do a lot for me.

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Stuff You Definitely Missed In History Class

A few years ago, I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed in History Class, about a subject I had definitely never been taught: “The Tulsa Race Riots and Black Wall Street.”  I HIGHLY encourage you stop reading this immediately and spend the next 30 minutes listening to that episode. This extremely traumatic episode in recent American history is more than merely a race riot: it is a black holocaust and one that was virtually scrubbed from American history books until very recently.

Essentially, in 1921 a suburb of Tulsa populated mainly by black people was looted and destroyed over a two-day period by a mob of white Tulsa citizens, including law enforcement and National Guard members. Hundreds of people (mostly black people) died, many thousands of black people lost literally everything, and it was deliberately scrubbed from any official historical mention until the 1990s – with no official recognition by the state until 2001. (And, of course, survivors and their descendants have received no insurance payments or reparations to this day.)

All this to say, I had no idea my most recent book club read was about these race riots until I was well into it, sparking my memory from years past that I had once spent thirty minutes learning about this historical episode via a podcast. I am extremely thankful for both this podcast and this wonderful book for exposing me to this forgotten part of our dark history.

WHAT I READ:

Dreamland Burning (Jennifer Latham)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 baby detective teenage girls, I give this 4 Victrolas.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

SOMEONE (me) returned this book to the library before remembering to do this, so I’ll just copy the Goodreads description:

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.

One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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This book does a wonderful job at making ignored history come alive, and I liked both the present-day mystery and the past-day retelling of the horrible events. The few quibbles I had with it (hence the 4/5 stars): first, some of the characters were very one-dimensional. In particular, the present-day lead’s best friend is really just there so she has someone to say her thoughts out loud to, and has no other role in her life. Second, I wish the villain wasn’t QUITE such a caricature. The author gave him some interesting dimension at the end, but I think it would have been more powerful had the villain been a more major character who was nuanced and seemed like a “good guy” whose true colors are revealed when the riots break out.

But, all quibbles aside, this book is incredible for its historical impact and highly recommended.

Book Roundup: January 2017

This was the first month into my 2017 resolution to read harder books more deeply, and I expected that each month my total number of books read would be a little lower than usual. But at 9 books read this month, I was actually pretty on-par with my normal reading schedule, and I still feel like I had a good combination of heavy and light books. On to the stats!

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 10

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: All ladies this month!

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: 3, although two of those are in Ireland (well, technically one in Ireland and one in a apocalyptic probably former Ireland).

RATINGS SPREAD: Two 5-star, One 4-star, Five 3-star, Two 2-star,

Want more? Goodreads, baby.

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WHAT I READ: The Wonder (Emma Donaghue)

WHY I READ IT: Big fan of her Room.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Meh on my end. Good atmosphere-building, but as a full-length novel it dragged.

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WHAT I READ: Spare and Found Parts (Sarah Maria Griffin)

WHY I READ IT: Book club!

WHAT I THOUGHT: If not for book club, I don’t think I would have kept reading it. I just didn’t get a lot of why the characters did what they did, and it was hard to get into the world.

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WHAT I READ: Today Will Be Different (Maria Semple)

WHY I READ IT: This book was all over the blogs as super-good, and I did mostly enjoy her Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

WHAT I THOUGHT: I liked the book, but didn’t love it. I wanted it to be a better exploration of adult mental health, but it didn’t do a deep dive into a whole lot.

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WHAT I READ: Talking As Fast As I Can (Lauren Graham)

WHY I READ IT: Love me some Graham crackers, and especially Gilmore Girls! 

WHAT I THOUGHT: It was very similar to a lot of other celebrity memoirs – some interesting chapters (mostly about the making of GG) but ultimately just a lot of fluff that was clearly written to get her a boost in sales coinciding with the new episodes.

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WHAT I READ: This is Where It Ends (Marieke Nijkamp)

WHY I READ IT: Another one popular on the blogs.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I REALLY did not like it.

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WHAT I READ: Boy, Snow, Bird (Helen Oyeyemi)

WHY I READ IT: One of those “must-reads,” lent from a friend.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Really more of 1.5 stars than 2 stars for me, I really did not like it. It just wasn’t compelling enough to read to the end, and I ended up skimming a lot.

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WHAT I READ: Strangers In Their Own Land (Arlie Hochschild)

WHY I READ IT: Part of my read harder pledge, this nonfiction narrative explores the “Great Paradox” of conservative America (specifically in Louisiana).

WHAT I THOUGHT: I’ll have a lot more to say in a later post, but I LOVED this book – both as a piece of writing (very well done and compelling) and as a piece of research.

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WHAT I READ: Dear Mr. You (Mary-Louise Parker. Yes, that Mary-Louise Parker)

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite (travel) bloggers highlighted this as a favorite of 2016.

WHAT I THOUGHT: My god, I loved this book. One of my two five-star books of the month. This is the most unique celebrity memoir I’ve ever read, as Parker uses a combination of prose and poetic prose to convey key moments in her life via a series of letters to men – some significant men in her life, like her father and grandfather, others seemingly less significant (but you come to see how they keyed into her being) like a cab driver or a firefighter she passed on the street. So beautiful, so tear-worthy.

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WHAT I READ: Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

WHY I READ IT: I was tragically behind the curve on this beautiful book.

WHAT I THOUGHT: One of my other five-star books for the month; I can’t believe I waited this long.

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WHAT I READ: My Name is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout)

WHY I READ IT: Her Olive Kitteridge is something I moderately enjoyed.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I bumped this up to 3 stars, but it was really more like 2.5. Beautiful writing, but pretty meh.

End of Year Book Survey

There’s nothing I love more than keeping up with book bloggers who have inspired me so – and so of course I want to jump on the bookblog train and participate in part of Jamie’s (The Perpetual Page-Turner) End of Year Book Survey!

N.B.: This includes all books read in 2016 – they do not have to be published in 2016. 

 

Reading Stats

Number Of Books You Read: 135 (may get one or two more before we ring in 2017!)
Number of Re-Reads: 10
Genre You Read The Most From: Young Adult and Contemporary

 

Best Books

1. Best Book You Read in 2016

AH! This is a tough one to answer. I culled 7 favorite books in this post but I really don’t know if I had a FAVORITE, favorite. Some Kind of Happiness meant the most to me when I read it and still is very meaningful in my life, and one I love recommending. But I think my favorite book for the fun and the reread factor is A Court of Mist and Fury. Pumped for the third book in that series coming out in May 2017!

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

I think Eligiblethe modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It was one of my very few one-star reviews this year. It was just. so. bad. Considering how well-reviewed it was, I was surprised by how much I hated it: sloppy, uninteresting, chock-full of too many “hot modern topics” and it just had none of the charm of Austen (or any of the other excellent modern retellings of P&P).

3. Most Surprising (in a good way or bad way) Book You Read in 2016?

Lolz, the President’s Daughter series by Ellen White Emerson. They were a series originally written in the 80sish but modernized (ish) to today (so they have random mentions about characters using the capital-i Internet, etc). It’s exactly as it sounds like – a teenager’s mother becomes president and her life is turned upside down! I have a weird obsession with pieces of fiction about kids in the White House, and I really enjoyed zipping through this series. The last one, Long May She Reign, was particularly good, emotional, and full of depth.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (and they did) in 2016?

A Man Called Ove continues to be my #1 recommendation.

5. Best Series You Started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?

Series Started: Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken
Sequel: Court of Misy and Fury, by Sarah Maas.
Series Ender: Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo (does a duology count as a series?)

6. Favorite New Author You Discovered in 2016?

I had been a little lax on Leigh Bardugo (I think I read one of her Grisha books, but I’m not sure). Considering how much I loved Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I may need to go back and revisit…

7. Best Book from a Genre You Don’t Typically Read/was Out of Your Comfort Zone?

Two very sad but ultimately hopeful memoirs, both recommended by my roommate (who used to work for a book publisher and is GREAT at hooking me up): When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi) and Let’s Take The Long Way Home (Gail Caldwell).

8. Most Action-packed/Thrilling/Unputdownable Book of the Year?

Guardian and Proxy by Alex London.

9. Book You Read in 2016 That You are Most Likely to Re-Read Next Year?

I’m a broken record, but definitely Court of Mist and Fury (just purchased on a Kindle deal yesterday)

10. Favorite Cover of a Book You Read in 2016?

Geminabut less about the cover and more about the insides 🙂

11. Most Memorable Character of 2016?

Definitely Finley from Some Kind of Happiness.

12. Most Beautifully Written Book Read in 2016?

I just finished it, but I found the above-mentioned memoir When Breath Becomes Air beautifully and lyrically written. The author wrote it after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer; he was a neurosurgeon with a degree in English Literature to boot, and was able to capably pull in thoughts about what it means to be alive from a scientific and a philosophical standpoint. Bring the tissues.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/Life-Changing Book of 2016?

I can’t shut up about Lean In (a little late in reading it, I know).

14. Book You Can’t Believe You Waited UNTIL 2016 to Finally Read?

Anything by Sarah Vowell. I didn’t LOVE her books, but considering the world we live in now, her researched take on history, politics, and humor is much needed.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From a Book You Read in 2016?

“If you are afraid, sad, tired, or lonely; if you feel lost or strange; if you crave stories and adventure, and the magic possibility of a forest path – this book is for you.”

-Some Kind of Happiness

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read in 2016?

Shortest: Paris for One, Jojo Moyes

Longest: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
17. Book That Shocked You the MostThe Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time – does that count as shock?

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

I didn’t read a ton of shippy stuff this year, but I did love the relationship between Syd and Knox in Proxy (Alex London).

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship of the Year

Everyone in Britt-Marie Was Here.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 from an Author You’ve Read Previously

Leave Me by Gayle Forman. She’s an automatic read for me.

21. Best Book You Read in 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY on a Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. Everyone in the world says this is an amazing book; when I tried to read it last year I found I couldn’t get past the first 100 pages. I decided to get into this again in 2016 because so many people loved it. And… I just don’t. I certainly didn’t hate it, but I’m not hooked and not putting the next books on the top of my list.

22. Newest Fictional Crush from a Book You Read in 2016?

Hmm. This is an easy gimme, but Ezra (the Darcy stand in) in First & Then (Emma Mills) is very swoon-worthy.

23. Best 2016 Debut You Read?

Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, by Lindy West. Lots to think about here!

24. Best World-building/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

I’ll keep saying it, but the Illuminae/Gemina series just really grabs me.

The Sun Is Also A Star (Nicola Yoon). It’s not a happy ending in the traditional sense (although I think it’s happy) but it’s just so enjoyable to read.

26. Book That Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2016?

Ugh, so many. I’m a crier. Most of the Harry Potters, definitely Sisterhood Everlasting (the last book in the Traveling Pants series), the memoirs I mentioned above, Some Kind of Happiness.

27. Hidden Gem of The Year?

I wish more people would read Some Kind of Happiness. How many times do I have to say it, people?!

28. Book that Crushed Your Soul?

Sisterhood Everlasting kills me every time. One time I started to reread before a plane ride, then remembered it makes me ugly cry and realized instead I needed to read it all in one night, lest I embarrass myself in the air the following morning.

29. Most Unique Book You Read in 2016?

Ugh, broken record, but Gemina. READ IT.

30. Book that Made You the Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

I think Lean In because it made me SO angry that there’s still so much fighting women have to do for equality.

 

And there we have it! I have a lot of repeats in my recommendations above, but you try to sift through 100+ books and remember everything about them *blushes*

I’m so proud that I was able to smash my reading challenge of 100 books this year! I think for next year, I need to cool it on the library books/new book request as soon as they come out, and focus on my personal library. I have such a backlist of both virtual TBRs on my Goodreads (which I want to organize this week!) and my actual bookshelf that I want to start to go through those.

Another 2017 book resolution is to read at least 4 classics (I think I can handle one a quarter!). There are just SO many I haven’t read, or read way back in high school, that I would like to revisit them.

We’ll see what 2017 brings!

 

My 2016 Favorites

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: when all the “best of” book lists come out! And because this is essentially my private journal, I would be remiss to not list my own favorites and a reflection on my stats.

(According to my Goodreads)

BOOKS READ: 131

NUMBER OF PAGES: 47,918

MY AVERAGE RATING FOR 2016: 3.6 (I’m pretty kind, huh?)

 

MY 2016 FAVORITES, in no particular order

(Note: While I reread and rating as 5 stars some of my favorites this year, including the Harry Potter series and Sisterhood Everlasting, I elected to leave them out of my tally)

First, a pre-script:

Turns out a good chunk of my favorites are follow-ups to books I read in 2015. So you know what that means, folks – you basically get DOUBLE the books to catch up on, because the first books in these series/duologies/trilogies are some of my other all-time favorites!

Gemina, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This feels a little silly because I just flailed about this book last month, but I STILL AM OBSESSED WITH IT. I go into much greater detail in my blog post, but it’s such a miraculous and creative book with everything a girl could want: interesting plot, fun characters and character development, and have I talked about the design too much, or what

Pair this with a delicious 2015 Illuminaewith a flirty dessert of the final in the trilogy in 2017.

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo

UUUUGH another recent flailCrooked Kingdom is the amazing and fun follow-up to Six of Crows. Goodreads tells me this is a duology, which is only terrible because I could read about these characters for the rest of my life (and probably will, because I just got the boxed set for Christmas). Considering these two books combine capers, action, amazing heroines, tons of crime, and just a dash of romance, how could  I not love it?

Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah Maas

Okay, this is the last “second in a series” book that I read, loved, and 5-starred this year, but it (and its predecessor) really are some of my favorites. Picture Beauty and the Beast, but add in more sex, and you have this book. It is kinda young adult, but shows two adults in a relationship actually, you know, having a relationship, and there is something so satisfying about that (although it makes me blush to think of my mother reading the same passages I am. Oh my!). Steamy, romantic, kick-ass, and the second book completely flips the premise of the first book on its head. I can’t even imagine what Maas is going to pull off in the third one.

Some Kind of Happiness, by Claire Legrand.

The first book I posted about, and one of my top reads for 2016 (and my life). There’s not much more I can say about it. It’s beautiful, quiet, hopeful, sad, and the perfect description of what it is like to suffer from anxiety. As the book starts: If you are afraid, sad, tired, or lonely; if you feel lost or strange; if you crave stories and adventure, and the magic possibility of a forest path – this book is for you.

Leave Me, by Gayle Forman

To be honest, I was a bit surprised I had rated this five stars – I remembered it more as a four-star read – but I must have been in a generous mood that day! Gayle Forman is an automatic read for me, after absolutely loving If I Stay/Where She Went and Just One Day/Just One Year (Just One Day is genuinely one of my all-time favorites). I didn’t love this one QUITE as much but I think I will in the future when I’m closer to the main character’s experience (who is a middle-aged mother). Even without identifying 100% with the MC I still loved it deeply – which is the hallmark of an excellent novel and novelist.

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

I read this one way back in April and TBH don’t remember a whole lot about why I liked it, but it’s been popping up on a bunch of “best of 2016” lists so just read what one of them have to say about it, OKAY?! Do I have to do all the work for you?!

Quality of Silence, by Rosamund Lupton

Look ma, I can read adult books, too! (Although to be fair to me, Leave Me is adult, A Court Of Mist and Fury should be considered adult, and the whole disparagement of the Young Adult genre disgusts me as much as people mocking “chicklit.” ANYWAY). This novel was incredibly interesting for its third, main character of Alaska. Sure, there’s mother-daughter dynamics, looks at man’s impact on the environment, thriller mystery, even a MUUUURDER, but the look at desolate Alaska is what grabbed me. (Best paired with a viewing of the TV show Fortitude, which is super creepy and awesome.)

High Dive, by Jonathan Lee

Probably my most impressive-sounding book this year when someone asked me, “So, what’re you reading about now?” This book explores a fictionalized telling of the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Most interesting for me as a dumb American who was not alive when this took place, this book was based entirely on a true story and thus gave me a really cool look into a piece of recent history (including the tensions between England and Ireland, and some of the history of the IRA) that I knew very little about.

 

And there you have it, folks! For such a voracious reader, I’m apparently very picky in my ratings. I’ll try to be a little less selective next year.

Coming up soon, my LEAST favorite books of 2016! You’re on notice, BOOKS.

 

Behind-the-scenes look: I originally intended to get to 10, but by the time that I sifted through my 5-star books of 2016 and removed the ones that were rereads of old favorites, turns out I hadn’t given a huge number of books high ratings!

 

#FirstFifty Review: MISCHLING

PopSugar Reading Challenge CategoryA book published in 2016

Book Number #101 for 2016

WHAT I READ:

Mischling (Affinity Konar)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

Strong four stars out of five; I can’t say it better than the blurb advertised on Goodreads: “One of the most harrowing, powerful, and imaginative books of the year” (Anthony Doerr)

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

Wherein I summarize the first fifty pages… In this case, the first 45 pages, since there was a convenient chapter break there.

Stasha and Pearl, twelve-year-old twins, are crammed into a cattle car with their mother and grandfather. Though it is not made explicit, the reader understands that the family are Jewish prisoners being herded to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Upon arrival, the mother notices guards taking a set of twins to a different location and, assuming that twins are treated as special in this place, begs the guard to take her girls, too. From there, the twins are separated from their mother and grandfather and introduced to the main setting for the book (or at least the first 2/3): the Zoo, run by the Angel of Death and potentially one of the most evil men I’ve ever learned about, Josef Mengele. They are abruptly introduced to the Zoo’s cruelty as the girl sharing the bed with them dies and her clothes are immediately stolen by the other girls in the barrack. We receive our introductions to several other important characters in the book (both good and bad) including Dr. Miri, Twins’ Father, and Nurse  Elma. The first fifty pages close with the twins being taken to the laboratory for their first examinations and experiments.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

Using gifs here (which is what I’m normally going to try to do, because everyone loves pictographs) felt a little insensitive given the subject matter. So, I shall leave it with a series of words: this book made me feel sad, thoughtful, depressed, hopeful, and proud.

People with better words than I have reviewed this on Goodreads. In short, this is another excellent literary addition to fictional depictions of life during the Holocaust, and I encourage you to read this if you want to expand your mind.