March 31, 2014

The Monthly Digest: March 2014

Welcome back to The Monthly Digest here at Late Nights with Good Books. With these posts I hope to recap everything reading- and blogging-related for the past month.

The Books

Favorite Read from March:
All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry

Notable Quote from March: 
Like the clanging of the bell, the truth crashes in upon me. At last I understand. He took away my voice to save me. And now, to save myself, I take it back.
Julie Berry, All The Truth That's in Me

The Blog
March Reviews:

March Features:

The Writing
Writing research:
I finished reading The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar. It was a slower, heavier sort of read, but I liked it overall. And I know more now about Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm than I ever expected to know.

I'm currently in the process of reading The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. It's not quite what I expected (more of a dictionary/encyclopedia than anything else), but also quite tongue-in-cheek, which is refreshing.

Writing progress:
None again. I'm ashamed, yes, but more saddened than anything else. And also flabbergasted. I love creative writing and yet somehow I manage to avoid doing any writing.

I think this Goodreads Quote of the Day from Saturday, March 22 best sums up my problems:
Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. 
Louis L'Amour

It's partially (or perhaps largely) fear that has prevented me from writing. It's been quite a while since I really worked on creative works, and I'm worried that I just won't be able to do it anymore. Silly worries, perhaps, but true nonetheless. It's time to face my fears head-on, which is why April is going to be a writing month for me. And with that...

An Announcement:
Except for a review or two for books recently published/being published in April, I will be taking a hiatus for the month of April. I'm having a difficult time balancing everything I want to do right now, and recently blogging's begun to feel like a chore. I still like writing reviews, but I haven't had the time or energy to devote to writing other posts or interacting with the community as a whole. I need time to recharge and reevaluate. Hopefully I'll be back to business as usual in May.

And...I'm thinking of trying out Camp NaNo. Maybe. At least, I'm going to use the fact that lots of people are attempting to write stories this month as a way to inspire me to finally start writing that WIP I've been sitting on for forever. Wish me luck! (No, seriously, I'll need it.)

How was your March?
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March 27, 2014

Review: Cress by Marissa Meyer

Cress by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles, #3
Published: 2014, Feiwel and Friends
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction, Retelling
Source: Library 
Contains spoilers for Cinder (my review), Scarlet (my review)
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

"Do you think it was destiny that brought us together?"
He squinted and, after a thoughtful moment, shook his head. "No. I'm pretty sure it was Cinder.”

Thank goodness. I suppose I can count myself among the legions Marissa Meyer’s fans once again. I loved Cinder but had a bit of a rockier relationship with Scarlet. In retrospect, I think that my dissatisfaction of Scarlet stemmed primarily from the fact that Cinder was no longer the primary protagonist, just as her journey was no longer the centerpiece of the story; she fully shared the story with Scarlet. I get a little attached to my protagonists and their personal stories, so it was a rough adjustment for me to accept Scarlet’s story in Scarlet. Because I better anticipated the narrative format of Cress (and was willing to embrace the dual storylines), I ended up quite enjoying this one.

(As a sidenote, please tell me that there are others out there who, like me, don’t like stories with multiple points of view and protagonists as much as a story documenting one person’s tale. I can’t be alone in this.)

As Cress begins, Scarlet and Wolf have teamed up with Cinder and Thorne abroad Thorne’s Rampion spaceship. After the heavy casualties sustained from a Lunar attack on major Earthen cities, Prince Kai of the Eastern Commonwealth has agreed to marry Queen Levana of the Lunars. Bloodshed has stopped for now, but Cinder knows that the peace is temporary, that Levana won’t be content to be Kai’s equal, but will be planning to destroy him and subjugate all people of Earth under her rule.

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March 25, 2014

Top Ten Things On My Bookish Bucket List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the BookishThis week we're discussing our top ten book-related bucket list items. I'm not sure these really are at the top of my bookish bucket list, but they all are things I'd ideally love to accomplish in my reading life one day.

First of all, there are a ton of classics that I want to read:
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas - I love the film and I'm pretty sure I'll love the book. I've heard great things about the actual written story and I do love me some nineteenth-century fiction.  
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - I've started this book three times now. That's just unacceptable. I refuse to let any book best me, and, besides that, I am actually interested in the story here (just not the way it's being told, apparently).
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo - I love the play. And I love the idea of the book. I actually own this and think that I'll enjoy reading it. I just need to devote some serious time and concentration to doing so.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery - I think I'm probably breaking some serious taboo in that I never read these books as a child. From what I've heard, though, I think I'll still enjoy Anne's stories very much as an adult.
The entirety of Charles Dickens' corpus - Because I actually like the works of his that I've read (well, not Our Mutual Friend, but I consider that to be a rare exception). And I just love the idea of reading an author's entire published works. 

Read 100 new books in one year:
This is more than do-able, just not with my current schedule. But I think it would be awesome to say I've read that many books in a year. Plus, when would being able to read 100 new books in a single year ever be a bad thing? More books to love, more favorite authors to find.

Attend more author events:
This involves both me being more aware of events held in my area and also being able to make the time/commitment to actually attend them. I made a start this year with meeting Lois Lowry and I plan on attending the summer Fierce Reads tour in Milwaukee (which I'm super excited about).

And, more specifically, I'd love to meet:
J.K. Rowling - Probably never going to happen, but she's definitely the person most responsible for fostering my love of reading, writing, and the fantasy genre. I can dream, right?
Megan Whalen Turner - Also unlikely, unfortunately. Of all the authors I've read, I probably respect her writing the most. I'm a very verbose writer and I admire how tightly constructed her prose is. And she's been a major influence of mine since I first read The Thief.

Read more diverse books:
I'm not going to be too picky about which books will qualify as more diverse. Basically, those that deal with a variety of perspectives, genders, races, classes, etc. that are recent releases, as well as those that are older. As much as I love books considered to be part of the classical canon, I recognize the fact that so, so many wonderful books never received the exposure they should have because of their content or author, and that's something I can and will disagree with.

Please let me know what items made their way onto your bookish bucket list!
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March 24, 2014

Review: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Published: 2013, Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Library
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

His attention snaps back to the present, and he thinks how far the world has come in a thousand years, how the island has changed in that time. And what will it be like in another thousand years? People, most people, always assume that civilization steadily increases, that the world improves, becomes more peaceful, and it very often does. But if there’s one thing he’s learned in his days as an archaeologist, it’s that this is not always the case. Sometimes, when civilization falters, sometimes, things become more primitive again. More primitive, and more violent.

As soon as ALA announced that Midwinterblood had won the 2014 Printz Award, I immediately placed a hold on the title with my local library. This was a title I’d been interested in reading previously, but had just never got around to actually obtaining a copy. The excuse to finally read it, therefore, was much appreciated.

Midwinterblood is not a typical, cohesive story; rather, it is a series of seven vignettes told over a period of thousands of years in the history of the Scandinavian isle of Blessed. Besides the recurring location, each story is also tied together through two of its characters: a male whose name is Eric (or a variant thereof) and a female named Merle (or a variant thereof). Eric and Merle’s meetings form the focal point of each story, as well as the focal point of the novel as a whole.

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March 21, 2014

Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Published: April 1, 2014, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Source: From publisher via Netgalley
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

“...I’m starting to realize that it’s not a coincidence. That the people I most admire, the ones who seemed to be able to use their bodies, their voices, to fight away the fear, you didn’t win, not really, in the end. It’s gotten harder to write these letters, and maybe that’s why.”

Laurel has to do the unthinkable: start her high school career without her older sister May by her side. In fact, Laurel will never have May by her side again, as her older sister died tragically a few months earlier. Laurel will have to navigate her new high school alone (she switched districts to avoid becoming an object of pity by all the faculty and students). After her mother abandoned their family for California shortly after May’s death, Laurel will spend half her weeks with her father, the other weeks with her Aunt May. 

May was Laurel’s role model, best friend, and confidante and Laurel is having trouble processing the fact that May’s no longer there. So when Laurel’s first English class assignment is to write a letter to a dead person, she doesn’t immediately choose to write something to May. Instead, she writes to Kurt Cobain, who was May’s favorite musician. Throughout the school year, Laurel continues writing letters to various deceased entertainers, recording her thoughts and emotions as she attempts to find some normalcy in her life post-May.

I personally dislike it when books are compared to other books, films, or forms of common media. I’m a firm believer that each and every work of literature should be able to stand on its own two feet (except for retellings, I suppose). And yet here I am, going to compare Ava Dellaira’s debut novel Love Letters to the Dead to two other young adult novels: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. 

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March 20, 2014

On Being a Long-Term Reader

After nearly two years of book blogging and a lifetime of reading, I’ve learned a few things about my preferred reading style:

1. Reading is my preferred form of relaxation
2. I prefer to be thoroughly engrossed in stories as I read
3. I like to take my time reading stories

There are other conclusions I can make based on my reading style, but for now I want to focus on the fact that, while I do consider myself to be a faster than average reader, I rarely ever spend fewer than a few days with the same book. I’m a LTR (a long-term reader - and, yes, I did just make up that phrase) and proud of it.

So what defines a long-term reader? For me, it means that I’m going to take a little extra time reading a book, even if I could potentially finish it within a day. It means that, for me, the best way to fully comprehend a book is to have it occupy my mind for a few days straight, giving me time to think about the story and process it in between reading sessions. It means that I generally only read one book at a time so that I can better concentrate on and reflect on my current read.

Unfortunately, it also means that I only read about two books per week, and that there’s no way for me to post more than two reviews a week. The benefits, however, far outweigh those consequences for me.

I decided to start writing reviews for two main reasons: to record my thoughts on the books that I read, and to encourage myself to continue to think critically about literature. Since I started this blog, neither of those goals has been difficult to accomplish except for when I end up speeding through a book.

Maybe it’s the student who spent four years studying literature in both English and Spanish speaking here, but I want to be able to think critically about what I read, to tease out meanings and form new understandings. Stories are written for the purpose of entertaining, of course, but I like to think there’s more at stake in them, and I find that I appreciate them best when I am able to spend a little more time with them.

When I read through a book within a short span of time, I may be enjoying myself, but the book usually doesn’t end up leaving much of a lasting impression on me. I don’t have time to process and think about it outside of actually reading it, which makes it difficult for me to recall my thoughts on it. And if I’m having trouble internally processing the book, then there’s no way I could write a decent review (which, again, isn’t the be-all end-all of reading for me, but it is another helpful tool to help me become a better reader and writer).

In the few months making up this year so far, Laura Florand’s The Chocolate Thief and Carrie Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence are the only books I read within the span of two days. And, really, that was just too short a span of time for me. I feel like there were aspects in both that I missed or just didn’t get to fully appreciate because I devoted fewer days and sittings to reading them, and therefore less time for processing them. The only time that’s really worked is if I’m re-reading a book, such as I did with Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock so that I could be better prepared to read Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn.

None of this means that I don’t race through books or binge-read series on occasion, but those instances are rare. I’ve come to understand that I lose a lot more by reading quickly than I do by taking my time and really valuing the story in front of me.

Reading is an intensely personal experience, and the intention of this post is not to deride those who get through a book (or more) in a day or even in a single sitting. Rather, it’s to add my perspective to the dichotomy between fast readers and slow readers.

How do you prefer to read your books? Am I all alone in preferring (needing, really) to take my time with each book I read?

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March 18, 2014

Top Ten Books On My Spring 2014 TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're listing the books that have made it to the top of our Spring 2014 TBR piles. 

New & Upcoming Spring Releases:
Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman — I've mentioned this book quite a few times already this year, but I can't help it. Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler's niece. A Jewish reporter. Forbidden love. Yes, please.
Deception's Princess by Esther M. Friesner — I love that this cover is so reminiscent of "Brave." I love that this is about a princess who is willing to fight for her own rights in first-century Ireland.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart — I have yet to read any E. Lockhart yet, and at this point it kind of just makes sense to start with her upcoming release. Plus, I haven't read anything really classified as YA suspense, so I am intrigued.
The Truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu — I recently acquired an ARC of this. The author is part of the Fierce Reads tour traveling nearby this summer. And I like the fact this focuses on outside perspectives of a victimized girl. Well, at least I'm curious to see how that narrative decision works out.
Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter — I just came across this one when looking at spring releases, but it looks awesome. I mean, what's not awesome about a story that takes place during 89 B.C.E. in Pompeii? (FYI: That's when Mount Vesuvius erupted.) Without knowing any more, I'm already sold.
Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor — This is definitely my most anticipated read of the spring, if not one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I just need to know what happens to Karou and Akiva and how the war between the chimera and angels ends. 

Older Releases:
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach — This book sounds like so much fun. And the protagonist is being compared to BSG's Starbuck. How could I not love that? This is definitely top on my list when I am in the mood for an adult science fiction novel. 
Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn — After ALA Midwinter came out with their 2014 book awards, I decided I wanted to read the winners. I've already read Midwinterblood (2014 Printz winner), so now it's time to read the 2014 Morris Award winner, Charm & Strange.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson — I will read this, I will! Since reading the amazing The Lies of Locke Lamora, I'm a little wary of starting another adult high fantasy and making unfair comparisons. From what I've heard about this one, though, it stands well enough on its own.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente — Ditto what I said above. This is going to happen. And,to make things even better, I'm going to try to read the entirety of this series in a row (well, what's published of it so far). 

Please let me know which books have made it onto your Spring 2014 TBR list!
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March 14, 2014

Ready to Become a Fan of...Jennifer Donnelly

Ready to Become a Fan of... focuses on those authors new and old whose works I have every intention of eventually reading, but haven't been able to devote the time to just yet. By discussing authors and their works that I'm sure I'll love, given the chance, hopefully I can be more easily compelled to take the next step in not simply acquiring one of their books, but actually take the time to read it.

This month I'm putting on record that I am ready to become a fan of Jennifer Donnelly.

About the author:
Jennifer Donnelly is probably best known for writing A Northern Light and other young adult works of historical fiction. A Northern Light was a 2004 Printz Honor book, as well as a 2003 winner of the Carnegie Medal, along with numerous other awards. Besides A Northern Light, Donnelly has published The Tea Rose trilogy, Revolution, a book for children, and has just announced a four-book contract with Disney Press about mermaids.

Work I'm most looking forward to reading:
A Northern Light

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder.

Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly's astonishing debut novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original. (Goodreads)

Why this author & this work:
I love reading a good work of historical fiction. Love it. Although fantasy is my favorite genre, I think there are many similarities that can be made between a good work of fantasy and a good work of historical fiction. Both types of novels are meant to transport readers to eras and places they’ll never experience. Both function as an introduction to a life we can never have and characters we will never meet whether it’s because that era has already passed or will never be doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. As with fantasies, I read historical fiction to be swept away in a story about a life unlike my own.

What makes great works of historical fiction a tad more impressive than fantasy works is that authors cannot rely solely on their own imagination, but generally do a fair amount of research to make their stories as factual as possible. As someone who prefers to go above and beyond on research projects, I like and respect the effort historical fiction writers put into their works.

And yet I’ve come to the slow realization that my historical fiction reading tastes have been rather limited in the past. I’ve read a ton of books about medieval to nineteenth-century England (and bordering European countries), Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt...and that’s primarily it. Partially to blame, I think, is just that I haven’t found books that have really compelled me to step outside of my historical fiction comfort zones. Reading historical fiction does require a bit of learning on the reader’s part, and sometimes it’s nice to continue to read about a time period where I have a basic understanding already formed. I’m betting, however, that Jennifer Donnelly’s works may help me gain an appreciation of new focuses in historical fiction, and make me want to continue with that trend.

As if the plethora of honors this book has received aren’t reason enough, I also have yet to see a single negative review on A Northern Light. This seems to be regarded as Donnelly’s most highly regarded work, so of course I want to start with her best! I haven’t had much of an interest in American history and have never heard of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, but I’m hoping reading this book will solve those issues.

For those of you who've already read some of Jennifer Donnelly’s works, I'd appreciate hearing what you think about them. For those who also haven't read her works yet, let me know what's been holding you back!

Ready to Become a Fan of... is an original feature of Late Nights with Good Books.
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