A Much Overdue Update

*Taps microphone*

Is this thing on?

This corner of the internet that I have neglected has remained in the back of my mind for the past year and a half, but when I half-heartedly renewed my domain again, I thought it was really and truly time to hop back on and post. I don’t know if anyone is reading this and I’m not promising regular content, but I did want to clear out the virtual cobwebs.

So we don’t have to go into the craziness of 2020, we’re all living it, but the other major life update I can share is that in May 2019 I welcomed my beautiful daughter in the world and obviously nothing has been the same since – both in the best way and the hardest way. She is now a crazy smart, crazy active, and crazy cute fourteen month old who wears me out and lights up my life all at the same time.

I am still actively reading, but it has slowed down quite a bit (unless we count my daily consumption of the works of Sandra Boynton as well as Corduroy’s Colors and whatever else baby girl’s favorite is that week). I am starting to feel burned out on YA, at least newer YA, as well as some of the negativity of the culture in general, and I am trying to get more into non-fiction, but have not actually read much of it yet. I think starting next month I will start a monthly goal of reading 1 YA fiction, 1 non-fiction, and 1 other fiction and see how that goes.

I am also on and off with writing lately, but since I am back in rotation with my writing critique group I need to get my act together and get back into that. Things have just been kind of crazy in my personal life these past couple of weeks, with my husband’s grandfather’s health failing (not technically COVID-releated, though I think being in lockdown didn’t help him), a less-than-relaxing vacation, and then my husband’s grandfather ultimately passing away. I am ready for things to normalize again, as much as they can these days anyway.

I would like to occasionally post again, but I’m not sure what it will look like if I do. 2019 feels so long ago I can’t imagine doing a post on my top reads of the year, and I’m not enthusiastic enough about my reads of 2020 to discuss what I’ve read so far this year. Mostly, this is just a little wave into hyperspace, to let you know I’m here. I’ve slowed down my activity on Twitter and somewhat on Instagram, but you can still find me there, @acshawya.

See you around…

My Top 10 Books of 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. The theme for today is top ten reads of 2018. 

10. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I listened to this on audio and I know I missed some things, so I actually want to reread a physical copy in 2019. It was so magical and whimsical and I have a feeling I will love it more when I experience it again.

9. Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

This is a gem of a book, mature for middle-grade but not inappropriately so.

8. All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

I think a lot of people who didn’t love this expected something else. I had no expectations going into this and I found the story strange and mystical and ultimately endearing.

7. Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Wow, this one gave me a lot of feels.

6. Legendary by Stephanie Garber

I liked Caraval but I enjoyed Legendary more. I had a harder time following the events in Caraval, but I was very intrigued by the Prince of Hearts and Donatella’s quest to discover Legend’s identity in Legendary. I’m very curious to see how everything will ultimately come together in Finale!

5. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

I was a little nervous about this one despite the praise, because I knew it was a little gruesome, and wasn’t sure if I had made an especially poor decision to listen to it on audio. But I quickly came to love Audrey Rose and Thomas and was actually able to stomach the gore. I found the ending a little predictable, though still heart-breaking and disturbing.

4. Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco

It was fun to get to read the first three books so close together, and having Audrey Rose and Thomas trapped on a cruise where murder is prevalent proved for one wild ride.

3. Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West

I read three Kasie West books this year and while I enjoy all of them, this one quickly made it to my top three favorite Kasie West books of all time (along with P.S. I Like You and On the Fence). I liked the list aspect a lot and the romance really worked for me.

2. Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

I remember at a certain point of this book being really engrossed in it, but not really thinking it was going to be a favorite. I couldn’t fully relate to the characters’, and I knew they would end up together and I just wasn’t seeing it or feeling it. But the further I got into it, the story unfolded into something really profound for me and I enjoyed it so immensely that it clearly became a favorite for the year.

1. A Hint of Hydra by Heidi Lang and Kat Bartkowski

The predecessor of this book, A Dash of Dragon, was one of my favorites last year. These middle grade books are absolute delights – fun and adventurous, starring a smart heroine and a solid cast of secondary characters. This book was just as fun as the first and I can’t wait for book three! Also, I totally ship Lailu and Greg, even if they are only 13. 😉

My top ten books round out to include on adult fiction, two middle grade fiction, and seven young adult fiction titles. Three of these books I listened to on audio, and the remaining I read. It was a pretty decent year for reads, and I hope I won’t get too slowed down in 2019 by a new little person entering my life, but if so, it’ll be OK. 🙂

What were your favorite reads of 2018?

What I Read in October & November + NEWS!

Audiobook reads:

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (reread – I actually started reading this one physically but switched to the audiobook when my library hold for it came through)

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger

Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School #2) by Gail Carriger

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail Carriger

Physical reads:

Remember God by Annie F. Downs

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Sekas

Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco

(Set aside for now – Fawkes by Nadine Brandes – I want to try again later, but despite my best efforts I could not get into this one)

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

Its amazing how combining my two months of reads in this one post, the books I read in October feel like forever ago! I’m enjoying going through the Finishing School audiobooks right now. I don’t love everything about them, but they’re definitely entertaining listens for my work day. I also really enjoyed These Vicious Masks and Escaping From Houdini.

So NEWS! In case you missed it from my Instagram, I’m pregnant! As of right now I’m at 17 weeks, baby due in May just days before my wedding anniversary. My husband and I very excited and sometimes it still feels a little surreal. I’ll find out New Year’s Eve if we’re having a boy or girl. I’ll keep y’all updated. 🙂

The Scorpio Races Reread Review

It’s the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.

The first line of The Scorpio Races has captured my attention since I first read it a few years ago. I’ve always wanted to reread it in November, and this year when I picked up the book just to read the first little bit, I found myself reading further (even though I had already started another book… and I don’t do multiple fiction books at once unless one’s on audio).

In full disclosure, I did want to reread it this year via audiobook, but while it had been readily available from the library suddenly wasn’t right before November 1 when I checked again. I put a hold on it and figured I’d probably finish reading it before it became available, but I actually had not gotten very far and switched over a couple days later.

I found my review from when I read The Scorpio Races the first time, and it was interesting to see both the similarities and differences of opinion I had this second time.

The short version: I loved it more this time.

The Sean & Puck Relationship 

The first time I read The Scorpio Races, I didn’t really feel the developing relationship between Sean and Puck was all that romantically inclined, and when they kissed for the first time (pretty late in the book), it felt sudden to me. (At the time, I was still kind of a newbie to the modern age of YA and I was floored by the lack of a define-the-relationship talk before the kissing.)

This time, the opposite was true. The romance is really subtle, but there is such a sweet, slow development between them that makes the reader really long to see something happen. When Sean grabbed Puck’s wrist and her heart was racing, I was so ready for them to kiss! But they didn’t! It happened later! It’s so funny to me now that before I thought they kissed too soon, and this time it was later than I wanted (though not later than I think it actually should have been, to be clear).

While I had remembered a decent amount of the book from before, one scene I had completely forgotten about was when Sean comes over for dinner. I super loved that scene this time around and doubt I’ll be forgetting it again.

I say, “I will not be your weakness, Sean Kendrick.”

Now he looks at me. He says, very softly, “It’s late for that, Puck.”

Secondary Characters

In my first review, I touted my love for George Holly and I definitely stand by this after my second read. What’s interesting, however, is that the other secondary character who stood out to me in my first read was Dory Maud, but this time it was Sue Gratton instead. I’m not sure if this was due to reading the book in another format or if she’s just who I connected with more this time around, but regardless, it’s interesting to see the shift nonetheless.

“I think you’re right, Mr. Kendrick,” George Holly says, eyes closed. His face is to the wind, leaning forward slightly so that it doesn’t tip him. His slacks are no longer pristine; he’s tracked bits of mud and manure up the front of them. His ridiculous red hat has blown off behind him, but he doesn’t seem to notice. The wind has its fingers in his fair hair and the ocean sings to him. This island will take you, if you let it.

I ask, “What am I right about?”

“I can feel God out here.”

I brush my hands off on my pants. “Tell me that again,” I say, “two weeks from now when you’ve seen the dead bodies on the beach.”

Holly doesn’t open his eyes. “Let no one say that Sean Kendrick isn’t an optimist.”

Pacing

The Scorpio Races is a very slowly paced book. That was definitely harder for me the first time, but it didn’t go unnoticed the second time. I think both times I was really ready for Sean and Puck to meet, so it could feel like their story together could begin, but they do have very important individual arcs, which is part of what makes this book so rich. This slow pacing also really matches the tone of the island and helps set the atmospheric aesthetic of it. Maggie Stiefvater says she wants readers to feel like they’ve visited Thisby and weeks later still feel like they need to shake salt from the water out of their hair. I think she did a pretty good job with that.

Shhh, shhh, says the sea, but I don’t believe her.

The Audiobook

So I ended up listening to at least 3/4 of the book on audio, and it took me a moment to get used to the narrators who clearly sounded like adults instead of teenagers. But over time, I really warmed up to the narrators and thought they did a wonderful job of portraying their characters. I think Sean’s voice specifically is going to stick in my mind over time.

Author’s Writing Style

The only other book I’ve read by Maggie is her other standalone, All the Crooked Saints, and upon rereading The Scorpio Races I was surprised to find more similarities between the two stories than I would have expected. They’re most definitely two very different books in many respects, but having read them both definitely gives me a sense of Maggie’s writing style. She writes very clever and beautiful metaphors that I only dream I could one day concoct. Her main characters are often misunderstood but they feel deeply, even if they’re trying to hide those feelings from others and sometimes even themselves. There are religious references and broken-down cars and other little things that feel just distinctly Maggie to me (because in addition to reading these two books I have also heard her speak on a panel).

Rating

My original rating for The Scorpio Races was four stars, but after this reread I would bump it up to 4.5. It’s beautiful and quiet and raw, and I find very little to complain about it.

Have you read The Scorpio Races once or multiple times? Did your feelings change with rereading?

What I Read in September

Audiobook reads: 

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter

Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

Kind is the New Classy by Candace Cameron Bure

The Wish Granter by C.J. Redwine

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Physical Reads: 

The Crimson Skew (The Mapmaker’s Trilogy #3) by S.E. Grove

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

Little Women (reread – finished October 2) by Louisa May Alcott

I don’t know what it was about this month, but pretty much every book I read this month, even including my Little Women reread, I started out feeling invested in but was kind of over by the end. Two Summers and One of Us is Lying did hold my interest throughout more than the others, but they did have some story things that bothered me that left me only mildly satisfied in the end. I’m wondering if I just took too long to read everything as opposed to there being actual pacing problems with all these books.

I’m hoping October will pick back up for me… I’m almost finished with a non-fiction book I just started the other day.

What did you read in September?