A Year in Review: Top Reads of 2016

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I rang in the New Year in a small apartment in the inaka of Japan, surrounded by rusty little houses that creaked in the wind as the sea whooshed gently in the distance. As the minutes counted down, we watched a strange show where grown men voluntarily had their family jewels whacked with a paddle for entertainment and if those who were watching laughed, they got their butts slapped with yet another paddle.

Suddenly it was 10…9…8…3…2…1…Happy New Year! and it was midnight–a brand new year and full of possibilities. Standing on the concrete outside of the apartment seven stories up in stocking feet, we listened to the bells from the local temple toll and the distant sound of flutes and drums playing in the New Year. The town was relatively quiet as 2017 came into being.

Now that the New Year and the first hectic days of January have passed, I want to look back on the books that I read in 2016. I read a lot in 2016 and was thrilled that I made (and went slightly over) my goal of 100 books. I binge-read a lot of series that I never read when I was a teenager, read things that made me cry, and read things that made my heart full. I read things that were over-rated, things that weren’t even out yet, and things that remained in my mind long after I’d finished them. 2016 was a really full year of books. I’m incredibly thankful that I was able to read a variety of things thanks to new friends, NetGalley, and random discoveries.

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*・゜My Top Five Books of 2016*・゜

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1. Have a box of tissues when you read this one, because you will surely need it. The Serpent King is the debut novel of Jeff Zentner, and what a debut it was. I went from a skeptic to being unable to read this book at work because it made me cry. Zentner’s characters are beautifully realistic and realized as they navigate young adulthood that last summer before college. His writing is stupendous and his upcoming Goodbye Days is a book that I am chomping at the bit to read. I’m definitely going to read everything he writes. Jeff Zentner is an author in the young adult community who will only get more popular as he continues publishing. 5 stars.

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2. I thought a lot about not including The Bear and the Nightingale on this list.  While this novel was one I read in 2016, its official publishing date was 2017. However, I couldn’t resist because I think it will also be one of my favorite reads of 2017. I love books where the author has done their research to create a historical setting as correct as possible. I also love fantasy. The Bear and the Nightingale was both, a world where the old and the new collide, and where a young girl has to come to terms with the power inside of her–which isn’t always understood–before something horrible happens. It was really cool to read a book set in the Russian wilderness and actually feel like it was. 5 stars.

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3. A time-period in America that I’m fascinated by is the roaring 20s, and a book set in that era (or near to it) plus one that has a fantasy element is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit for me. Iron Cast by Destiny Soria is also a debut novel, and like The Serpent King, it was one hundred percent successful for me. Soria’s style of writing was engaging and created an alternate history of 1919, one where the ability to create illusions through art has already been banned. I LOVED that it had a true female friendship that went through ups-and-downs. It was one of the most realistic female friendships I’ve read in a novel and it made me miss my best friend. I’m looking forward to reading more from Destiny Soria as well, and she was a lovely interviewee! 5 stars.

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4. When the Moon Was Ours was a wonderful story about friendship, first love, and discovering yourself. It was a love story to those who don’t fit into the boxes that society tries to put them in and those who are searching for names,  as well as a personal love story from the author to her partner. You could feel the love in the pages of this magical realism story, which read like a modern-day fairy tale. All of the characters had an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. The writing was lyrical and poignant and the subject was handled with such care. 4 stars.

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5. A Darker Shade of Magic was one of the reviews that I never got around to doing, so there’s nothing to link to. I thoroughly enjoyed the twist on London, with multiple Londons (and worlds) existing alongside each other. Each were unique. Kell is one of the few who can travel between the worlds, and he may be the only one who can save them. It’s a great introduction to a new story and world, and was my first introduction to this author’s work.  I’m excited to reread this in 2017 and also start the second in preparation for the third novel’s release in February!

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*・゜Honorable Mentions*・゜

27153280And I Darken was a novel that imagined if Vlad Dracula was a woman. Lada was a very strong protagonist who didn’t always do things I agreed with or liked, but it was important in establishing her character. And I Darken was full of an interesting alternate history with characters who are set on protecting those they love at all costs while also attempting to gather power. 4 stars.

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Dreaming of Antigone was a nice young adult romance novel that reminded me of Deb Caletti’s writing. It’s the story of a girl who is trying to survive the loss of her twin while also dealing with her family’s grief, a budding romance, and lingering questions about who her sister really was. I really loved that there was a focus on stargazing and Greek tragedy, two things I enjoy. 5 stars.

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106641132016 was the year when I finally read all of the currently published Song of Ice and Fire aka Game of Thrones series. I started in July 2015 and read through to February of 2016. A Dance with Dragons is the most recent novel that George R.R. Martin’s written for this series and the first one where I couldn’t immediately go read the next. I am suffering. My only consolation is that Martin will have produced something amazing by the time the sixth book is out. Here’s hoping it’s out this year! (Does anyone not know what this series is about? I just realized I skipped a short description, oops!). 3-5 stars.

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17378527I don’t really know why I never read The Raven Cycle series, but I just didn’t. When the fourth and final book came out, the bookstagram and book community went crazy so I decided to check it out. I really loved them. It’s a bit of magical realism but nothing too intense. I really enjoyed Stiefvater’s writing style a lot. Books one, two, and three were amazing, and most of the fourth was, but I was a little disappointed by the ending. Overall, though, I loved it! 5 stars (with the exception of the fourth with 4 stars).

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16074758The surprising little book that I should have disliked because this type of book is a miss 70 percent of the time, Dangerous Girls was a suspense / thriller of a girl trying to prove her innocence when she’s accused of a friend’s murder. Soon she is alone in an unfamiliar country, the friends she thought she had quickly flocking to the prosecution’s side. I was surprised how much I actually enjoyed it. It had a really nuanced look at how friendships between girls are not always as simple as they seem, especially when there’s tension on them. A case of an unreliable narrator that worked really well (and one that didn’t bother me!). 4 stars.

 

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I read a lot, I bought a lot, and I took a lot of book photos (for every one on my bookstagram, there was probably at least six more that were deleted). I even was incredibly lucky enough to snag tickets to one of the most anticipated events for Harry Potter fans, the Cursed Child play! It was a phenomenal experience and one of the most amazing things I did in 2016. I want to see it again. And then see it again.

I read  and did so much more that I can’t talk about here. 2016 was a great year of books for me. I’m excited to start 2017 off!

It’s hot and it’s cold: What I’m reading in October as the weather figures itself out

I ended up reading a lot when I was home for my visit. But I not what I had put on my September TBR pile.

I blame Sarah J. Maas and her Throne of Glass series.

And my lack of control.

While the first novel, Throne of Glass, is a mess, the rest of the series became something that I loved and obsessively read (and am still reading, actually) when I was home. Because of that I ended up only finishing Dreamwielder, so I’m shuffling the rest of those books into my October TBR pile. Time also got away from me so I ended up without any new physical books this time. Thank goodness for Amazon, or else I’d really be crying.

*・゜Finishing up*・゜

I'm trying to read this slower than the others because I there's not another one to read after this one. But I'll probably devour it.

I’m trying to read this slower than the others because I there’s not another one to read after this one. But I’ll probably devour it.

*・゜Going to read*・゜

No theme this month. And only one book that’s kind of Halloween-y. I’ll have to find other books that are spooky to read this month!

The cover is so pretty and old-fashioned looking! In this book, no one can dream! Dreams are manufactured, which is a really cool dystopian slant. And for whatever reason, once you turn 35, you're sent to live beneath the city? I'm very intrigued. I have high hopes for this one, so I really hope it's good! It just came out this year in April.

This month for sure! Check out my September reads for my thoughts on it.

There's still a good chunk of time left before this book is published in March 2017. I want to read it because it's about witches--specifically ones that can raise the dead. It's a new series, so I hope I like it! Perfect for the month of Halloween.

There’s still a good chunk of time left before this book is published in March 2017. I want to read it because it’s about witches–specifically ones that can raise the dead. It’s a new series, so I hope I like it! Perfect for the month of Halloween.

*・゜Upcoming Reviews*・゜

These books. I really love this series, but I still stand firm that the first book kind of sucks.

These books. I really love this series, but I still stand firm that the first book kind of sucks. I’m glad I was able to binge read them and had been told they got better!

And that’s it! I’m sure that there will be a lot more that I read, but I have to remind myself to focus on making my costume for Halloween. Preparing it will be a process, but I hope it will turn out the way I want it to! Happy reading, everyone!

Slipping into Autumn: My September Books

This month is going to be a little light on the reading and reviewing. I’m visiting home, so while I have a good chunk of travel time to read, I won’t have a lot of time to sit down and write my reviews. I do have a few new releases that are coming out in October that I have reviews for. I’m excited that I finally get to share them because I read them in early to mid-August.

I think the best part about going home is that I can buy books in person! I’ve bought books online here, but they tend to be expensive and they also take forever to arrive. I have some series that I’m planning to finish out and I’ll probably buy some more books as well, because I have absolutely no self-control when it comes to books.

*・゜I’m excited to get my hands on these!*・゜

I read A Darker Shade of Magic ages ago and I've been trying to get this one ever since. I want my covers to match, so I NEED this one. Desperately.

I read A Darker Shade of Magic ages ago and I’ve been trying to get this one ever since. I want my covers to match, so I NEED this one. Desperately.

Everyone says that the second and third of this series makes it, so I'm hoping that they're right.

Everyone says that the second and third of this series makes it, so I’m hoping that they’re right.

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I feel like everyone in the young adult book community finished this years ago.

*・゜I have a reading theme!*・゜

So apparently I’ve put off reading books that all deal with dreams!

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I'm pretty interested in getting into this one. We'll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I’m pretty interested in getting into this one. We’ll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

The cover is so pretty and old-fashioned looking! In this book, no one can dream! Dreams are manufactured, which is a really cool dystopian slant. And for whatever reason, once you turn 35, you're sent to live beneath the city? I'm very intrigued. I have high hopes for this one, so I really hope it's good! It just came out this year in April.

The cover is so pretty and old-fashioned looking! In this book, no one can dream! Dreams are manufactured, which is a really cool dystopian slant. And for whatever reason, once you turn 35, you’re sent to live beneath the city? I’m very intrigued. I have high hopes for this one, so I really hope it’s good! It just came out this year in April.

*・゜Upcoming Reviews*・゜

I hope that people like these upcoming October releases! I enjoyed some more than others as is usual, but all will likely find an appreciative audience.

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Released October 4th, 2016.

Released October 11th, 2016.

Released October 11th, 2016.

Released October 15th, 2016.

That’s all for now! A have some more advance reading copies that I’m very excited to check out, but they’re 2017 releases. I don’t want to read them too early. Have a great reading month!

 

A Special 100th Post: On seeing Cursed Child

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Luggage is placed about a dark stage, the only light coming from the illuminated old-fashioned clock face in the background. Dust motes linger in the air, gently floating in the bands of light. A lone man walks onto the stage. And just like that, it begins.

The music starts the heartbeat of this momentous play, starting the excitement. More and more people come on stage, moving the luggage in choreographed movements that let us know that we weren’t exactly in the normal world anymore.

We were back again.

The action built, the nameless witches and wizards moving the luggage to simulate a train station, their cloaks fluttering through the sparkling dust filled air. Beautifully choreographed, they all moved together in a magical way.

The introduction to Cursed Child brought me back to all of those Harry Potter moments: waiting for the books and reading them in one go on the couch in my porch; trying to guess what would come next in the series; standing in line for the midnight movie premieres. My heart couldn’t contain all of the happy feelings that just that small amount of time gave me. I couldn’t believe I was there. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Naturally I cried–and I’m talking full on lip-quivering, trying to hold back tears crying–within the first 15 seconds out of sheer joy and happiness.

I managed to get myself together as we were introduced to old and new characters.

There’s something just so magically different to seeing Harry Potter play out in front of you. Yes, we have the movies. But seeing this–seeing the actors traipse across the set and interact with one another–there was something so beautifully tangible about that. To feel as if you could reach out and touch the actors; to have an actor go into water and emerge dripping wet and to hear the splash of that water; to feel the heat of fire on your face…that is something that can’t be replicated or felt when you’re watching it on the screen.

When it was over, I immediately wanted to see it again. Blinking into the late afternoon light after part one, I was filled with dread that Harry Potter was almost over–over over–and the desire to see it again, before I’d even seen part two. I found part one to be a gripping reintroduction to the world and an introduction to these familiar, loved characters as adults. It truly left off on a cliffhanger that left me with my mouth hanging open. Thank goodness I only have a few hours to wait, I thought as I collected my #keepthesecrets pin and headed off to eat some dinner. Part two was darker, having lost some of its lightheartedness at the conclusion of part one. It was in true Harry Potter fashion, where you’re not able to see the darkness right away, but it slowly grows and spreads tendrils of shadow into the light.

At this point, I think most of the world (or at least those who want it) have their very own copy of Cursed Child. Most people know what happens in the story, but I still don’t want to write about any major spoilers. Reception seems to be divided pretty clearly along the lines of loved it or disliked it. I’m incredibly lucky to have seen it live before reading the novel version, because that will always shape how I see Cursed Child in my memory. To be honest, I haven’t read the novel yet. I want to hold onto those feelings that the play gave me. The belief that it was real. As a result, I’m biased. I absolutely loved it, even with things that were minor problems for me.

Photo credit Manuel Harlan and harrypottertheplay.com

They were perfect. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan and harrypottertheplay.com

Minor problems fall away in the face of stupendous actors. Like any reader, we all have our own idea of what a character should look like, should they be portrayed in a visual installment. I went into Cursed Child with no expectations, because I wasn’t familiar with any of the actors. Seeing the official cast photos had gotten me excited in the way that any Harry Potter related things gets me excited. My feelings were split between being hardly able to wait and not being able to believe that I was going to see Cursed Child. But until I saw them on stage, I didn’t realize how right they were. The trio was portrayed by three amazing actors. They were Harry, Hermione, and Ron. There was no one else. I was able to see echoes of their younger selves in them. Moments from their pasts did affect them but there were also present problems. I loved watching Harry navigate being a father to a son who didn’t feel that Hogwarts was a home as much as he had. Their conflict was so real. Watching it was painful and familiar. Heartbreaking, yet able to touch my heart.

I’m a tiny bit surprised at who ended up becoming my favorite character. I’ve always liked Draco because I found his character growth to be really fascinating, and that continues in Cursed Child. It was no surprise that I still liked him, and Alex Price’s portrayal of a man who was still atoning for his past and someone who was jealous of what he hadn’t had as a child was wonderful. A perfect fit. As much as he’s tried to make a better life for his son, Scorpius, Draco’s past has also harmed him. Scorpius, however, doesn’t let that define him. I loved Anthony Boyle’s portrayal of Scorpius’ kindness and quirkiness. He was an earnest, hilarious, and nerdy character. I loved when he and Sam Clemmett, who plays Albus, were on the stage interacting. It was the best.  He was my favorite character because I found him to be so well-rounded, and Boyle portrayed him perfectly. He was the one who stole the show for me.

Although Scorpius and Albus were not alive during the days when Voldemort existed, the fear that someone like Voldemort could come again still exists in the magical community. They also have to deal with their parents pasts as they navigate their own futures. That they found each other and balanced each other out is perhaps the most touching thing about Cursed Child.

Can we just take a moment to look at how perfect they are together? Photo credit: Manuel Harlan and harrypottertheplay.com

Can we just take a moment to look at how perfect they are together?
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan and harrypottertheplay.com

In the time that I saw Cursed Child  to writing this, J.K. Rowling has announced that three short story collections will be published. So it’s not quite over. But after seeing Cursed Child, I think that Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Draco’s roles are. I’ll always love them, but I think I’m ready to let them live their lives without needing to know what’s next for them. Cursed Child gave me that conclusion, and I’m really happy with what it was.

As impossible as it is now–seats are sold out until at least next year, according to the harried employees at the Palace Theatre box office–I do hope that one day, someday soon, it will be easier for people to see the magic for themselves.

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More Summer Reading: My August Books

August is a good time to read a ton of books. My work placement is very unique in the sense that although I have to go to work, I don’t actually have much work until it starts up again in mid-September. So, that means lots of reading. I’m going to try to remember to read and review on time (instead of reading a lot of them and then realizing that I haven’t reviewed any, oops!) this time around.

In addition to books, I have some backlogs of reviews and a post about seeing The Cursed Child in London (!!) to do. I also am excited about doing an author interview. I’m really hoping that it works out!  Right now I’m working on reviews–but I also have The Dream Thieves open on my kindle because I can’t resist. So without further ado:

*・゜Finishing Up*・゜

I really love this series. I thought that I’d get to the third one too, but I ended up putting this one last on my list and am only getting to the end now.

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Over halfway through now, the only downside of this book is I kind of feel that it’s very much a middle book–things happen, but not as much as I feel they did in THE RAVEN BOYS.

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*・゜Coming Up *・゜

Books, books, books. So many books. Some are newish, some are getting up there, and others are brand new from NetGalley!

I'm going to move on to this one immediately after THIEVES because I imagine it'll be a cliffhanger again.

I’m going to move on to this one immediately after THIEVES because I imagine it’ll be a cliffhanger again.

Finally got my hands on a copy. It's a love story, I think? That's all I know about it, really. Interested in checking it out!

Finally got my hands on a copy. It’s a love story, I think? That’s all I know about it, really. Interested in checking it out!

 

Flynn's girlfriend is missing. And he doesn't know the answers to the cops' questions. It sounds like a little bit of a mystery! I've had it on my kindle for awhile, so I'd like to get to it this month.

Flynn’s girlfriend is missing. And he doesn’t know the answers to the cops’ questions. It sounds like a little bit of a mystery! I’ve had it on my kindle for awhile, so I’d like to get to it this month. October 2016.

 

When prejudices were high, it was forbidden to fall in love with certain people. This sounds like a tense read because of that and because it's set up with a disaster looming in the background.

When prejudices were high, it was forbidden to fall in love with certain people. This sounds like a tense read because of that and because it’s set up with a disaster looming in the background.

 

Recommended to me by an author friend, this is a series of episodic novellas about a homeless woman and her friend, a dragon. I'm intrigued to see how fantasy tropes play out in the streets.

Recommended to me by an author friend, this is a series of episodic novellas about a homeless woman and her friend, a dragon. I’m intrigued to see how fantasy tropes play out in the streets. October 2016.

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I hope that I can get to more (possibly The Raven King) but I’ll have to see how August plays out. Happy summer reading~! Now I’m off to binge read!

“I’m going on an adventure!” My upcoming trip to see Cursed Child.

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I’m so incredibly excited.

Last October I decided to do something crazy.  With days to spare, I signed up for a list that would allow me to purchase Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets. I received emails counting down the days–and then hours–until I’d be sent a link where I could get in a virtual line to purchase tickets.  I toyed with the idea that I’d purchase a ticket, but certainly didn’t plan on actually purchasing one. I just liked to dream. It was nice to think that I could go to London and see this planned play if I wanted to. Well, when tickets were actually on sale, I decided to be spontaneous.

I bought the tickets.

Harry Potter has been a part of my life since I first picked up The Sorcerer’s Stone in fifth grade at my private Catholic school. Which, now that I think of it, was rather odd considering how Harry Potter is sometimes banned on account of the witchcraft in it. In any case, I’m thankful it wasn’t banned in my small classroom. I was eight years old when the book was first published, but by the time I discovered it the third novel was out. It was exciting to start reading the books when I was Harry’s age. I read them cover to cover, often staying up late to finish them, regardless if I had school the next day. I eagerly waited for the next installments.  It’s an experience that I shared with countless other people as we read and grew up with Harry Potter. It’s (probably) an experience that will never be replicated in my personal life again, and as such, I feel like there will always be a slight hole that I’m looking to fill.

As I grew up and became an adult, I always hoped that there would be a continuation of the world that J.K. Rowling created in those first pages of Harry Potter. Harry had three children, after all, why couldn’t there be a story about one of them? Or Teddy Lupin? Or Scorpius (unfortunate name aside)? Harry Potter is just something that I couldn’t–and still can’t–let go. It’s as much a part of my childhood as going up to the lake is. Harry Potter helped form a huge part of my identity as a reader.

So with the first announcement that there was going to be a sequel, my excitement was limitless. That surge of emotion when I realized I’d be able to read more about Harry was something that although I had hoped for, I hadn’t dared thought it would actually happen. When I realized it would be released as a play, I was a little disappointed. At the time, I didn’t think there would be any way that I’d be able to fly over to see it. I resigned myself to the fact that eventually it would make its way to the U.S. (at the time there was no book format announced). Now, months later, I’m structuring a trip around seeing this play.

I’m going into this play with incredibly high hopes. I just hope that it’s everything that I need it to be. I’m a little worried that my expectations will cause me to not enjoy whatever it is, but at the same time it’s Harry Potter. I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to do this. Sadly, it kind of feels like the end to an era in my life (I hope it’s not! Keep writing J.K.!), but I hope that one day there will be novels for my future children that do for them what Harry Potter did for me.

I’ll post an update–spoiler free!–once I’ve structured my thoughts about what I’ve seen.