This year I decided to try and beat the number of books I read last year, setting myself a goal of about 20-25 books this year. It's now July, a little more than halfway through the year, and I'm nearly to that goal now! Last year I had some busy times when I really didn't read much, but this year I've gotten back into the habit (and started visiting the local library on a weekly basis!) and have been reading almost constantly through the hours I'm not working, driving, or sleeping.
Since we're about halfway through the year, I wanted to go back through the things I've read so far in 2014 and just make a few notes about each one. Because I read a lot, I tend to forget details of the things I read once enough time has passed, so this is both a way to touch base with what I've read and to hopefully stir my memory in the future. Without further adieu, here is what I've read so far in 2014 (mostly in order, so you'll see I try to alternate types of books when it makes sense to--but as I'm separating the books and plays, as well as separating the books I've re-read from the new books read, it's not entirely chronological).
The Wicked Garden: Book One by Lenora Henson
The author sent me this book upon finding my YouTube channel; she thought my viewers might be interested in it. I haven't read any of the other books in the series. The Wicked Garden centers around the character Gretchel, who is experiencing a slow re-awakening of her insights, power, and ancestral memory. It could use a trigger warning for domestic violence--I legitimately despised the one male character by the end of it. Characters in the book are often, though not all (that I could tell) archetypes, and the series is an exploration of the world of archetype as much as it is a story about history, family, and reclaiming personal power.
|Me as Dani Hoo in a production of|
The Westing Game, March 2014
I was in a production of the play by the same title that was based on this book, so I read the book as part of my acting process. A lot more goes on in the book than in the play, as can be imagined. It's a fun, funny story, full of interesting characters. It's a murder mystery type of thing, and a lot of people read it as kids, though I never did. If you've read it or if you do read it (or the play, or see the play), I played a female version of the character Doug Hoo, a teenage track star. We renamed my character Dani Hoo, short for Danielle.
Fun in a Teacup by Ian McKinnie
A friend of my bosses got them this book about tea leaf reading, and I borrowed it to read. It's short, includes diagrams and some useful instruction, but could definitely be a lot better. My overall impression of the author's tone is that it's condescending. The diagrams are all drawings, and there are only a few photographs. Much of the book is the author's personal stories of parties where he read the leaves for different people. I was confused by his various statements about on the one hand how anyone can make use of/learn this art, and on the other hand how he is much more prone to being successful because of his heritage or his family or I don't remember what.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I hadn't read these yet, can you believe it? I sped through these tales, but tried to make them last, limiting myself to one--okay, maybe two!--per day. Since I watch the BBC show Sherlock, it was really fun to re-watch the episodes after reading the Adventures and see the modernized references to the tales that I didn't catch before. I'm sure if I read the entire canon, like my boyfriend is doing now, I'd catch even more!
A Practical Guide to the Runes by Lisa Peschel
Borrowed from my mother, this book is the first book I read about runes, really. Since I worked for Runeworks last summer and got to know a bit about the runes that way (and through watching Eric's Runes series on YouTube), this was my way of delving a little further. I don't remember much about this book now, as far as the initial chapters before the Rune-by-Rune meanings pages, but I own it at least until I give it back to my mother someday, so I can reference it when I need to.
The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic and Lore by Douglas Monroe
This book was recommended by a friend. When I looked it up, the reviews were largely negative, saying that Monroe claims this book contains true Druid practices and is based in history, when in reality it is a fictional account based loosely around actual teachings. So the reviews prepared me to take it with a grain of salt, and because of that, I did find it somewhat enjoyable. I did, however, keep a list of notes of the things that brought questions to mind, or things with which I completely disagreed or generally disliked, such as the many sexist remarks within the book. It is set up as a chapter of story constituting one of Arthur's lessons, followed by a practical application of some of the magick used/talked about in the chapter, or an exercise, or something else related to the story in some way. Sometimes the exercise offered didn't seem to fit what you'd expect it to be based on what the chapter's focus was. The sexism and inequality was definitely my least favorite component, but I did enjoy the stories for what they were: stories.
Witch Child and Sorceress by Celia Rees
My friend's daughter had a copy of Witch Child that I borrowed to read, and I loved it so I soon after checked out the sequel, Sorceress, from the library. Witch Child is a historical fiction story occurring during the time of the witch trials in America, following the life of a girl named Mary from her home in England, through her flight to America, and eventually to her exile from the settlement at the suspicion of her involvement in witchcraft. The sequel, Sorceress, picks up several generations later and follows the experience of a young Native American girl named Agnes who reads Witch Child and realizes that Mary might be the white woman told about in her tribe's stories. She gets involved with a researcher who is working on The Mary Papers, and Sorceress is the account of how Agnes learns about what happened to Mary after Witch Child ends. These books are historical fiction, as I said, but they are written in such a way as to make the reader believe they are true accounts. I am actually still confused--even despite the printed disclaimer in the books stating that they are FICTION--about whether they are based on historical documents at all or entirely fiction. Either way, I really enjoyed the story!
This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, Wayne & Lori Earl
TSWGO, as it is abbreviated, is the compilation of the actual journals and drawings and letters and blogs of Esther Grace Earl, and those of her family members and friends which contribute to her full story. Esther was a Nerdfighter who left this life at the age of 16, having lived a life full of decreasing World Suck, and leaving behind her a whole slew of people who are dedicated to continuing the work she chose to do. This Star Won't Go Out (the book) is named after the foundation started by the Earls in Esther's name, which raises money to help families of children with cancer, as well as supporting the organizations and causes that Esther supported while she was alive. This book made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me jealous, and it made me feel full to the brim of love, love, and more love. My favorite part about this book is that it doesn't end when Esther's time on Earth did.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
No, I never had to read this in high school. My friend and I decided to read this together as a sort of two-person book club. We actually never got to discuss it so far, but I read it, and it made me feel justified in being such a book hoarder, haha. Stories like this are so interesting, where someone has been living this perfectly content life for so long and then suddenly... SOMETHING happens. They don't know what happened, but something is different, something isn't okay anymore, and they have to change. That's what happens to the main character of this book, who, if you haven't read it, is someone whose everyday job is to burn books (which are not allowed in this society).
I'm reading another book like this now, actually, but it's a true story about a real person, and you'll hear about that when I recount the latter half of this year's reads.
I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Recommended by Korey Kuhl and Tyler Oakley and found at my local library, this book is a journey. Anything I could say about it would be an understatement. It's the memoir of Josh, who used to work as a performer in various drag clubs and generally drink and do drugs to his heart's malcontent. During the time of his life showcased by the book, he's also dating a gay male escort who becomes an addict, which really puts a strain on their relationship and that is putting it mildly. Without giving too much away, I have to say this book was eye-opening, and once again I laughed, cried, and I learned so much. Not appropriate for all ages. If you are of the appropriate age/maturity level and your mind is open just enough to the point where this sounds interesting to you, my gods, read it.
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
I had never read this entire book before! I KNOW! I'd read a good portion of it and started it numerous times throughout my life but for some reason never got around to finishing it. Thanks to Bryan and Allie for giving me the chance to finally read the whole thing. I don't think I have to say much about this book, really... It's fairly well known. So I'll just say that I feel much better now that I've finally read the whole thing!
Tithe and Valiant by Holly Black
There is more to this series, but I only read the first two so far. A friend of mine loves these books so when I saw them at the library, I had to check them out (literally!). These books are "modern faerie tales," stories of Faerie but with modern contexts and situations, and perhaps darker than usual characters. These are not your grandma's fairytales (though, to be fair, original fairytales were often a lot darker than kids know them through Disney and other watered down renditions). Tithe is about a girl who doesn't know why she's able to see this insanely hot faerie guy and why he trusts her--does he?--until she learns a secret about herself that leads to a whole new understanding of the world all around her and just below her feet. Valiant, though set in the same world, is about a different girl in a different city who also comes face to face with the world of faerie in an unexpected series of events. Toward the end of Valiant, some events and characters are mentioned that tie in with what went on previously in Tithe. The third book in the series is Ironside.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green
I'm a big fan of John Green, so this was a necessary step in reading all his works. WG, WG is about two kids named, you guessed it, Will Grayson, who happen to meet up at a weird point in both of their lives. The book is written in alternating points of view, each chapter switching from one Will's voice to the other. Players in their individual worlds meet and intersect, and it turns out that sometimes all it takes for life to gain significance is to be Will Grayson.
Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey
Apparently the first in a series of three, though the library only has this one, Witch Eyes caught my attention because it has the word "witch" in the title, and then upon inspecting the covers and About the Author, I learned that the main character is a male witch--which gained points with me right there--then that he's a GAY male witch, and finally, that the author is from Cleveland. So I resolved to read this book. It actually didn't impress me as much as I wanted it to, but I did enjoy it. In the middle of the typical feuding witch families framework, there are some really unique things about these characters. The whole "witch eyes" thing, for example, and the really awesome scenes where Braden gets to experience his power in a controlled way. I would love to be able to do the things he does! And, okay, I like that the characters are gay boys. In love. Come on. My LGBT senses are tingling (and other senses, besides).
The Coven's Daughter by Lucy Jago
Historical fiction? About witches? You guys didn't see this coming on my reading list AT ALL! Okay, so you're sensing a theme by now. I've been looking for more stories about witches to see what other people's takes are, and I've also been really enjoying historical fictions. So this one caught my eye for those reasons AND because it was published jointly by Hyperion Press and, wait for it... Disney. I couldn't wait to see what a historical fictional book about witches that was published by DISNEY would be like, and I was greatly surprised! The house where it takes place, Montacute House, is a real estate in England, owned by the National Trust. (Next time I go to England, it's on my list!) But besides that, it's also got some really great, actual Pagan/Neopagan/Witchcraft moments. It quotes The Charge of the Star Goddess, for example. And the story is just, in itself, engaging. The protagonist is a young peasant girl who is friends with a woman rumored to be a witch, and whose cousin is a brat with dreams above her station and a nose where it doesn't belong. As a mysterious series of disappearances throws the small town into panic, this brave young girl, who doesn't really know her own history, takes matters into her own hands. With the help of a coven she didn't even know existed before, she pretty much changes everything. A clever little witch, indeed.
Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl is one of my favorite books, which I read back in high school. This is the sequel I've been meaning to read for years. While the first book is written from the perspective of Leo, a classmate of Stargirl's, this sequel is Stargirl's longest-letter-ever to Leo after they part ways at the end of the first book. It chronicles everything that goes on in Stargirl's life for about a year, and her honesty in this letter-turned-diary is incredible, considering the things she tells her past-boyfriend-and-current-love about the way she feels about another boy and all. Then again, Stargirl is nothing if not incredible. Start with Stargirl if you haven't read that, and you'll never look at coins on the sidewalk or ukeleles or the bunny hop the same way again.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
You may have guessed that the title of this book is what originally sparked my interest, and you'd be correct, but it says nothing for the obsession I had with this book while reading it. It takes place in Nigeria and follows the protagonist, Sunny, through her discovery of the world of juju and her own involvement with it. What does juju mean for an albino girl from Nigeria who was born in America whose friends were raised knowing their Spirit Faces, but she doesn't even know where her powers came from? Like I said, obsessed. I read most of the books in this post within a day or two, and this was no exception. This is magick from a whole other culture, and I really hope there are more of these out there somewhere. The author has written other books, but I want a sequel or something! There are so many loose ends and things I want to know more about from this world!
That's it for new books read in 2014 as of July 10th, but there are some books I re-read, and also some plays:
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I re-read this in preparation to see the film, which was released in June but which I still have not seen (because of reasons, but it's not a story I'll share). It's a love story about Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters and their friend Isaac and living with cancer and wishing on stars and drinking the stars and loving someone so much you can't possibly love them any more and how "always" is impossible and people aren't always as you expected but the fault is definitely in our stars, not in ourselves. And other things.
Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
I last read this book when I was maybe 10 or 11, and I remember really liking it, but because it's such a thick book, I neglected re-reading it until I suddenly felt the need to this year. But when I opened the book, I had to laugh, because I had forgotten that it's a large print book. It isn't actually that long at all, and I read it in a day. A girl and her horse, a knack-turned-magick, and some seriously weird immortal beings that shouldn't even exist here anymore... And a host of endearing characters to boot.
The Westing Game, adapted by Darian Lindle from the book by Ellen Raskin
As I mentioned toward the start of this post, I was in a production of this play, which gave me occasion to read both the script and the book. I won't repeat myself here, I just wanted to count both entities separately.
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel
Nothing is weirder than family. This play has been likened to other dysfunctional-family-based plays like The Glass Menagerie, and it does have a somewhat similar feel as far as the quality of personal relations goes, but this family is quite the heavy load. Tillie is just trying to do her science experiments and care for her pet rabbit and find some hidden slice of meaning in the world, for goodness' sake, but will her mother and sister let her alone?! Who believes in whom here, anyway?
Macbeth, The Tragedy of by William Shakespeare
Also known as "The Scottish Play" in theatrical circles due to a superstition concerning stating the title except when performing the play (some would cringe that I even listed it here as the proper title), this is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy. It is for this reason that my friends and I read it this year in celebration of Shakespeare's birthday. It is famous for the three witches' scene and speech ("Double, double, toil and trouble," and all that), as well as Lady M going mad and ranting about the blood on her hands ("Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!"). That, and the whole "no man born of a woman" loophole thing, and I think you've got the three things most high school students could still associate with it.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
We read this one in celebration of Stoppard's birthday in July. Chosen because we had at least two copies of it from which to read, and because none of us had read it yet, this turned out to be extremely confusing (it reminded us of Caryl Churchill's Cloud Nine) but also really cool for me because it turned out to include a lot of things we talked about in my England coursework. The action is split between two centuries, and switches between them almost every scene. It takes place in the same location over these two time periods, and what is revealed in each scene builds upon what was learned there in the other century. Some of the characters almost seem to be reincarnations of the same from the other scenes, but in fact are all played by different actors. Talk of Capability Brown, ha-has, the picturesque, and hiring hermits for your hermitage, all brought me back to 2012 as I readied for my visit to England.
There you have it, finally!
A complete list of the books and plays I've read and re-read this year, as of July 10th. I have, of course, read more since then, but will be talking about those later on. Though, if I keep reading this much, I'll have to update more often, instead of just twice a year. This post took me upwards of three hours! I do hope you enjoyed it! If you've read any of these things or have anything else to say about them, or similar works, or the authors, do leave a comment! Thank you for reading all this way.