November Wrap Up

Reading Wrap-Up

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Books read this month: 10

Books still behind in my GoodReads Challenge: 9! I was aiming for 115 this year, and I’m almost at 100. I need to roll up my sleeves and do some serious reading in the next 31 days…

Best Books of the Month: So many great ones this month that it was hard to pick. Kiss Quotient made me weak at the knees, I chewed through The Consuming Fire in three days flat, and Liane Moriarty’s newest was a little bit of a departure, in the best ways, from her standard. It was one of those months that I couldn’t wait to read after the kids went to bed, and I haven’t felt that way in a while.

ARCs read this Month: I just finished Dhonielle Clayton’s sequel to The Belles, called The Everlasting Rose. It was great, and it is out next year! Details in my review.

Books looking forward to this month: I just started The Thirteenth Tale last night and I’m hooked already. I plan to start either The Secret History on audiobook soon.

Writing Wrap-Up

Wasn’t aiming to do NaNo this year (too much work to do), but bravo to those who took it on, whether you “won” or not! I finished a few short non-fic pieces this month and have been deep into editing a new novel project, a rom-com, which is a nice balm to the stressful world we live in.

Life Wrap-Up

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We had approximately 2.5 beautiful fall days before the weather changed, but me and the clan tried to take advantage of it. Not looking forward to a long winter inside, so might just have to invest in good snow gloves so I can join the kids in making snowmen this winter.

Started weight training at the gym, and I am already super sore, but proud of my progress. My goal in the new year is do to “real push ups,” something I’ve never been able to do.

Busy and happy at work and pulling together year end projects. Just a few weeks left of the semester, then a long break when I plan to finish editing and start work on a new writing project!

Hung holiday lights while listening to audiobooks, and it is my new annual tradition. Out on a ladder, good books in my ear, neighbors honking as they go by.

All the best in this last month of 2018!

Book Review: The Everlasting Rose

The Details:

The MUCH anticipated sequel to The Belles is on its way in 2019– and it is worth waiting for! If you’re unfamiliar with The Belles, it may be helpful to check out my review of Dhonielle Clayton’s first book in this YA Fantasy series lush with commentary on societal beauty expectations and power. Basically, the Belles have control of arcane magic to shape the bodies and manners of human beings. Without them, people fade to gray (gris). When a twisted monarch takes the throne, however, the Belle power is under attack, as are the Belles themselves.

Camille, former favorite of the Queen, is on the run with two Belle sisters and her former body guard, Remy. Together they must avoid capture and lead the resistance against the queen, which includes uniting with some unusual allies. Who can Camille trust? The answer is: almost no one.

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Lots more interesting world-building in this book, including more details about how Belles are “born” and mythology on where they came from. The idea of beauty is less of a focus here. The tagline “The Resistance is Here” on the cover really hits at the essence of this book. Corrupt power has to be met with resistance, both violent and nonviolent. The development and use of Belle magic in battle scenes is a real change here– and an interesting one.

Only downside for me was a bit too much reliance on newsprint and letters to build the plot in the first quarter of the book. When a character is “reading” so much important information rather than gathering it in a more active way, it can slow down the flow a little. Otherwise, tons of great scenes, awesome character development, and a new host of teacup pets to wish were real.

Over all, a satisfying second book, with hints that a third could be possible here? No cliffhanger, exactly, but lots of details that leave the reader eager to return to Orleans.

 

The Details:

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton, out March 5, 2019 by Freeform

Add it to your Goodreads shelf and pre-order on Amazon or IndieBound.

 

Thank you NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review!

October Wrap-Up

Reading Life:

Total Books Read This Month: 6

Best Books Read This Month: Less was incredible, and just finished and enjoyed The Gilded Wolves (due to be released next year)

Creepiest Book This MonthAffinity by Sarah Waters creeped me out, and then just like a typical Waters, flipped a switch in the last act. I had sipped the book a bit at a time, but she made me finish the last fifty pages in one sitting.

Big Reading Mood This Month: 

Looking Forward to: Finishing Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator  with the kindergartner. We’ve been reading a chapter most nights. It’s not by any stretch my favorite Roald Dahl, but I don’t remember having ever read it before, so that’s kind of fun. I’m also excited to finally read How to Stop Time and Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, both of which I’ve had on my end table for a few weeks.

Writing Life:

Lots of thinking about writing and not much action this month. I’ve been doing more volunteer work and my job has been challenging. I’ve got a few ideas percolating for the next big project, including one that came to me yesterday morning after the baby decided to stay up for an hour after his 4AM feeding. Need to outline something and jump in. Won’t do NaNo officially like I did last year, but I’d like to write a little each day this month. I missed it this month– and my family knows when I haven’t been writing because I get crabby with them. Best for all of us if I get back to the routine!

Good news about a short story I have played around with for a few years, that will finally find a good home with Literary Mama. More news on that as it gets polished up. Also, published my first piece with Little Old Lady Comedy.

Finally, this month brought an opportunity to  speak at a Story Collider Show. The producers and editors were fabulous to work with in the weeks leading up to the event. It made me realize how much I love live storytelling. It mixes my favorite things about theater with my favorite things about writing. I’ll share this one if it makes it “on the pod,” as they say.

Rachel (Mark Looney)
Photo from the Story Collider event (courtesy of Mark Looney)

Life, Etc:

Halloween was a blast tonight. Kids got a huge haul (most of the plunder will come with me to work). My littlest got to stay up the whole time and enjoyed seeing all of the activity.

Election next week, though it seems like this season has been going on approximately a decade. If you’re a legal voter in the US, please vote.

 

Book Review: The Gilded Wolves

The Review

I have to admit, it took me a few chapters to catch the tone and premise of The Gilded Wolves, but once it hit its stride, I was hooked.

39863498NY Times Bestselling author Roshani Chokshi’s newest fantasy novel follows a group of down-and-out teens– smart, wily outcasts, artists, and academics on the run. Thick with magic and lush worldbuilding, Chokshi takes the reader into an 1880s Paris and introduces us to powerful Houses who must safeguard historic religious artifacts known for their immense power. Which Houses can be trusted, and should one of our narrators be allowed his place of honor in the Houses again? Only time will tell.

There are several adventure plots in this novel that made me think Six of Crows , as well as a similar need of multiple third-person narrators to tell the story well. The strongest sections, I thought, came from the points-of-view of Laila, a performer with a mysterious past, and Zofia, our STEM-loving fish-out-of-water. Love subplots add interest, but aren’t the major focus of the book (which I appreciate).

A few downsides: the ending wrapped up a bit strange, timeline-wise, but there’s a clear lead in to at least another book. Will I pick it up? Probably! Chockshi builds her universe with so many interesting mythological and pan-religious ideas that I find myself already wanting to pick up the next in the series.

Great group of heroes, fun adventure, and neat magic– what else can you want?

The Details

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Publication info: out January 15, 2019 by Wednesday Books

Add it on Goodreads, or pre-order from Amazon or IndieBound

 

Thank you NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

September Wrap-Up

Reading and Writing Life

Books read this month: Only 3! I have two very close to finished, but it’s been a self-care via comic books kind of month this month, meaning not a lot of “trackable” reading

Books so far this year: 79

As far as writing, been polishing up a novel and have sent it to agent for a look! It’s been my passion project for two years– two years of researching bugs and space and brains and writing the relationships of the people inside. I’ve finished book projects before, but none of them have felt this real to me, so hoping for the best!

My other biggest writing project this month has been practicing to perform at a live story telling event in mid-October. If you know me in IRL, let me know if you want details to come see! It’s 8-10 minutes, no notes, and I’m getting extremely excited to get back on a stage of any kind (something I haven’t done since college).

Life, Etc

This month was a news-filled kick-in-the-pants that dredged up too many memories for me and other people. I don’t think I’ve felt so purpose-filled, helpless, and rage-y at the same time in at least, well, a few years.

Personal life? Going great! Youngest started rolling, big kids are terrible at soccer (but the season is almost over), and we have the house decorated for Halloween already, as of today.

This month in numbers:

Number of teeth that baby now has: 1

Number of apple pies made by the hubs this month: 2 (I’m lucky!)

Number of assignments I have to grade this week: 

5ks ran: 1

Seasons of Orange is the New Black streamed: 3

Trips planned: 3 (even if just in my head and will never happen, still nice stress relief)

Hoping for a better October.

 

August Wrap-Up

Reading Wrap-Up

Total Books Read this month: 11

Most swoony book of the month: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Books that kept me up at nightForest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao and Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Best audiobook of the monthCirce by Madeline Miller

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Best print book: There There by Tommy Orange

Books so far this year: 76

Writing Wrap-Up

Working on final edits for a big thing right now. Got some good news today (to be announced soon) that’s not exactly book-adjacent, but will be a fun opportunity and another chance to write. Have a very— very— Midwestern piece coming out tomorrow that I’ll post to the pub’s page as soon as it’s out. Making it made me hungry and homesick at the same time.

I’m making it a goal to write 30k on a new thing before November so that I can at least try NaNo again this year (won it last year!) and finish a new draft before the end of the year. That would be two completed book projects for the year, which would be a-maz-ing, but not going to count my chickens before they are even in eggs, let alone hatch.

Life Wrap-Up

I have not been sleeping enough lately to do a “by the numbers” this month, but hopefully that’ll change soon as the baby gets older. Right? (looks around desperately. ) Right?

(narrator voice: “she would not get more sleep soon.”)

Soccer season has started, and my middle kiddo starts dance on Monday. My big kids stopped sucking their thumbs this month, too, so lots of changes around here that make me feel like time’s passing too fast.

The garden is full of strawberries still, and the raspberries are all turning bright red. It’s a beautiful time to be growing things and I’m so grateful for those last few green tomatoes that promise to ripen soon and taste a bit like summer in these early fall days.

Sending you good wishes in the form of digitized fruit and veggies.

July Wrap-Up

Reading Life

Total books read this month: 9

Books so far this year: 65

Mysteries read: 4 (including progress on working my way through the entire works of Sherlock Holmes)

YA Read: Finished Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina and Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (who I interviewed on here about 2 years ago). Loved them both, especially Dread Nation. If you want a zombie book where the systematic racism is scarier than the undead, you’ve got it right there. Looking forward to her second book in the duology.

Best of the MonthI loved The Wanderers by Meg Howry. It was a deeply reflective look on love, space, and the balance of family/career that I didn’t really expect to shake me as much as it did. Gorgeous prose.

Writing Life

Had kind of a topsy-turvy month trying to decide what project to move ahead with. Finally settled on it and getting feedback from a friend before sending it on. It’s been a passion project of mine for years, and meshes sibling love, science, and nerd-dom. Hoping that the feedback is positive!

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Terminator Baby

Life, Etc

Bottles that the baby took successfully since his birth: 0

Days until I return to work: 6

My stress-level about the combination of those two data points: 140%

Family trips this month: 1

Trips to the county fair: 1

Weeks into my Couch-to-5k Program: 4 (going well so far!)

Cucumber salads made with produce from the garden: 5 (link goes to my grandma’s recipe)

 

Hope your summer is going well!

June Wrap-Up

Reading Wrap

Total number of books read this month: 10

ARCs: 2. Illegal and Kill the Farm Boy.  I recommend both! Illegal is a graphic novel about immigrant siblings from Ghana. Kill the Farm Boy  is a zany adult fantasy which upends practically every fantasy trope in the book. Very enjoyable!

Number of people I purchased The Belles for this month: 2. Seriously. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re missing out.

Audiobooks listened to this month: 7! And I wrote about favorite audiobook narrators here.

Best of the MonthWinter by Marissa Meyer (a satisfying end to the quartet of books) and The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, which I had never read. I’ll be checking out more of that series soon.

Writing Wrap-Up

Finished the edits and sent my dear little book along to my agent. Hoping to hear back notes soon, and in the meantime, working on essays and smaller stuff. This month I published a piece in Scary Mommy,  wrote an exasperated thing on my Medium , and finished edits for something forthcoming in Split Lip (can’t wait!)

Taking a social media hiatus in July to help get started on something new. Planning on doing Camp NaNoWriMo!

On a less happy note, my computer crashed– blue-screened– and luckily I had backed things up recently. If you haven’t DO IT NOW. It could have been a real nightmare otherwise!

Life Wrap-Up

FullSizeRender (1)Average hours of sleep per night: 4.5

Guests in town this weekend: 14

Dairy products that I’ve had to give up to breastfeed this baby: 100%

Percentage of my diet that was cheese before I gave up dairy: 90%

Dairy free cheese products that taste good: 0%

Percentage worth it when the little guy gives me a grin: 110%

 

Audio-Crushes

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Me? Sleep? Why would I do that??

I’ve been averaging 4-5 hours of broken sleep a night for the past two weeks. I don’t know if the baby is going through a growth spurt or if I can just diagnose it as “baby wierdness” (a real and all-too-prevalent condition). No matter the reason, I have to be up with him when he’s up and audiobooks have been keeping me company.

I always roll my eyes when people say that listening to audiobooks isn’t “really reading”. Sure, my eyes aren’t tracking each word, but my brain is engaged in the same imaginative exercise– sometimes moreso since I’m half-dreaming in the middle of the night anyway. Being read to, especially by a great narrator, can make chores more bareable or these middle of the night feedings more alert.

I admit I have an audiocrush on more than a few of them. What follows are my audiobook narrator crushes, and no, Jim Dale isn’t on there (although he has my undying love for his fantastic work on Harry Potter)

Narrator Stand-Outs

First, Bahni Turpin.

https://twitter.com/rmmckenny/status/972155839451680768

Turpin narrates quite a few of the books in my Audible library, including The Hate U GiveThe Underground Railroad, and Bad Feminist. She could read my grocery list and I would toss all the money at her.

Second, Wil Wheaton

I hadn’t read, or listened to, any John Scalzi before this year, but Wheaton’s voice is the perfect companion to his quirky sci-fi texts. The Collapsing Empire got me hooked with not only Wheaton’s voice, but also the kick-ass cast of strong ladies, and I dug into his older works with Wheaton narrating the Trekkie homage of Redshirts (a perfect pairing for us The Next Generation fans).

Third, Rebecca Soler

Ms. Soler’s voice is the one that’s been keeping me company the past few weeks. Too tired for overtly “literary” works, I turned to Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. They were honestly delightful with a wide variety of accents and pacing in her reading. Soler, obviously, enjoyed reading them as well. You can hear it in her voice, and in the interview between Soler and the author after the end of Winter, the final book in the series.

Thanks, Rebecca, for keeping me conscious.

BP-SN_350wFourthKatherine Kellgren

I bought the Timeless Tales of Beatrix Potter for my kiddos, and Kellgren’s reading brings Potter’s work to life in a way that I envy (and, with a background in theater, I like to think that I’m a pretty good reader to my children). She sings tunes to Potter’s made up songs and uses voices that somehow sound both refined (because of the accent) and hilarious. My kids laugh every time– their favorite is “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.”

Fifth, Readers of Long, Long, Long Books

I like big books and I cannot lie. I like them even more when someone else reads them to me, but I can only imagine the strain and time that goes into narrating forty-hour-plus novels. A few stand-out examples:

  • Stephen Fry’s Sherlock Holmes, a 62 hour behemouth, which also includes personal commentary by Fry about some of the stories
  • Anna Karenina read by Maggie Gyllenhaal, which clocks in at 36 hours. I’m not sure I would have gotten around to reading this classic otherwise, but it touched me to my core with her sensitive reading. Gyllenhall talks about this experience here. 
  • Another book I never would have taken on was Infinite Jest, read by Sean Pratt. I would love to sit down and talk to him about the process of reading this book– the layers upon layers and the footnotes upon footnotes. I ended up buying a physical copy to pair with the audio version, mostly for footnote reference, but Pratt’s wry timing partnered well with Foster Wallace’s surrealism.

Finally, Authors who Read Their Works Really, Really Well

And that’s not all authors, unfortunately. A few in my collection who do, however:

  • Arnold Lobel reads his collection of tales about best friends in Frog and Toad Audio Collection. Lobel’s recordings have stood the passage of time since he has been dead for many years, and his easy pace and diction, plus emphasis on the fun, make him an ideal reader to children.
  • Unlike her collection Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay chooses to narrate Hunger herself– and it was the most stirring thing I listened to last year. Even if you don’t love audiobooks, you need to check it out.
  • As you would expect with a comedian, Trevor Noah is the best possible reader for his memoir Born a Crime. The funny parts actually made me laugh out loud, and the horrifying parts were devestating. I try not to judge people’s reading habits because books are great in all forms, but I feel like you miss half of the experience if you don’t hear him read it.

There are many more, of course, (like Alice Walker’s warm reading of The Color Purple that will leave you breathless).

Maybe you don’t like being read to any more. Maybe you haven’t tried it lately… but maybe you should. There are so many fabulous recordings out there to keep you awake, teach you something new, and make you laugh or ugly cry(oh lord, George Newbern’s reading of A Man Called Ove did me in).

What’s the best audiobook you’ve ever heard? I have three credits on Audible burning a hold in my digital pocket.

Book Review: Illegal

The Review:

Illegal is a graphic novel by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, with a primary audience of 35963837children (probably ages ten and up), and this is the kind of book that every child should have access to.

Colfer and Donkin trace the fictional path of Ebo, a young Ghanian boy, as he makes his way to Europe in search of his siblings Kwame and Sisi. Ebo encounters sickness and peril on his journey, all written by Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame) and Donkin (DC comics work) and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano. The illustrations are beautifully colored, with lots of wide shots to give readers an idea of what kinds of places Ebo travels through.

illegal screenshot 2Colfer starts the book with an epigraph from Elie Wiesel’s “no human being is illegal” quote. What this graphic novel does, even more than a traditional novel would, is let a young (or not-so-young) reader place themselves in the shoes of an immigrant attempting to find refuge. In this particular story, the person is a young Ghanain boy seeking Italy’s shores, but the wider message is applicable to all people searching for safety.

In short, beautiful illustrations of a fictional, but realistic, story. Highly recommended.

The Details

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (Sourcebooks Jabberwockey)

Publication Date: August 8, 2018

Add it to Goodreads or puchase on IndieBound or Amazon

 

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.