Sunday, December 27, 2020

2020 Books in Review


Definition: a word that many would use to describe 2020 AD.


2020 was a year of many things. For me, it was a great year for reading. I mean, sure I didn’t reach all my goals, but who did this year? What’s really important is the books I did end up reading.

Right before the shutdown, I had a hunch I should check out a bunch of books, so I grabbed a whopping giant called Words of Radiance. Best choice I made. I got to hold on to it for, like, three months. I still ran out of library books before quarantine lifted, so I reread a bunch of others on my shelves.

Even after the library opened, they extended the check out time and cancelled all library fines. For a while, I had been doing curbside pickup only, so it was October before I went back into a library, which is really sad. But I’ve frequented the bookstore. A. Lot. You should see my shelves. I had to reorganize at least three times.


Goal: 1 Book 700+ pages

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson—1,084 pages. Hey, look, I did it! Picked this one up just in case right before my library closed due to COVID. My impulses were good for once. There were several times I wanted to throw the book across the room, but it was so heavy that never happened. Most of the time, I rested it on my lap or on the arm of the couch. #mywristhurts Such a good book! Kaladin is my son, and nobody can change my mind. (He’s also younger than I am, so asdfghjkl. What is this?!?!)

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson—1,243 pages. Somebody stop me. Just kidding! I love Sanderson’s work. I still haven’t figured out the connections between the Cosmere books, but oh my goodness, I just enjoy all the characters and all the quips. The only problem: I have to wait until November—probably longer—for the sequel.

Goal: 3 Classics

What are classics? I read zero of them. Unless you count The Lord of the Rings and The Once and Future King. Then I technically met this goal? Unless you count each of series as a single book. It’s not quite clear…


Goal: 5 Books from Places I’ve Been

Nothing but Sky by Amy Trueblood—Lincoln, Nebraska; Springfield, Missouri; and Chicago, Illinois. My first book of the year! I feel like I’m not the right person to evaluate it though. On the one hand, I enjoyed the historical research that went into this book, but on the other hand, I just wasn’t a fan of the romance. Or the blurb on the back. It basically gives away the whole plot.

Nottingham by Nathan Makaryk—Nottingham, England and Acre, Israel. My brother would probably be disappointed in this book because it makes Richard the Lionheart look like a jerk, but each character is so well developed. And the writing style is super engaging. But I hate all the characters. Argh! I wouldn’t actually recommend this one.

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah—London and Cambridge, England. I don’t know if this one counts because it’s a sort of futuristic dystopian London where the Earth is flooded and everybody lives underwater. So cool! But the locations of the old city (our current London) are so accurate, I must mention it. And it’s such an amazing book! Underwater sci-fi is one of my favorite things.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan—San Francisco, California. Not so much a story about the city but the bookstore within it. The main character also goes to New York City and Nevada at one point. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, especially the tone of voice the narrator uses, giving me a better sense of Clay’s emotions about accidentally working for a book cult.

Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles—El Camino de Santiago, Spain. Technically the Camino is an 800 km walk across Spain, and I’ve only walked 260 km of it. This book is easily one of my new treasured books for the way it includes the perspective of an Army brat and the pilgrimage with all its difficulties and beauties.


Goal: 5 Graphic Novels

Pandora Hearts by Jun Mochizuki—This series is actually a reread, and wow, is it creepy or what? It made a whole lot more sense the second time around though, especially since I was already used to the style and knew about the plot twists. I actually quit around book eight because it was just too dark.

Divinity by Matt Kindt—This one was really good! I need to explore more Valiant comics to get a better feel for who all the characters are. From what I’ve read so far, I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I particularly liked how this series explored not just space but from the perspective of cosmonauts from the USSR instead of astronauts from the US.

Harbinger by Joshua Dysart—Didn’t enjoy these nearly as much as the Divinity books, but they’re by Valiant comics and set in the same universe. So they helped me understand more of the characters who show up in Divinity, though not all of them. They’re just too gory for my taste.

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha—Stunning cross-cultural experience. A stand-alone memoir about a Korean American who moves to Alabama. Though I have a very different background than the author, I found I could really relate with her story.

A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima—My sister watched the Anime and was trying to get me to watch it with her, but I prefer to read books first. My library only had the first three volumes, but we did watch the Anime together. I cried. Twice. That’s high praise coming from me!

Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda—I’d seen this one several times in my library and only added it to my list after it was recommended as a fantasy novel featuring a good mother figure. I thought that was pretty cool, so I gave the book a chance. I ended up really enjoying it! A story about a young mother as she raises her children, I found the mix of fantasy and realism rather enjoyable.


Goal: 5 Novels in Verse

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga—Recommended to me by a dear friend, this one probably wouldn’t have been my first pick. But it’s so, so good! (Thank you, Nicole!)

White Rose by Kip Wilson—I’ve actually read another book with a similar plot, which is listed as a German classic: Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. Though they take place in different cities and feature different people, both are based on the true stories of German nationals who didn’t agree with what the Reich was doing, so they secretly distributed pamphlets to stir up the people. I particularly liked the style of White Rose, though the story didn’t resonate with me as much as expected.

Unbound by Ann E. Burg—I listened to this one as an audiobook, so I didn’t get to see the poetry in action, but it was a nice change all the same. Such a beautiful story about what it means to be free, what it means to learn, and what it means to live independently.

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle—Heartbreaking yet beautiful. I learned more about the Cold War and Cuba’s relationship with America and the Soviet Union. Based on the author’s experiences as a child.


Goal: 1 Book Published Before 1800



Overall: 15/20 Types of Books


Other Notable Books

100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (series, books 1-4)

The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims (reread)

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (reread)

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla (reread)

Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton (reread)

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (reread)

York trilogy by Laura Ruby

Of Myth and Monster by the Phoenix Fiction Writers

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Return of the Volon by L. Nicodemus Lyons

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant

The Naming by Alison Croggon (reread) 


My Goodreads Year in Books put these two next to each other. I'm flattered. :)


Here’s to another book-filled year. Can we get fewer disasters though? Please?!?!




Let’s chat! Did you meet your reading goals for the year? What were some of your favorite books? Do you have enough on your shelves for another shutdown the zombie apocalypse?


Similar posts: 2020 Reading Resolution, 2019 Books in Review, and 2019 Reading Resolution

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Book Review: The Court of Miracles

“I’d rather live one glorious night hunting by your side, Nina Thénardier, than a hundred lifetimes without you.”


You know how I said I don’t usually read retellings? Meet another one! This time though, it’s the characters from Les Misérables with some elements from Hunchback of Notre Dame (the Miracle Court) with a touch of The Jungle Book. Though the combination sounds a little odd, it actually works really well.


Book: The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction 
My rating: 4/5 stars 
Mini description: Eponine deserved better


I didn’t think I could hate Thénardier any more than I already did. Until I finished chapter one. If you’re familiar with the original story of Les Misérables, then you already know the majority of characters from this book.

The plot itself differs greatly in that it focuses on Eponine “Nina’s” perspective as she lives as a thief among the Miracle Court, basically a mafia of sorts with nine different guilds. At first, I was skeptical about the court, but it quickly became clear that it was not an idealized sort of life, especially not with the Guild of Flesh dealing in human trafficking. The intensity of this element is far more prevalent in this book than in its main inspirational source.

At the same time, Grant plays off the events of the original story. Sometimes, it’s annoying in that it left me knowing how certain events would turn out, but at other times, she used the knowledge to her advantage to put her own twist to the story. Which was pretty cool, though no less heart-wrenching.

Another element I liked was the stories at the beginning of each section and the way Grant weaves in the French language here and there. It really added to the richness of the story as a whole.

Probably my favorite characters were Nina for her stubborn determination and familial loyalty, Ettie for her innocent naivety and romantic nature, and Enjolras St. Juste because it’s Enjolras. The sister relationship between Nina and Ettie is just golden. Who needs Marius (he never shows up) when you can have the love between two sisters? Oh, yeah, and Javert is a woman while Valjean is apparently a boring housemate. I need more backstory for these characters!

In all, I gave The Court of Miracles 4/5 stars for excellent character development, interesting world building, yet an okay plot. I’m curious, though, to see if Grant plans on writing a sequel because the ending was pretty open-ended.


Interested in the book? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these YA retellings: 


Let’s chat! Has The Court of Miracles made it to your TBR list yet? Have you read it? What’s your favorite classic retelling?


Similar book reviews: The Magnolia Sword, Of Myth and Monster, The Beast of Talesend, and The Snow Child

Sunday, December 13, 2020

6 Young Adult Novels that Changed my Perspective

Once upon a time, I read an adult book that featured publishers who didn’t believe many books actually changed people. What a depressing thought. Stories like that one are one of the reasons why I’ll like going back to Young Adult—such stories often empower our youth and even adults like myself. (YA often gets a lot of flack for being too self-centered, as if adult books are somehow not self-centered? Give me a break.) This post is about empowering YA stories.

Stories that made me want to learn more.

Stories that made me want to take action.

Stories that made me want to dream.

The following books are organized by authors’ last names.



A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole

Not only does this book have stellar world building, but it also has some great themes! I particularly like the way Cole builds upon the concept of several generations of humans living on an alien planet, and none of the people know what animals from earth look like, so there’s really nothing to compare the animals to. That and the perspective of the later generations is different from the older ones. They see the new planet, Faloiv, as their home.

One of the main differences between Faloiv and Earth is the way its animals interact with each other. Most of the predators there only attack other predators. And most of the humans are vegetarians and find the concept of eating an animal horrific, which is especially the case for those who have the ability to telekinetically communicate with them.

I already cared deeply about nature, but after reading the book, I gave up meat for lent, then later ate only a pescatarian (fish, not meat) diet as a social experiment. While I have a high respect for vegetarians, I do not despise those who eat meat. I’d have to write off my entire family if that was the case, and there are plenty of places where being a vegetarian is nearly impossible (e.g. eating out in Germany). But the book gave me a greater respect for animals and our own planet.


Audacity by Melanie Crowder

Sometimes, I forget how privileged I am to live in this day and age. I’ve never really had to deal with discrimination because of my gender. (I’m not referring to being hit on, though I could certainly do without that. The first time I was catcalled, I was 14.) This book in particular addresses the discrimination against women in the workplace in the early 1900s, and the strike the women embarked on thereafter. It’s heartbreaking yet empowering.

Sometimes I think this book is one of those that’s actually gotten me into arguments. But if somebody is being blatantly discriminatory, whether against gender, racial, or neurological differences, I have to say something.


Forward Me Back to You by Mitali Perkins

One of my good friends from college highly recommended Perkins’ books, and she actually gave me this one as a gift. (Or maybe she leant it to me, and I just kinda kept it? I don’t remember…) I particularly liked the way this book addressed multiple several themes without being overwhelming, from empowering women to protect themselves to the fight against human trafficking.

Though I have been incredibly blessed and never had to deal with a situation where I needed to use self-defense, not everybody is so fortunate. Now, I’m actively seeking ways to get involved in anti-human trafficking, such as Dressember, an organization that raises awareness through volunteers like myself dressing up and advocating for an end to modern-day slavery. You can learn more on my fundraising page. No donations required.


A List of Cages by Robin Roe

When I initially read this book, I honestly didn’t think much of it. I brushed it off as another 3-star book and moved on. Until I was encountered with a situation that reminded me of one of the major themes of the book—if you see somebody in trouble and they beg you not to say anything, speak up anyway. A person’s life is more important than what may seem like momentary betrayal.

In A List of Cages Adam, a high school senior, befriends Julian, a freshman. Though friendship isn’t always easy, and Adam quickly learns that being a friend sometimes means speaking up for the other person.

In my case, I had a friend who told me they sometimes wished they were dead. Immediate red flag. I told somebody, and my friend sought help. Today, we are still close, and I am happy they are alive.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Do you ever read those kinds of books that are so heartbreaking that you just want to hold your family tight and tell them how much you love them because not everybody has that? I’ve read several books like that, but this one in particular was one of those that made me want to reexamine my preconceptions about history.

There are so many stories out there that aren’t covered by most history classes, and this one in particular talks about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a tragedy that dwarfs even the Titanic. Though the blurb on Goodreads is incredibly dry, the book itself is incredibly engaging.


Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskin

Okay, I realize I may get flack for adding this one. There are many readers on the autism spectrum who have expressed their dislike for this book, and I highly respect their opinions. Though I may not be on the spectrum, I have a brother who is high functioning autistic, so I’m always eager to learn more. Hear me out for a moment.

I first read Mockingbird back in 2014 for my Young Adult Fiction class in university. Although this story may not be the best representation of what it means to be autistic, it started me on the journey to discover more novels and nonfiction accounts that represent the spectrum. Since then, I have volunteered at my church to work with kids who are not atypical. I sought out special education while working as a substitute teacher, and I’ve met plenty of other kids on the spectrum at my current job.

Other books that I’ve read since then include but are not limited to The Boy Who Steals Houses (fiction; #ownvoices), Kids Like Us (fiction), and Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s (nonfiction; #ownvoices; they don’t call it Asperger’s anymore). There are plenty more books on my list, and I’m always looking for more recommendations!


Let’s chat! What are some YA books that changed your perspective? Have you read any of these? How’s your TBR doing?




Similar posts: 7 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book-to-Movie Adaptations I Enjoy, 4 Books I Initially Disliked but Came to Enjoy, and Recommended Reading: Disability Representation

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Poem: Gold

I have mixed feelings about autumn. When I was a child, it used to be my favorite season. I’m not sure when it stopped, but it has to do with the beautiful colors coming and going so quickly. After the leaves have fallen and need to be raked up, it reminds me of the nature of winter, even if it’s not technically winter yet. And I’m not a huge fan of winter. For the most part, it’s simply cold and dull, and I’ve never lived in places with much snow, save Germany, and even then it wasn’t perpetual.

I wrote this poem from a poem prompt by Julia Garcia on her blog, Drops of Inspira. Her prompt for November was the color gold. As I was thinking about her prompt, I was reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and so this poem was born.



As the leaves faded
and sank beneath the depths
of the hill,
I wondered if winter
would not be more exciting
if we lived it
in black and white.

Until I remember the way
the deep blue ice
extends like a cavern
beneath the snow,
or the way the evergreens
remind me
of more than the sticky scent of pine.

When I feel my vision
fading to gray,
I close my eyes and turn my face
toward the golden sun.
Today I may not feel its warmth,
but I can still sense
the light.




Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? What colors do you typically associate with autumn?

Similar poems: The Smell of Earth, Copper Coated Autumn Leaves, and Pine Trees