Top 10 Popular Books that Lived Up to the Hype

I have been burned by the popular vote just enough times that when I hear that a book is really popular, I usually decide that it isn’t for me. However, on occasion I do cautiously decide to read a book that has done really well. Here is a list of books that have really worked for me. Top 10 Tuesdays are hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter was, to my recollection, the first book I ever refused to read because it was so popular. My mom actually talked me into reading it, though, and of course now it’s one of my all-time favorites!

2. And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell

So this was one of the rare books that I heard a lot about and therefore wanted to read it. If you aren’t familiar with this one, it just came out in April. I’m going to have a much longer review on this soon, but this book really got to me. It was so honest, and reminded me so much of when my first was born.

3. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I actually refused to read this as a child because it didn’t sound like something I would enjoy, but I recently read it to my 6-year-old and we both loved it! I got a lot more of the humor than she did of course, but it really was cute and clever.

4. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I had a hard time pulling the trigger on this one. I had heard of it as a book, and thought I wouldn’t like it, and then saw the movie previews and thought maybe I would. I finally was given a copy for my birthday and I am SO GLAD because it was the perfect mixture of light-hearted humor and real character development.

5. The Selection by Kiera Cass

This is one of those books that did NOT sound like something I wanted to read, and I was quite sure of that based on the description. However, itw as recommended to me by several people whose reading opinions I really trusted, so I finally decided to listen to the audio-book, since that’s usually less of a commitment for me. I loved it! Of course there are some cringy parts, as it is essentially a speculative fiction Bachelor, but this book had some fantastic world-building and character development, and the main character was just the right amount of spunky for me.

6. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My husband tends to be ambitious with his reading and his book recommendations, and so I wasn’t sure whether this book would be for me. I ultimately decided to try it, though, to keep him happy, and I am so glad I did. I loved this one for all of the complexity of magic and the interesting relationships between the characters, and the great historical tidbits.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This is another book that I had heard so much about that I decided not to read it. However, I was shopping at a bookstore with an old friend of mine and she offered to buy me a copy for Christmas if I agreed to read it. I am so glad I did! Of course The Hunger Games is now a dystopian YA staple, but it also is just a great read with some really interesting questions about what we value in our society.

8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I really had no reason for being resistant to this one – the magic and the whimsy is everything I like in YA fantasy, but because it was so popular I had made up my mind not to read it. Once I found out that it was an old NaNoWriMo project, though, I felt like my loyalties demanded that I try it, and I am so glad that I did.

9. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Ok, so I am pretty sure I waited to read this for so long because my husband did a terrible job of selling it to me. One of his ex-girlfriends loved this book, and he kept describing it as a fantasy novel that kept receiving romance awards, so I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I received a copy for my birthday though so I felt like I had to try it. Now it’s one of those books that I recommend to almost everyone.

10. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Some people love this book and some people hate it, but it seems like very few fall between that spectrum, so I waited a long time before reading this, despite my fondness for the miniseries, which I watched for the first time at far too young an age. I really enjoyed this book, but I do think it takes the right reader to like it. There is so much in here that has provided a foundation for fantasy that followed it, so I do feel that all fantasy readers ought to give it a chance at some point in their lives.

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Raising the Next Generation of SFF Readers

Somehow in the last six years, I have ended up with a six-year old daughter (What?? How does that happen??). When Annabel was born, I remember thinking about all the books I could read to her when she got to this age. When she was six months old, I read Shakespeare sonnets to her, and imagined that she “liked them” (it’s amazing how delusional parents can be sometimes). When she was three, I tried The Light Princess and we got about two chapters in before she declared “I just don’t think this is a book that I like.” These days, though, we have hit a sweet spot. She loves to read, has a fascination with dragons that I can’t help but encourage, and she has really developed a fascination with all things Harry Potter. But as much as I have always daydreamed about these days, there have been some challenges I didn’t see coming.

I get to read all my favorites to her!

EllaEnchanted

So excited to get started!

I can’t tell you enough how great this is. We have read the new illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and have Chamber of Secrets lined up next. We are in the middle of Ella Enchanted and she thinks it’s the bee’s knees. A Wrinkle in Time was a huge hit, as was Ramona the Pest and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I love the incredible imagination she has. She likes playing with the wand we got from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and pretends to fight dragons, and go on epic adventures. She knows the Doctor Who theme song (though she’s only seen one or two episodes), and can’t wait to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was a little concerned that some of my favorites would seem too old-school to her (it’s 2018 after all!) but so far there’s been no trouble with that.

 

Sometimes, though, she doesn’t like my favorites.

SadFace

“This is my angry face.”

There have been a ton of books that I was sure she’d love and she… well… you can see that face. Tamora Pierce, so far, has not been a big hit (but I’m going to try again later). She loves the idea of Neil Gaiman, but is still a little scared after watching Coraline. She seemed to like Little House in the Big Woods, but we hit a dead end with Farmer Boy and I haven’t been able to convince her to return to the series. I don’t want to push too hard – after all, she has a mind of her own, and the last thing in the world that I want is to make her bitter about books. But it would be nice if she happened to love everything that I love. That’s what I get, I guess, for having a child instead of a clone.

She becomes more independent every day.

ReadingtoX

Reading to her brother. O.O

I know it’s a little early to worry about this, but for real – she gets older and older every day, and I know that before long, she will be done with me and the books that I like and the whole “reading together” thing. So far there’s no sign of that – she loves sitting in the reading chair and reading a chapter or two or three. But she can read on her own now, and sometimes she just prefers that. I’m glad she enjoys reading, and I love it when she reads books to her little brother. But I want her to stay this age forever! I’m not ready for the whole growing up part.

It’s easy to forget that she is growing up in her own generation.

TabletTime

Tablet time

This is the best and worst and weirdest part. The things that remind me of my childhood won’t be the things that remind her of her own childhood in twenty years. Things that I had to learn – like navigating a tablet – are intuitive for her. “Screen time” was not a huge concern for my generation yet, but that’s the buzz word for my generation of parents. How much TV is too much? How many video games are too much? Should we ban screens altogether? Should we take away screen time as a punishment? Her brother already knows all about her tablet and even gives her requests on what shows to watch. I love that technology is so intuitive for her, but sometimes I feel like I’m falling behind and I’m still in my twenties.

Station Eleven

StationEleven

“So there’s this initial group of patients – the Moscow passengers. Then, this afternoon, a new patient comes in. Same symptoms, but this one wasn’t on the flight. This one’s just an employee at the airport.”
“I’m not sure what you’re – “
“A gate agent,” Wa said. “I’m saying his only contact with the other patients was speaking with one of them about where to board the hotel shuttle.”
“Oh,” Gevan said. “That sounds bad.” The streetcar was still trapped behind the stopped car. “So I guess you’re working late tonight.”
“You remember the SARS epidemic?” Wa asked. “That conversation we had?”
“I remember calling you from Los Angeles when I heard your hospital was quarantined, but I don’t remember what I said.”
“You were freaked out. I had to talk you down.”
“Okay, I guess I do remember that. But look, in my defense they made it sound pretty -“
“You told me to call you if there was ever a real epidemic.”
“I remember.”
“We’ve admitted over 200 flu patients since this morning,” Wa said. “160 in the past three hours. 15 of them have died. The ER’s full of new cases. We’ve got beds parked in hallways. Health Canada’s about to make an announcement.”

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic novel about the fall of modern culture after a highly contagious strain of the flu kills off 99% of humanity. The novel begins on the first night of the epidemic, when a Hollywood actor named Arthur Leander dies of a heart attack in the middle of a performance of King Lear. The plot of the novel follows the end of society and the beginning of the post-apocalypse world from the perspective of characters who all had ties to Arthur while he was still alive – Kirsten, a child actress who was backstage at the moment of Arthur’s collapse; Jeevan, the audience member who attempted CPR to bring him back; Clark, Arthur’s long-time friend; Miranda, Arthur’s first wife; and others who pass in and out of the narrative as it leaps to moments before and after the pandemic, showing glimpses of each life as it is profoundly changed by the death across the globe.

The bulk of Station Eleven focuses on individual character development, rather than a single overarching plot, and while certain themes appear in different characters’ stories (a paperweight, the graphic novels named Station Eleven for which the book is named, a violent man named the Prophet), the stories still felt loosely grouped together rather than feeling strongly cohesive. I realized early on that I needed to adjust my expectations for this novel, but once I did so, it felt intimate and refreshingly real. Some plots were more clear than others – Kristen, for example, joined a traveling theater group as an adult after the apocalypse. Their travels through various towns, and their abrupt clashes with a cult leader called The Prophet were predictable but provided a coherent thread for readers to follow while the rest of the novel leaped back and forth in time. Jeevan’s plot provided some of the largest leaps in time, covering Arthur’s death, to Jeevan’s time as an entertainment news reporter as he watched Arthur’s first marriage devolve, to Jeevan’s foresight during the early days of the pandemic. Clark’s story thread came in rather late in the novel, but had some of my favorite scenes, as a large, protected population watched from a safe distance as the rest of the world was destroyed from the virus.

This novel is first and foremost a story about people, the relationships they form and dissolve, and the ways they overcome their problems or collapse beneath them, and I do feel that the character development in Station Eleven was superb. While there were a few flat secondary characters, all of the primary characters felt keenly real to me, with realistic strengths and weaknesses. Arthur’s first wife Miranda seemed particularly well-developed to me: she is an artist who wants first and foremost to feel financially stable. Early in the novel she starts working in a corporate office where she finds that she thrives in her serene position as office assistant. Again and again, Miranda states that she pursues art for the sake of art, does not need anyone else to like it for it to be worthwhile, and is not even certain she will show it to anyone when it is finished, if she even intends to finish it at all. Jeevan also is a fascinating character, addressing the real value of work – before the flu pandemic, Jeevan has experimented with several different careers, never quite feeling like he was going something that felt worthwhile and meaningful to him. It only as the world is collapsing around him that he starts to really find a place for himself.

One of the things that struck me the most about Station Eleven is how lovely the writing is – even when the world is dying, the author still manages to craft a beautiful setting and build tender relationships between the characters. One of my favorite moments in the novel was a scene between Arthur’s first wife Miranda (the current wife in the scene) and his second wife Elizabeth (his lover at that moment). Miranda and Elizabeth have a moment alone together of complete clarity – they know who they are to Arthur and who they are about to be, and rather than the high drama of hatred or fighting, they are both accepting. It really showed who they were as characters, that they could each have compassion for the other. It also was a stellar sample of the focus of the book as a whole.

In all, I’ll give Station Eleven a 9 out of 10. There is a lot to like – strong characters, some exciting scenes in a post-apocalyptic world, and a lot to consider about where we place our priorities in our fragile modern world. Most readers would enjoy this one, as long as they aren’t opposed to speculative fiction.

Top 10 Books I’ve Read in 2018

I can’t believe we are already past the halfway point for 2018! This year has gone crazy fast, you guys. It has been a year full of some fantastic releases and some great re-reads too, though, so here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2018. Top 10 Tuesdays are hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

 

1. The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

This was a crazy fast read for me, and is a great book for almost everyone. It is a medical drama about two friends who find themselves facing the lies they told years ago in medical school. I love this book especially for more casual readers.

2. Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

I am pretty sure this is going to be one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. Tess is a young woman scarred by her past, who decides to reject her family’s expectations and set out on a road trip with one of her childhood friends. Tess’s world is incredibly vivid and imaginative – full of dragons and magic and old legends – and despite the dark subject matter, this novel left me feeling inspired and hopeful for our own world.

3. Shadows Cast by Stars by Catherine Knuttson

I love love love this book so much, and it was written by and about a Metis woman so bonus points for diversity. This is set in a futuristic society that has been destroyed by a pandemic, and the only cure lies in the blood of those with native ancestry. Native Americans, therefore, are hunted down and killed for their healing qualities. It turns out to be less of an action and more of a fantasy/drama. The writing and imagery is beautiful, and the premise was interesting.

4. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

I’ve already written a gigantic article on why I love this book so much (follow the link), but Louise Erdrich’s writing is incredible, the world-building was interesting, and the characters were well-developed, interesting, and realistic.

5. Eternal Life by Dara Horn

I always get nervous reading books purely based off of their premise, but this one had an interesting one: the main characters were cursed to live immortal lives, so they live and die and are reborn again and again. I loved the sense of timelessness in this novel.

6. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

This book was an incredibly hard read, but the writing was beautiful, and it touched on some difficult yet important topics of homosexuality, racism, and our nation’s violent history.

7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

You might be able to tell by now – I’m generally not a huge action fan, but I love dystopias and the thought experiments they provide. Station Eleven was perfect on this front. This novel takes place after a severe flu epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population, and follows the lives of several people before and after the epidemic. It focuses a good deal on the things we think we can’t live without (phones, internet, electricity) and what happens when those things are lost. There was some incredible character development in this book.

8. Circe by Madeline Miller

I am a huge Greek mythology geek, so I loved this book from that perspective. I also just loved the characters and the girl power present in this book. Circe was inspiring and sympathetic, and she grows a lot from start to finish.

9. Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen

Of course this is one of my top favorite books of all time, and I recently had the chance to interview the author Curtis C. Chen (follow the link for the interview). Kangaroo is a special agent in the future who also has a cool superpower: he can open up a portal to space. Waypoint Kangaroo is fast-paced and hilarious. There’s a second book out too called Kangaroo Too.

10. Witchmark by C.L. Polk

This book totally caught me by surprise. It is set in a fantasy version of post-WWI England, and has some great world-building and really meaningful relationships between characters. The romance in this book is beautiful, and the mystery is equally compelling.

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge

Beast

“I know God will punish my wickedness-“
“Ptah! That’s a matter for the priests to debate,” she interrupts me with a careless wave of her hand. “It has nothing to do with the lives of women. Why should you suffer when you’ve done no wrong?”
I glance up, shocked, to see so much wisdom and understanding in her eyes – black eyes, like small, ripe olives. It’s as if she knows all the secrets of my heart. Fairy, witch, or wisewoman, she knows everything about me.
“The young Chevalier de Beaumont,” she goes on calmly, nodding at the badge on my bodice. “I know his livery. He is often spoken of in this wood, by mothers needing remedies for their hungry children. By tenants turned off their land and seeking refuge.” She leans confidingly toward me. “Do you think you’re the first woman who’s ever fled into the wood because of him?”

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, told from the perspective of a servant in the Beast’s household leading up to and following the curse by the sorceress. Lucie starts working for the Chevalier de Beaumont when she is pressed out of the household into work by her stepfather. At first, she is charmed by the handsome chevalier, but she soon discovers how cruel and self-serving he is. After one terrible night, she flees to the woods, spilling her story to the old woman who lives in an enchanted cottage. Revenge is swift – the chevalier is turned into the beast, and Lucie is transformed to a candelabra, the only light that shines upon Beast’s suffering. Lucie soon finds that it is not just his form, but also his behavior that is transformed – as Beast, the chevalier is kind and gentle and grateful for Lucie’s friendship. But before long, a pretty young woman named Rose moves in to the castle, and Lucie fears that Beast and Rose will fall in love, breaking the spell and transforming the kind Beast into the cruel Chevalier.

I had such high hopes from this story. I love Beauty and the Beast in all its forms, and this seemed so interesting to me – getting to read this story from a completely new perspective. And I definitely feel that the retelling itself was original, and I loved the concept of a virtually irredeemable chevalier. However, I had expected more dynamic from the characters, and for better or for worse, this was a fairly straight-forward fairy tale in that way: the good characters are good and the evil characters are evil, with very little gray area. The main character, Lucie, is a kind, innocent character who is wronged and becomes angry and vengeful. I really wanted more from Lucie especially – I wanted to see her have more character growth, feel more sympathy for others, and I don’t feel like she ever really got there. Beast had by far the most interesting back story, but even then, he was still an all-good character, willing to sacrifice everything for others. The black-and-white morality reminded me a good deal of a children’s novel, but there are a few scenes in this book that made it very much a young adult or adult novel. It definitely needs a TRIGGER WARNING: Beast contains a rather graphic rape scene. So if that is something that you have trouble reading, this one should be skipped.

I was wanting a little more from the setting, too. Beast is set in Renaissance France, and while there was some good general world-building going on, I would have liked to see some more concrete details. Perhaps a little more about the history of the region, or any sort of political conflict, or maybe a little more about religion. One of my favorite things about fairy tale retellings is the chance to set them inside of our very real world, and explore how that changes things, but Beast was still pretty vague, and if it weren’t for the French names, I wouldn’t have necessarily even known that it took place in France.

In all, I’ll rate Beast a 7 out of 10. It was a fun retelling, especially for fans of Beauty and the Beast, but I was left wanting a little more substance from the characters and the setting. I think fantasy readers with an interest in fairy tales will enjoy this one, but otherwise you won’t miss all that much.

Top 10 Red, White, and Blue Covers

It’s almost the 4th of July, everybody! Those of you outside the US are probably less than thrilled, but our house is getting pumped for the fireworks. A couple of years ago we started letting my oldest learn responsible firework use, and now she loves the thrill of setting something on fire and running like crazy. In honor of the 4th of July, the Top 10 for today is covers that are red, white, and blue. So here are some of my favorites! Top 10 Tuesdays are hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

 

An Interview with Curtis C. Chen

If you have been following my blog for awhile now, you have probably figured out that I am a huge fan of Curtis C. Chen’s Waypoint Kangaroo and Kangaroo, Too. I had the chance to speak with Curtis a little about his reading and writing life.

Once a Silicon Valley software engineer, Curtis C. Chen now writes fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo (a 2017 Locus Awards and Endeavour Award Finalist) is a science fiction thriller about a superpowered spy facing his toughest mission yet: vacation. The sequel, Kangaroo Too, lands our hero on the Moon to confront long-buried secrets.

Good morning, Curtis! Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me! I actually read Kangaroo Too about a year ago and loved the way it rolls sci-fi and action and mystery and comedy all into one. I have just recently finished Waypoint Kangaroo, and I already have a small list of friends who have asked to borrow it from me once my husband is finished with it.

I think the thing that I loved the most about the Kangaroo books was the strong voice that permeates the text. Does that voice come to you naturally, or was it constructed for Kangaroo specifically?

Thanks for interviewing me! I’m glad you enjoyed K2 enough to pick up the first book.

Kangaroo’s voice does draw quite a bit from my own personality, but the character changed significantly between the first draft and the final, published novel. (That development also represented nearly ten years of elapsed time, so my overall writing style also evolved.) Originally he came off as a lot more bitter, but at some point I realized that the comedic moments were playing much better against the spy thriller plot and then looked for more opportunities to highlight that dichotomy.

Since I didn’t have to worry about continuity for Waypoint Kangaroo, many of the rewrites over those ten years changed character or plot details to improve the overall story. Then, for Kangaroo Too, I had a solid foundation for the characters, on top of which I could play with plot elements to get the most interesting result. I’d also like to mention that I love the audiobook narrations by P. J. Ochlan, who does a great job of interpreting Kangaroo’s voice in what are essentially 10-hour-long monologues!

Ten years – that’s quite the time span for edits! I bet there were some big changes during that time. Was there anything you cut during that time that you really wished you could have made work in the final draft? 

There were many big changes, both plot- and character-wise. Here’s the story of one fun subplot that I had to cut because it just didn’t contribute enough to the overall story:

My Murdered Darling: The Crazy Flirty Lady 

I’m still largely a “pantser” (writing every first draft by the seat of my pants), so I often try out ideas that don’t work in the final story that emerges. But all that “discovery writing” allows me to explore different aspects of the story, and actually seeing how they play on the page helps me shape the final work.

Laura Ann sounds like it could have been fun thread! It sounds like it ultimately was a good cut, though. I have so much admiration for pantsers! I am an over-planner, so I keep starting drafts, thinking that I’ll just wing it, but I can only do a couple of chapters that way before I finally break down and write out a full outline, detailing each chapter and scene. It gets a little out of hand sometimes!

So when you were envisioning Kangaroo’s world, what were some of your goals with world development and tech? 

My world-building for Waypoint Kangaroo was a bit haphazard at first–I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of space tourism, and I knew I definitely wanted to play those fun aspects against the more serious spy stuff. But I did end up back-filling or “reverse-explaining” some of the future tech in order to make certain plot points work.

Overall, I did want it to be a more optimistic view of the future. I don’t think technology is going to solve all our problems, but I think it can help a lot more than it hurts. And story-wise, I’m often interested in how new tech can magnify or amplify existing human issues.

Well, I definitely think that interest came through in Waypoint Kangaroo. There is some very cool tech, and I love the way you can really see the way it impacts characters’ lives.

So I’m curious, when you pick out a new book to read, what do your reading priorities usually look like? 

My reading priorities have changed quite a bit over the last few years. Becoming a published novelist means I now do significantly more “work” reading than purely for pleasure. The good news is that I get lots of specific recommendations from publishing professionals, and those recommendations are usually right on the money.

I do enjoy audiobooks while driving, and am currently re-reading (listening to) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ve also become a big fan of listening to memoirs narrated by the authors, especially when those authors are comedians or performers; Mindy Kaling, Judy Greer, and Kevin Hart all tell great stories.

I’m sure it has changed! I can only imagine you must look at literature differently now. Is there any one book or author that you think everyone should read? 

Ann Leckie and N.K. Jemisin are absolutely killing it right now (see: ANCILLARY JUSTICE and THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, respectively). But the one book I think everyone should read is GRASS by Sheri S. Tepper.

Great recommendations! Well, Curtis, I really appreciate you taking time to speak with me. I have just one more question for you: what do you have planned for the future? Do you anticipate more Kangaroo novels, or are you planning on switching gears for awhile? 

My two current projects are a standalone novel in a new world (no publication date yet), and being part of the writing team for a not-yet-announced Serial Box series created by Malka Older (forthcoming in early 2019). I am working on a third Kangaroo novel (wait for it), but meanwhile, I also wrote a Kangaroo-themed set of puzzles for the next Puzzled Pint event, which will run on July 10th in multiple cities around the world–anyone who’s interested can see the location puzzle at Puzzled Pint on July 6th!

Watching Edie

WatchingEdie

I’m entirely unprepared for what’s waiting for me beyond the heavy, wide front door and when I open it the world seems to tilted I have to grip the doorframe to stop myself from falling. Because there she is, standing on my doorstep, staring back at me. There, after all this time, is Heather.
And I have imagined this, dreamed of this, dreaded this, so many hundreds of times for so many years that the reality is both entirely surreal and anticlimactic. I see and hear life continuing on this ordinary London street on this ordinary afternoon – cars and people passing, children playing down the street, a dog barking – as if from far away, and as I stare into her face the sour taste of fear creeps around the back of my tongue. I open my mouth, but no words come and we stand in silence for awhile, two thirty-three-year-old versions of the girls we’d once been. 

-Watching Edie by Camilla Way

Watching Edie by Camilla Way

Watching Edie is a psychological thriller about Edie and Heather, two former best friends who reunite more than fifteen years after a tragic event in their teens. Edie gives birth to an unplanned child, and finding herself helpless to postpartum depression, is relieved that Heather is willing to move in to their apartment and care of Edie’s child while Edie retreats to her bedroom, withdrawing from the world around her. However, when Edie’s depression starts to subside, she finds the world around her changed – she is shocked by how much time has passed, how much weight she has lost as she languished in bed, and deeply troubled by Heather’s iron-tight grip on her and her infant daughter, Maya. Her phone has mysteriously gone missing, her only family has been turned away again and again, and Heather appears to have no intention of leaving, now that she has Edie under her control. But Edie cannot banish memories from her mind of the events of their childhood, and she wonders what Heather’s true intentions are.

Undoubtedly the best part of Watching Edie was the character development – the characters start as sketches, but as the present and the past unfold, chapter after chapter, the characters reveal themselves. Though never named as such, Heather appears to be autistic – she has a similar unawareness of pop culture, a focused interest in Edie as almost more-than-human, and when she grows too emotional she either loses her self-control or disconnects, both common behaviors for autistic children and adults. Heather is a deeply sympathetic character, but still highly problematic, as her affection for Edie turns obsessive. Edie’s blatant fear in the face of Heather’s obsession is also sympathetic, but Edie still is realistic in her imperfections – Edie of the present is suspicious and quick to make assumptions, while Edie of the past is self-centered and obnoxiously desperate for approval among her peers.

The narrative of Watching Edie is spread between the past when Edie and Heather are teens, and the present when they are in their early thirties, and the chapter alternates between present and past to tell both stories while maintaining suspense. I have seen this done poorly in other novels, but in Watching Edie the structure was spot-on. I was always invested in both plot lines, never struggled to follow them, and while I had a few guesses about the big reveal of Edie and Heather’s past, I was never quite sure. Even then, I was horrified by the details, and satisfied with the resolution of the novel.

In all, I’ll give Watching Edie a 9 out of 10. The well-built suspense is balanced out with some great character development. Fans of thrillers will find little to complain about, and readers who are new to the genre would likely enjoy this as well.

My 100th Post! 100 Places I have Read

Hi, all! I can’t believe I made it to 100 posts! Thank you so much for all the time you have spent reading my articles and my book reviews, and all of the thoughtful comments you have given me over the past two years. I am so grateful for this amazing community of readers. This 100th post feels like a huge landmark to me, and I wanted to give you all something huge in return, so here is a list of 100 places that I have read.

1. My reading chair. It’s the best spot in the house!

image

2. Our bedroom

3. At the kitchen table

4. At the dining room table

5. In our backyard, even when Xander wants my hair clips

XanderHair

6. In the game room

7. In Annabel’s room

8. In Xander’s room

9. In the bathrooms. Sorry, but true…

10. On our stairs

11. In our home office, usually while my husband plays games on the computer

12. In our front yard, beneath the walnut tree

13. In my car, during lunch

14. In my car, during road trips. Yay audiobooks!

15. At the kitchen sink, listening to an audiobook

16. At my desk, when the computers are down

17. Under my desk. That was a weird day…

18. In my very own office at work, when I had that for awhile before my boss decided I was better off in the thick of things.

19. In the break room at work

20. At a park bench near my work

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21. In the kids’ room at the library, while the kids flip through picture books

22. At the big windows at the library.

23. In my car in the library parking lot, because I couldn’t wait to start

24. On walks through the park during my lunch break

25. At the park with my husband. He came to read with my on my birthday!

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26. At my favorite coffee shop, Java Break

27. In my old bedroom in the house where I grew up

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28. In the best climbing tree at the house we lived in when I was little

29. In the kitchen at that house, where I learned to read

30. In the basement at that house during tornado warnings

31. At my neighbors’ house, where I stayed when my parents were out of town

32. In the backyard, on the hammock

33. In the backyard, on the deck

34. On my old trampoline, to a little cousin who actually had been planning on jumping

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35. In my parents’ living room

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36. On the roof, in the middle of the night, when I thought I couldn’t get caught

37. In the old library meeting room, during a kid’s book club

38. Walking around the halls at my old Catholic elementary school, trying not to run into people

39. In the library at my old middle school, where my friend Lucy introduced me to The Wheel of Time

40. In my mom’s office, waiting for her to get off work

41. In the driveway with my childhood best friend, Lindsey

42. In Lindsey’s backyard, when we realized how much we both loved Tamora Pierce

43. On the trampoline by myself! Much easier without little cousins around

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44. In every classroom I stepped foot in during high school

45. Of course my high school gym

46. In the band room, waiting on rehearsal

47. On some very long bus rides to football games

48. At church, but only if I was really sneaky

49. At my ex-boyfriend’s house, while we kept an eye on his little brothers

50. At KU’s beautiful Watson Library, while I was at college – seriously, tell me it doesn’t look like heaven!

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51. In the Watson Library basement, where it’s dark and quiet and glorious

52. At the Spencer Research Library, where I read a book older than the country that I live in

53. In my old dorm room at Hashinger Hall

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54. In my old dorm room at Ellsworth Hall

55. On the campus bus to and from classes

56. On the marching band field during water breaks

57. In the campus cafeteria

58. In Wescoe Hall, before, during, and after so many classes. Seriously, so many.

59. On the swings behind Hashinger Hall

60. In the practice rooms at Murphy Hall. Er, I mean, practicing my clarinet, yeah?

61. In hotel rooms during band trips

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62. At a few college parties, because parties were never really my scene

63. At a New Year’s Party in 2009-2010, minutes before meeting my friend Buffy’s roommate Ryan

64. At our old house, before it was “ours” and when it was “my friend Ryan’s”

65. At our old house, when it became “ours”

66. At the restaurant where I would meet my big sister Angie for the first time

67. In Angie’s house, for the first time

68. In Angie’s new house, because now that’s a thing that I can do, like it’s no big deal

69. In my birth mom’s house, because that’s also a thing I can do

70. At the college health clinic, where I found out I was pregnant

71. In the OB office, waiting for all of those appointments

72. In the church basement, before the pre-marriage counseling sessions they require

73. At the bridal store, between trying on dresses

74. In the church, 30 minutes before I got married

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75. On the train to Chicago for our honeymoon

76. At the hotel in Chicago

77. On the plane back

78. Before a breastfeeding class, before I had a baby to breastfeed

79. In the hospital, 9 months pregnant, during our many false alarms

80. In the delivery room, during labor

81. In the recovery room, with a 2 hour old Annabel, six years ago today. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANNABEL!!

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82. All of the strange places Annabel has since asked me to read to her

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83. On a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico when our family was still just three

84. In the waiting room for the OB, when I found out we would have another mini-me!

85. In my mom’s car, which she let me drive back and forth to all of those appointments

86. In the hospital during a long 11 1/2 hour induced labor for Xander

87. In the recovery room, with a 2 hour old Xander

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88. All of the strange places Xander has since asked me to read to him

89. In the waiting room for Xander’s neurosurgeon, after our pediatrician referred us

90. In the waiting room, sporadically, for 3 very long hours during Xander’s cranial surgery

91. In Xander’s recovery room, when I stayed up all night watching to see that he didn’t irritate his incision

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92. At a hundred appointments at Hangar clinic, when we were getting Xander’s helmet adjusted every two weeks

93. At the neurosurgeon’s office, a year later, when we got the news that he looks great now!

94. At the park near our house where the kids actually play together

95. On the walking trails, when my husband isn’t looking

96. At my Mother’s Day breakfast picnic, but just for a minute

97. In the halls of that old Catholic elementary school, where Annabel is now a 1st grader

98. In a hundred bookstores

99. In every library I’ve ever put foot in

100. In every home and school and library and building, over 28 years and counting, and I know that I’ll never stop. Because there really is nothing like a good book, in good times and in bad, when I feel like I can take on anything, and when I feel like I need a break from my own world.

Top 10 Books to Read by the Pool

Happy summer, everyone! This week is just one day late, but I loved it so much that I still wanted to do it. There is nothing better than relaxing at the pool (or the beach, for those of you lucky enough to be near one!) and taking the time to dive into a good book. When I read at the pool, I like to read books with a fast pace and engrossing plot, so I kept my list to those types – the kind that you just can’t put down. Top 10 Tuesdays are hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Action and Thrillers

Somewhere in the Shallow Sea by Dennis Macaraeg

This book fits for me for two reasons – the fast action of this book definitely keeps you invested in Danny’s adventures, and the tropical setting of the Philippines works so well for a summer read. This book is great for readers who want a healthy dose of danger.

Triple Cross Killer by Rosemarie Aquilina

At first, this might seem like an odd read for the summer, as the story is set close to Christmastime. However, a good deal of the plot takes place in Sarasota, and honestly the intriguing mystery more than makes up for that.

Bandwidth by Eliot Peper

This is a great speculative fiction book about a near-future world in which our dependence on our “feed” has taken over most of our focus, and the environment has continued to worsen due to global warming. The main character, Dag, is caught up in a mission to reverse the environment’s downward spiral by any means possible.

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

This is a lighthearted YA modern fiction book,, about a high school student, Simon, who is trying to hide his homosexuality from his friends and family. This was a sweet love story and coming of age story, and was definitely a quick read!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

This is such a wonderful mystery and drama for book lovers! It’s about an author named Vida Winter who is finally telling her mysterious past to a young woman named Margaret Lea before Winter passes of old age. It was so beautiful and engrossing!

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

One of my all-time favorite ghost stories. This is a set in the 1920s, and is about a young woman named Sarah Piper who is hired on for temp work – only to find that she was hired to record the activity of an angry ghost.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen

This is one of my all-time favorite sci-fis! Kangaroo was sent on an extended vacation while his spy agency is investigated – but there is a murder on board the cruise ship and of course Kangaroo can’t keep out of trouble. It’s fast and funny and Kangaroo kicks butt!

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

This is a young adult fantasy novel about two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who are separated at Caraval, a traveling role playing game. This was full of great twists, and the concept was so cool – it reminded me a little of break out rooms on an epic scale.

The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King

Another young adult fantasy novel, this is about a young woman named Kalinda who is chosen for the rajah’s hundredth wife, but she must fight to the death for that position. This book moves fast, and I love the magic system.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Last but not least, my all-time favorite horror novel. Creatures have descended upon the earth, and anyone who sees them goes mad. One woman has closed her and her children off in their home for years, but the time has come to find a safer place. I love this for the creepiness and the interesting premise, and it is definitely a quick read.