What I Read In May 📚

Well, well, well. We meet again! Happy June 💕

With twelve books and a lot of unusual picks for me to share today, this might be one of my favorite wrap-ups yet. (I read three works of nonfiction! Look at me go!) From my neck of the woods to yours, I hope you have a wonderful June––and I hope you get to curl up and enjoy a damn good story this month, whatever form that takes.


40. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

As much folk tale as it is fantasy, this sea-swept, delicately magical coming-of-age story is a thrilling prospect for those who enjoy books of the Death-and-the-Maiden variety. It follows Mina, a girl who volunteers to be the bride of the feared Sea God, whose wrath is said to fuel the storms that plague her village. Once Mina sets foot in the Spirit Realm, however, she discovers that the truth is far more complicated––and it’s up to her to set it right. There’s a great deal to love in The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea: there’s an emphasis on soft moments for powerful characters, Oh’s worldbuilding is brimming with ideas, and the book clearly has something to say about the burden of power. But something’s missing from the character dynamics: with some oversimplified, some rushed, and some given heavy importance but almost no room to develop, the book struggles with the ties that matter most, with underwhelming consequences for its conclusion.


41. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

A work of nonfiction by a scientist who’s also a master storyteller is something to be savored: armed with both fact and meaning, these books manage to be as moving as they are indelibly true, and Braiding Sweetgrass is no exception. Blending memoir with ecology; a body of Indigenous knowledge with a practical understanding of our current crisis, Robin Wall Kimmerer hits a remarkable range with her botanical opus. Among my favorites of its many accomplishments are an exploration of lichens, an interrogation of (white; western) science’s tendency towards exclusion, and an achingly tender reflection or two on motherhood and what it means to let go. I don’t just love this book––I want to shove it in every face I can.


42. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

In the depths of an ancient temple, a young girl is devoured by a nameless power. A sacrifice made every generation, she is to guard a horde of treasure and a labyrinth, decide the fates of prisoners captured there, and give herself entirely over to the dark. A sequel––though not in the traditional sense––to Ursula K. Le Guin’s sweeping A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan takes this solemn perspective character, Tenar, on a much more deliberate, much more closely-confined emotional journey, with thrilling results. While I was definitely looking for more from the supporting cast and climax, I’m amazed by how well Atuan lands a gratifying catharsis and a rich exercise in worldbuilding in one breathless go.


43. Nimona by ND Stevenson

As part of a long tradition of tongue-in-cheek takes on heroes and villains, Nimona has familiar commentary on heroism: the ‘good guys’ are exclusive, monsters are made by society’s failings, and there’s honor in villainy as a means of resistance. But Stevenson adds to the old tune with two lovely dynamics: 1) the one between Nimona’s lead and the supervillain she plays sidekick to, Lord Ballister Blackheart, and 2) the one between Blackheart and his nemesis, the obnoxious, do-gooder Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. (Not a typo.) Nimona, despite its hodgepodge worldbuilding and wonky pacing, works because it knows how to find what these relationships most need: time. (The cozy, soft platonic moments with Nimona and Ballister actually made my heart sing 🥺) Sometimes a book is about its world, or about its plot, but Nimona is about its trio, with some charming humor playing second fiddle. If you think you’ll love these idiots, this book is for you.


44. Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare

The somewhat rocky second half to what is effectively the Prince Hal duology, this volume of Shakespearean history holds most of its predecessor’s charms––only slightly less of each of them. It has a less-interesting uprising plot, with a significant and wildly entertaining figurehead having bit it at the end of Part I. It has the same comic relief characters, only with an overhanging dread dampening most of their associated comic relief. While there are some great moments between the title king and his prodigal son, this play just isn’t the multifaceted firecracker Part I is. At its best, it manages to be pretty gripping. At it’s worst, though, it’s practically tedious. (Looking at you, Falstaff and Shallow––especially Shallow.)


45. An Ordinary Age by Rainesford Stauffer

Deep down, if you are (or recently were) what this collection of essays calls an “emerging adult,” you know that we expect too much of you. You’re supposed to land a job that gives you purpose and a good paycheck, in a fashionable city far from home, with the perfect group of friends, the perfect collection of hobbies, and the most enviable Instagram feed. Maybe the most comforting thing An Ordinary Age can offer is the sound assurance that none of this is actually true, but it’s also careful to address both why we’ve come to feel that these are our expectations, and what we can do about it. It’s such a validating read for someone who feel the walls closing in––I particularly appreciated Stauffer’s commentary about perfectionism in young people as a response to a tightening gyre of a job market. As I somewhat tersely put it in a Goodreads review earlier this month, every 16-19 year old needs to read this book and then calm the hell down 😂


46. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

The third volume in Le Guin’s classic fantasy series The Earthsea Cycle (following A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan), this book combines the scope of book one and the darkness of book two for a slow, searching adventure that hits an entirely new stride. We follow a third new lead, the ambitious Prince Arren, as he and a certain Archmage hunt down the source of a far-reaching magical decay. Of all three original Earthsea books, this one probably has the most salient commentary: tackling the warped desire for power and immortality, Le Guin makes a compassionate case for resisting both that has broad applicability, in her time of writing and ours. But The Farthest Shore still stuffers from what’s becoming a curse for the Earthsea books: a resolution that comes way too easily––this one even some excellent dragons can’t save.


47. Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

If you’re in search of a joyously weird space opera to tide you over until the next series of Doctor Who, look no further than Charlie Jane Anders’ Unstoppable series, where coders become queens and artists become conduits for the ruins of an ancient galactic empire. The trilogy’s book two, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, follows two perspective characters from book one, Victories Greater Than Death, and, in my opinion, beats the latter on almost all of its strengths. The ensemble cast finally comes into its own, and the sparkling concepts in Anders’ worldbuilding finally get to shine. Plus, two incredibly resonant areas of commentary––creativity after trauma and the oversaturation of information in the digital age––give the book some excellent themes to chew on. Action scenes remain a little fuzzy (and Anders still introduces way too many new characters for her own good!), but this second book is well worth crossing the shaky ground of the first.


48. Henry V by William Shakespeare

Even with another five still ahead of me in chronological order, I’m going to have to call it now: this will probably be my least favorite of Shakespeare’s history plays. It traces Henry V’s part in the Hundred Years’ War, dramatizing his invasion of France from Harfleur to the Battle of Agincourt, and ending with the ensuing peace treaty. If all of this sounds like dull military history, it’s because it, kind of, um…is? Henry V, as a play, is woefully poor in the court intrigue that makes the other histories so much fun, and, because its focus is almost solely on war, it presents the most simplistic interpretation of its title character in what I’ve read of the canon. To sum it up: Henry is violent, valiant, and seldom criticized, and even Shakespeare’s word– and scenecraft can’t save his play.


49. Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Rowan Roth has been locked in an academic standoff with the pretentious, detestably clever Neil McNair for the better part of her academic career. When her last chance to beat him arrives in the form of a senior class scavenger hunt, she’s determined to take him down––but Today Tonight Tomorrow is a romcom, and Rachel Lynn Solomon’s (deliciously witty, gloriously rose-tinted) universe has other plans. Set over one whirlwind of a night, the book sometimes struggles to reach the full depths of its characters’ feelings, but it also happens to read like magic. Solomon’s voicy prose, charming use of setting, and singular talent for choosing quirks makes Today Tonight Tomorrow read like the most wondrous of teen comedy films in book form.


50. Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

This year, my annual craving for a writing craft book led me to Wonderbook, a manual for speculative fiction in particular that offers an encyclopedic look at the whole process, from tapping into your imagination before you begin, to revising and workshopping your finished story. Of the writing books I’ve read, this one is probably the friendliest to experimental forms: VanderMeer tailors his advice to fit the ultra-weird, in narrative structure, setting, and prose alike. The book also draws on a breadth of references: the expertise of other writers as guest essayists, the examples of various gems of genre fiction, a not-insignificant amount of homework in the form of other craft books (!). Some of it is so out-there that it becomes unwieldy as advice, but the book as a whole is impressively thorough and delightfully ambitious. I can’t wait to give it another read (and actually do the exercises this time!).


51. An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

First performed in 1895, this whip-smart comedy of manners follows a politician whose past comes to haunt his since-upstanding public record––and his marriage. The play’s dialogue and characters are perfectly witty and charming, in the way that Wilde on stage is always witty and charming, but An Ideal Husband, like its spiritual sister A Woman of No Importance, also has something vital to say about how we fail one another. In this case, Wilde takes remarkably compassionate aim at the way we put impossible expectations on our loved ones, and what a disservice in doing so we do to ourselves. The play is no The Importance of Being Earnest where humor is concerned, but its vibrant main cast very nearly makes up for it.


Thank you so much for reading! How was your May in books? I’d love to hear anything and everything about what you read in the comments below 💕

What I Read In December

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I hope you capped off your reading year with a delightful final month. For my part, I read so much that I felt the need to split my wrap-up in half, a blessed occurrence that I can’t say I get to enjoy very often. Part 2 goes up soon, so, for now, allow me to regale you with Part 1!


107. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

A troubled legacy kept me away from this play for a long time, and when I finally picked it up, I wasn’t visited with any pleasant surprises: Merchant begins with a fundamentally antisemitic premise and, though it has its moments, it never truly manages to overcome the harm done. While productions that work to depict Shylock sympathetically can be very moving (the 2004 film comes to mind), the problems of the ‘happy’ ending, the play’s handling of his daughter, and Shakespeare’s ultimate failure to challenge the status quo make me hesitate to hold it up as an example of any kind. The cast is compelling, the romantic subplots have meaningful cores, and some excellent uses of symbolism punctuate the play, but the flaws in The Merchant of Venice run deep, and I’m of the mind that it has to be staged very carefully. (It certainly doesn’t help that one of Portia’s early appearances contains a truly gobsmacking instance of unchecked racism, in Act II Scene VII.)


108. The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This frothy thriller follows a working-class heroine who gets called up to the principal’s office one fateful morning to discover she’s heiress to a total stranger. Fast forward no more than a few chapters, and we learn that she gets practically the entire fortune if she lasts the whole year in said stranger’s lavish mansion. Things proceed from there at a compulsively readable fast clip: a central mystery with high stakes and, admittedly, a few stumbles, makes Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ short chapters go down like absolute candy, and a superlative love triangle rounds out the rest. Barnes is careful to keep her characters in danger, but, striking a skillful balance, she also gives The Inheritance Games all the trappings of a future comfort read, yielding a book that’s hundreds of pages of almost unbroken giddy delight. (Reviewed here.)


109. The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

Sunsets, air conditioning, and the Piggly Wiggly chain of grocery stores: each is a condition of a world where humans have an outsize influence on, well…the world. Each is also reviewed and rated on a five-star scale by John Green in this collection of essays. Green gives some much-needed voice to the contradictions of (privileged, English-speaking) contemporary life––I particularly appreciated how he made note of our being both destructively powerful and devastatingly powerless––but the essays themselves have a few unfocused misses in their midst. Memoir makes plenty of enriching appearances, but sometimes, Green uses it as an excuse to wander, and he’ll shuck the original topic for a broader conclusion the form doesn’t quite allow him to reach. Where he avoids this, though, his nonfiction writing has even better mileage than his fiction on making me cry. The best reviews have just the right ratio of research to reflection, and as such, are perfectly timed for a good sob. I give The Anthropocene Reviewed a tenuous four stars.


110. Ace by Angela Chen

Tackling a good mix of subjects through the asexual lens, reporter Angela Chen’s book is a solid entry into a sparse category of nonfiction for an even sparser area of public awareness. Being asexual myself, it was illuminating to see someone who shares my umbrella make such potent observations about the way we move through the world, and with such care given to other intersections of identity. Asexuals of color, asexuals who date and asexuals who don’t, male asexuals, and plenty in between all make an appearance in these pages, and Chen’s graceful incorporation of interview quotes and memoir make Ace read like several meaty magazine features in a row. The book sometimes wavers on organization, and it struggles to construct definitions that aren’t primarily by opposition, but it’s fascinating even for someone who’s familiar with the material, and I suspect it’d go a long way for someone who isn’t.


111. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I say I don’t read paranormal, but paranormal keeps surprising me. The Raven Boys opens with ghosts, and for the most part, that’s what I expected going forward, but Stiefvater merely uses them as a way in to a modern tale of the legendary past that defies categorization. A psychic’s daughter sees the ghost of the boy she’s doomed to love…or kill. A prep school boy’s dogged mission to wake an ancient king is not all that it seems. With this setup, The Raven Boys makes potent observations on class, interrogates its complicated found family dynamic, and brings some much-needed self-awareness to a familiar fantasy quest for glory-meaning-absolution, three key successes that more than outweigh its fumbled twist, leisurely pacing, and occasional distance. (Reviewed here.)


112. Gilded by Marissa Meyer

As delightful as Marissa Meyer’s books are, one must admit: she has long struggled with villains. Her new duology opener, a Rumpelstiltskin retelling, marks a departure in lots of promising ways––darker tone, more rustic, storybook prose style, richer worldbuilding––but I found the greatest of its many little charms to be the discovery that, at long last, I was both afraid of and intrigued by Meyer’s Erlking. Marking the story by the full moons that light his brutal excursions into the mortal world, Meyer frolics with the sharper-toothed undertones of her fairy tale influences, and the result is enchantingly dangerous. Against the perilous backdrop, the softness of her hapless (not) gold-spinner heroine and the tenderness of the romantic subplot provide an enlivening contrast, leading Gilded to new depth for the author that I can’t wait to watch her explore.


113. As You Like It by William Shakespeare

As You Like It, is, I think, one of the weaker comedies. It makes use of plenty of the tropes and devices that Shakespeare delights with elsewhere, from the framing of nature as a counter to the rigidity of high society to a cross-dressing female lead, and at least one player or pairing is bound to win your heart (mine is Celia). Something, though, is missing. Maybe it’s the absence of real stakes once we leave Act I. Maybe it’s the tiresome, confrontation-poor anticlimax. Whatever it is, I can’t find enough to chew on in As You Like It, and, tragically, I think its spiritual siblings in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream far surpass it.


Thank you endlessly for reading! As always, I’d love to hear about your reading month (and if we share any titles!) in the comments below 💕

What I Read in June

Happy July, everyone! My summer is off to a pleasant, if not incredible, start where reading is concerned: I read 10 books this month, with a tad more sci-fi and nonfiction on offer than usual. This month’s books showed me distant planets, mathematical oddities, and re-imagined monsters, and I thoroughly enjoyed (most of) the experience.


45. Spinning Starlight by R. C. Lewis

Holding this book against the author’s wickedly fun space-opera “Snow White” retelling, Stitching Snow, there’s really no comparison: Spinning Starlight is less focused, less adventurous, and suffers from a truly dreadful case of supporting character soup. When it breaks the yoke of these flaws, however, there are some marvelous ideas in store, and R. C. Lewis’ use of alien technology, coupled with her intriguing variations on the original fairy tale, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans,” make for a fascinating sci-fi, if not always a thrilling one. I was also rather fond of the predicament of our main character, Liddi, who’s a tech heiress with no preternatural engineering abilities to her name, though, like a few other of Lewis’ intriguing concepts, Spinning Starlight would’ve done well to explore it more. (Reviewed here.)


46. The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

Absolutely packed with examples and brimming with the author’s careful study of pop culture, this writing enchiridion proved to be one of the month’s unexpected treats. In breaking from craft-book tradition, The Anatomy of Story tackles symbolism and setting before it even touches plot, and the resulting approach––deeply concerned with meaning, and content to wait for structure to emerge organically from there––holds an allure that almost makes up for the fact that I had to read a 20-page scene-by-scene summary of a movie I have not, and will never, see. Almost.


47. The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

As an early foray into adult sci-fi (I’m trying to branch out), Becky Chambers’ warm, inviting, expansive first Wayfarers novel is a wonderful choice. In it, we meet a hodgepodge, banter-y crew and journey with them on a politically dangerous (but financially rewarding) mission to war-torn territory at the heart of the galaxy, with stops at sketchy black markets and deserted outposts along the way. The book is rip-roaring and eventful when it needs to be, but it’s also great at letting its characters slow down and bond with one another. Like with most of my favorite spacefaring science fiction, it’s in the combination that it shines.


48. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This wildly popular work of literary fiction is so far from my cup of tea it’s almost Sisyphean to fully articulate my quarrels with it, but here goes: I could not finish this book fast enough. The supporting cast is nothing but a shallow cluster of canvases for the fears and neuroses of our romantic leads, said romantic leads seem to have nothing to live for or want besides each other, and the book employs time travel in only the most basic of ways, that last strike being so extreme as to render its trivial complications the fatal ones. Ultimately, I found it to be hardly a compelling sci-fi, and even less a stirring love story.


49. Hilda and the Stone Forest by Luke Pearson

Being so attached to the animated series, it’s near-impossible to separate it from its source material, particularly where it concerns an expansion on theme, and the addition of some marvelous supporting players. Against the series, the graphic novel feels wanting in scope and emotional intensity, but its fresh use of familiar fantasy concepts and enticing, eerie setting make for an absorbing reading experience nonetheless. Author and illustrator Luke Pearson’s keen sense of whimsy unites the cozy and the creepy in a magical world that’s always beckoning to be returned to, for both its familiar comfort and its exciting possibilities.


50. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Cathy Park Hong’s essay collection explores the Asian American experience with both a broad sweep and a concentrated punch, just as personal as it is political, and deeply concerned with the potent harm contained in white America’s thoughtlessness. Minor Feelings isn’t content to let any flippant remark rest, not where are you really from, not Asians are next in line to be white, and not the U.S.’s supposed “post-racial” state. Armed with the potent language of poetry and the careful eye of cultural criticism, the book is both engrossing and revelatory, right to its searing final page.


51. Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

Katrina Leno’s magical seaside coming-of-age story holds all the trappings of a grounded, atmospheric work of contemporary fantasy––and none of the substance. The start is subtle and intriguing enough, but after an inciting incident near the halfway mark (!!!), a failure to fully articulate the stakes sends the book into a tailspin. Whatever charm Summer of Salt held at curtain is lost in a climax that feels forced and a halfhearted grasp at theme that skips the most promising aspects of the book’s concept in favor of the straight and narrow path.


52. Captive by Aimee Carter

The sequel to Aimee Carter’s 2013 YA dystopian, Pawn, this second installment in the Blackcoat Rebellion trilogy was always going to be steeped in the tradition of The Hunger Games‘ many imitators, but that’s precisely how I like it. The soapy dramas of future America’s treacherous ruling family, coupled with a syrupy-sweet love triangle and the revolution-lite vibes of its climax, make Captive compulsively readable fun for those who still linger at the literary graveyard of the frothy teen dystopian––and an inexplicable choice for everyone else. Still, its emphasis on blaming evil on the system rather than on the bad actors it created is refreshing, and save for its trite parent reveal and numerous death-cheats, it’s a great time.


53. Flatland by Edwin Abbott

This slim volume of mathematical fiction is hardly more than a day’s worth of reading, but Edwin Abbott’s explanation-over-plot style made it a trial to finish. We follow A. Square as he guides us through his home world of only two dimensions for several dozen pages of digression, clarification, and elaboration before finally getting to the “good stuff.” (At what cost?) Anyhow, the book clearly isn’t intended to be an adventure or a character study, but even held as a work of hypothetical curiosity, or satire, it’s wholly unfulfilling, and burdened by a straight-laced, rote approach to worldbuilding, besides.


54. Hilda and the Mountain King by Luke Pearson

It is pure serendipity that the only graphic novel out in the current Hilda series yet to be adapted is far and away the best. Though it follows a huge cliffhanger, Hilda and the Mountain King is, on its own, a complete and fulfilling tale, re-examining the role of stone trolls, one of the series’ magical staples, for a conclusion that’s as satisfying as it is challenging, and as dark as it is fanciful. Bolstered by a careful use of color and Pearson’s trademark visual charm, it’s hard to imagine the fun but simple first volume exploding out into something this complex, but that’s all the more reason to start there and savor the series as it grows. (Besides, of course, waiting on more from Netflix.)


Thank you for reading! If you’re so tempted, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. How was your reading month?