Wow, it’s been a long time since I last posted a review! Almost two years, to be precise. I really didn’t mean to let it go this long. But between college and its ridiculous amounts of homework, 2-4 jobs (yes, there was a point where I was working 4 jobs), living on my own, getting a dog, and other adulty things, I just didn’t have the time to read.
Last year, I only read 9 books. (Yes, I am ashamed that I have to write that sentence. But it’s true. Only 9. Less than half of which were fiction and one of which was technically for school.)
The good news
I’ve graduated college (finally!), so I now have time to do things. Like pick up hobbies that I haven’t done in two years. So if you’ve missed me – and even if you haven’t – I’m back!
You didn’t think I could be gone so long and not make changes when I came back, did you? 🙂 I like to think it’s nothing major, but here’s what’s changing around here.
The book grading system is going to go. It’s too much effort, and honestly it’s nothing I couldn’t put in the review text anyway.
No posting schedule. I don’t need any more stress in my life, and trying to force myself to read and review one book a week is just going to take the enjoyment out of everything. I’ll post a review when I finish a book. (Which will hopefully be around once a week)
More nonfiction. I know in my last changes post (admittedly in 2014) I said reviewing nonfiction was going to be a thing. Well, it’s going to be more of a thing now, since it’s a much larger proportion of what I read now. And self-improvement is going to be a big theme.
Trigger warnings. Sometimes books have stuff that you might not want to read about, for whatever reason. In all reviews from here on out, I’m going to list trigger warnings for common triggers (such as violence, sexual content, abuse, and varieties of bigotry) so you know which books to avoid. I try to keep my reviews trigger-free, but if I accidentally include triggering content (or miss a trigger in a book), please comment and let me know!
Everything is gay and feminist. Because I am 🙂 I’m putting more effort into reading distinctly feminist books (fiction and nonfiction) and novels with queer characters. That’s not to say that I won’t ever read something about The StraightsTM, but I’m prioritizing LGBT+ authors and characters.
Picky, but in different directions. I used to be picky about profanity, sex, homosexuality, and anything that didn’t wholeheartedly support the Christian belief system. Those things don’t really matter to me anymore – now I’m more sensitive to misogyny and sexism, rape and sexual assault, and racism and ableism.
(I’m also going to be slowly working through my archives to make my review formats consistent, because I’ve changed formats at least eight times.)
I realize this is a massive change from what Jalyn Reads used to be – but I think I’ve reinvented this blog no less than four times already. Either way, I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.
As of yesterday, I’m officially done with my first year of college. Somehow. Still not sure how I survived some of those classes.
But anyway, tomorrow I will be home for the summer, (hopefully) working, and having a lot more spare time now that finals are over. Even though I’ll probably have more time to read, I’m going to continue my bi-weekly posting schedule and attempt to work through the backlog of books on my shelves.
In 2013 and 2014, I created special summer to-read lists – but I’m never very good at following those. So instead, I’m setting a smaller goal: read at least one of the three books left on my “Want to Read 2015” list.
Judging by my last trip to Barnes & Noble, I’m most excited about Firefight (i.e. I squealed, confused my boyfriend by abandoning him for the display, and wished I hadn’t already spent so much money that day so I could afford it). But I’m pretty sure all three will be great.
Happy summer, everybody! What do you hope to read in the next few months?
I don’t know how this happened, but it’s 2015. 2014 has been a year of huge changes for me – mainly because I left for college in August. And I only read 89 books this year, 44 fewer than 2013 – the first time since I started tracking my reading in 2010 that the number has dropped below 100. A little disappointing, but still not bad.
So, to start the new year, I’ve put together three lists: My top 5 favorite books of 2014 (since I can never decide on just one), some 2014 reads worth mentioning that didn’t make the top 5, and the 5 books I’m most excited to read in 2015. None of the lists are in any particular order.
Blackout(Darkness #1) by Madeleine Henry. I had a deadline of one week to read and review this book, which I agreed to against my better judgement … and ended up devouring the entire book during the busiest week of my year. The characters, concept, and amazing execution blew me away, and I would be happy to read book two with a yesterday deadline if that means I get it soon.
Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger. Steampunk is my current obsession anyway, but steampunk, in high-class Victorian England, at a finishing school, that teaches girls to be spies? Absolute perfection.
New Sight by Jo Schneider. Giving a new twist to the idea of psychic powers, this Indie urban fantasy added beautifully dark, gritty tones of insanity and addiction to the traditional master-your-powers-help-the-good-guys plot.
Win the Rings (Cracked Chronicles #1) by K.D. Van Brunt. Despite a vague blurb, bland cover, and seemingly nonsensical title, this Indie book was amazing. Tense, action-packed, amazing concept, and told from two perspectives that gave the best of both worlds – the hunter and the hunted.
The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist #1) by Brandon Sanderson. This is the second year in a row a Sanderson book has made my top 5, and for good reason. Fascinating and original magic systems, great characters, a delightfully complicated plot, and I never could decide on a prediction for the bad guy.
Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson. The first book, Steelheart,was amazing (honestly, anything Brandon Sanderson writes is amazing), so I’m really looking forward to reading more of this fabulous series.
Exposure (Virals #4) by Kathy Reichs. I’ve loved the Virals series since I discovered it, and after the way Code, the third book, ended, I need to know what happens.
UnWholly (Unwind #2) by Neal Shusterman. Unwind has been a favorite for a while, so I was thrilled to find it was first in a series (I actually just bought this book – now I have to get around to reading it).
The Shadow Throne (Ascendance Trilogy #3) by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I absolutely loved the first two books in this series, even though it’s middle grade, and I’m looking forward to finishing the series.
Data Runner(Data Runner #1) by Sam A. Patel. Couriers running information in a high-tech world, including cool aliases and conspiracies – sounds like a fun, action-packed ride.
So that’s my year in books. What were your favorite books of 2014? What books are you looking forward to reading in the coming year?
Right now, I’ve been at college just over a month – land of homework, classes, and staying up until 1AM every single night. And in that month, I’ve managed to read 2 books.
So I’m making a few changes to my reading habits.
Ditching the 100 page rule
If you’ve been hanging around here for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with my 100 page rule: give a book 100 pages (75 if it’s short) to get good before I abandon it. But I don’t have time for that. I’m now following the “literary agent rule” – any point after the first five pages where I’m not dying to read on, I won’t.
I’ve always read a little bit of nonfiction, just not enough to bother reviewing. But the proportion of nonfiction I read is going up. So I’m going to try my hand at reviewing nonfiction.
Not reading books I’m not absolutely thrilled about
Without a car and living on a campus within walking distance of nowhere, the only library I have access to is IPFW’s library of study rooms and reference works. The only novels I can get my hands on are review copies and ones I order online. So there will be very few “this looked vaguely interesting” reads.
With a lot of books, I’ll run into something I don’t like early on, but unless it’s blatant, I’ll give it a hundred pages to see if I can suffer through. From now on, I’m not going to do that. If I find something I don’t like, I’ll stop reading. Period.
It’s too much pressure to try to do all my homework and read and review two books a week. So I’m only going to post every other week in the forseeable future. I should be able to maintain that.
Quality over quantity
Life is too short to read bad books. So I’m not going to.
Yes, I know I’m supposed to be on a blogging break right now. But I had this opportunity for a blog tour, and the book sounded awesome. So I’m temporarily taking a break from taking a break and spotlighting a book that is jumping to the top of my to-read list as soon as I get some spare time.
About the book
Release date: September 19
Fifteen-year-old Ethan Denby doesn’t know how he got on the Marian. He just woke up one day inside the body of its captain.
The Marian is unlike any ship Ethan has ever seen. It crawls on long, metal legs over dunes of salt in search of water, despite laws granting exclusive harvesting rights to a corrupt organization known as HydroSystems Worldwide.
HydroSystems is closing in, tensions are mounting aboard the Marian, and on top of all that, Ethan is beginning to think the dreams he’s been having aren’t completely harmless. If he doesn’t get home soon, Ethan could die inside someone else’s body in this wasteland of a world. The only way back seems to be through a place known simply as the Cloud, but how can he convince the crew to take him there when it means confronting a dangerous cult and venturing into a place where the very fabric of reality has worn thin?
On Thursday, I leave for college. I’m going to IPFW (a joint campus of Indiana University and Purdue University in Fort Wayne, Indiana), which is about two hours from where I live now.
I’ll be living in the on-campus apartments with three apartment-mates (but I’ll have my own room for the first time in 10 years!), do my learning in a classroom for the first time since driver’s ed, and basically going through the biggest transition of my life so far.
So I’m going to be taking a blogging break until the end of September, and when I return, I’ll be slowing down to one post a week. Hopefully, I’ll be able to maintain that, but everything’s kind of up in the air at the moment.
Enjoy the back-to-school season, and I’ll see you in late September!
I know I’m a little late to the ball game here, but I just recently came across Ruth Graham’s article Against YA. I’ve seen responses blowing up Twitter with the #promoteaYAinstead and #NoShameYA hashtag, but I wasn’t really sure what started it all until yesterday.
When I read the title of the article, I was set to argue. You bash YA, I’m going to bash back! But as I read, I realized something:
I understand her point.
That’s not to say I agree with the article. On the contrary. I read a lot of YA. And even though I do read some adult books, I much prefer the subjects and variety of YA. But I can understand Ruth Graham’s perspective, because it’s the same perspective my mom has.
My mother knows I read mostly YA. And she doesn’t really approve. She keeps pushing me to read adult books – “real” books.
See, Ruth Graham, my mother, and pretty much anyone older than forty were teens when YA wasn’t really a “thing.” There were children’s books, and there were adult books, and as soon as you outgrew Nancy Drew it was time to head to the adult section. To them, YA is children’s books.
Graham also mentions outgrowing YA. That’s completely understandable. I’ve tried to reread some of my favorite books from the preteen years, and they don’t have the same appeal. And many middle grade books don’t appeal to me as much as I think they’d appeal to my eleven-year-old sister. I’ve pretty much outgrown middle grade, and that’s okay with me. If you outgrow YA, that’s okay.
As Graham claims, some YA is purely entertainment. Some of it is all about “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.” And I will be honest – sometimes, I want a just-for-fun read.
But not all YA is useless. Take the Hunger Games trilogy: sure, a reality-TV show where kids kill each other is just plain ridiculous, but Katniss and Peeta both ended up with PTSD and the revolution practically destroyed their world.
And Divergent, which Graham called “trashy” and a book that “nobody defends as serious literature”: I found themes of identity, priorities, using your unique gifts, and the power of choices. And in the end of the series, their entire world falls apart and a whole lot of characters I’d grown to care about died.
How much more real does Graham want? And who would call those endings “satisfying”? Not me.
Just because a book is classified as “YA” doesn’t mean it’s pointless. And just because a book is “adult” doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile. YA can contain important themes, and adult can be pure escapism.
I see where Ruth Graham is coming from. She holds the view common among older adults that YA is children’s lit. And she’s outgrown it. That’s okay. I can respect that.
I think the real issue here is not YA versus adult books – it’s because people are being shamed for what they like to read. 42% of college students in America will never read another book once they graduate. Shouldn’t we be happy they’re reading, instead of criticizing because they’re not reading “literary” stuff?
Ruth Graham has the freedom to read whatever she wants – and if it’s not YA, that’s okay. But the rest of us have that freedom, too.
If you don’t like YA, that’s okay. But please don’t hate on me because I do.
Last week I went to Washington, DC with my family. Freshman year, my dad promised me we’d go before I graduate. I graduate high school on Friday. We called it a little close, but it happened.
And being the huge book nerd that I am, I forced my family to go to the Library of Congress.
I didn’t realize the Library of Congress is actually three buildings: the Jefferson Building, the Madison Building, and the Adams Building. We visited the Jefferson Building because it was closest to where we ate lunch and I couldn’t convince my siblings to see all three.
The original Library of Congress was established in 1800 by President John Adams, and it had 740 books and 3 maps. They were kept in the Capital Building until the British burned it in 1814. Thomas Jefferson offered his 6,487-volume personal library to replace it. The current library opened in 1897 (later renamed the Jefferson Building when the library expanded) and was the first building in DC constructed with electric lights.
What I found was not really what I expected. I expected amazing architecture (like every famous building in DC) and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. It was actually a museum.
There were some awesome exhibits, like Thomas Jefferson’s original library (I wanted to take pictures, but they didn’t allow photography in the exhibits). But I expected to see more books.
Apparently it’s called the Library of Congress for a reason. Only members of Congress and their aides can read the books. And even they aren’t allowed to browse the shelves themselves – they decide which book they want and an automated retrieval system brings it to them.
The only room in the building where you can actually touch books is in the far corner of the basement: the young readers center. I took my 11-year-old sister there and discovered they have a YA room.
It was like seeing my TBR list on shelves. They even had ARCs! Leaving that room without a book or twenty was one of the worst parts of the trip.
Even though it was not exactly what I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Library of Congress. I wish I could have explored the other buildings, too. I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves books – as long as you don’t expect 20-foot bookshelves.
(Apologies for the bad lighting in some of the pics – camera flashes weren’t allowed in the building.)
Zombie fiction was never really my thing – but Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of) won me over. Which is why I’m thrilled to be part of its blog tour!
The absolute best thing about this book is it has something for everyone. Zombie fan? There’s lots of zombies! Not really a zombie fan (like me)? Bold, snarky Cassie is worth the read.
So what are you waiting for? Keep reading! (Then go buy this book!)
About the Book
Title: Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of)
Author: F.J.R. Titchenell
Releases: May 6, 2014
The world is Cassie Fremont’s playground. Her face is on the cover of every newspaper, she has no homework, no curfew, and no credit limit, and she spends her days traveling the country with her friends, including a boy who would flirt with death just to turn her head.
Life is just about perfect—except that those newspaper headlines are about her bludgeoning her crush to death with a paintball gun, she has to fight ravenous walking corpses every time she steps outside, and one of her friends is still missing, trapped somewhere in the distant wreckage of Manhattan.
Still, Cassie’s an optimist. More prone to hysterical laughter than hysterical tears, she’d rather fight a corpse than be one. She won’t leave a friend stranded when she can simply take a road trip to impossible new places to find her, even if getting there means admitting to that boy that she might just love him, too. Skillfully blending effective horror with unexpected humor, this diary-format novel is a fast-paced and heartwarming read.
I’ve never really read an actual zombie book before (unless you count the disappointment of Boneshaker, which I don’t). But I am a huge fan of characters with strong, interesting voices, and even from the synopsis, I was pretty sure I’d like Cassie.
I was right. Cassie was smart and brave and a bit of a tomboy, with just enough snark to make her fabulous without going overboard. She did take a lot of the deaths a little lighter than I think was realistic, but overall, I really loved her.
Norman and Hector, Cassie’s friends, were both good. Norman was a goofball, but the kind of goofball friend I’d like to have. I liked Hector, but his homosexuality bothered me. It didn’t add anything to the character dynamics (and is so unimportant it doesn’t come up in the first half) so I wish he was either not homosexual or one of those super-fun gay best friends that I enjoy despite their sexuality.
This story was exactly what I expected from a zombie novel: race to get to somewhere somewhat safe, traveling with/making friends, and lots of zombie-bashing action. It got a little gory at times, but that’s to be expected. There was plenty of action, a semi-scenic road trip, struggles for food and supplies, and a cast of great characters. And it ended on a surprisingly happy note.
Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of) was a fabulous zombie book. The plot seemed pretty standard from what I know of zombie fiction, but Cassie’s amazing voice was exactly the boost it needed to make me love it. There’s no sequel room here, but I would definitely be interested in another book by F.J.R. Titchenell.
I received a free review copy of Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of) from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.
About the Author
F.J.R. Titchenell is an author of Young Adult Sci-Fi and Horror fiction. She is represented by Jennifer Mishler of Literary Counsel and currently lives in San Gabriel, California with her husband and fellow author, Matt Carter, and their pet king snake, Mica.
The “F” is for Fiona, and on the rare occasions when she can be pried away from her keyboard, her kindle, and the pages of her latest favorite book, Fi can usually be found over-analyzing the inner workings of various TV Sci-Fi universes or testing out some intriguing new recipe, usually chocolate-related.
Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of) is F.J.R. Titchenell’s first novel. Her first novel coauthored with Matt Carter, Splinters, will be available fall of 2014.
F.J.R. Titchenell answers the question: Where do you get your ideas and how do you stay motivated to finish a book?
Ah, the eternal question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Short answer: Everywhere. That’s part of how I process every bit of information I encounter. Everything goes in a mental file for later use in stories. Everything.
More specific short answer: My husband.
It’s tough to admit sometimes, but it’s true. He’s my muse, my sounding board, and my brainstorm partner, and while inspiration can and does come from anywhere at any time, nothing else gets my gears turning as well and reliably as he does. When we’re working together, most of the big ideas are usually his, and I get to focus on my favorite parts, playing with our characters’ poor little psyches and getting their dialogue just right.
Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of) was my idea (though I do owe my love of zombies to Matt in the first place). The concept for this one leaped into my head seemingly out of nowhere. In other cases, when I’ve been more pressed for a new idea, I’ve often flipped through my favorite stories that have inspired me somehow, mixed a few unlikely co-influences together, added a completely new setting, and – this is the most important part – found a way to ask myself, “Why hasn’t it been done this way yet?”
Often I get there by doing things like changing up gender roles or turning common lapses in characters’ logic on their heads. That’s how you avoid being a simple rehash.
Even in my solos, though, many of my best ideas start with Matt tossing out a passing notion that I have to dig into and build on and run with.
Perfect example, one of the touches to Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of) that a lot of people get a kick out of, one of my favorite details too, is Norman spending most of the book dressed as a clown. That was Matt’s idea… sort of.
When I told Matt I was working on a YA zombie book, he made a joke about a character staying dressed as a clown all the time so if he became a zombie, he’d at least get to be a zombie clown.
I loved the idea and knew I had to use it for the male lead. I think Matt thought I was insane when I told him that. He’d meant it as a background gag, a wacky sidekick at most, not someone who would ever need to be taken seriously, but I fell so in love with Norman once I got him in costume, he was so perfect for Cassie to bounce off of, so right for the tone of the story, I knew I could never allow him to be upstaged by some straight-faced pretty boy.
Exploring why Norman wears the costume, beyond the joke explanation, was one of the things that got me deepest into his head, his friendship with Cassie, and it helped me develop the theme of keeping sanity through laughter that became much of the book’s core.
As to where I get my motivation to finish books, that’s all mine. Not that Matt isn’t amazingly encouraging and supportive, he is, and I can’t overstate how lucky I am for that, but while he’s the kind of writer whose constant rush of ideas sometimes exceeds his motivation to use them, I’m the opposite way.
One might as well ask where I find the motivation to breathe.
Motivation will never be my problem just like inspiration will never be his. He’ll work on a story and sometimes have trouble getting through without being distracted by other ideas. I’ll have a harder time getting an idea I like and getting started, but once I’m in a story, it’s like nothing else exists. It’s one of the many ways we balance each other.
I love working on something I’m already in love with. I love that feeling of needing to bring a story into being and make it as good as it can possibly be. Not all parts of the process are fun or easy, but there’s never a question in my mind about whether it’s worth pushing through any creative blocks, tricky edits, etc. to continue writing books. That’s how much I love it.
Exciting stuff today: The Baker Street or Bust blog tour! (Isn’t that a fun name?) The book itself is fun, too. A 19-year-old girl inherits 221 Baker Street and starts solving mysteries. What’s not to like?
About the Book:
Title: Jewel of the Thames (A Portia Adams Adventure #1)
Author: Angela Misri
There’s a new detective at 221 Baker Street.
Nineteen-year-old Portia Adams has always been inquisitive. There’s nothing she likes better than working her way through a mystery. When her mother dies, Portia is left in the guardianship of the extravagant Mrs. Jones. Portia is promptly whisked from Toronto to London by her guardian, where she discovers that she has inherited 221 Baker Street — the former offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Portia settles into her new home and gets to know her downstairs tenants, including the handsome and charming Brian Dawes. She also finds herself entangled in three cases: the first one involving stolen jewelry, the second one a sick judge and the final case revolving around a kidnapped child. But the greatest mystery of all is her own. How did she come to inherit this townhouse? And why did her mother keep her heritage from her? Portia has a feeling Mrs. Jones knows more than she is letting on. In fact, she thinks her new guardian may be the biggest clue of all.
I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, the movies with Robert Downey Jr., the BBC TV show…). So when an email appeared in my inbox saying “There’s a new detective at 221B Baker Street,” I decided to say yes before I even read anything about the book.
Portia was completely enjoyable. She was a bookish introvert like me, but with awesome deductive skills. She wasn’t quite as good at deductions (or disguises) as Sherlock, but she’s young. I’m sure she’ll get there.
There were also some good minor characters, like Portia’s guardian, Mrs. Jones, who has a lot of interesting secrets. And Constable Brian Dawes, whose parents live below Portia (and who I’m thinking may eventually play Watson to Portia’s Holmes).
The mysteries were very much like something I’d imagine Doyle would write – a little less complicated, perhaps, but still great. They were engrossing and fun, and just like Doyle’s plots, I had a hard time guessing the culprit. Angela Misri certainly did her research, and just like a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, I feel like I learned something while being entertained.
In my opinion, the writing was what really made the book. It read like an old classic book – in a good way. It perfectly fit the subject and tone and added the finishing touches to a very Sherlock-esque story.
The Jewel of the Thames was a fun mystery that definately felt like a Sherlock Homes adventure. It was a good start to a series, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Portia’s skills develop in further books.
I received a free review copy of The Jewel of the Thames from the publisher. Their generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.
About the Author:
Angela Misri is a Toronto journalist, writer and mom who has spent most of her working life making CBC Radio extraterrestrial through podcasts, live streams and websites. These days she’s focusing on her writing but taking on freelance and digital projects along the side.