It’s Not Just a Dream, It’s a Nightmare – A Blade So Black by L.L.McKinney

When reinterpreting Lewis Carol’s fairy tales, there are several routes one can take. After Alice changed the point of view, attempted to mimic the tone, and kept the setting as close to the original Wonderland as he could, as if he was taking over for Carol. Queen of Hearts reimagined some of the social hierarchy of Wonderland and re-purposed the characters Carol wrote. Heartless, which I have not formally reviewed, tells a more straight prequel.IMG-0069

A Blade So Black does something different, something unique, true to Carol’s story in a way that others couldn’t be. For what is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but the story of a little girl leaving her own world and entering a world she does not understand? That world was heavily based on the inconsistencies and quirks of the author’s world. I believe that is what we find in L.L. McKinney’s debut.

Alice, or Allison, is an African-American teenager living in Georgia, troubled by the violence perpetrated against her community by police and the world in general. She’s also a Dreamwalker — someone who can enter Wonderland (the land of dreams) and slay Nightmares. The Alice of the Nightmare-verse is not the Alice of Victorian England. For one thing, she isn’t a little girl (though as her mother reminds her, she is still technically a child). The violence in Wonderland reflects the violence in her waking world, and she doesn’t wander from place to place trying to be polite, or join in on any tea parties. She kicks ass and take’s names, though there is so much about Wonderland that she is at a loss to understand.

Unlike the original, A Blade So Black follows a traditional narrative structure. The novel strives to make sense, which is a failing common to almost every adaptation, so I don’t judge it too harshly on that account. It is also very much a young adult novel, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It bears all the hallmarks of a classic YA books — young, female protagonist who discovers through tragic means that she has a power that others do not. Despite this, she questions her abilities (in this case, her Muchness). She struggles with her feelings for a supernatural hottie (though Alice goes about saving him instead of the other way around). As a teenager, she is beset by the need for secrecy in regards to her mother, so there are exorbitant amounts of call-dodging and sneaking around.

The novel has stakes, more than “will Alice make it out of Wonderland?” With the appearance of the enigmatic and obnoxious Black Knight, the monsters Alice has been fighting for a year become more deadly, and her mad, hot Hatter’s life is in danger. Alice isn’t alone, either. Her companions are constant, some of them having as much sense as she does.

One of the tragedies of any Alice’s Adventures’ retelling is that there is something of Wonder that is lost. Although there is magic, there is little whimsy in this or any of its fellow reimaginings. A few characters (Maddie, mostly) contain a whit of Carroll’s wit. As far as it is compared to the Lewis Carroll novels, it does as well as any other reworking, perhaps better than Queen of Hearts and After Alice. I would say that it is far more entertaining than After Alice, and better plotted and written than Queen of Hearts.

McKinney’s Wonderland has the sense of a larger world, a potential that the characters don’t explore, but could. I hope that there is more exploration of the land of dreams in the sequel, A Dream So Dark, which is currently sitting on my shelf. It waits to be read, and I hope to have it read soon, but I might prioritize some other Wonderland book. I bid you all a very Happy Unbirthday, until we meet again.

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Journey Into Preptober – Preparing for NaNoWriMo

It’s been quite the year for my writing. And by “quite the year,” I mean it’s been an unfocused disaster. I really thought I would have A Blue as Dark as Night ready for querying by the beginning of the year, but the closer I got to my goal (chronologically, that is), the less certain I was. I needed several breaks. Per my Google Drive Version History, I worked through January and February on it, and a little bit in March and April, but other than reading through the first few scenes at the beginning of September, I haven’t touched the thing. Which is fine. This was an ambitious project for me, and it’s still the novel of my heart, but I have worked very hard on it for several years now (conceived freshman year of college, plotted October 2017, drafted November 2017, redrafted January-April 2018, edited May-October 2018, heavily edited November 2018). I I have many edits planned, but I was too overwhelmed. I want to approach it with fresh eyes, which means I need to turn my creative energy elsewhere for a time.

Bookmark Wrap Up #3 -Winter’s Apple II-

Were you to glance at my instagram, you’d see a couple of things. Pictures of books, nature, crafts, the occasional selfie, and this apple motif. I’ve made no secret of my love for Winter‘s cover (novel by Marissa Meyer, cover design by Rich Deas) with its rich colors and glowing apple. I’ve paid homage in my own amateur art to this design (I can’t draw hands, so that element has always been omitted). One of my very first notecard bookmarks was based on this design.

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Simple ink pens and messy lines make up this recreation of Winter’s glowing apple

In the last year and a half, I’ve also grown quite fond of makeup. I don’t look good in cool colors, nor do I particularly like cut creases, so you’ll often catch me in shimmery eye looks with warm colors and earth tones (I am a girl made of Autumn, after all, so I’m thriving right now). I follow an artist on Instagram who depicts figures with makeup. She often draws dancers, and her creations are so lovely in their clean lines and fluid movement. So, I was curious what it would be like to draw with makeup. I did a few small sketches along with two full notecards – one a rose and one another recreation of the glowing apple. Mostly, I used lipstick and highlighter, with the occasional dash of eyeliner, to create the art. As far as first attempts go, I think they turned out alright (I have no visual proof for the rose — it has since gone missing).

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I decided to use the Glowing Apple II as my bookmark for The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. Because of the themes of beauty, I did something else I’d never done and sprayed the bookmark with perfume. And for those who are interested, yes, the makeup did leave some streaks of color on the pages, but I think of it as decoration and it doesn’t bother me none. I’ve posted a whole review for it here, so I’ll just do a recap of what I thought of it: beautiful, gorgeous, diverse, it was the dystopian fairy tale that I didn’t know that I needed.

I followed it up with its less memorable sequel The Everlasting Rose, which had some cool elements like the Iron Ladies whose roles Clayton could have expanded. I wasn’t sold on the romance and it didn’t have the same punch as the first, but it was entertaining enough.

My niece and I read through Wires and Nerve Vol. 2: Gone Rogue by Marissa Meyer. That’s a lie. I was reading it, and my niece insisted I read parts aloud to her. These are the characters that I’ve loved for years now, and the story is action packed. I’ve gotten more used to it, but I’m just not a fan of this artwork. I don’t like the character designs. Their faces are all so long, and I’d prefer more color. Still entertaining, with a good villain and high stakes, and I’m planning a reread soon.

I read another graphic novel sequel after Gone Rogue, but this time a prequel/spin-off of a favorite movie: Labyrinth. Coronation Vol. 2 continues the story of Jareth’s mother, Maria, on her quest to save her son who was bartered away by his own father. The artwork in this series is absolutely stunning, with rich detail and lively color. The labyrinth is different for Maria than it was for Sarah with some fun psychological warfare at the hands of the Jareth’s predecessor. Maria is likable, and the characters are goofy, but none of them have the charm the original characters had.

I’m not a true crime buff. I’ve read a few true crime novels (To the Bridge by Nancy Rommelmann and Hell’s Princess by Harold Schechter), but I’m a far cry from a serial killer-obsessed, docudrama bingeing true crime enthusiast. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested in Benjamin Stevenson’s Trust Me When I Lie, a thriller centering around a tv producer whose expert storytelling helps get a convicted killer acquitted in his retrial — and gets another victim killed. Stevenson’s writing style is very distinctive, full of jargon, as quick-paced as you can get. Jack Quick’s point of view is extremely immersive. I appreciated Jack’s struggle with bulimia. I don’t think I’ve ever read a thriller, or any book, where a protagonist suffered from an eating disorder (not only was it a nice change of pace from alcoholism, but it subverts the idea that only females can suffer from bulimia). The ending was a little too twisty for me. Things were constantly changing to the point where I couldn’t keep track of the main thread, but maybe on a second reading, some of that would make a bit more sense.

I was not expecting to like the final book on this bookmark — at all, not to mention as much as I did. I’ve heard tell of this series for years now, and I’ve mostly ignored it. It’s been hyped, it’s been called problematic af, but it has generally endured. What did I read? I read A Court of Thorns and Roses. I like faeries. Specifically, I like traditional depictions of faeries, such as those found in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. In this book, I did not find those kinds of faeries, but I did enjoy it enough to overlook that shortcoming. It simply doesn’t have that kind of atmosphere, and a few elements of fae folklore are changed to the point where it loses that specific magic for me. Let me cover those things I enjoyed. The writing was very fluid. I noticed a few phrases were oft repeated, but I don’t know if I would have noticed them if my attention had not been drawn to them beforehand. I found Feyre to be a compelling protagonist. She had every reason to kill the wolf in the beginning of the novel, I liked her boldness, and I don’t care that she technically shouldn’t have succeeded in Amarantha’s second trial. Her limitations have nothing to do with her ability to love truly, and if she could have figured out the riddle herself, she would have. Her inability to overcome something by herself separates Feyre from a lot of protagonists who always seem to magically pull answers and victories out of nowhere. Lucien and Feyre have a good dynamic, better than she had with Tamlin. Tamlin was fairly boring to me throughout, and the romance was less than spectacular. That’s not to say I’m a Rhysand fan. Rhysand may make things interesting, but he’s a monster and treated Feyre horribly, even as he helped her. Lastly, Amarantha’s riddle was underwhelming, but I don’t think she was the terribly-written villain I’ve seen her made out as. Her willingness to make deals she doesn’t have to is actually the most fae thing about the whole book.

Have I missed the mark with any of these books? Have I so perfectly expressed something you have always thought but no one else has? Am I just spouting drivel? Why don’t you let me know down in the comments? I’m open to any recommendations, especially Fall-themed books, fae novels, or thrillers. Hope to hear from y’all. Happy October!

My Return to Wonderland – Queen of Hearts

It’s been too long, fellas. Too long since I’ve read any of my Wonderland related books. And why is that? Have I a phobia of finishing tasks, whether or not I’m the one who sets them? Was I so put off by my experience with After Alice that I’ve given up? Or had my mood just changed? Combination of all three, I suppose.

I finished Queen of Hearts last night. I had started reading it sometime around graduation time. I remember that not because I am in school, but because that’s the last time I took a trip down to my alma mater, to visit those friends and former roommates who were still shackled to the university structure. I remember reading the first few chapters, and being terribly disappointed. I changed books when I got home, replacing this lovely volume in its home (pictured above).

The other day, however, I figured it was time to return to Wonderland, so to speak. I was choosing between Queen of Hearts and A Blade So Black, and at the moment I chose, Queen of Hearts sounded more interesting. I started from the beginning again, and I saw basically the same issues with it that I did the first time.

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Such a great cover, amirite?

 

It has a rough few chapters. The King of Hearts (and his trusted adviser Cheshire) was cartoonish in his villainy. The dynamic between the princess and her father didn’t make sense, and the writing was juvenile. Dinah herself seemed immature.

I pushed through, and I was glad I did. Whether through my acclimation to the writing style or genuine improvement, the writing no longer bothered me after the first few chapters, even when Princess Dinah’s father was on the page. The story is fairly straightforward and rather short, and has a feeling of being unfinished. It was a quick read, and it left me with enough questions to pique my interest in the rest of the series.

I’m interested to see how the romance will turn out between Princess Dinah and Wardley, a Heart Card bodyguard. I want to know if it is a mutual love or if it is as one-sided as I suspect. I like the complicated relationship dynamic between the two of them.

To talk about its status as a retelling or an adaptation, let’s look at the characters. There’s Dinah, the Princess of Wonderland. She’s obviously going to be the Queen of Hearts, and so must come out some way to be villainous, or at least, appear villainous to the little girl who will stumble into her kingdom. Dinah certainly commits acts that she regrets deeply, but at the end of the first book, she’s still a good person.

The Mad Hatter role is filled by her brother Charles. Spoilers ahead, so I’d recommend skipping to the next paragraph if you plan on reading this. Charles is a mad young prince, beloved of his sister Dinah and his servants. He’s an artistic genius with his hats. He meets a sad end at the hands of his father as part of a conspiracy to prevent Dinah from taking the throne, so that precludes any notion of this being a true prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It must be treated as a very loose adaptation.

Cheshire is a sneaky adviser, a Littlefinger-esque character, if you will. He’s not a cat, but a man with a rather wide grin. Cheshire is untrustworthy to be sure, but I hope the next book will reveal more about his motivations.

Other characters were more little nods to the original rather than characters in Lewis Carroll’s fairy tale. There were a few elements that might have belonged in Wonderland, but most of the fantasy elements could have been labeled differently, and I would never have known this was a Wonderland story. I think Oakes was going for a darker, twisted version of Wonderland, but she never captured the whimsy of the novel. In fact, there wasn’t much whimsy at all.

So, where does that leave us? We are left with a short, entertaining little book that has some cool original elements (The Ninth Sea, the hornhoovs, palace intrigue) and a very loose adaptational quality. If you are looking for the magic of Wonderland, I’d recommend you look elsewhere, but if you enjoy all things Wonderland related, or just like fantasy, you might enjoy this.

 

Bookmark Wrap Up #2 -Orange and Black-

chain linkHere we are again with another wrap up, as I completely filled out another note card bookmark last night. Maybe you’re thinking, “there are a good seven books in that stack, how did she read all of those in the short time since she posted her last wrap up?” I’ll tell you how: I cheated. There’s a lot of overlap time-wise between what I was reading with the blue and black bookmark and this one, and I’ve only read two books in the intervening week.

I really love the pattern I developed for this note card, although my execution got a little sloppy towards the end. This is a pattern I couldn’t measure with lines, so I free-handed it. It reminds me at times of a chain link fence, dragon scales, and (because of the orange lines) honey comb.

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But what did I read with it? And more to the point, what did I think of what I read with it? I’m coming at you with 8 books (7 pictured), so without further ado, let’s talk about it.

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was sold to her publisher early in her career (I believe it was the first book she wrote), but it wasn’t published until after her death. This tale of an overactive imagination and untrustworthy friends is a lovely piece of satirical literature. If it had been written in these days, I’m sure its focus would have been on girls obsessed with Twilight. As it was, the story is about a young woman (Catherine) who loves to read Gothic novels filled with brooding, handsome villains and damsels in distress. She’s leaving home and entering society for the first time, so it is in many ways a coming-of-age story, navigating polite society and learning which of her new acquaintances are decent, worthy people and which are not. It was absolutely charming. I so loved Catherine, and found myself appropriately frustrated with her wicked friends the Thorpes. Beyond that, I found the writing style to be far more accessible than some other Austen novels I’ve read.

I didn’t like the second book I read nearly as much, but I think I misunderstood what I was getting into when I started reading. The pitch on the back of Thirteen Clues for Miss Marple (an Agatha Christie) presented the book as a series of intertwined mysteries, so I was several stories in before I realized that none of them actually connected. It’s a short story collection, and frankly, I didn’t enjoy it very much. Even after knowing they were short stories and adjusting my expectations, I was struck by the feeling that I don’t particularly like Miss Marple’s manner of solving mysteries. In such short stories, her guessing is all the more ridiculous. Some of the stories were interesting and could have been excellent mysteries in another medium. I parted with this short story collection almost immediately after finishing it.

The rest of the books on this card were much more pleasant to read. I particularly liked Stronger than a Bronze Dragon, a Chinese steampunk fantasy by Mary Fan. It’s not been my habit to buy books on impulse. Usually, I find out about books online through Goodreads or YouTube, or when an author I’ve already read releases a new book. This time, I was drawn to this book when I saw the cover, sitting on the shelf at Barnes & Noble (it’s so shiny). The synopsis mentioned a forced marriage, which is one of my favorite tropes. The story was fun, another amazing adventure book (which I’m coming to realize is my favorite plot type) with a unique and interesting world, filled with monsters and creatures of the supernatural. I would highly recommend this to fans of Shadow of the Fox.

The next shiny book I read was The Tiger at Midnight, which involves a cat-and-mouse game in which a young soldier hunts down a famous assassin. They fall in love during their various encounters, their loyalties shifting and their plans changing, even as she slips through his fingers. This book was lighter on the fantasy than Stronger than a Bronze Dragon, but it had some similar vibes. Instead of populating the world with supernatural monsters or bronze dragons, the magic is tied to the ruling families of two countries, who keep the world in balance (until one of them initiated a coup d’etat in the other country). The book is rich in culture and heavy on romance and intrigue. So, if that sounds interesting to you, you ought to give this a read.

I rounded out my reread of the Infernal Devices with Clockwork Princess. I’ve read the first half a few times since I finished it, but this was my first complete reread. There are scenes in this book that have stuck with me since I read it five years ago, and they were just as vivid now (particularly, when Will is on his mad dash to Wales and his parabatai rune starts bleeding). There was so much that I had forgotten, particularly in the climax. And did I ever expect the love triangle to turn out as it did? I did not. Did anyone? I doubt it, but Cass Clare, you beautiful witch, you did it and it’s beautiful even on the second time through. I’ll be on to The Bane Chronicles soon enough.

I took a turn from fantasy into psychological thrillers by reading The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware. This is an updated version of The Turn of the Screw, which I have never read, so any comparison is lost upon me. It’s the story of a nanny who is on trial for the murder of a young girl in her charge, and she’s begging a solicitor to help her. There were some really great twists and the novel was appropriately spooky (a ghost story meets Black Mirror, almost), but I was not entirely satisfied with the ending, with the solution that was revealed. While the end of The Death of Mrs. Westaway grew on me, I wasn’t crazy about this end, though I think it was appropriately bleak.

I finally read one of the sequels that I’ve been meaning to read. Midnight Beauties is the follow up to Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd. There were many parts of the world building I had forgotten, and I had forgotten how complex and unique the magic system was in this series. One of the attractions I had to the first was the very personal stakes involved – whether or not Anouk and her friends (the Beasties) would turn back into animals after the murder of the witch who turned them human. At the beginning of Midnight Beauties (spoilers for the first, by the way), Anouk is human, but her friends are animals. The pressing force on her movements this time, however, is that she’s trying to save the world, which is all fine and dandy, but I do prefer the lower stakes story. It was a great follow up, though, with very bold character choices and directions I didn’t see coming.

It was storming at my place last night, tornadoes and thunder storms, so I stayed up and finished Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust because “I couldn’t sleep” (I totally could have slept, I just like reading). Bashardoust’s debut novel is a retelling of Snow White and the Evil Queen, but it’s very light on the classic elements. It’s a rich world and a moving story that goes so far beyond the original fairy tale and has a lot to say about love of others and love of self. This is another I would recommend to anyone who likes retellings or just fantasy in general (not to mention complex female characters).

How long before my next wrap up? Well, it’ll be a while. I’m starting some new bookmarks right now and have yet to choose my next fiction read (I’m currently reading a book about Urban Gardening because I clearly don’t have enough hobbies). Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them. Until next time, peace and long life!

Series I Quit in the Middle

There was a time in my life when I was absolutely sick of reading series; they went on forever and ever, and there were so many other things to read. Around the time I was 18, I started actively avoiding books that were the start of a series. For those few years, I did find some excellent stand alone novels, but I probably missed out on some great books. There were still series I was in the middle of, some of which I’ve finished, others I haven’t, being only a few books in.

Which of these shall I continue, and which shall I leave unfinished? That’s what I’ll be analyzing today. I’ll consider series in which I’ve read at least two books that have at least one published that I haven’t read.

My fellow camp-counselor Tiffany introduced me to Starz’ Outlander several years ago. I loved the single episode I watched with her (after the campers had gone home for the weeks), so I immediately read the first book. It was one of my favorite books that year (though I think I would enjoy it much less now, owing to the awful issues with consent, to which I was less sensitive when I first read it). Claire was such a bad ass, and Jaime swoon-worthy as all get-out. Dragonfly in Amber I read a while later, and while the first 150 or so pages were painfully slow, I ended up  loving it as well. I recently purchased the third novel, Voyager, so in a way I’ve committed to reading further. I remember being intrigued at the end of Dragonfly in Amber, but Voyager is a rather large book. I’ve read longer books to be sure, but it’s going to be quite the time commitment. I believe I’ll watch the second season of Outlander on Netflix and then read Voyager.

Anne of Green Gables. One of my favorite childhood books. I’ve probably read the original five or six times, and borrowed the rest from a friend. Anne of Avonlea was probably my favorite of the ones I read, but I only finished the first three. It was so long ago that I don’t recall why I stopped in the middle of Anne of Windy Poplars. I doubt I’ll continue on, as it’s been so long, and the same goes for the Netflix adaptation, Anne with an E. The first season was pretty good, and the second season was … less than spectacular. I’m not the type of person to see political agendas in everything, but every plot point felt like a political statement. No subtlety.

Reading the beginning of Red Queen, I rolled my eyes. It was so like The Hunger Games, and while others accuse Aveyard of being unoriginal, I loved the dystopian super-power novel disguised as a court fantasy. By the middle, it felt original and I’d forgotten the comparisons to its predecessors. I found the hard choices Mare makes in Glass Sword compelling and authentic. Besides, I love the way it ends: the protagonist falling into the hands of the enemy, particularly through surrender, is one of my all-time favorite tropes. Red Queen is another series where I already own the next installment, so I can read it at any time — it just has to be the right time.

I’m cheating a bit in including The Falconer by Elizabeth May. The Falconer was amazing, but The Vanishing Throne was unable to hold my attention, no matter how many times I tried to read it, and I ended up quitting a little less than halfway into the second book. So, in order to continue the series, I’d have to finish the second book. As I’m not a masochist, I won’t do that, so consider this my goodbye.

The Maze Runner. A classic of the YA dystopian genre (a little dramatic, I know). The Scorch Trials. A passably entertaining sequel. But, as with every diet I’ve ever tried, I’m giving up (I’m joking, I’ve never actually “gone on a diet”). For a while, I deluded myself into thinking I was going to continue, but I’ve admitted that the appeal has faded, and my love for Thomas is no more.

I think I see a trend – if I read more than two books in a series, I’m almost certain to finish the series, Anne of Green Gables being the only deviation.  Granted, many of the series that I have finished (Divergent, Scarlet, The Hunger Games) are trilogies, but that doesn’t explain others (The Chronicles of Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire, A Series of Unfortunate Events). Perhaps it’s that the sequel will give you a better idea of the direction of the series than the first. For instance, the premise of The Maze Runner appealed to me, and I continued on with The Scorch Trials because I liked the characters, but it was a huge shift in direction, and the series lost what had attracted me in the first place. And as for The Falconer, I loved both the Faerie angle and the historical fiction aspect, but The Vanishing Throne is more of a post-apocalyptic novel. I understand, series are mean to change and to grow, but that doesn’t mean I have to like every path an author takes.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever read in a series before quitting? Or what’s the longest series you’ve finished? Sound off in the comments, and carry on, fellow readers.

 

Note Card Wrap Up #1 -Blue and Black-

Good morning/evening/whatever time you may be reading this. I hope you have had a marvelous day, but if not, take heart. You aren’t alone. I just spilled coffee all over myself on my way into work from a supposedly sealed travel mug.
Despite that, I’m moving forward into a good day.

Last night I filled up one of my note card bookmarks, so I figured now was a good time for a wrap up, but I’ll first explain my use of note cards as bookmarks.
The idea came to me in college, and I started decorating the blank side of note cards (which were in abundance in my dorm room) and writing the titles of the books I read with it on the lined side. With previous cards that I’ve filled up, I’ve gone through them and reminisced on the books as a whole. Was it a good set? What kind of books was I reading?

The design on this notecard is one of my favorites. There’s something almost wavelike about the lines I have made, and I love the combination of light blue and black.

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The first book I read to completion with this was Soul of the Sword by Julie Kagawa, the sequel to Shadow of the Fox. Shadow of the Fox is one of my top three novels of this year, as I read it in the first quarter of 2019. I believe it to be the perfect adventure novel, so Soul of the Sword was not just eagerly anticipated; I expected much of it. While Shadow of the Fox is the stronger of the two novels, Soul of the Sword was far from disappointing and was quite delightful. It was so wonderful, and it makes me even more hopeful for Night of the Dragon (forthcoming April 2020). I loved the development of the angsty romance between Yumeko and Tatsumi, especially as Tatsumi has been possessed by the soul of the demon Hakaimono. Besides, I love the way Yumeko uses her kitsune powers (I will always cheer for a trickster). The fictional Iwagoto was brought to even more vibrant life, deepening the lore. More adventure, higher stakes, more devastation. I loved it.

Right after that, I read Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, another East Asian fantasy, although this was inspired by Chinese, rather than Japanese, folklore and culture. While Soul of the Sword was an adventure novel, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was a political intrigue mixed with magic and romance. It’s a retelling of the rise of the Evil Queen (of Snow White fame) as a poor girl named Xifeng leaves her controlling aunt for life at the Imperial Palace with the goal of replacing the Empress (no matter the cost). It was an amazing read, and such a heartbreaker, watching Xifeng choose power over love, seeing her use her magic to hurt not only those who wronged her, but the innocent as well. It was so beautifully written, and while magical, it never felt like a fairy tale. I need to find the sequel.

I began my reread of the Shadowhunters series. I’ve been collecting them all in hard cover, replacing some of my paperbacks and collecting the ones my collection was missing altogether. I started at the beginning (unless you count The Bane Chronicles) with Clockwork Angel in The Infernal Devices trilogy. What can I say that I haven’t said before? I adore the characters and the London presented in these books. As far as protagonists go, I think The Infernal Devices has better characters than The Mortal Instruments (but I prefer the villains of The Mortal Instruments, I’m afraid). It’s a solid start to one of my favorite trilogies. Light on the action, and heavy on the drama.

I was halfway through reading The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi when my mood changed, and I wanted to read a Jane Austen right then and there. Sense and Sensibility has been on my shelf for years, but I always said, “eh, I’ll read it someday.” That someday finally came, and I threw myself into it. I really connected with Elinor when it came to her hiding of negative emotions, of her reluctance to make herself vulnerable to Edward (despite believing her feelings to be reciprocated), but I adored Marianne’s liveliness and related to her as well. I don’t think Sense and Sensibility was quite as entertaining as Pride and Prejudice, but I did enjoy it (and a great deal more than Persuasion).

I bought Cards on the Table (an Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie) because of its intriguing premise: one man invites four detective types to a card party along with four people he believes got away with murder, but ends up dead himself. Which of them killed him, and was he right? Were they all really murderers? This was twisty right up until the end. It’s a quick and clever read, everything I’ve come to expect from Christie.

I was still in the mood for Christie, so I switched over to a Miss Marple mystery, A Murder is Announced. Neighbors gather at Letitia Blacklock’s home after a mysterious ad in the gazette announces there will be a murder there at 6:30pm that day. At 6:30, the lights go out, an intruder enters, and a shot goes off. Miss Marple, using her knowledge of human nature (which she has acquired through her long life observing village folk, all people being basically the same wherever you are), solves the mystery. While enjoyable, I think I prefer Poirot mysteries. Yes, he does a lot of guesswork, but his guesses seem more reasonable than Miss Marple’s, her conclusions come of nowhere. Regardless, I was entertained the whole way.

I picked up Clockwork Prince (the second in the Infernal Devices trilogy) quickly after rereading the first, so that everything would be fresh in my mind (never mind that I have reread the first two in the series three or four times each). The second installment has long been my favorite of the trilogy, the one with the most angst, making me fall in love with Jem again (though I’m a Will stan through and through). I experienced the heartbreak of Will’s proposal and Tessa’s rejection all over again. I have lost all ability to be objective about this book. I don’t know if it’s good, I just know that it makes me feel things.

I took a turn back to mystery/thrillers with The Death of Mrs. Westaway, my first in a while that wasn’t an Agatha Christie. I own several of Ruth Ware’s books, but this was the first I’d read. The story is about a tarot card reader who receives a letter saying she will inherit from her dead grandmother (which would really help her out with the loan sharks that have gotten on her case). The problem is that she’s certain there’s been a mistake: her grandmother’s name was Marion, not Hester Westaway. Even though I don’t believe in tarot (and neither does the protagonist, Hal), I find it fascinating to read about. This was a gothic thriller to be sure, and its spooky atmosphere drew me in. For one thing, it was nice to read an adult novel from the perspective of someone around my own age. I guessed some of the twists but not all of them, and the few weeks in the interim have sold me on the ending. It was indeed a fitting ending, as well as an exciting one.

The final read on this card was one I finished last night. The first in the series that formed the basis of the television show True Blood, Dead Until Dark is the story of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who can hear everyone’s thoughts, except for Bill’s. Why? Because Bill is a vampire, I suppose. I read this because of my love for the first season of True Blood (I can’t seem to get into season 2, but I’ve watched season 1 three or four times). I do like vampires and the paranormal, but I was drawn in by the promise of a murder mystery. Suspicion falls on Sookie’s brother when several vampire-loving women have been found strangled to death. Sookie tries to use her gifts to prove that he is innocent. As far as execution, I think True Blood did a far better job in storytelling. The writing was passable but not great, the book was cheesy, and the mystery elements were also lackluster. As with the tv show but for different reasons, I likely won’t continue.

So, was this a good set? For the most park, absolutely. I enjoyed myself immensely, and would recommend most of these books to my friends. I think the new reads that will stay with me longest (emotionally) are Forest of a Thousand Lanerns and The Death of Mrs. Westaway.

So, what do you think of my manner of tracking my reading? What methods do you employ? If you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to chat about them with you in the comments below, or, tell me what you’re reading now!
Hope you have a wonderful day, and thank you for reading.