2015 Year in Review

So, it’s been awhile since my last post. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Running. A lot more. I bought a gym membership because running is just plain hard to do on a regular basis if you don’t have a car in São Paulo. A gym has given me access to physical safety, controlled temperature, weights, and convenience. So worth it for my overall mental health and well-being. I plan to run a half marathon in 2016.

Proofreading. I’m taking a course, practicing, and studying. I want to transition some of my teaching hours into proofreading hours.

Studying Portuguese. No news here, I still suck at it.

Reading. I have been reading! But mostly books that I didn’t feel like writing book reviews for—either they were nonfiction, or audio (it’s harder for me to write reviews of audiobooks because I have a poor memory), or classics which don’t need another introduction.

Now that I feel like I sufficiently excused myself from blogging regularly, I'll progress on to the purpose of this particular post—doing a bookish recap of 2015!

My goal is always to read 52 books in a year, but I never make it. I don’t beat myself up over not reaching my goal, but I know that if I didn’t set any goal I would read half as much as I could. In 2015 I read 48 books. Many of these were graphic novels. Many of these were tomes. I am satisfied with how much I read.

I had another goal this year, which was to get over my prejudice towards self-published books. Honestly, I still have a prejudice when I think about buying self pubs, but this year I was so delightfully surprised by the level of quality in the books that I did read. Seriously impressed.

And finally, do you remember that I was casually doing the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge? Neither did I. But I got most of the categories without intentionally trying.

I changed the focus of my blog a lot in the past year. I was experimenting with different things, entertaining myself, and well, it’s my blog and I can do what I want. I did a lot of stuff with the book-blogging community in the first half of the year, grabbed a lot of advanced review copies from Netgalley, and honestly had fun. I got burnt out on that and decided to use my blog as a way to improve my own writing about books—insightful critiques, drawing parallels to other books or things out and about in the world, honing in on one specific problem I had with a book and trying to correct it. The latter sort of post naturally comes less frequently than the former.

As I’m writing this post and scrolling back through my blog, I’m proud that I kept this record this year. I’m so happy that I included book photos that I took myself (I’m going to continue doing that, and not be so lazy with it in the future). I am glad that I wrote all different types of posts. This blog is certainly more flavorful than my Goodreads list alone, and a year of book blogging has encouraged me to keep with it in 2016.

Blessed new year, friends!

  1. Piteco: Ingá by Shiko
  2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell 
  3. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  4. City of Lies by Ramita Namai
  5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  6. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  7. The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft
  8. Astronauta: Singularidade by Danilo Beyruth
  9. Bidu: Caminhos by Eduardo Damesceno
  10. Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
  11. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Greene and David Leviathon
  12. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  13. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami 
  14. A Bride's Story, Vol 1 by Kaoru Mori
  15. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
  16. The Calling by James Frey
  17. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  18. Akira (complete series of 6 volumes) by Otomo Katsuhiro 
  19. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
  20. Cleo by Lucy Coats 
  21. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  22. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
  23. Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara
  24. Wayward, Vol 1 by Jim Stub
  25. Low, Vol 1 by Rick Remender
  26. Fragile Bones by Lorna Schultz Nicholson
  27. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 
  28. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
  29. Neverland by Shari Arnold
  30. Penadinho: Vida by Paulo Crumbim
  31. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  32. Welcome to My Country by Lauren Slater
  33. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 
  34. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
  35. The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman
  36. So Long, Insecurity by Beth Moore
  37. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  38. What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey
  39. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  40. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
  41. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches by Martin Luther King Jr.
  42. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  43. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

    *Bold means the book impacted me in a significant way.

    Grace and 'The Goldfinch'

    I am two years late to The Goldfinch’s party, but I am not so insecure as to let that bother me. Donna Tartt’s tome still takes up a good amount of real estate in bookstores and libraries, and for good reason—the novel really is what many critics call a modern-day Dickensian tale.

    A photo posted by Polly Fern © (@pollyfern) on

    In short, the protagonist Theo Decker gives an account of how he came into possession of The Goldfinch, a small painting by Dutch Golden Age artist Carel Fabritius, and how that possession turned into a lifelong obsession which drove him to extraordinary adventures and contemplations of the role of fate. It’s basically Great Expectations with drugs, PTSD, and fine art.

    A photo posted by Polly Fern © (@pollyfern) on

    Although I did enjoy the story despite it having many passages filled with my pet-peeves— descriptions of dreams, drug-induced hallucinations, and drunken misadventures—the character development is what made this story great.

    I fell in love with all of the characters to the point where I could overlook their flaws (their human flaws, not flaws in the writing), even in Theo’s closest pal Boris, who always shows up with bad decisions in his pockets. The characters are so well thought out that they effortlessly carry themselves through the nearly 800 pages. They lean a little towards the romanticized, this is being told through Leo’s foggy worldview remember, but never to the point that I stopped believing they could be real people.

    A photo posted by Polly Fern © (@pollyfern) on

    When reading a book review, I often think “blah blah okay character development is nice” and don’t give it the importance that I should. I should know myself better: I don’t like plot-driven stories, and I detest when it is obvious that the author doesn’t actually know how real people in the real world act. Give me characters or give me a blank notebook, I’ll write my own story thankyouverymuch. The reason why I am able to read and enjoy stories from so many different genres is testimony to this. Characters, no matter how different their personality is from my own, give me an idea as to how I would react in their situation and how to show grace to real people like them.

    A photo posted by Polly Fern © (@pollyfern) on

    The Goldfinch is not a perfect book. It shows human depravity, and what’s worse, at the end it preaches that perhaps sinning isn’t really anyone’s fault and we should just focus on the good things that happen.
    So, why not stop then? I said.

    Why should I?

    Do I really have to say why?

    Yeah, but what if I don’t feel like it?

    If you can stop, why wouldn’t you?

    Live by the sword, die by the sword, said Boris briskly, hitting the button on his very professional-looking medical tourniquet with his chin as he was pushing up his sleeve.

    And as terrible as this is, I get it. We can’t choose what we want and don’t want and that’s the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us. We can’t escape who we are.
    I get the feeling that The Goldfinch embodies the mainstream beliefs in our culture now (it did get the Pulitzer, after all), and that Theo is a representation of us Millennials. That our duty in life is to drift along, to try to make good decisions but shouldn’t be blamed if we end up making bad ones, and if two wrongs make a right…. then so be it. I completely disagree with this premise. So does the ancient wisdom written by Saint Paul:
    All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it.

    Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end. So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not!

    As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end. (Romans 6, The Message)  
    We are not slaves to fate. We do not have to do something bad to force karma to tip the balance of the scales in the world and create something good. On the contrary, I think we have to work all the harder to not only correct wrongs, but prevent them in the first place. And when our humanity fails us, which it will, we have grace to catch our fall.

    Even though I think the message of the book is decidedly false, I would absolutely recommend this book. For,
    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
    - Aristotle

    A photo posted by Polly Fern © (@pollyfern) on

    'Welcome to My Country' puts us in touch with mental health struggles

    Recently I have been on a pop-psychology binge, fueled by my plunge into several amazing podcasts. This led me to download or request all of the remotely interesting e-books that my library has on the subject... and my three-day holiday weekend just got completely full.

    I started with Welcome to My Country by Lauren Slater, a thin memoir about the author’s experiences of working with six memorable mental health patients. The language is poetic and introspective—fans of Ann Voskamp will revel in this—as Slater intertwines memories of her own mental health struggles, the collective human spirit, and primordial physical processes with those of the patient to help the reader understand that really, the problems of “the other” are all of our problems.

    Published in 1996, it’s now a teensy bit dated in the fast moving world of what is and is not politically correct to say. The first chapter is particularly hard to swallow with phrases like, ‘I can tell, from his fatness and his sweat, [that he is] a patient.’ Uh, what? Perhaps Slater’s Harvard education trained her olfactory nerve to be sensitive in a way that us plebeians just aren’t able to understand.

    Her writing did get significantly better each chapter, as she reflects on former patients with the following conditions:
    • a group of men with schizophrenia
    • Peter, with anxiety that manifests as abusive misogynism
    • Joseph, with schizophrenia and hypergraphia (compulsive writing)
    • Marie, with depression and bulimia
    • Oscar, with schizophrenia and catatonia (becoming physically ‘frozen’)
    • Linda, with borderline personality disorder (though that chapter is more about Slater confronting her own past)

    The book stays very positive in light of the heaviness of the subject, yet it still manages to give proper gravity to very serious stories. It doesn’t give a false sense of hope or flippancy to the daily struggles of the millions of people struggling with some type of mental illness. I think the author showed that making progress towards healthy, sustainable independence takes a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of time. She encourages us to be more patient with people in our own lives (or perhaps even with ourselves!) who are on that journey.

    Perhaps the best thing that I walked away with was this quote about the author's own journey towards healing:
    ‘Ultimately, it was not the treatments or their theories that helped me get better, but the kindness lodged in a difficult world.’
    I may not ever be able to get proper training in therapy or psychology, and I’m probably not a great person for that job anyways, but we laypeople have an important job to do. We are the listening ears, the helping hands, the kind mouths, and the faith-full hearts that can give reassurance and hope to people who are fighting to stay in the country of the whole.

    Self-Published Spotlight || Neverland by Shari Arnold

    Besides being the cover-whore that I am, I love the tease of a retelling. Neverland, by Shari Arnold, was just too much bait rolled into one package for me to resist. At the same time, it’s a self-published book, and I’m still in the middle of confronting my prejudices about those.

    Neverland was able to meet me where I was at, and far exceeded my expectations. The editing was spot on, the structure was well-developed, and the idea was interesting—a contemporary Peter Pan told from Wendy’s point of view.

    Wendy in this book is named Livy, and she is in the midst of grieving over her younger sister who had lost the fight against cancer. Everyone in her family is still grieving, actually, and they are expressing it in different ways. Her father is socially unresponsive, and her mother is busy trying to pretend that everything is fine by throwing herself even further into her career. I was impressed by how they show different sides to their grief, and how its complexity was revealed even in the mechanics of the storytelling.

    It was fun to hunt for familiar characters—Peter Pan, Captain Hook—but even more fun to realize that their story isn’t as black and white as I remembered from childhood. For example, in this story Captain Hook is a quasi Grim Reaper character, but is passing from this life to an unknown (and potentially better) life such a terrible thing?

    Perhaps one of the best things this book speaks to is romantic relationships. Okay, yeah, sometimes the teenage girls sound more like moms of teenage girls (‘Stalkers are only sexy in the movies.’), but I think it’s nice that they are able to set some real ground-rules for what a normal dating relationship should be (especially with all the examples of harmful dating relationships that teenagers/new adults are eating up these days). The characters aren’t there to preach, however. They do make bad decisions, and express real, authentic insecurities. I think the self-doubts were the most therapeutic parts of the book, because when you read them you realize that you are not alone with those doubts. And by seeing you are not alone, you can begin to see doubts for what they really are: just a story we tell ourselves.

    Note: I got an e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. That of course didn't affect my opinion of the book.

    Guest Post || We Have Always Lived in the Castle

    Charlene from Bookish Whimsy and I decided to exchange book reviews of Shirley Jackson novels! I'm really happy that one of my go-to book bloggers was so friendly and willing to play along in spite of my flakiness (hopefully I'll be able to return to normal programming soon). I liked learning more about her tastes, even if they are a bit different than mine.  -- Alisa

    This is the first Shirley Jackson book I have ever read, and it was an interesting introduction to her kind of curious and creepy world - with characters who act a little strangely, and a view of the human race that is not at all kind. I am still not sure what I feel about this book actually. It was a gently harrowing read, with a heroine in Merricat Blackwood who I have such weirdly contradictory feelings for. On the one hand, I’m intensely sympathetic towards her, and yet at times, I find her very annoying. Although her instincts for the most part are right on, especially when it came to one character who was so unlikable, I couldn’t help but root for Merricat’s murderous thoughts about him.

    The novel is a study in strange characters. There is a mob-like, and very unpleasant group of people who live in town and look down on the Blackwoods. The author captured a vivid realism in the small town gossip and small-minded hatred of the people which was both disturbing and thought-provoking. And terribly sad. The surviving Blackwoods are each eccentric and have their own unique mannerisms and behaviors which also made them vividly realistic and interesting to get to know. While all the Blackwoods are unfortunate in different ways, I had the most sympathy with Constance, who was such a good character and yet afflicted by her past and her apprehensive nature. I really wanted something good to happen for her.

    There is a reveal in this book, that is not at all shocking because it is made pretty obvious from the start, but because of this, I found the story meandering and slow at parts - and again, much more of a study in characters and atmosphere than in plot development or suspense.. There is a pervading sense of stagnation though, in this book, that I think is part of the characters, and so perhaps it’s purposely made a part of the plot. This is short read though, with some very intense moments of dread woven into the story. I don’t think I actually enjoyed dwelling in this world Shirley Jackson created because it can be so unnerving and sad, but this was quite a vivid book.

    The Problem with Preaching


    I have read three books lately, and they all committed the same sin: preaching.

    You've read this before: a certain character breaks the fourth wall so to speak, and starts being the mouthpiece of the author. It's the part in the book when I stop reading and start skimming, not unlike a teenager's eyes glazing over when an adult starts to lecture about the importance of not breaking curfew.

    Before I touch on the books, I want to show you an excerpt from an NPR interview with the director of Inside Out, the most recent Pixar film about emotions. (Go see it; it’s amazing!)

    GROSS: So did you imagine, when you were making this film, psychologists and parents using the film to explain to children what their own emotions were and to tell - to help tell children, like, it's OK to be sad. Tantrums aren't very helpful (laughter). We know you have anger, but, you know, you have to kind of mix that with the other emotions. 
    DOCTER: Well, not really... 
    GROSS: So did you think of this as a kind of, like, teaching film? 
    DOCTER: (Laughter) No. In fact, I know, like, for a lot of people that's kind of a bad word, right? You don't want to have a lecture. … There are - we've already had discussions with people who feel as though the film has really helped them. There's one story that's pretty amazing. A guy who we work with - and we had screened the film for our friends and family along the way just to make sure it was working and it wasn't too complex, you know, especially for younger kids. Luckily, they not only got it, but this guy came back the next day and he said, I got to tell you this story. My son has been taking swimming lessons. And he's been afraid to dive off the diving board. It's just too high, and he's scared, so he hasn't been able to do it. Yesterday, after seeing the film, we went to lessons, and he dove off the diving board. And everybody said, yeah, that's great. How did you do it? And he said, well, I just felt like fear had been driving, and I asked him to step aside. And for us, we were sort of blown away. Not only did he get the film, but it was actually making an impact in his life. That was, like, the ultimate receipt.

    The takeaway lesson here, from a company that understands how to communicate to people possibly better than any other company in business today, is: Don’t preach, demonstrate.

    I don’t know why authors of contemporary novels choose to preach, why whole publishing houses are based on this concept, but I can speculate:

    1. It’s easier to preach than to demonstrate. It’s very straightforward, and it requires considerable less thought to mind-dump than to craft a story in which the message is conveyed between the lines.
    2. The audience is not considered trustworthy or able to receive the correct message. Anyone who has actually worked with kids/teens can tell many stories of how they were caught off-guard by how perceptive, insightful, or observant kids are. That’s part of what makes kids funny, because they can make such astute connections that they seem like little adults. And yes, when books make inferred connections about a moral lesson, it’s really important to have a conversation with the younger reader about what they understood or have questions about. But next time you talk to a youth, ask some open-ended questions about a story they read or watched recently, and you might gain some life advice in the process.
    3. The author is not skilled enough. Though I believe that nearly anyone can be a good author with enough reading, writing, critiquing, and editing, it’s possible that the author of a preachy book just hasn’t developed their skills to a point where they can objectively look at their manuscript and know what to change.
    4. The author and editor did not do sufficient revision work. Maybe they were running short on time, or perhaps the editor isn’t assertive or confident enough to confront problems in the book. Maybe it was self-edited and the author was holding on too tightly to beloved passages.
    5. There is a lack of patience. Not enough patience to write and revise. Not enough patience to address what is working and what isn’t in a manuscript. Not enough patience to develop characters, plot, and scenery to reach a point where a message can be gracefully conveyed. Not enough patience with the reader. Not enough patience from the publishing house to push out a finished product.

    These are the books that I read, and could agree with all, or at least part, of their sermons:

    The problem for me was not the message per se, but the method of delivery. If I may distort Marshall McLuhen’s famous line, “The medium is the message,” then the message becomes: shove your beliefs down the throat of the person you are talking to. Beat them over the head if you have to. This medium of delivery, however, is outdated and irrelevant for western culture in the 21st century.

    It’s why McDonald’s ads say, ‘I’m lovin’ it’ and not, ‘We sell cheap burgers that will save you time and money.’ And it’s also part of the reason why Instagram is used by 52% of teens and Twitter is used by 33% (source). Because our generation cares more about witnessing emotions and experiences than being told about them.

    The novel has a unique position. We don’t go to it because we want to read lecture notes about humanistic philosophy, or to have the pillars of the Christian faith explained. We go to it because we want to be able to relate to the experiences that the characters have there. We want to travel with the characters as a gradual understanding of these tenants change their decisions, and ultimately shape their lives.

    In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy demonstrated the process of converting to active faith in the Christian God from agnosticism over a span of 800+ pages. He so gracefully showed all facets of possible arguments within the decisions that the characters make (and how their actions frequently contradict their conversations), that when finally Konstantin Levin has a full spiritual awakening, the reader has such a grounded understanding of how it came about that s/he is able to experience the joy and relief that Levin is feeling. This is what novels were created for.

    ‘Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.’ 
    Francis of Assisi

    Top Ten Books That I Will Never Read

    This week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke & The Bookish) is a linkup that I couldn't pass up: Books that I will never read! This list isn't all hate, but there is a whole lot of judgement, side eye, and duck lips going on here.

    10. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
    They are just so big and daunting… and I have to make character maps with most normal length novels in order to remember the characters. What would I have to do with these books?

    9. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
    This book was written to instill atheism and undermine Christianity. There’s a difference between writing a children’s book to teach about something (morals, friendship, atheism), and writing a book to teach kids that religion sucks. Even if your religion is believing in magical invisible flying cats, I believe authors should respect that.

    8. Nicholas Sparks novels
    I see the movies, which are cute, sappy, and predictable, and that’s enough for me. I’m more of a Georgian England romance kind of gal.

    7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    This book is similar to a good pop song that you would have enjoyed except for the radio played it a million and two times too many. It’s likely that I’ll read some of Green’s other books (I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson actually), but I’m gonna pass on this one.

    6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
    I’m feeling so cynical while making this list! But from what I understand of this book, the author has a mid-life crisis, travels around and discovers simple living and gratefulness, then writes about it. Great if you need to read this, but I already did that whole experience five years ago.

    5. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
    Please find me one person that you have met in real life that liked this book. One. Person.

    4. Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella
    I’m as big of a Sex & The City fan as the next lady who wonders how Carrie could afford a walk-in closet in NYC living on the money made from a sex column, but I like my trashy TV time to be separate from my book reading times.

    3. The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter
    Duuude, I listened to a This American Life (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/527/180-degrees) episode about this book and its author. The author is actually a very influential KKK member and this book is absolutely not a change of heart.

    2. Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer
    I just. I can’t, you guys.

    1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
    I do enjoy reading me some good live blogs, however.

    New on the Stack || April Edition

    New on the StackThe Deliberate Reader hosts the monthly linkup New on the Stack to share what you’ve added to your piles in the past month. I separated my acquisitions into "smart people books", novels, and graphic novels/manga. And goodness, I need to lay off the ARC requests. That will be my May resolution: no more ARCs!
    Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: Poetry month was last month and I really wanted to enjoy it.

    The Circle Game by Margaret Atwood
    How I got it: library ebook
    Why I got it: I had high hopes for reading a lot of poetry last month, but that really fell flat. I didn't finish this one though I adored the poems I did read.

    Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
    How I got it: library audio drama
    Why I got it: To do a review for the Bard on the Blogs event. You can see my guest post on Alexa Loves Books.

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    How I got it: library audiobook
    Why I got it: This has been on my TBR for years (literally), and right when I needed a book to listen to, it was available.

    Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: There is little I love more than idiosyncratic short stories.

    The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: Honestly, I'm a little burned out on YA lately. I've been wanting some heavier, more refined, subtler reads.
    Neverland by Shari Arnold
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: The cover drew me in. Plus, it's a re-imagining of Peter Pan!

    Barry Goupe: In the Midst of Lies by Sean P. McClure
    How I got it: The author reached out to me and sent me an e-ARC.
    Why I got it: Being a self-published author is tough, and I'm still keeping with my resolution to get over my prejudice against self-pubbed books.

    Let’s Eat Ramen and Other Doujinshi Short Stories by Nagumo and Aji-Ichi
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: Doujinshi is, from what I understand, independently published manga. Like, manga for manga-creators. Zines of the manga world. I'm so in.

    Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by Neil Gaiman and friends
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: Ray Brabury? Neil Gaiman? Graphic novel? No need to say more.

    Low, vol. 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: Basically I love anything about the ocean, and the illustrations looked totally gorgeous (which they are, btw).

    Twisted Dark, vol. 1 by Neil Gibson
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: This is a bunch of interconnected short stories that promised to be dark and...twisted.

    Wayward, vol. 1: String Theory by Jim Zub, Steven Cummings, and John Rauch
    How I got it: Netgalley e-ARC
    Why I got it: It reminded me of a Miyazaki film, and boy was I right. A must-read if you like Miyazaki.

    Did you read any good books that I should add to my stack in May?

    3 Graphic Novel Mini-Reviews

    Saturday is Free Comic Book Day! (Pss… Check here to see who nearby is participating.) Yeah yeah I know the difference between graphic novels and comic books, BUT in honor of illustrated story telling, here are some graphic novels I read recently!

    Low, Vol 1: The Delirium of Hope by Rick Remender
    In the future, the sun is on the verge of death and its solar rays are out of control. Humans live in underwater colonies to be protected from the sun, but the air supply is going sour and one ridiculously optimistic woman believes she has a way to save humanity… and her family. Full-color, richly illustrative, of course I love the way that undersea animals have evolved into beautiful scary creatures.
    For fans of: metaphysics (the plot revolves around if positive thinking determines reality), dystopias, light sci-fi

    Wayward, Vol 1: String Theory by Jim Zub, Steven Cummings, John Rauch
    A teenage girl who grew up in Ireland moves in with her Japanese mom in Tokyo. She discovers she has supernatural powers to see things that other can’t. The infusion of Japanese mythology, full-color beautiful art, realistic Tokyo scenes, and interesting characters was fantastic.
    For fans of: Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, contemporary stories based in Japan but not manga per se.

    Twisted Dark, Volume 1 by Neil Gibson
    A collection of dark short stories which feature recurring characters (if you can spot them!). The art styles vary and the plots are all totally different. The writing is pretty straightforward, but it’s interesting. I was most interested in the story about human slavery in the United Arab Emirates, because I used to live there. It was extremely accurate of what really happens, and the illustrations were so realistic that I could recognize specific parts of the city.
    For fans of: text-reliant graphic novels, Alan Moore

    Burn, Rewrite, Reread

    I discovered this fun tag on Debby’s blog Snuggly Oranges. I’m too shy to tag anyone else, but play along if you want!

    The Rules: Randomly choose three books that you’ve read and decide which of the three you would burn, rewrite, or reread. You have to use all three categories per round of three books. Goodreads has a “random” sort option for read books, so that’s what I’m doing to choose mine.

    Round 1

    Reread: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
    I have a horrible memory when it comes to story lines, so I’d be happy to re-read this fun mystery in a year or two.

    Rewrite: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
    I really loved this book despite my disagreeing with its philosophy and morals. But the final chapters are SO PREACHY and gag-inducing that I would re-write them to be more subtle.

    Burn: Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
    Luck of the draw! It’s not that I hated this book, but I wasn’t head-over-heels in love with it either.

    Round 2

    Reread: The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
    This classic sci-fi is always worth a reread, but I really should read some other H.G. Wells stuff first.

    Burn: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
    Out of all the Sedaris books I’ve read, this is my least favorite. Yeah, some of the stories are funny, because when animals act like humans with problems it is pretty funny. It’s also really awkward a lot the time.

    Rewrite: Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables #3) by L.M. Montgomery
    REWRITE TO HAVE ANNE AND GILBERT BLYTHE TOGETHER!!!!! Seriously, we wait for that the whole freaking series and then LOOK AT THIS POS RESOLUTION.

    Round 3

    Reread: Emma by Jane Austen
    My all-time favorite author is Jane Austen, and I’ve only read Emma once. I’ve read P&P 6+ times, S&S a handful of times too, but how is it that I’ve read Mansfield Park and Emma the SAME AMOUNT OF TIMES? For shame.

    Rewrite: After Dark by Haruki Murakami
    There are several things that I didn’t like about this story and mostly because it’s not 1Q84 or Kafka on the Shore. It needs a rewrite with more emphasis on the super weird coma girl.

    Burn: The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
    You know this author because he wrote Holes. The Cardturner is not Holes.

    Do you agree? Speak now or forever hold your peace!

    If I Were the Editor of ‘Cleo’

    Sometimes I am punished by karma for judging books by their covers. Though I was truly looking forward to reliving my childhood fixation on Ancient Egypt, I mostly requested an ARC of Cleo because the cover was so puurrrty. Note to self: Stop doing this.

    Cleo is about a young Cleopatra whose mother has just died and whose father is playing politics in Greece. Her two half sisters take over the dual-throne of Egypt and so doing threaten the blessing of future of the country because they worship Am-Heh, the god of evil. Cleo, as the goddess Isis’s chosen one, must complete a quest and help Isis regain her full power.

    There were so many things I disliked about this book, but I think most of the problems could be solved by going through a heavy round of editing. If I were the editor, here’s what I would tell Lucy Coats to do:

    Cut out redundant information. For example, whenever something not all sparkles and sunshine is happening (in a landscape description, with an action scene, with vegetables) there is a sentence explaining that Isis is loosing power and that’s why life isn’t unicorn farts. After the second mention, I will be able to make the connection without the author holding my hand.

    Cut down on the constant inner monologue. The book is written in the first-person perspective, and Cleo has lots of secret information that she can’t tell anyone, but she chatters so incessantly in her own mind that I my introverted self was getting annoyed with the author. And it wasn’t just chatter, it was repetitive questions that Cleo never asks aloud and the audience is not supposed to answer. Let me give you an example from the text:

    “How long did we have? I didn’t know. It must be late in the evening — but had we passed over into the day when the Dark Feast of Serapis dawned?”

    Since this 320 page book is about 20% questions, a rewrite without the questions makes this much more palatable. Here’s my suggestion:

    It was late in the evening now, and I wasn’t sure how much time we had before the dawn of the Dark Feast of Serapis arrived.

    Do not make this story into two parts. The book ends with “To be continued…” when there is absolutely no need. Additionally, it’s broken at a really awkward place: right after the group has successfully escaped the city with the important things they need and are on their way to deliver the important things to Isis. Fifty more pages and this story is over! Sure, more plot points can be introduced, but that’s just prolonging the inevitable. If you must, make book two about Cleo on the throne and finish book one’s adventure where it started. Yeah, there’s the issue of this book becoming a 500 page tome, but if Cleo’s questions got cut out and the repetitive information was condensed into more dignified sentences, this book would still be under 300 pages.

    Cleo hits shelves May 7, so unfortunately my edits won’t be taken into account ;) I’m willing to be hired on future projects though!

    Note: Orchard Books gave me an e-ARC for review purposes but that obviously didn't change my honest opinion.

    Poet’s Corner || Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara

    I don’t read poetry very much, mostly because I’m intimidated by it. I want to understand it so badly, but I get this feeling that I’m doing it wrong. And I know I’m not alone in doubting myself.

    It was liberating to read this essay by Elisa Gabbert, a poet and poetry critic, where she admits that she doesn’t always get poetry. She also declares that when poetry critics complain that a bad poem is just ‘prose chopped into lines,’ they are forgetting something: ‘Poetry is just prose chopped into lines.’ Reading that tripped a switch in my brain. I spend hours a week reading prose without so much as a quiver, so what’s my problem with poetry?

    My very smart and talented poet friend Jeevan Narney once visibly gagged when I told him that I was enjoying the poems of Billy Collins. Billy Collins is the poet for the masses, evidenced by his two-time U.S. Poet Laureate title. Yeah, he’s kitschy, but is that really so bad? I can listen to Billy Collins poems while I’m driving, and understand them enough to chuckle, and that’s ME having a GOOD TIME with POETRY.

    Japanese poet Machi Tawara had a collection of poetry that went viral in the late 1980’s. It’s sold over 2.5 million copies to-date, inspired TV shows, a film, other poetry collections, etc etc. It’s a huge success. Salad Anniversary, as the English translation is called, recently got a facelift by Pushkin Press, and I requested a review copy of it. Poetry that the masses enjoyed? Must be up my alley. It turns out that my guess was correct: this is a perfect read if you want to enjoy the structure of poetry, would like something that our references our contemporary condition, and is light yet thoughtful.

    Tawara writes about the problems of modern love (from an introvert’s perspective, for sure), daily life, family relationships, and self-doubts. Even though she’s Japanese, and didn’t have to deal with eHarmony or Tindr when she was writing it, it’s super easy to nod along, smile ruefully because it’s true, and see yourself in her words.

    Ponder this for example. In the midst of longing for her relationship with her lover to have been more matured than it really was, she writes:

    thinking of the slender margin
    between unreal and real
         “Today only!”
    Red blouse in the window, on sale each time I go by

    It’s clever, right? And understandable. Here’s to more Poet’s Corner posts in the future!

    My Top Ten All-Time Favorite Authors

    This week's edition of Top Ten Tuesdays (hosted by The Broke & The Bookish) features my all-time favorite authors! Even though most of the books I read and have read in my life are by YA authors, when I put this list together I realized that not many of them made the cut. For me, YA books are fun and entertaining, and they provide conversation material for important contemporary subjects.

    But, I chose the following ten authors because they: significantly changed my way of seeing the world, consistently write books that appeal to me, and have books that I have read multiple times. I also listed my suggestions for a good ‘intro’ book if you’d like to read them but aren’t sure where to start.

    p.s. Play a game! Try to guess the author from their picture!

    David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day) // Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) // Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers: The Story of Success)

    Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist) // Laura Ingalls Wilder (Farmer Boy) // Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

    Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre) // Shirley Jackson (The Lottery) // C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

    Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

    image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

    Do any of my favs make your list?

    'The Walls Around Us' Brings Life to Ghosts of the Past

    Perhaps you know Shirley Jackson for her short story ‘The Lottery’ that you read in an American literature class. She published tens of short stories and several novellas, centering on themes of isolation, ‘otherness’, and a perverted sense of justice. Everytime I read one of her stories, I talk about them as creepy, eerie, disturbing, mind-bending, unexpected, yet familiar. They are familiar because she has so influenced our current generation of authors (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Suzanne Collins, etc) that we surely know her tales just by rubbing shoulders with more contemporary works.

    As I read The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, I kept thinking about We Have Always Lived in the Castle, published a few years before Jackson’s death in 1965. The two stories are so similar that if I described key elements in Jackson’s story, it would reveal important plot points in The Walls Around Us. Both tackle Jackson’s favorite themes that I mentioned earlier, and even some finer details make a dual appearance.

    That’s not to say that the stories are identical, however. The Walls Around Us has two narrators: Amber, an inmate in a maximum security juvenile detention center in upstate New York, and Violet, a rich ballet dancer on the cusp of a successful career at Juilliard. They narrate their lives and experiences, but they both have a curious obsession with Ori. Ori, who is a former ballet dancer and Violet’s best friend, is convicted of murder and becomes Amber’s cellmate.

    As the story progresses, you realize that Amber’s words, “I knew that just because people on the outside were free and clean, it didn’t mean they were the good ones,” ring true. Both Amber and Violet are telling Ori’s story, but they are deliberately not telling all of it. As you piece together different angles, versions of events, and correct the timeline that is given, you see that something very dark and disturbing emerges.

    The narrative style itself is very beautifully written. Though I usually dislike first-person narration, it made sense to use it in this book because it highlights the differences in the ways each character tells her version of the story. Besides that, the prose and rhythm of the sentences are gorgeous, and I appreciated that the paragraphs were built in a way that wasn’t always linear and straightforward.

    I enjoyed reading The Walls Around Us because the story is intriguing, it’s well-edited, and the storytelling itself is of such a high caliber that I would point to this as an example of what to aim for in a YA novel.

    On a side note, after reading The Walls Around Us, I was inspired to read all of Shirley Jackson’s stories this year. Anyone with me??

    Thank you Algonquin Young Readers for providing an e-ARC for me to review! That didn’t affect my opinion of the book in any way.

    Covering Covers

    The other night Silas and I were up late, in our separate rooms, texting and laughing hysterically at Kindle Cover Disasters. And then he made me laugh until I cried. Happy Friday everyone!

    If you're itching for more in the same vein, go read the Cover Snark posts by Christina @ A Reader of Fictions. I die every time.

    Another Turtle: I woke up in a world without Terry Pratchett

    A long time ago, a mad mathematician, with a very questionable attraction towards his niece, wrote a poem called Jabberwocky and inserted it in his book Through the Looking Glass. It’s a poem that describes… Something. Something magical. Amorphous. Crooked and mysterious. It doesn’t make any sense. It was one of the first and most expressive exponent of Nonsense, this form of art that at times consists of knocking coconut shells together and pretending you’re riding a horse through English fields searching for holy grails, and that influences the spinning of the world since someone realized that 'humor' and 'sense' are concepts that can go through a very harsh divorce. It was there, expressed in another form of art, one much more spread out and much less interesting. Literature, in its most original and profound sense, is the work of tying letters one to another in a coherent way and make something out of it. Literature, in its most practical sense, is the construction of books, narrated stories, through words. Literature, in its most metrosexual sense, is what people call 'real books', as if there existed in the world something like 'false arte'.

    Terry Pratchett said once that people accused him of making literature.

    As I write these words, I have been waking up in a world without Sir Terry Pratchett for thirty-four days. He was a British fantasy author who wrote more than forty books, and he even beat J.K. Rowling as the 'most read author in the United Kingdom', right in the middle of the Potterian frisson.

    Thirty-four days in which the world is rounder, in the bad way. Without that disc shaped planet that Pratchett created, balanced on the backs of four elephants, standing on the shell of a galactic sea turtle. Thirty-four days without that fantastical form of writing that makes him guilty of all literary charges.

    Pratchett’s writing was truly very elaborate. Few times has the world seen someone that made words, its meanings, its lyricism and its transcendence dance in favor of the story being told with apparent effortlessness. He did it with grace, with hardness, with rhythm and with fervor. Even so, many people decided to ignore Pratchett because the bulk of his work belonged to 'smaller' 'genres': comedy and fantasy.

    Pratchett used fantasy and comedy the same way a painter uses the color blue. Sometimes in the sky, as background. Sometimes in a bird, as the subject of the painting. Sometimes as one of these hip and modern painters whose paintings are entirely blue, and you don’t understand what exactly what is he doing, but the painter never meant for it to be 'understood'. His comedy and fantasy were not only the 'back setting', as in many other works. They took the central stage to become theme, transport, model, explosion. Pratchett managed to blend in satire and elaborate 'high fantasy' concepts with the purest nonsense comedy in a phenomenal way. His attention to detail was enviable. For example, in a disc shaped world, no one followed directions such as 'north, south, west, east', but rather 'center, border, anti-clockwise and clockwise'.

    Comedy is, for all of us, a relief and a weapon. And Pratchett pointed that weapon at everyone. Classic literary archetypes, the insanity of religious extremism, the power systems that rule the world. And the son of a bitch had the audacity of doing so with a surprising level of humanity. His characters indeed are witches, barbarians, tourists, insurance salesmen and conman wizards, but they are all so human (except for the Librarian. He is an orangutan). Their weaknesses and their dreams are as epic as the ones inside all of us. His most beloved character, Death, is Discworld’s angel of death (only his job, not his personality), and many times all that he wants is just a farm and a family, and not all that ruckus of souls, work accidents and assassination. He spoke always in uppercase letters, and was the character that best understood the adventures of human being. Another of Pratchett’s recurring themes was popular culture. Mythology, cinema, music, politics, everything went to the Discworld and to his other works as jokes, but such accurate jokes that, once the hemorrhage had stopped, you’d reach a new level of understanding.

    His main strength was the magic he performed with words, subverting expectations and meanings in each paragraph. Deconstructing prejudices and creating life. The actions and situations on his disc shaped world almost never followed the common sense of our globe shaped world, but different from the Jabberwocky, they reached somewhere. Not exactly a classic moral lesson, but a new unfolding of what you thought you knew a lot about.

    There was another author, also departed far too early, that had much in common with Pratchett, but had much more prestige outside Britain. Douglas Adams even had a big budget feature film made based on his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is referenced in 11 out of 10 conversations of these nerds of today, who completely forgot about the time when being a nerd was a crime. Pratchett did to fantasy what Adams did to science fiction. But Pratchett, who managed to insert just enough heart and actual philosophy, rather than idle sarcasm and one-liners, was a superior writer. (Yes, my friends, I have touched a bastion of literary paradigm. Next time I’ll trash talk Tolkien).

    His most famous friend, Neil Gaiman, (whom he wrote Good Omens with) said that people should not be confused: Pratchett may appear to be a kindhearted old man, with his wordplay, his black fedora hat and his appearance of 'Sigmund Freud with more recreational and less heavy drugs', but in fact Terry Pratchett was furious. Furious with the world, with the institutions. Furious with his own mind, deteriorating quickly because of the advanced state of Alzheimer’s he was in. Furious with the government that didn’t allow him to euthanize.

    Pratchett’s fury may have been righteous, but I disagree with it being his cause. Pratchett created awe, love, heroism and nobility from pariahs and evil spirits. His endings were not only 'happy', but they were the rest after a very crazy adventure (and they were never what you expected them to be). Pratchett may have had his fury as his locomotive, but used it to reach a place of beauty.
    That was Terry Pratchett for me. The man that, in my opinion, filled with humbleness and 45% trustworthiness, was the best writer alive.

    Until March 12, 2015, when his disease, defined by him as an 'embuggerance', took him to meet his greatest character, tall, boney, always smiling and always speaking in FULL CAPS. And together they went to search for another turtle, somewhere far from here.

    The wizard Rincewind. Granny Wheaterwax. Captain Samuel Vimes. The Librarian. The useless Mort. Death. Cohen, the barbarian. Lord Vetinari. Moist Von Lipwig. The Luggage. Twoflower, the tourist. The Wee Free Men. Vampire. Small gods. Guards. Dragons. The great turtle A’Tuin.

    We are all orphans now.

    Go in peace, Sir Terry.

    Thank you so much to wonderful Silas Chosen for writing this homage to Terry Pratchett. If you are curious and overwhelmed about reading the Discworld books, don't fret, it isn't a series that needs to be read in order (a tell-tale sign of what is to come). But, if you insist, here's a Discworld reading chart to help guide you.

    image sources: 12

    A Letter to My YA Self

    Ginger @ Greads had a great idea: write a letter to yourself when you were a young adult. Give your ghost of teenage past encouragement, advice, and a pat on the back. I’ve been loving reading all the letters as they are published, and decided to play too.

    Dear Alisa,

    The year is 2003 and you are thirteen years old. You are starting high school in the fall, and right now you really really really wish your parents would let you go to public high school like all the other homeschooled kids are doing (do yourself a favor and stop caring about that. You’ll not care about it in a few months anyways). You aren’t stylish, you’re naive, and you’re nervous about joining the public school’s swim team a year before everyone else on your club team. Your family is hosting two exchange students this year: one from Japan, and the other from Finland. Savor these moments, and treat them with all the grace and kindness that you can muster… being a foreigner is really freakin hard, as you’ll find out after you graduate university!

    Stop worrying about if your life is exciting enough, and wishing that it was as fun as the older kids’ lives. Trust me, in 10 years your hard work and courage is going to give you so much more excitement than you could ever dream of. You’ll break the habit of comparison by the time you’re my age, and you’ll be able to hear your inner voice, trust your intuition, and keep your mind happy and healthy. Start trying that now! (HINT: journaling helps.)

    Spoiler, you visit Greece! Did you know that you'll have
    to get a passport expansion because you travel so much?
    Regarding your reading: I’m glad you volunteer at the library and joined a teen book club led by an awesome librarian (whom I now recognize must have been going through culture shock to be placed in that conservative Arizona town that is something out of Breaking Bad). The little scoops of insight that Chris gives you about the book industry, publishing, and YA books are going to stick with you for a long time. Yeah, shelf-reading is brain-numbing, but pay attention to your interests now, because they are clues to finding happiness in the future.

    I’m so grateful that you read everything and anything that is vaguely interesting. You still will when you’re 25, btw. As Professor Jenkins will tell you in three years, hold on to your innocence. It’s okay that you have no idea what the “must-reads” are for certain genres, that you are oblivious to the word “trope”, that the YA section is complete hit-or-miss but your determination to finish books forces you stick with the misses (most of the authors haven’t really figured out teenagers yet… except for JK Rowling). All of these stories are going to make you a better person.

    Speaking of Ms. Rowling, there is one thing you need to know, because it’s our biggest regret: break the rules and read Harry Potter. Break all the rules and read all the forbidden books. You have your own library card, a backpack, and your own room… like, hello, your little brother smokes weed and you are too afraid to read a book because mom said not to?

    This is a key to one of the most important life lessons you have to learn: rules, sometimes repackaged as advice/approval, that restrict learning are rules that you should break. Adults are going to verbally try to stop you from going to university. Bosses are going to tell you that making such drastic life changes is bad for your future. When deciding between quitting a job and disappointing people or letting your education suffer, quit the job. Oh, and nowhere in the Bible does it say to not investigate, question, and analyze, so be wary of the church people that do.

    Keep up the good work!


    p.s. I'd post a photo of 13 year old you, but I lost all of them when one of your hard drives crashed and the other one was stolen. You'll get over that loss. 

    3 Reasons to Read 'A Darker Shade of Magic'

    Since I read tons of book blogs specifically about YA fiction, it’s pretty normal for me to see more than five book reviews of the same newly released book in one week. Because I like seeing how different people write reviews, I go ahead and read them all. What I end up finding is that one review tips the scales and convinces me to add that book to my TBR, not because it is such a beautifully-written review, or even because it was a positive review. It’s usually because of one sentence that mentions something that I’m interested in.

    I know that recently tons of reviews of A Darker Shade of Magic have been being posted. It’s a fun, well-paced book about magical young man who can travel between different versions of London and starts on a quest to “throw the ring into the fires of Mount Doom” (so to speak). But, maybe you haven’t added it to your TBR list yet. Here are three reasons that might tip the scales:

    There is no romance.
    Sometimes I’m in the mood for a good, clean, fun romance (I’m headed straight to you, Rainbow Rowell). But most of the time I would much rather skip the does-he-like-me drama, unconvincing love at first sight (let’s be real and call it hormones or lust), or the brave yet undecided girl-caught-in-a-love-triangle. I think it’s too shallow and narrow-minded to assume that all teens, or all readers have relationship issues and can/want to relate to characters that do. I didn’t and I don’t. I want to read books about friendships with excellent interpersonal character development. A Darker Shade of Magic portrays good light-hearted friendship, cooperation, and playful banter between the main female and male characters.

    It’s definitely fantasy, but you don’t have to be a super-nerd to enjoy it.
    The Chronicles of Narnia has a wide audience appeal because the fantastical elements don’t require a lot of effort from the reader to grasp, the pacing remains steady, and the invented world doesn’t differ much in appearance from our own. Compare TCON with Lord of the Rings--which fantasy style asks more of the reader? ADSOM uses fantasy and magic in ways very similar to The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter.

    It has a great female character.
    She’s spunky, pushy, determined, tries to be self-reliant, and keeps a positive attitude. She has big goals that she’s working towards (though I wouldn’t say her goals and line of work are exactly something you should aspire to follow). She’s clever and quick-witted. And she has some obvious flaws. Sometimes she appears more like a cartoon character than a real-live person we might encounter in the world, but the key thing here is that she’s not simply a vessel (skip to ‘Exhibit A’).

    Did I convince you yet? If you’ve read ADSOM already, can you think of more reasons to convince potential readers?