January 2021 Reading Tracker

Books I Had Planned to Read:

Books I Read:

  1. Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno
  2. The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
  3. Butterfly Yellow by Thannha Lai (re-read)
  4. Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski (re-read)
  5. In the Study With the Wrench by Diana Peterfreund
  6. A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde (re-read)
  7. The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare (audio)
  8. Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
  9. The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young
  10. Atlantia by Ally Condie
  11. Follow Your Arrow by Jess Verdi
  12. Pointe by Brandy Colbert
  13. The Secret Recipe for Moving On by Karen Bischer
  14. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (reread)
  15. Brightly Woven: The Graphic Novel by Alexandra Bracken, Leigh Dragoon, Kit Seaton
  16. City of Villains by Estelle Laure
  17. Purge by Kat Ellis

Books Received: 

  1. Lucky Girl by Jamie Pacton (requested ARC)
  2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (purchased)
  3. The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones
  4. Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell (not requested FC)
  5. Allergic by Lloyd and Nutter (not requested arc)

You can also see what I read in December.

Week in Review: January 30: In Which I Get Organized

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Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

This week I was back at work (from home) after my birthday vacation. After realizing my typical (non-pandemic) work days are much more structured than my days at home, I’ve been working really hard to get more organized. I still like having everything in my phone calendar (especially helpful for reminders and virtual meeting links) but I’m also trying a paper planner where things are easier for me to visualize and where I can also add in tasks. Next step: integrating some of my scheduled blog/instagram tasks so everything really is in one place.

I Wanna Be Where You Are: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina ForestChloe Pierce knows it will be hard to break into ballet as a Black dancer–especially one coming back from a bad ankle injury. What surprises Chloe is her mother’s reluctance to support Chloe’s plan to apply to a dance conservatory instead of college.

When her mom and her boyfriend take their first vacation in years, Chloe sees the perfect opportunity to apply to her dream program in secret. All she has to do is drive two hundred miles to the nearest audition. Easy.

But then Eli–longtime neighbor, former friend, and constant annoyance–sees Chloe leaving and insists on coming along if Chloe doesn’t want her mom to find out. And that’s before Chloe realizes that Eli’s smelly dog, Geezer is coming along too.

Chloe has her eyes on the prize, a sweet playlist on repeat, and two passengers she never expected. As the trio gets closer to Chloe’s audition, Chloe and Eli might even start to unpack the baggage that’s come between them and their friendship in I Wanna Be Where You Are (2019) by Kristina Forest.

Find it on Bookshop.

I Wanna Be Where You Are is Forest’s debut novel. Chloe and Eli are both Black–Chloe’s best friend is Latinx.

Chloe is a truly fun narrator. She is focused, driven, and quite snarky when her perfect plans have to change. She also struggles with stage fright and confidence as she works on coming back to dance after a badly broken ankle. While the cause of Chloe’s injury (walking to school in five inch heels instead of carrying them and walking in flats) never quite made sense to me, Chloe’s recovery and her efforts to rediscover what she loves about dance are totally relatable.

Eli is Chloe’s complete opposite and it makes their banter and shenanigans on their unexpectedly long road trip even more enjoyable. While the focus of the story is very firmly on Chloe and her audition, this book is also filled with a fantastic supporting cast including Chloe’s mom and best friend.

I Wanna Be Where You Are is a cute and often funny story about finding love–and confidence–in unexpected places.

Possible Pairings: Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Love Before by Jenny Han, Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson, I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn, I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, This Train is Being Held by Ismee Williams

The Night Circus: A Review

The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternThe circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

Long before its inception, the circus was destined to be something special. Visitors are charmed by the magical performances and the wondrous exhibits found in each black and white tent. Behind the scenes the circus is the site of a fierce competition between two magicians.

Celia and Marco have been trained for this competition from a young age as their instructors pit them against each other determined to see which magician (and which trainer) is superior. Both are warned to avoid the other, to keep their identity secret, but soon enough Celia and Marco crash into each other and into a dangerous love that threatens the contest.

All things must end and if this competition doesn’t have a clear victor it could have devastating consequences for Celia, Marco, and everyone who has come to call the circus home in The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern.

Find it on Bookshop.

Morgenstern’s debut novel hardly needs any introduction. I came late to this one after attempting (and, quite honestly, failing) to enjoy the author’s second novel The Starless Sea.

The Night Circus is a nonlinear story told across decades as our protagonists first begin their training through to the explosive conclusion of their competition. The sprawling story jumps back and forth in time while following multiple characters in close third person and spanning the globe as Le Cirque des Rêves travels to different locations.

Compared to such an elaborate setting and complex world, some of the characters fail to become fully realized. The story very clearly centers Celia and Marco while introducing others who become integral either to the circus or the contest–or both in some cases–although some feel closer to a deus ex machina than true characters in the story. The book also falls short of giving every character their due when it comes to a true ending.

It’s also worth mentioning that the only characters who are not white fall dangerously close to stereotypes with Tsukiko the inscrutable and enigmatic Japanese contortionist and Chandresh the eccentric and boisterous circus founder who is half Indian.

Morgenstern’s background as a visual artist is obvious in her prose which is extremely evocative and immediately draws readers into the circus as well as each and every one of Celia and Marco’s elaborate illusions. Intervals throughout the novel also pull readers into the story with sections told in second person that position the reader as a vital participant in the circus.

Much like the timeless Le Cirque des Rêves itself, The Night Circus is visually stunning, immediately clever, and often bittersweet. Recommended for readers looking for a fantasy with a setting in which they can luxuriate.

Possible Pairings: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Week in Review: January 23: In which I have a birthday

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Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

Things were pretty quiet over here! It was my birthday week so I took some time off from work and enjoyed a mostly restful staycation. Back to work (from home) on Monday and trying to catch up on my increasingly frightening backlog of reviews to write.

No One Here is Lonely: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Change almost always starts with something tiny, far from the surface. With movement too small to notice or gauge, that travels up and changes something else, until there’s a long chain of altered things and then everything is different.”

No One Here is Lonely by Sarah EverettEden has always cared about two people a little more than anything else: her best friend Lacey and her longtime crush Will, even if he doesn’t know it.

When Will is killed in a car crash, Eden is haunted by the chances she didn’t take, the what ifs that she’ll never be able to answer. Worse, she realizes that she’s losing Lacey too as they begin to grow apart and the last summer before college that Eden envisioned for them goes up in smoke.

Alone with her grief, alone as she discovers that her parents’ perfect marriage might not be so perfect, Eden isn’t sure who to confide in when it feels like everything is changing. Then she finds out Will set up an account with In Good Company–a service that uses a person’s voice, emails, and other online records to create a digital companion.

The Will Eden talks to on the phone isn’t real. She knows that. But he also feels like the only person who has time for her now. As Lacey tries to figure out who she is without Lacey, she starts a new job and makes new friends. All with Will cheering her on.

As Eden is drawn to Oliver–Lacey’s twin brother–Eden will have to decide if choosing to focus on the future is worth letting go of the last pieces of her past in No One Here is Lonely (2019) by Sarah Everett.

Find it on Bookshop.

Everett’s sophomore novel blends light sci-fi elements with contemporary themes in this story of grief and growth. Eden and Will are Black (as is one of Eden’s new coworkers) while the other characters are assumed white.

Eden is completely adrift at the start of this novel. Will and the future with him that Eden imagined was one bold move away are gone. Lacey, a constant in Eden’s life for years, acts like their previous inside jokes are immature and wants to spend time with other newer friends. Then, at the worst possible time, Eden ends up in the middle of her parents’ marriage when she discovers signs of infidelity.

Despite knowing that In Good Company only offers a digital facsimile of a person, Eden clings to it–and to Will–as she tries to figure out who she is without all of the previous constants in her life. While there are hints of romance as Eden is drawn to Oliver, a friend she was never allowed to consider as more than an acquaintance out of loyalty to Lacey, this is really a story about a girl coming into her own and learning howto be her own best support.

No One Here is Lonely is a thoughtful story about grief, friendships, and learning to love yourself best.

Possible Pairings: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

You Have a Match: A Review

You Have a Match by Emma LordWhen Abby signs up for a DNA service with her best friends Leo and Colleen, she doesn’t expect any surprises. Abby knows she isn’t adopted and she knows her family. Things have been so awkward with Leo since the BEI (Big Embarrassing Incident) that Abby is willing to do almost anything to try and get back to normal–especially support him while he tries to find out more about his own biological parents.

Instead of finding out everything she already knew, Abby’s results share something shocking: she has an older sister.

Savannah Tully is a bonafide Instagram influencer complete with the athleisure wardrobe, type A personality, and life mantras. Savvy is a year and a half older than Abby but Abby can’t imagine anyone farther away from her interest in photography (and her reluctance to share her photos with anyone), her chaotic home life, and her less-than-stellar grades in school.

Both girls want to know more and find out why Savvy was put up for adoption, so when the opportunity comes up for them to attend the same summer camp it seems like the ideal chance to get answers.

Savvy and the camp are not what Abby expects–especially when she finds out Leo will also be there. Facing a whole summer with a sister she’s never met and the best friend she can barely look in the eye, Abby’s summer is poised for some big changes. Or to completely self-destruct in You Have a Match (2021) by Emma Lord.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lord’s sophomore novel tackles themes of belonging and family with her signature humor and a wholly evocative summer setting. Abby, Savvy and their families are white. Leo is Filipino and adopted by white parents although he has the chance to connect more with his Filipino heritage through his cooking at camp.

Although Leo is central to the story as a love interest, his own feelings as a person of color adopted by white parents receive only a surface treatment here. Savvy’s rocky relationship with her girlfriend and potential crush on her own friend are also secondary to the main story although a nice touch.

Abby is a chaotic protagonist. She takes risks and often actually leaps without considering the consequences. The most satisfying part of this story is watching Abby and Savvy rub off on each other as they learn the value of goals/structure and the importance of loosening up respectively.

You Have a Match is summery and often funny while aptly negotiating heavier themes in a story of (literal) found family and romance.

Possible Pairings: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi

Week in Review: January 16: In which I go to many (virtual) meetings

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Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

I had 8 required virtual meetings this week and two optional ones. It’s been a whirlwind!

Tales From the Hinterland: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa AlbertTales From the Hinterland (2021) by Melissa Albert presents Althea Proserpine’s  notorious collection of dark and twisted short stories that form the backbone of the world building in both The Hazel Wood and its sequel The Night Country. For the first time the stories that protagonists Alice and Ellery encounter in Albert’s previous novels are presented in their entirety.

Readers familiar with Albert’s oeuvre will recognize many of the tales and characters here notably including Alice, Ilsa, and Hansa. Albert aptly channels classic fairy tale sensibilities into eerie and brutal tales that would have the Brothers Grimm reaching for an extra candle at night. Centering female characters in each story Albert explores the facets of girl-and-womanhood in a world dominated and usually shaped by men.

Standouts in the collection include “The House Under the Stairwell,” where sisterhood wins the day as Isobel seeks help from the Wicked Wife before she is trapped in a deadly betrothal; “The Clockwork Bride,” a richly told story where a girl hungry for enchantment carelessly promises her first daughter to a sinister toymaker who, when he tries to claim his prize, instead finds a girl who wishes only to belong to herself; and “Death and the Woodwife,” where a princess uses her wits and her mother’s unusual gifts to outwit Death and his heir.

With stories fueled by feminist rage, the frustration of being underestimated, and the insatiable longing to experience more Tales From the Hinterland is a collection that is both timely and universal.

You can also check out my interview with Melissa to hear more about this book and the companion novels.

Possible Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, Caster by Elsie Chapman, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Author Interview: Melissa Albert on Tales From the Hinterland

Melissa Albert author photoCR: Laura EtheredgeMelissa Albert is the author of the fantasy noir novels The Hazel Wood and its sequel The Night Country. In her latest book, Tales From the Hinterland Albert presents a collection filled with the short stories that form the underpinnings of her previous novels’ world building. These eerie, dark, extremely feminist stories are exactly the kinds of tales we need in this strange moment in world. I’m thrilled to have Melissa here today to talk more about her writing and her latest release.

Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Melissa Albert: As a kid devouring the Chronicles of Narnia and Peter Pan I always dreamed of being a fantasy author, but when I got older I decided the more “practical” path (lol) was to become a journalist. I did some beat reporting and arts writing (mostly book and theater reviews) in Chicago, then started blogging for Barnes & Noble. Through my work with B&N I discovered this booming golden era of YA fantasy had begun. I became obsessed and decided in 2011 to try writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month. It was a hideous disaster, of course, but when I recovered I was determined to try again. Which developed into a bloody-minded determination to finish something I’d started. It’s very easy and fun to start writing a book! It is less easy to finish one.

Miss Print: Tales From the Hinterland presents Althea Proserpine’s notorious collection of dark and twisted short stories that form the backbone of the world building in both The Hazel Wood and its sequel The Night Country. What came first when you started writing within this world: the stories or Alice (the main character in The Hazel Wood)? Did you always know you had multiple stories to tell within this framework/world?

Melissa: The first thing that came was the idea of a reclusive author alone in a house in the deep dark woods, and the idea of her being preyed on by something more sinister than isolation. Then came Alice’s voice, which I wanted to give the world-weary vibe and alternately spare and lavish style of Raymond Chandler’s noir narration. Then I had to figure out why this young, healthy person was so world-weary, and figure out how to pull the floor out from under her sense of herself as being jaded and self-sufficient. I didn’t know till later drafts that I would dare to weave in more than just references to the Hinterland tales.

Miss Print: Tales From the Hinterland includes some stories that readers of your previous novels will recognize as well as some new tales that were only ever mentioned as titles before. How did you go about returning to these familiar tales from a fresh perspective? How was writing the short stories for this collection different from writing the excerpts included in your previous novels as Alice and Ellery learn more about the Hinterland?

Melissa: In THW and TNC I had the context of the novels to give the stories and pieces of story that I shared extra resonance. They were imagined as standalone tales, but told within larger works. With the actual collection of Tales, I had to be sure each story worked as its own distinct, self-contained universe, as well as a piece of a larger whole. It was an interesting headspace to be so immersed in, for so long, because when I wrote fairy tales to include within the novel duology it was very refreshing to jump as a writer from the voice of a contemporary heroine to that cooler, more matter of fact fairy-tale tone. Finding the tale-telling voice again took some time, as did finding my balance between the utterly stripped tales you find in old collections and the lusher stories of later writers like (of course) Angela Carter.

Miss Print: 2020 was a strange year with some things carrying over into 2021 as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. So, of course, I have to ask: How would Alice and Ellery mange during this pandemic? Would any of the other Hinterland characters be especially well-suited (or ill-prepared) for dealing with our current circumstances?

Melissa: Alice wouldn’t mind the built-in excuse to stay away from other people, though she’d miss the lost wages. Finch would get really intense about sourdough and attempt (again!) to write a novel.

[Miss Print: I could totally see Finch on a quest to figure out the perfect sourdough technique!]

Miss Print: For me three standout stories in this collection were “The House Under the Stairwell,” “The Clockwork Bride,” and “Death and the Woodwife.” Do you have a favorite story in this collection? Were some stories easier to write than others?

Melissa: I love all my wicked children, but I too have a real soft spot for “Death and the Woodwife.” Some of the stories required lots of revision, lots of reimagining, but “Woodwife” came out very close to fully formed. I also love how the setup for the main narrative operates as its own distinct fairy tale–that was a nod to the shape of one of my favorite classic tales, “The Juniper Tree,” which opens with an almost vignette-sized take on the Snow White tale, before opening into the very weird main story. Also, as the closing story in the collection, I’m very happy with the note it ends on.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next project? Can we expect more Hinterland tales?

Melissa: I’m thrilled to say that I’m deep into drafting the next book, which is a novel unrelated to the world of the Hazel Wood. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say just yet, so I’ll err on the side of being cagey. But it’s another contemporary fantasy, my great love!

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Melissa: Read LOTS, protect your writing time (even if it’s just twenty minutes–you can probably find twenty minutes at least a few days a week!), and remember your writing is SUPPOSED to look insufficient to you for a long time. Writing “badly” shouldn’t be discouraging (though it is, I know it is!), it just shows the gap between your vision and your current abilities. I try to look at narrowing that gap as the work of my life as a writer. That, and constantly working on the next thing I don’t yet know how to write, so it always feels exciting and destabilizing and sometimes really hard.

Thank you again to Melissa for these great answers!

You can also read my review of Tales From the Hinterland here on the blog.