Tuesday, December 26, 2023

2023 Year in Reading

What a year! I started with good intentions of blogging regularly (as you do) and then dropped off mid-summer (as I do). But that doesn't mean I stopped reading!

In fact, I read 147 books this year after setting my Goodreads goal at 100. Whoops/yay! Clearly I prefer to spend my free time reading instead of blogging. However, my reading history shows that if I set my Goodreads goal too high, I fail miserably, so I'll probably keep it at 100 for 2024. I definitely went through phases where I'd devour books and then hit a dry spell, so it usually evens out. I also feel like I remember books less in the past few years. I'm not sure if that's me getting older and my memory failing, or it's because I read too much. Either way, I'd like to try and take reading slower next year. We'll see if it happens, but it seems like a nice approach to the new year.

My kid beat his goal, too! He wanted to read 40 books this year. I was a little iffy on that because we don't read together like we did when he was younger. Well, we read "together" in the sense that we make time each night to read, sitting side-by-side on the couch, but we're not sharing three picture books before bedtime like when he was little. Thankfully, his friend recommended the Wings of Fire series and he started reading both the chapter books and graphic novels. He was so into them that he'd choose to read over playing games, so I was happy! He still has about half the series to go, so that will be on his plate for 2024. I think we'll stick with the 40 book goal for him, too.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Drew Leclair Middle Grade Mysteries


As I mentioned in my last post, I've been on a huge mystery kick lately. After reading a couple YA mysteries and mystery series, I found Drew Leclair Gets a Clue by Katryn Bury as an ebook at the library and added it to my TBR list. There are currently two books in the series, and before I even started the first, I got an offer from Wunderkind PR to read the second! I love nothing more than reading sequels and series back to back, so I jumped at the chance.

In Drew Leclair Gets a Clue, true crime fanatic Drew (named for Nancy Drew) tackles a cyberbully that is embarrassing kids at her middle school. On top of wanting to solve the mystery, Drew also deals with her mother leaving the family for a new boyfriend---who just happens to have been the counselor at Drew's school! So she's dealing with that humiliation in her social life and also the devastation of her home life. Beyond that, Shrey, her best friend, is now romantically interested in her, and Drew just doesn't feel that way, for him or anyone. It's a lot to tackle, but Drew is 12, and that's the age when this type of problem seems to pile up.

In Drew Leclaire Crushes the Case, Drew now knows her two best friends will help her solve mysteries at school, so she has a good support system. However, her mom is swooping back into her life and messing it all up in the process, and her dad is starting to date, but hides it from Drew. Shrey has a girlfriend and Drew can't process her feelings about that development, especially because she realizes she also has feelings for someone in her friend group.

These middle-grade books seem ideal for all ages. While Drew and her friends are 12, in seventh grades, the parents are just active enough in the story to keep me interested, but not to the extent that they bog down the action for younger readers. Drew has unique relationships with both parents - her dad loves true crime and totally gets her, while her mom wants her to be something else and makes her feel abandoned. I think these are great dynamics to address in a middle-grade series.

Drew's friend group is incredibly diverse, with people of all skin tones and cultural backgrounds. Drew herself has chronic illnesses, and other characters in the books have differing abilities yet are completely accepted at school and in their social circles, which is refreshing. Above it all, Drew is bisexual and has gay and lesbian friends. There's no issue of LGBTQIA+ being acceptable in school or by parents, so I think this series is one that will empower younger children to embrace who they are, as well as those around them.

All of these elements work together to make a compelling cast of characters, but still - mysteries are the highlight of these books. Drew walks the readers through her detective process, including making notes about the case, eliminating suspects, and designing her famous crime boards. Author Katryn Bury is a true crime fanatic herself, which shows in the plotlines. I can't wait to read more in this series and see what mysteries Drew will solve next!

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Truly Devious YA Mystery Series


I read Maureen Johnson's Little Blue Envelopes books back when they came out, so I knew her name but didn't seek out more of her books until I had a hankerin' for some mysteries. I love any type of mystery, but was on a cozy mystery kick, and wanted to see if that was a genre within YA or not. Thankfully, it is - and Maureen Johnson is amazing at it!

I first read the Shades of London series, which made me want to re-visit England and also reminded me of how obsessed I was with Jack the Ripper as a teenager. Aka the perfect series for me! I usually love books that have intense character development so I can feel like I'm living another life for a bit, but cozy mysteries don't really do that. However, with Shades of London, it was so well-written that I felt like I knew the characters well enough as-is.

The same is true with Truly Devious. The first three books take place at a boarding school, which is already enchanting enough to a former public school student. The fourth is at a spooky summer camp and the fifth is in London for a study abroad program, so basically this series had everything I dreamed of as a teenager. 

Some things I loved about this series was how I never really knew who was the culprit - though I had a good guess in the fourth book, The Box in the Woods. But not knowing never made me feel like I was kept in the dark throughout the story, as it sometimes does in suspense novels (looking at you, unreliable narrator in The Girl on the Train). Also, I used to hate reading series if I didn’t read them back to back because I’d forget so much of the action in the previous book, but Maureen Johnson adds recap sentences throughout the beginning of the book to remind readers, without being too heavy-handed about it or devoting a whole chapter to a recap. I mean, I did read these back to back, perhaps with an adult novel in between, but there was still just enough recap to remind you of the previous book. But you can also read them as standalones without missing anything.

I can't recommend this series - and everything else I've read by Maureen Johnson - enough. I was especially delighted by Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village, which cracked me up with each page. I gave it as a gift and also recommended my mother gift it to a friend who loves mysteries, so it's only natural that I recommend it to you, too!

Have you read any of Maureen Johnson's books? If I enjoyed these so much, do you have any similar recommendations for me?

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin


My third Zevin (though I haven't written about Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, I did review The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry) and my thoughts about her are still the same. I'm not a huge fan of her gaps in time, nor the distance from the characters' thoughts and emotions. I feel incredibly aware that I'm reading a book the entire time, instead of really engaging with the world and thinking of the characters as real people. That said, her story concepts are AMAZING.

In this book, I LOVED her concept of death - the logistics, how it happens, how you realize, how you "age." I did think the love story was pretty forced. It felt like it was there just because a book "should" have a love interest (disclaimer: not my opinion) or the editor said to add it. I didn't feel anything for the characters, I didn't "ship" them. I also thought it was pretty icky - I know the ages are different on Elsewhere, but there was still a strange gap that I just couldn't get on board with.

I also didn't like the end, mostly because I wanted to experience more "life" on Elsewhere. However, I appreciate the concept of everything going full circle. (Although, spoiler alert: the newborn baby laughing? I know it's a book but that took me right out of this reality, it seemed way too cutesy and unrealistic.)

I guess this makes a pretty unsatisfactory review of the book because I'm not totally raving or ranting about it, but I do think it's worth a read. I'm glad I read it for the concept of death alone - it definitely got my imagination running wild.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

America the Beautiful? by Blythe Roberson

You know I had to take a photo of the book with the backpack I lived out of for six months straight.

Ah yes, two travel books back to back. Though this one is very different from Emily Henry...

In this book, Blythe Roberson quits her job to travel the country... just like I did in 2011. Well, I didn't quit - my company sold its business overseas and fired everyone. But the general concept is the same! Instead of fighting with dozens of other graphic designers to get a new job in the city, I just... didn't. I gave up my lease and put my stuff in storage and planned trips for months at a time, living out of a backpack.

Roberson goes to some of the same parks I hit, aka the biggest National Parks. But there are many I didn't visit, and many I'd never even heard of, so it was really interesting to read about her experience, which was somewhat similar to mine in many strange ways, but also very unique. I too met up with friends along the way, sometimes traveling together, sometimes just crashing at their places. I too drove alone for long stretches and started to feel like life wasn't real. I too wondered why the hell I was visiting these tourist traps along with everyone else in the country.

It's a unique experience to go to a beautiful, natural place and drive around for an hour looking for a parking spot. I thought I was the only grinch who experienced that lack of luck and felt bitter about it, but no, Roberson did too. I don't think that makes it a good thing necessarily, but it makes ME feel better, and that's what matters.

In all seriousness, this is a funny book about travel and friends and getting to know yourself, perhaps too much. There's a fun hook of Roberson earning Junior Ranger badges (which I did NOT do, and now need to do it all again). She also delves into the history of many parks, which I also didn't do - I just went to experience the location and take photos (many of which are now lost thanks for the great hard drive death of 2021).

It was hard for me to read this diplomatically because I kept stopping and thinking of my own experiences, so I might venture into the Goodreads reviews and see what people said if they didn't have a road trip foundation. I'm also very tempted to unearth my travel journals and see what embarrassing book I could write about my experience...

Sunday, May 28, 2023

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

I've seen Emily Henry's cute book covers everywhere but never felt compelled to read one. Also the hold lists are incredibly long at the library, so I figured I'd get to them eventually. When I went to pick up my holds (pictured), People We Meet on Vacation was just sitting on the display shelf, so I grabbed it, not knowing what to expect.

My impression of the author, based on nothing in particular, was that she was more literary than "chick lit" (don't get me started), like Liane Moriarty. And, after reading the book, I think that's true. It was a little more romance-y than I expected. When I started reading it, I was surprised, thinking, "Wow, it's so nice to consume media where a man and woman are legit just friends!" Spoiler alert: joke's on me!

That said, it's not a romance-romance book. It felt realistic but not overwhelming. What I loved most was the travel. I used to travel a lot. After my first "real" job after college closed down, I gave up my lease and lived out of a backpack for about six months, then again a few months after that spree. I was a different person then and the world is different now, so I'm glad I did it when I did, but probably wouldn't do it again. That said, I do miss traveling. And I think this book perfectly captures that freedom and wonder of going to a new place and exploring, talking to people and going with the flow. This book felt like a dozen trips in one and brought back a wave of memories.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

People discussed this book at a family dinner and I was just intrigued enough (before humming to avoid spoilers) to get it from the library. While the writing was a bit clunky, I loved the concept.

If you haven't read this book but want to, this is your cue to start humming...

I thought the rewinding worked so well because I kept thinking, "Oh this is the event that is the undoing." It was really interesting to go back in time and find out what inspired one small action. How you think it's the obvious answer but it's actually something really small you might have forgotten about. I think I love dwelling on that concept more than I liked the book.

But I always love time travel, magical realism, and parallel universe ideas, so this book met that interest. It reminded me of Before the Fall by Lauren Oliver, which I haven't read in years, but the general concept stuck with me. In that book, a girl dies in a car crash and hangs out in purgatory, reliving that one day over and over until she makes things right and can die. It has a narrower and more immediate focus, but a similar foundation.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

In a book where people share their incredibly precise book tastes, I'll start this review by saying I don't like when books exhaustingly reference other literary works because it seems lazy, like they're bringing up specific stories to say, "Yeah... like that."

At the same time, I kind of love these books because literature is how I relate to people. What's your favorite book? What's the last book you read? What required reading did you actually like? What book disappointed you and why?

So getting to know characters this way is like Cliffs Notes. And since this book used short stories? I felt like I was back in college in the best way.

I read this book in about four hours. My mom loaned me her copy and once I started, I couldn't stop. I fell asleep reading it---not a commentary on the story itself---and finished it as soon as I woke up.

Initially, I disliked the massive timeline jumps. It was hard to orient the action, especially paired with the frequent and temporary jumps between points of view. But everything fit together like puzzle pieces, so I think it worked well at the end. The time jumps were especially nice once I reached the end, otherwise I would have been a blubbering mess. Moreso than I actually was.

In general, I prefer books with more character detail, which this book lacks and I think reinforces my theory that leaning so heavily on literary references gets lazy. I could fill in the blanks only because I knew the stories, because I don't think AJ's notes were enough to orient readers unfamiliar with the referenced works.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

A Different Approach

My last blog post was January 2022, and it was the only one of that year. Clearly I had good intentions that just didn't pan out.

I started this blog in 2014 when I was a library science student. I had a newborn and read him picture books all the time. I reviewed picture books and young adult books for classes toward my degree. I volunteered in a library and led reading programs for adults with disabilities. I did an internship. I worked in a public library. I worked in a public school library. I worked in a private school library. Then I left libraries completely when so many people, especially parents, had to change their work-life balance due to lockdown. But my relationships with libraries had already been up and down by that point, so it wasn't a bad situation for me.

While the current situation of defunding libraries enrages me, after seeing what librarians have to put up with, especially with public shootings (especially in my area), I'm not eager to get back to librarianship. I hate feeling that way because I do love libraries, loved my degree program, and would want to work in them again in an ideal world. But the required nights and weekends don't jive with being a single parent, especially since the salary is barely enough to live on even without considering the childcare costs I'd have to add on.

Along with leaving libraries, my son is now older and reads chapter books. I still enjoy the occasional picture book, and young adult novels will always be my jam. But these shifts in my life made me step back and assess my relationship to reading. Since 2020, I've felt like I need to use my time wisely. That means, in my downtime, I need to do something. I'll be honest - it's usually mindless scrolling on my phone. But I'm just as likely to reach for a book. I always read at least 100 books a year, so why haven't I been writing posts about them?

To be fair, I share many of them on Instagram because it's quicker and easier. But I feel like that's my biggest problem lately. I'm reading "just 'cuz." I'm checking out books and reading them to mark them "Read" on Goodreads and feel productive. But honestly, I miss writing more detailed reviews like I used to on this blog. Going back even more, I miss spending weeks on one book in college, reading so much into the language and the references and understanding the story on multiple levels.

I never focused on the newest releases on this blog. I always read what I wanted, often sharing more in-depth author studies that spanned several months or years. And I want to go back to that, to sharing thoughts longer than an Instagram caption. To spending time with one book, even if Goodreads alerts me that I'm behind on my goal. I want to be more thoughtful with what I'm reading and what I take from each book. And hopefully, that purposeful step back will give me more thoughts to share here.

Or this could be the only post I make in 2023. It's hard to tell at this point, isn't it?