Highlights from 2016

2016 turned out to be my best year for reading in a few years. I overshot my Goodreads Challenge of 40 by a lot, finishing my 50th book of the year just a few hours before midnight last year. I enjoyed most of what I read (by and large, the books I don’t enjoy don’t get finished), and while I’ve highlighted several throughout the year, here are a few of the other books that I loved and would happily recommend.

In Sci-Fi/Fantasy: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. This book was a blast. The combination of science and magic was fun and different, and the whimsical tone kept me smiling throughout. I was constantly surprised and walked away feeling refreshed; this is among the most original books I’ve read this year, and definitely worth any and all of the hype you may have heard.

In YA: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This book reminded me of what it felt like to read the seventh Harry Potter book for the first time. The wonder and magic, the hero’s quest to defeat evil, plus an ample dose of teen romance all kept me glued to the page. Rowell’s Fangirl is by no means a prerequisite, but I do recommend it as a great book. And I hardly want to beat a dead horse, but for those interested in YA, I still highly highly recommend The Raven Cycle and Six of Crows series, both of which had a final installment out this year.

In memoir: Party of One by Dave Holmes. So, full disclosure, I did intern for the publisher while this book was published. BUT I was really pleasantly surprised by how fun and refreshing this book was. Odds are you haven’t heard of Dave Holmes, a former MTV VJ, but that’s all part of the charm of this memoir about coming of age, coming out, and figuring out what you’re supposed to do with your life. Plus, some great tid-bits of celebrity gossip.

In romance: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. This Pride and Prejudice retelling is both familiar and original, with some genuine surprises a the story is modernized. I had only seen the P&P movie before reading the book, but reading it convinced me to read the original for the first time, and so I’ve had an absolute ball this year discovering and re-discovering Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy.

In mystery: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. This book and the sequel (I haven’t gotten to book 3 yet!) are complex and dark and kept me guessing. The chemistry between PI Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin is off-the-wall, and I kept forgetting that this is all from J.K. Rowling. Not to mention, the audiobook narrator is fantastic, so I definitely recommend for those of you who prefer listening.

What were some of your favorites from 2016? What are you looking forward to reading in 2017?



NaNo16: Second-Week Slump

Hello my fellow WriMos! At day 12, we are already almost halfway done with the month. If you’re on track for 50K, that means you’re scheduled to hit 20,000 words today! Insane! No matter how many times I participate in NaNoWriMo, each word-count milestone still feels like an incredible achievement and it should! Writing a novel isn’t easy.

Of course, not all of us are necessarily on track. Once you enter the second week, it becomes a little bit harder to maintain the same energy as the first week. Living in America, this week has also been especially busy, stressful, and emotionally draining for me. Day 9 was the first day this month that I fell short of my goal, and I’ve been behind ever since. This is a big catch-up weekend for me, and with that in mind, I’d like to share some tips for getting out of second-week slump:

  1. Keep up your momentum. Sometimes a day goes by without having time to write. That’s okay. But if you go too many days without writing anything, you run the risk of losing enthusiasm for your story. Don’t let the momentum go. Get some words onto the page, even if it’s only a few hundred.
  2. Don’t despair. Around this time of the month, writing can sometimes seem like slogging. There are scenes that are harder to write than others, or scenes you didn’t plan for. And when you’re behind, getting to your goal seems impossible. Just take it 100 words at a time. You can write a 100 words, and you can write a 100 words after that, and another 100 after that. And if you have to skip around, don’t be afraid to jump ahead in your story. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.
  3. Write your feelings. So maybe this was a bad week for you. It’s okay to write that into your story. Or maybe your story just isn’t panning out the way you want to. Shake things up. Blow things up. If you don’t like where your story is heading, change it. Write for you, and don’t worry if the story feels messy. You can always clean things up later.

Falling behind is basically a right of passage in NaNoWriMo. Last year, I missed my word count for the first time on Day 8, and didn’t hit it again until Day 30. I went days at a time without writing anything at all. So when I say that there’s no such thing as falling “too far behind” I’m talking from experience. You can do this! Team up with your writing parties, put on that kick-ass writing playlist that you made, and ease yourself back into the swing of things. If you come to the page, the words will follow.

How are your novels coming? Tell me how your month is going below!

NaNoWriMo 2016

You guys! It’s November! After a month of tossing around ideas and characters, I’ve decided to spend this National Novel Writing Month writing a science fiction story. I’ve wanted to write a story that takes place in space for years now, so even though I find the the prospect of all that world-building to be mildly terrifying, I’m going to do it!

This is my seventh year doing NaNoWriMo, and hopefully will be the fourth consecutive year that I win. For NaNo newbies or veterans looking for some extra motivation, here are my biggest tips for making it through the month:

  1. Start writing. Yeah, this one seems obvious, but it’s already Day 2 and there’s no time to lose!  That blank page is so intimidating, but with every word you write, the next words will come a little faster. If you are hesitant to start NaNoWriMo because you feel like you don’t have enough time, know that there will never be a convenient time for you to write a book. If there’s a story that you’ve been sitting on for awhile, you owe it to yourself to get it onto the page.
  2. Shout it from the rooftops. Tell everyone that you know that you are doing NaNoWriMo. I consider this to be one of the biggest assets you can give yourself. Not only are you creating a big support system for yourself (people will be excited for you and will  ask about your progress!), but on the days when the desire to write simply isn’t there, the motivation of knowing that other people are rooting for you can give you a huge push forward.
  3. Grab a buddy (or two). Similar to #2: whether it’s someone you know in person or someone you met online, some healthy competition and support is also going to motivate you and keep you going. Writing a novel is hard, and having a friend who’s in the trenches with you makes a huge difference.
  4. Don’t look back. This is one of the biggest points of NaNoWriMo – to write quantity over quality, to get that novel on the page. Backtracking will only slow you down. If you’re using a program like Scrivener, it really helps to break your manuscript up into scenes to decrease your temptation to look back. Another system I’ve started using is to simply highlight sentences that I’m having trouble with. That way I know it will be there later when I backtrack for revisions, and I can keep moving forward without feeling like the story is getting away from me.
  5. Make a list of names. This is just another writing tip that works for me, and I do it for people and places and this year, space ships. Whether or not you’re a planner or a pantser, having a pre-written list of names that you like makes it ten times easier to just grab one and go when you need one, so as to not lose the flow of your story.
  6. Don’t panic if you fall behind. Last year, between day 7 and day 29, I didn’t hit my desired word count once, and most of the time, I wasn’t even close. The key is to not quit (circle back to 2 and 3). You can do it! You are a storyteller, and the story and the words will come!
  7. Have fun. Writing a novel can be stressful and frustrating, but don’t lose sight of why you’re doing this. If you’re in a rut or don’t like the way your story is going, change it!

Best of luck to all participants this year! I’ll be back with more updates, thoughts, and advice as I go. If you have any tips or tricks to surviving NaNoWriMo, let me know!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child *Spoiler-Free* Review

the cursed child

I’m not completely sure if writing down my thoughts about the eighth Harry Potter (script)book one hour after I finished it is going to produce the most cohesive review, but I’m going to try and do it anyway…spoiler free.

Obviously the most jarring change in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that it is a script book and not a novel penned by J.K. Rowling. On one hand, the script was the rehearsal edition, and I thought it led to perfectly effective storytelling. On the other hand, reading this book didn’t inherently feel like a Harry Potter novel because it isn’t a novel, and while J.K. Rowling signed off on the story, I think it’s really apparent that it wasn’t really originally hers.

If you’ve read the script book, you know that the plot goes in some fairly unexpected (I’d go so far to say wonky) directions. Having been somewhat forewarned of this fact, I proceeded with raised eyebrows. But when all was said and done, I really enjoyed The Cursed Child. The characters are likable; old and new faces are given incredible depth (and are in some cases, redeemed), and the story plays with many similar themes of good and bad and coming of age that the original series do. It tugged at my heartstrings. Most of all, my fears that The Cursed Child would somehow ruin or discredit the original series were unfounded – the story is expanded upon, but the legend, the life, the experiences of Harry Potter are all as significant as they have ever been. Arguably, they become even more significant, as a lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of the supporting characters and their contributions to defeating Lord Voldemort. At the same time, the story was super-focused on Harry and his son Albus, and there are plenty of other characters I wish were included or given more page (stage?) time.

I really liked being able to return to the Wizarding world in this new story, and given the opportunity, I would love to see the actual play, which I think is how it’s really intended to be experienced. Because it’s a script, there’s so much world-building and detail that I was sad to miss out on. I’m also not completely sure yet how much I’m going to regard this story as absolutely canon; as much as this is a Harry Potter story, I don’t see it as the only “answer” to what happens to Harry and his children, and I think that if fans wanted to keep speculating alternative versions of the story, they’re completely valid in doing so. Ultimately, The Cursed Child was fun and infectious, and while I’m not convinced it needed to happen, I’m glad we all had the opportunity to read and experience it.

I’d love to know how other readers felt about the story so feel free to comment below or message me directly here

Audiobook Spotlight: “Not My Father’s Son” by Alan Cumming

  • not my fathers sonMemoir
  • 309 pages // 6.5 hours
  • HarperCollins
  • 2014

I cannot even begin to speak to what an engaging listening experience this was. You might recognize Alan Cumming from Cabaret, The Good Wife, or any one of his numerous TV/Movie/Theater roles. I’ve read a few celebrity memoirs, but this is the first one that I’ve actively listened to on audiobook and I’m so happy that I did.

Most celebrity memoirs are a series of essays that touch on a number of different topics – which is great. But I LOVED that Not My Father’s Son takes a different approach. Cumming has penned a fully-fledged memoir with a beginning, a middle, and an end while still talking about his childhood and youth, and the present-day events that uproot everything he formerly thought about his family.

That was the other great thing: this was a book about family, and that intensely personal subject matter gave Cumming’s story that much more weight. This, coupled with several twists that I (and certainly Alan) never saw coming, and this book has the kind of darkness and mystery that I would typically expect from fiction. Throughout, Cumming remained poignant and insightful, countering his own troubles with so much warmth that the memoir doesn’t become too heavy. This warmth is increased tenfold through his own performance as narrator, which solidified Not My Father’s Son as easily one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to, and one that I would happily recommend.


Bumper to Bumper: A Playlist

Just because your car is standing still, doesn’t mean your mind has to be.

Heathens – Twenty One Pilots

Send My Love (To Your New Lover) – Adele

We Don’t Have To Dance – Andy Black

Wait For It – Leslie Odom Jr./Cast of Hamilton

Blue – Troye Sivan

What We Live For – American Authors

Shoot Me Down – Foxes

Floral & Fading – Pierce the Veil

The Joys of Re-Reading


A brief summary of this post

Our favorite books were not meant to be read only once. This idea is not new by any means, but I’ve been ignoring it for quite awhile. I don’t have TIME to re-read anything, I wailed inwardly for so long. What about all the books I haven’t had the chance to read at all?  My logic was that if I wasn’t constantly reading something new, I was falling behind. Even though the books that I wanted to read over were supposedly my favorite books, it seemed somehow selfish to pour all of my attention into the same stories over and over again.

At the beginning of the year, I started reading Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. It’s a big book, and I remember about halfway through I already started feeling nostalgic for it – already, I was preparing myself for the end of the book and aching to experience it again. Because its sequel comes out this Fall, I decided that I would let myself pick it up again at the end of the summer, so as to double as a mental refresher.  I moved on.

Immediately after finishing Six of Crows, I started Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle, which I’ve already talked quite a bit about, and once again, I was struck with such awe over characters and prose of a type that I hadn’t encountered in so long – if ever. After I read the first three books, I found myself absolutely overcome with the need to stay in this world. Again, under the guise of a refresher, I decided to reread them mere months later, timing them precisely before the last book was released. It’s been forever since I’ve read a book twice, and I forgot how good it felt. I marked up what seemed like every (digital) page with highlights and notes. I began to see the early hints at plot twists to come. Best of all, I read more slowly then I did the first time. It was bliss.

I’ve spent the last several weeks reading Harry Potter over again. I’d read the series countless times years ago, but I haven’t picked up the books at least since the last movie came out. Harry Potter was my first love, my first true understanding of the incredible capabilities of storytelling. It has been far too long. I’m on the Deathly Hallows now, and my mom keeps marveling at how the books still make me laugh out loud as though I were reading them for the first time. I can’t help it. J.K. Rowling’s brand of wit matches – and perhaps played a role in shaping – my own sense of humor. At the same time, I’ve also cried more rereading this series than I ever had the first several times around. With time comes, inevitably, perspective.

The first time I read a book, it’s a mad race to the finish, the burning need for satisfaction and completion. The second time, it becomes more savory. The anticipation is as sweet as the anticipated moment itself. The surprises that you forget to expect are doubly surprising, and doubly enjoyable. The characters are alive from the first page. Everything burns brighter

As a writer, rereading also comes with an additional filter. There’s more time to notice everything the author is doing, to identify the tools that make them successful, and the ways they fall short. It’s this kind of reading that really translates into better writing.

It’s something I’m going to do a lot more of.


The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

There are books you read, and books you live in. The former can still be enjoyable, entertaining you for the days and hours that you spend reading it. But the later is something else entirely. These are books where the characters come alive before your eyes and every piece of dialogue, every motion and gesture and choice feels tangible and right. Books where the world is vivid and clear and the plot propels forward with effortless grace. Books that make you laugh and cry and feel deeply.

The Raven Cycle books by Maggie Stiefvater are that kind of book.

This isn’t a review as much as it is an expression of how deeply I feel about these four novels, the last of which came out yesterday (chronologically, they are, The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily Lily Blue, and The Raven King). Every time I try to explain the plot to my friends, I get a little tongue-tied, as things tend to happen when it comes to the magical realism genre: it’s a romance and an epic quest, it’s about psychics and broken families, it’s about love and loss and adventure and dreams and mostly about the most beautiful kind of friendship.

So even though I recommended them last month in an off-hand kind of way (mostly to try and avoid dumping my emotions onto you all as I’m doing right now), I really have to do it properly. Then, I said that my favorite part of these books were the characters, and that remains true. Stiefvater brings you into their world and allows you to experience it with them, to feel their struggles and triumphs. They are allowed to be selfish and prideful and disappointing without it detracting from who they are. At the same time, I love that the plot–especially in later books–is interwoven with snippets of other narratives, bringing you the sense that this world, this quest, is so much bigger than any one person. I love that this is a plot I could have never conceived of or predicted. It’s original and surprising, and–having finished the final book in the early hours of this morning–I feel comfortable saying it was so wholly satisfying.

Believe the Hype: “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

Whenever a new (newish?) book is surrounded by a lot of hype, I tend to do one of three things: (1) Immediately add it to my To-Read list; (2) Immediately discount it as something I don’t feel like reading, unless (3) It keeps popping up and I decide that I really ought to consider looking into it.

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic certainly fell into the third category, and for the last several months I have regarded it as one of those books with a weird but intriguing cover that I keep seeing around, even though I could never really could remember what it was about. A few weeks ago, I put in a hold for it on Overdrive (If you haven’t heard of Overdrive, think library e-books, meaning that you can borrow it for free, but sometimes you have to wait for an available copy. Still it’s awesome). Three days ago, Overdrive emailed me saying a copy was available. To which I kind of frowned and thought to myself, Oh, yeah, that book. The one with the cover.  Bearing in mind that the hugely anticipated but entirely unrelated Raven King comes out next week, I started A Darker Shade of Magic immediately, hoping to have it finished before Tuesday. Which, it turned out, would not be a problem.

A Darker Shade of Magic is about parallel worlds whose only similarity is the city of London. A rare breed of magician known as Antari, Kell travels between these Londons at the bequest of Red London’s monarchy. However, he soon finds himself embroiled in a dark, magical plot that sends him running headlong into the magic-less Grey London, where he crashes into Lila Bard, a street thief that dreams of adventure, and the two find themselves on a quest to save their worlds and to prevent the threat of this dark magic from consuming everything they hold dear.

I’m not sure at exactly which point I found myself hooked, only that after a certain amount of time, I was truly incapable of putting this book down. The characters are sharp and well-written (and their names are pronounceable!), and the world(s) they travel through are stark and vivid and beautiful and believable. As for plot, it’s the kind of irresistible originality that makes me wish I had written it first, but it was an equal pleasure just to enjoy it. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure it required a sequel, but odds are high that I won’t be able to resist that either.

If you want the short version of what I’m trying to say (okay, well maybe the title was the short version), this book is fresh and fun and if anything that I’ve described above sounds remotely appealing, you should believe what the world is telling you, and read it immediately (or right after you finish The Raven King. Because if you’re reading The Raven King, you’re going to need a good recovery book after, and this book is it).

Since I’ve Been Gone

It’s been a busy six months or so since my last post, and I certainly didn’t mean to leave the blogosphere for that long. I’m making a revitalized effort to post more regularly, but in the meantime, here’s what’s been happening:

  • Alongside being a full-time student, I’ve also been interning at Penguin Random House in a publicity capacity. I had never fully realized what other jobs existed in publishing besides editorial, but publicity has been a lot of fun and has definitely opened my eyes to the bigger picture of how much publishing entails. Also, free books are so readily available that my to-read list has tripled in size. If I mention getting books through work, this is where they’re coming from.
  • I’m still working on cleaning up the novel that I finished over the summer, and I hope to be finished with that in the coming months. That said, I still haven’t fully decided how I want to pursue publication, (or if it’s something I even want to publish) so in a lot of ways, it’s still up in the air. Still, because I’m me, I have about a half-dozen other novel ideas bouncing around in my brain, and with any luck am going to start one for Camp NaNoWriMo this coming April. (If you’re participating to, let me know! If you’re not, you should consider it!)
  • I’ve read a LOT of books. Okay, not too many–I fell very short of 2015’s Goodread’s Challenge–but so far I’ve been keeping up with this year’s challenge, 40 books for 2016. Still, that’s about 15-20 books since I last reviewed one, and while I won’t go through them all one by one, I will recap my favorites:

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – This book was so incredible, all I can really think about is re-reading it. Set in the same world but completely separate from Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, a cunning thief named Kaz must put together the perfect team to pull off an impossible heist. The world building is so rich and the characters are remarkably complex, never ceasing to be interesting. More adventure than fantasy.  Masterful is the best word for it.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater – These three, soon-to-be four, books not only contain some of the most original plot and storytelling that I’ve seen in a long time, but also tells of such breathtakingly beautiful friendships. The characters here are written with so much depth and so many intricacies – they are ultimately what drives these books and make them such powerful entities.

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh – An offbeat dystopia with a surprising choice of antihero at the helm. Spademan is a garbage man turned assassin who finds himself caught in a complicated conspiracy. Really, it’s the brilliant narrative style that makes this book so good. Sternbergh/Spademan’s voice will suck you in and not let you go until the story is over.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I impulsively purchased this one because I loved both the cover and the premise, in which a teenage girl is taken hostage by a nefarious magician known as the Dragon. (And the promise that it was a standalone fantasy novel, which is always a rare find) But what I got was a beautifully told fantasy that completely exceeded expectation and proved impossible to put down.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – I thought this would be a romance or series of comedic essays that bore some resemblance to Ansari’s standup, but instead it was a startlingly informational – but still humorous – examination of modern dating practices. Well-researched, culturally relevant, and well-worth looking into if you’re interested in nonfiction.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – I don’t normally go for historical fiction, but I plucked this one off the shelves from work and was glad that I did. Through the eyes of four teenagers, Sepetys tells the story of the greatest maritime disaster in history that no one has ever heard of, at the tail end of World War II. Both compelling and heartbreaking.

Illuminae by Amie Kristoff and Jay Kristoff – A sci-fi thriller about two teenage refugees in open space, this story is told through a series of interviews, emails, and surveillance. Even through some truly bizarre methods of storytelling, Illuminae proved to be both hilarious and emotional, and I almost definitely cried through the last 100 pages.  Absolutely not meant for an e-reader.