Archive for the ‘Science fiction and fantasy’ Category

It’s once again the time of year where I look back over my reading list and think about my favorite reading experiences from the past twelve months.

I didn’t read as many novels this year as I have in recent years. Partly, this was because I began reading plays for one of the local theater companies, which took up a bit of my reading time. But mostly it was because, for the first time, life events took so much of my focus that I didn’t have much left over for reading. Let’s hope this changes in 2014!

Today I’m going to talk about the YA novels I enjoyed the most this year and follow up with a list of titles that I’m looking forward to reading in upcoming months.

Honorable Mentions:

When We Wake, by Karen Healey

Science fiction about a teenager who dies during a protest and then is woken up a hundred years later, after being cryogenically frozen. As many Amazon reviewers mention, there are a lot of political ideas in this novel; I personally did not find them too heavy-handed, but your mileage may vary. I really enjoyed the world building and the setting of a future Australia. The actual story did remind me a bit of The Long Sleep, though.

The Originals, by Cat Patrick

Light science fiction about three teenage sister clones. They divide each day into three: high school morning classes, high school afternoon classes, and extracurricular activities after school, while the other two clones are homeschooled. What makes this novel is the family dynamics, both between the three sisters and the relationship they have with their mother.

My Favorite YA Novels of the Year:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

Holly Black makes vampires fresh and creepy (no small feat!). Her protagonist has a strong voice that pulled me right through.

The Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson

The finale of the trilogy begun with The Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers, this novel had a big job to tie everything up in a satisfying conclusion for our heroine, and it did not disappoint. A very strong YA epic fantasy trilogy.

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

The Lucy Variations, by Sara Zarr

This YA contemporary novel follows the life of Lucy, a concert pianist prodigy who, in reaction to family pressure, retired during her teens. The reader gets to watch as she explores her family dynamics and decides what place to give music in her life. Complex characters, character relationships, and family dynamics combined with a passion for classical music? This is novel written for me.

The Different Girl, by Gordon Dalquist

I don’t want to say much about this one for fear of spoiling it, but I can assure you that it is definitely science fiction. We see the world from the perspective of our young protagonist, who is sheltered and often ignorant, and we learn about how the world actually works as she does. I found this story to be compelling and beautiful as it gradually unfolds.

YA Novels I’m Looking Forward to Reading in the Future:

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart (comes out in May 2014)

Reality Boy, by A.S. King

She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick (comes out in April 2014)

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (I’m in the middle of this one right now)

The Diviners, by Libba Bray (It’s already on my Kindle, hooray!)

Roomies, by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr (comes out December 24, 2013)

Which YA novels did you read and enjoy this year? Which ones are you looking forward to?


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I just got home from WorldCon in San Antonio. I’m tired and I think I might be coming down with a cold, so my brain is not cooperating with interesting thoughts tonight.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, I hope they’re right.

In which I ultimately can't resist and take my turn on the Iron Throne.

In which I ultimately can’t resist and take my turn on the Iron Throne.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to my wonderful weekend!

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Today you are reading one of my (relatively) rare writing posts, in which I am mostly going to share intelligent things that other people have said about writing. I admit that I am somewhat motivated by the selfish reason of wanting these articles available in the future for my own easy reference. But I’m also motivated because I’ve been thinking more about short stories lately because I’m critiquing three of them for WorldCon’s writing workshop, which takes place later this week.

First off, Goodreads did a survey on why people stop reading books. I’m fascinated by how many people don’t stop reading in the middle of a book because “as a rule, I like to finish things”: 36.6%! I’m so interested because I stop reading books all the time. I always have so many books in queue that I either should read or want to read that I’ll stop for any number of reasons: I’m not in the right mood, there’s another book I want to read more, the book doesn’t grab me, I can tell it’s not to my taste, etc.

But probably the most interesting number from that survey is that the single biggest reason why people stop reading a novel is because they find it BORING. From what I’ve heard, this is also one of the biggest reasons why slush readers stop reading novels and stories. So if you’re a writer, wanting to learn how to not be boring is a legitimate concern.

Photo Credit: Esellee via Compfight cc

Rahul Kanakia, otherwise known as my favorite blogger, shares some thoughts about the difference between short stories and novels in the boredom department. Rahul was a slush reader for Strange Horizons and now teaches writing to unsuspecting undergrad students at John Hopkins, so he knows that of which he speaks. He talks about having the “So what?” reaction to short stories, which is one I often have as well, and how to work towards inspiring a stronger reaction.

(Incidentally, it’s really interesting to think about the different things that a reader tends to want from a short story vs. from a novel. There definitely seem to be things you can get away with more easily in a novel than a short story, and vice versa.)

Ann Leckie, who edits GigaNotoSaurus, among other things, writes about a problem she often sees in her slush pile: namely, that much of the work she reads is not very original and involve ideas that haven’t been thought all the way through. Which results in what exactly? You guessed it: BORING stories.

Finally, I think anyone involved in narrative storytelling should check out this article, which I first read more than three years ago and still refer back to. (I expect to be referring back to it thirty years from now.) James Van Pelt wrote an outline of a talk he was going to give about writing a great ending. I am such a stickler for stories and novels landing the ending, and this blog post is the best discussion of how to achieve this that I’ve come across so far.

Have you stumbled across any great writing resources or articles lately? Been thinking about any aspect of writing in particular? Feel free to share in the comments!

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I am so happy it’s May! I’m going to celebrate by talking about … board games!

I’ve been playing board games since I was a little kid. I started out with Hi Ho Cherry-O and Sorry, graduated to Monopoly and Pay Day, and then played Dover Patrol, Risk, and D-Day with my dad. For several years I was a bridge aficionado (although alas, I am without a bridge group right now). And a couple of years ago I started going to a weekly board game night, so now I think about board games more than ever.

My gaming group. They are fantastic!

My gaming group. They are fantastic!

Here are three board games I’ve been really excited about recently:

Battlestar Galactica

I’ve loved this game (and its expansions) for a long time, and it continues to be my absolute favorite board game. It’s a semi-cooperative team game that pits the human players, who want to survive and cover a certain distance, against the Cylon players, who want the human players to die. But you often don’t know who the Cylon players are…and you can find out halfway through the game that YOU are actually a Cylon.

What I love most about this game is its strong narrative and evocative atmosphere. I’m immersed in the story while playing, and it can really get my heart pumping! Also, having secret Cylons is just super fun. On the minus side, it can be intimidating for new players to learn and it can take a looong time to play.

I’ve gotten to play three times recently, twice with the Pegasus expansion (although not the endgame because I’m not a big fan of it) and once with the base set. One complaint I’ve heard about the game is that the Cylons always win, something I’ve always argued against because the humans have won more often in my personal experience. But in these last three games, the Cylons have won all three times. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in two of those games, I played a Cylon character brilliantly (and I even finally got to be a Cylon leader, hooray!). And in the third game, some of our human players were unhealthily fixated on their newfound power to put people out the airlock. But in any case, I’m looking forward to many more games, and I especially want to play more with the Exodus expansion.

Alien Frontiers

I’m a fan of White Wolf RPGs, which means I love rolling dice, so this game is a great fit for me. Plus it has a space colonization theme. (Actually all three of these games have space themes. I’m sure none of you are surprised.) It’s Yahtzee meets space awesomeness meets strategy. Um, yeah. Also, all of the regions on the planet to be settled are named after science fiction writers. How cool is that! (Although would it have killed them to include ONE female science fiction writer on the planet? Or even more than one? I think not.)

Anyway, I have yet to get bored with this game. You roll your dice (which represent your spaceships) and try to gain a foothold on the science fiction planet based on different combinations of numbers. If you don’t like to rely on the luck of the roll, you can invest in alien technology that allows you to have more control over your dice. And there are ways to thwart other players, particularly those who may be playing just a little too well.

My main critique of this game is that it can be a bit slow going, especially in later rounds. You can’t plan your own turn in advance very well because you don’t know what you’re going to roll (and because of the game mechanics, you just can’t roll ahead). So you can have strategies in mind but not specific implementation plans, so things can get bogged down. But otherwise it’s a fabulous game.

Sadly, it’s out of stock almost everywhere until its planned reprint in Q4 of 2013. On the upside, it will make a great holiday present! And until then, it is available on the iPad if you can’t wait to try it out.

Space Alert

Space Alert is my newest game love, a timed cooperative game in which your group is trying to survive scanning missions in dangerous parts of the galaxy. It’s like a cooperative version of Robo Rally with aspects of Galaxy Trucker, and that cooperative aspect is really what makes the game for me. Each player can choose to move or do actions, and they have to coordinate where they are on the ship and who is going to deal with which threat (the threats include asteroids, saboteurs, aliens, and enemy ships). But all of your actions are decided face-down as the computer (or CD) counts down your time and introduces new threats. Then you play all the actions out to see what ended up happening. Hilarity often ensues as people fire at nonexistent threats, run out of the energy required to do the things they were hoping to do, and try to take robots that someone else has already taken.

I love this game because it’s exciting and all about communication, decisiveness, and taking responsibility. It’s fascinating to see how things break down, and it’s really satisfying when the team works well together. Plus each mission doesn’t take very long, making the game very flexible in terms of time commitment. As for minuses, it’s really better with the missions being played for you on the computer, which means you need a computer and internet connection for best game play (although there is a CD for when that’s simply impossible).

Games I Want To Play More of Soon:

Dune, Eclipse, Illuminati, Arabian Nights, Race to Adventure (and Spirit of the Century, the RPG on which it’s based).

What are your favorite board games right now?


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Over the last months I’ve been asked a few times by wonderful people to do “The Next Big Thing,” which is a writer meme in which writers talk about their latest work. I said no because I’d already talked a lot about The Academy of Forgetting here, so it wouldn’t have been very interesting. But then my friend Amy asked me to do it this past weekend, and I thought, ooh, I can talk about the new book! So I said yes.

I’m going to post Amy’s bio here, and I’ll also tell her a little about how we met. She was in my first critique circle at my first SCBWI conference in New York, and I heard her read the first page of the YA novel she was working on, and I thought, “I want to be friends with her.” Happily, it turned out she is as kind and intelligent as she is talented.

Amy K. Nichols is a YA author from the Phoenix area. She is represented by Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary. Her first novel, Another Here, Another Now, will be published by Knopf BFYR in fall of 2014. You can read samples of her work at http://www.amywrites.com.
Blog: http://www.amyknichols.wordpress.com
Twitter: @amyknichols

But I’m not going to follow the rest of the directions. First of all, I don’t like tagging people because it reminds me of those chain letters I got in first grade that my mom wouldn’t let me do. I think she had a point. Plus, this meme has been going on for long enough that I have no idea who has done it and who hasn’t.

Second of all, I started reading through the questions, and I realized that, even talking about my new work-in-progress, my answers were mostly going to be…pretty boring. Or nonexistent. I mean, how could I possibly know what actors I’d want to play my characters when I’m still getting to know those characters? (And it’s not like I have ideas for any actors for Academy of Forgetting characters either. This is just not how I think.)

So instead I’m just going to tell you about my new book. It’s a YA murder mystery set in space, and I think I’m going to call it Nikki in Space on the blog because I have no idea what the real title is going to be yet. That’s why it’s called a work-in-progress.

I’m really excited about it for the following reasons:

1. Space! The setting is just the most fun ever to write. It’s set in the same universe as my short story Daddy’s Girl, and the beginning is set on a single family space habitation, and the rest is set on a space station. So fun.

2. Murder mystery! I’ve inhaled Agatha Christie mysteries for most of my life. (And I also really like Laurie King’s Mary Russell mysteries, which reminds me that I should read more of them soon.) And now I’m getting to do one myself.

3. Nikki! I’ve had Nikki’s voice in my head for over a year now, and it’s very satisfying to finally get to explore it.

I did my usual playing with index cards to outline (although I did a simpler version this time), and I’ve been working on the rough draft for the past three weeks. Last week I went up to the Rainforest Writers Village in Washington and pounded out the words. (It was lovely, the people there have become a core part of my writing family, and I feel so lucky I got to go.)

The view from my cabin up in Washington.

The view from my cabin up in Washington.

At this point, I’m very close to finishing Act 1 of the novel. In fact, by the time you’re reading this, hopefully I already have. This means I’m theoretically about 25% through the rough draft.

So that’s what I’m working on right now, and hence that’s where a lot of my brain is going. What about you? Working on any cool projects?

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I always wanted to have a voice. What I didn’t know about were the obligations that come along with it.

Last night I sat with a group of friends and watched the Academy Awards. Aside from one meaningful look, I didn’t say anything about the Boob Song. It was exactly the brand of humor that I don’t know what to do about, because I can see why people think it’s funny, and yet, if I think about it for more than five seconds, it’s not at all funny. (Libba Bray’s suggestion, however, is.) It actually completely pisses me off, especially in reference to an already deeply misogynistic industry.

But I didn’t say anything. (Although I did splutter indignantly at the joke at Penelope Cruz’s expense that combined sexism and racism. I mean, wow.) I’d like to think it was a world-weary kind of not saying anything, but it wasn’t. It was a self-doubting, “other people find this funny so maybe there’s not actually a problem and anyway I don’t want to seem like a negative killjoy” sort of not saying anything. Even when I have a voice, it seems, it can be difficult to use it.

When I started writing, I knew very little about social issues: sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, classism, etc. But I very quickly became aware there was a lot for me to learn, because I began following the science fiction community in early 2009, which was around the same time the Racefail conversations were happening. It was at that point that I realized how much I didn’t know and how important it was for me to start educating myself.

I still have a lot to learn. I know I don’t always get it right. But I feel strongly that with the privilege of having a voice, of becoming a writer whose works will be read, whether that’s here on the blog or in my fiction, comes the responsibility for me to learn about issues of gender, of race, of class, and of sexuality. Because whether I like it or not, whether I mean to or not, whether I am conscious of them or not, my own biases will come through in my work.

I can’t erase all my biases, certainly not in the four years I’ve been thinking more deeply on these subjects, but at the very least I can examine myself, aspire to understand more, and do what I can to counteract these biases. Because as a writer, I am engaging in the conversation of our society, and what I say (or do not say) matters. The words I choose matter.

So when I fail to say anything about a derogatory Boob Song, I have to examine that response. I have to ask myself if I’m being wishy washy in my writing, if I’m worrying about being un-fun and trying to convince myself things are fine when they aren’t instead of working harder and writing about my convictions and observations.

This kind of self reflection makes me want to tell you how offensive I find the premise of the new Oz movie, Oz the Great and Powerful, which seems like it’s going to be about all these awesome, powerful, and magical women who, in spite of their power, need a bumbling man who’s not from around here to set everything (and everyone) straight. And then I begin to wonder if the movie is going to feminize magical power while the Wizard saves the day with common sense and practical and/or technical know-how that the magical women can’t possibly do themselves. And then I think about how the original Oz stories, in spite of being written in the early 20th century and being deeply problematic in several ways, featured Dorothy and Ozma as the prominent protagonist-heroines. I think of how uncomfortable I was the first time I read The Marvelous Land of Oz at age seven when —spoiler alert–the boy protagonist Tip turned out to be the girl princess Ozma, and how this made me question gender assumptions until upon re-reading I was completely on board with that particular plot twist. And how having this movie set in the same world in 2013 only with a man to save the womenfolk seems like we’re going backwards instead of forwards.

This self examination makes me wonder how many times I’ve decided not to write about things like the Oz movie here on the blog, because it’s so much easier not to speak up.

The truth is, since I’ve begun learning and thinking about social issues, I see and experience things that make me uncomfortable all the time. And one of the most uncomfortable thoughts of all is knowing there’s so much stuff I’m missing, so many problems I’m not seeing because they’re so tightly embedded into my cultural context, into my upbringing, and into the assumptions I bring with me when I view the world. And one of the other uncomfortable thoughts is how often I keep my mouth shut.

So this is me, using the voice I worked hard to get. The Boob Song wasn’t actually funny as much as it was depressing and offensive. The Oz movie looks dreadful, even if the previews are pretty. We are all informed by the society we grew up and live in, whether we realize it or want it to be true or not.

And we can try our best to say something about what we notice and what we learn.

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This weekend I was in Detroit attending the Immortal ConFusion convention. While I was there, this happened:

Photo by Al Bogdan

You can read all about it here and here. But what you won’t read about in those places is how I ended up attending the private shooting session for this photo.

I knew my good friend Al Bogdan was going to be doing the shoot, and I asked him if he needed an assistant. I was kind of joking…but only kind of. Happily for me, no one objected to Al having some extra help, which led to one of the more memorable hours of the weekend. I helped unload, set up the backdrop, run messages, and compare the authors posing in front of me to the cover we were trying to imitate. And I take all credit for Charlie Stross’s silver modesty drape in the above photo.

Also, this happened:

Photo by Al Bogdan

Photo by Al Bogdan

I believe this is the only currently extant photo of me with a Hugo rocket.

I also had my first practical joke pulled on me. I know, I can’t really believe it’s my first either, but I’ve spent some time wracking my brains, and nothing else has come to mind. So this is my official first. It involved the personal delivery of pastries (yum, pastries) to my hotel room at an ungodly hour of the morning. Well, ungodly for night owl, jet-lagged me, in any case. I used Twitter to coin the term “pastry bomb,” as in “My friends totally pastry bombed me this morning.” I can’t think of a more Amy-appropriate first practical joke. Also, I had pastries to eat for the rest of the con, which was a definite win for me.

Maybe I should have taken photos of the pastries or something, but instead I have a photo of me a little later that day. I think this illustrates my mood post-prank pretty well, and if you look closely, you can see my Ferrett-inspired pretty princess nails.

Photo by Al Bogdan

Photo by Al Bogdan

And now I’m home and sleepy and happily working on the query for Academy of Forgetting (I might throw it up here at some point, since you heard me talking about that book all last year) and the brainstorming for my next novel, which takes place in space and is therefore inherently exciting.

Since I am new to the world of practical jokes, leave me a comment if you have any stories about ones you’ve pulled (or had pulled on you). I obviously have a lot to learn.

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But first, it’s the time of year when science fiction and fantasy writers begin to mention award season. I’ll make this short and sweet.

I am in my second (and final) year of eligibility for the Campbell Award for best new writer in science fiction and fantasy. You can vote for this award if you are voting for the Hugos. Here is my list of publications to date. I’m happy to send you a copy of anything on that list–just shoot me an email at practicalfreespirit@gmail.com

Also for the Hugos, I can be nominated in the Fan Writer category for my writing on this blog. I recently updated my Best of Blog page to include some blog posts from 2012. And if you’re looking for other people to nominate, I recommend checking out Theodora Goss and Ferrett Steinmetz, both of whom have strong blogs relevant to fandom and our community.

I had four short stories published last year, all of which can be nominated for the Nebulas and the Hugos. The complete list is here, but in my opinion the strongest one is Daddy’s Girl.

And now, for something completely different.

I have something new I’m really excited about. It’s a vlog called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and one of its executive producers is Hank Green of Vlogbrothers fame (he vlogs with his brother, writer John Green).

This vlog combines modern media and storytelling in a way that is special. Its conceit? It’s a modern-day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The main vlog belongs to Lizzie (aka Elizabeth) Bennet, who starts it with her friend Charlotte as a project for her communications masters. We are slowly introduced to the concerns and people of Lizzie’s world, and the acting and writing are both quite strong.

The audience can watch only these main videos and have a great time. However, for those who want more, it’s out there to find. Lizzie’s little sister Lydia starts her own vlog. Charlotte’s little sister Maria does a short series of videos as well. Each of the characters in the vlog has their own Twitter handle, and they tweet at each other and with the audience. (Unfortunately, whoever’s in charge of the Twitter accounts doesn’t understand the technicalities of how Twitter works so the responses aren’t threaded to each other in a way that is easy to read. Still very cool, though.) One of the characters (Jane) has a semi-active Tumblr account. There’s even a fake website of the company Lizzie is about to go visit for an independent study project next week.

Lizzie and Charlotte, dressed up as Lizzie’s parents

I’m fascinated by how the story is being updated to modern times. For example, the proposal of Mr. Collins to Lizzie isn’t exactly what it was in the book, even while it remains true to the spirit. There are plenty of references to catch for those who love Pride and Prejudice. I particularly love how so far the videos are very effective at highlighting the flaws in Lizzie’s character. But even for those who aren’t so into the book, this is a fascinating experiment of a different way of storytelling using a combination of video, websites, and social media.

I don’t know how I avoided hearing about this for so long, but now that I’m all caught up, I’m looking forward to experiencing the serial feel going forward. Another thing I really like about this vlog is how each episode feels complete in itself even while maintaining suspense and forward momentum. When I watch my other favorite web series, The Guild, I am often frustrated by how short each episode seems and how I feel like I’m constantly left hanging (maybe I got spoiled by getting to watch the first five seasons after they were completed, making them more like five movies). In contrast, each episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has its own mini-arc that leaves me feeling satisfied.

I would love love love to be involved in the writing and/or producing of a project like this. Truly fabulous storytelling.

What media are you geeking out over right now?

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Today I’m going to talk some more about books. What bliss!


At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson
I wrote about this book here. Bill Bryson is talented at keeping me amused, what can I say?

How to Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ
As a female writer, I found this book particularly fascinating. This book was published in 1983, but it certainly seems relevant today. I remember a certain comment on my post earlier this year about intelligent women, making the argument that women aren’t as intelligent as men because they haven’t created as many masterpieces–in literature, in music, in the visual arts. (Don’t bother looking for that comment, by the way. I deleted it. Life is too short for such stupidity.) If you are interested in why it seems that less of the literary canon was created by women, this book will help answer that question for you.

My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
I wrote about this book here. This book’s joy comes from the irrepressible personality of Julia Child. I don’t read a lot of memoir, but maybe I should.

Adult Fiction:

The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells. Fantasy
Anyone who writes a book with somewhat dragon-like characters that doesn’t cause me to throw it across the rooms deserves a lot of credit. The plot is fun here, but what I really liked in this secondary world fantasy was the world building and learning more about the society of said dragon-like creatures. We learn about it through an outsider of the society, which makes the unfolding discovery seem natural.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. Historical mystery
I asked Facebook for a recommendation for a mystery that had an eccentric woman genius as the detective, in the same mold as Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. One of my friends came through for me by recommending this book, the first of a series, about the female protegé of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read several of these books, and I plan to read more. Mary Russell is a great character, and in addition to the mysteries, I love reading about her scholarship in religious history, which adds an extra dimension and depth to these books.

The Testament of Jesse Lamb, by Jane Rogers. Science fiction
Reading this book gave me a breakthrough on point of view for my own novel, The Academy of Forgetting, so I love it for that. I also like its slow pacing and build, its use of language, and its taking a familiar science fictional problem of fertility and making it intimate and deeply personal. (This book is also interesting because it was marketed as adult fiction, but it features a teenaged first-person protagonist. I’m guessing they chose to market it as adult because of the style.)

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton. Literary
This book took me awhile to read, and I was in love with it the entire time. It’s set in 1890s New York high society and has echoes of Jane Austen’s novels of manners, although this book contains a more overt social critique. In Austen, her heroines are forced to operate within the rules and strictures of society, but they are able to harness these rules into providing a “happy” ending for themselves, whereas this novel shows the tension between these rules and a woman’s desires and potential happiness, highlighting the society’s damaging attitudes about women and the price that is paid to follow society’s confining rules. So very fascinating. I’m also completely intrigued by Edith Wharton now. My thanks to Rahul Kanakia for the recommendation.

vN, by Madeline Ashby. Science fiction
I can sum up my enjoyment of this novel in one word: Robots! Robots are awesome, and the robots in this novel are no exception. The ending was a bit … strange, but overall, quick pacing, high stakes, and a fun plot made this novel quite entertaining.

Washington Square, by Henry James. Literary
I also have to thank Rahul for telling me about this novel (which means I should really tell you to go follow his blog, where he talks about all these fabulous books). What’s interesting about this book is that it’s about all these really awful people, and it draws viciously accurate portraits of their personalities. We also get to see the effects of living and dealing with really awful people on the heroine, Catherine, who is sadly not awful herself (she’d probably do better in that environment if she was). A well-done family drama, set in 1880s New York.

Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Historical mystery w/ magical realism elements
I don’t really know the genre of this book. Also I have apparently been living under a rock because this book was really popular when it came out, but I only heard about it when my friend Bill Schafer mentioned it to me this year. And finally, I am reading this novel right now and am only halfway through, and I generally don’t recommend books until I finish them, because what if the ending doesn’t land? So we’re engaging in some risk-taking here. But it’s such a beautiful book so far that I feel it belongs on this list. I mean, it starts out with the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books.” What’s not to love about that? As a writer, I’m finding what Zafon is doing with first person POV (well, mostly 1st person) to be very interesting. As a reader, I am simply enchanted by the story and characters. Some poking around on the internet tells me that many people talk about it mainly as a mystery set in post-war Barcelona (which is such a rich setting, by the by), but I’ve been reading this as very much magical realism. The flirtation with the fantastic in this book is one of the parts that intrigues me the most.

All right, hit me with your own favorite reads of the year. I always like hearing about books that have made an impression. And if you have your own year-end book list, feel free to link to it as well.

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It’s that exciting time when I review the list of books I’ve read this year and share some of my favorites. Basically this is an excuse for me to talk about books I love, which is a particularly enjoyable activity. So enjoyable, in fact, that this year I’m going to write two lists: one of the Middle Grade and Young Adult books that I loved, and one of the adult books I loved.

Yes, it was a very good reading year, and I can’t narrow down any further than that.

Today I’m sharing my top list of YA and MG novels I’ve read for the first time in the last year. And it’s such a good list, it makes me happy just to contemplate it.

Honorable Mentions:

Legend, by Marie Lu. YA dystopia
Entertaining adventure story.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. YA fantasy
Very evocative writing, strong settings, enjoyable sense of wonder. I’m not generally a fan of long flashbacks, though.

My Top Ten:

The Skull of Truth, by Bruce Coville. MG fantasy
I heard Bruce Coville speak at a SCBWI conference, which motivated me to try his books. This one is probably my favorite so far. Clean, engaging writing, a fun plot, and I adore the skull character so much.

Chime, by Franny Billingsley. YA fantasy
What stands out in my memory about this novel is its unique voice and its strong sense of setting. Haunting.

Black Heart, by Holly Black. YA fantasy
The third book of a trilogy that always ends up on my year’s best lists. Holly Black brings her story to a close in a satisfying way, and the magic system continues to enchant me.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. YA contemporary
I read this for a book club, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a novel told in a series of letters sent to a stranger, and we get a deep look into the protagonist’s head and heart, cracks and all. It’s one of the best books I’ve read at catching the deep confusion of being a teenager.

Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore . YA fantasy
This is a complex, layered novel about the recovery from trauma, both of a nation and of a teenaged girl. It doesn’t rush or skirt away from the hard questions.

Every Day, by David Levithan. YA fantasy
The writing is good, but what makes this novel is its central conceit: that every day, the main character (who is genderless) moves into a different person’s body. Fascinating exploration of identity, morality, and love.

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. YA contemporary
I wrote about this novel here. I am not the only person who thinks this book is brilliant.

Looking for Alaska, by John Green. YA contemporary
Oh, John Green. This book is also brilliant. The voice, the characters, the themes, the setting. This is a book that rips your heart out and makes you wiser because of it.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne Valente. MG fantasy
This book is both beautiful and clever. It reminds me a bit of the Oz books in terms of its narrative style (omniscient) and sense of wonder, but with more modern sensibilities and better plotting. And it really is so insightful and clever, with a heroine that I want to spend lots of time with. (In fact, I have the next book in the series, it’s a minor miracle I haven’t read it yet.)

A Monster Calls and mask
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. MG…contemporary w/ fantasy elements? You decide.
This book broke my heart. It delivered my most powerful emotional reading experience of the year. It uses the fantastic as metaphor in truly masterful fashion. You want to read the physical version of this book, not the electronic one, because of the beautiful artwork that really adds to the story.

What were your favorite YA and MG books you read this year?


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