What I Read In June 🌺

Hello and happy July, everyone ✨

June has been all about figuring out how to fill my summer. Should I practice chemistry for my college class in the fall? Should I pick up a new instrument? Should I be writing? I don’t think any of us truly know what the “best” way to spend our time is, but for now, the days are long (in the Northern Hemisphere), the sunset makes the perfect light for reading by, and I’m this close to tying my mom in Scrabble wins.


June In Books

52. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

My dad’s complaints, though blunt, probably say it best: too many characters. The Chronicles of Prydain, of which The Black Cauldron is book two, is a middle-grade fantasy series he loved as a kid back in the 70s. (The Black Cauldron was published in 1965.) But here, Lloyd Alexander falls prey to something that seems to hinder lots of quest-fantasy types: he tries to introduce the entire fellowship by, like, page ten. This holds back everything from the reveal of a twist villain to a rivalry meant to bring out the worst in Taran, the book’s impulsive young protagonist. For someone who likes the quintessential beats of a Tolkien-like fantasy, it’s still a fairly charming read, but The Black Cauldron’s 178 pages are still woefully few for what Alexander’s trying to achieve.


53. Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Fierce rivalry with my mom notwithstanding, Queen of the Tiles is to blame for my recent obsession with Scrabble. Pitched as a murder-mystery set at a Scrabble tournament, it had me hooked from the get-go, but Alkaf’s engrossing depiction of gameplay––both in the actual matches and in the way it animates the character’s thought process in her daily life––truly shines. And, even though the mystery’s answers at curtain weren’t entirely satisfying, there’s a lot to love in the way Alkaf writes complicated relationships that keep unfurling through grief. New, hard-to-accept layers of the main character Najwa’s best friend, Trina, keep emerging, and, despite some of the supporting players being confined to archetype, their ties to Trina, good and bad, keep changing, too.


54. The Art of the Drama by Millet & Bentley

So this long out-of-print work of theatre criticism doesn’t even have a cover on Goodreads, much to my rage. But, aesthetically tarnished reading challenge row aside, this was fairly interesting and supremely verbose. Part 1 (which covers the different forms comedy and tragedy have taken over the course of theatrical history) is much better-structured and more insightful than whatever the hell was happening in Parts 2 and 3. The authors, both English professors at the time of the book’s publication in 1935 (!!!), draw on a range of intriguing play selections that I felt compelled to actually jot down at a number of points, but I’m afraid of the fun of this can’t overcome the frustration of the reading experience. If these professors ever managed to start making points without their ‘yet’s, ‘but first we must’s, and ‘one could never’s, I’m sure their students were grateful.


55. The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

After a bit of a lull in The Black Cauldron, Prydain hits its stride again in book three, an adventure that pits Taran and a (much more manageably-sized) band of heroes against an enchantress, as they race to rescue a sharp-witted princess before her talents can be put to use for evil. This time around, Lloyd Alexander makes a point of emphasizing Taran’s insecurities about status, a layer of complexity that adds to an otherwise familiar tale of princes and swords. The group dynamic is inviting, the humor stays present even though the tone shifts a little darker, and the villain––though we certainly don’t see enough of her!––is one of my favorite characters in the series. Some weaknesses still persist, but consider them sufficiently clouded by secondhand nostalgia from my dad’s middle school days 😂


56. Henry VI, Part 1 by Lloyd Alexander

After trudging through Henry V, I’m finally at the trilogy of history plays that covers The Wars of the Roses––a massive, years-long contest for the English crown between the houses of York and Lancaster. Because this is an era with so many powerhouse players, Shakespeare’s expert ensemble work reflects that: Henry VI, Part I is not only about the floundering king, but the factions swirling around his court, the desperate wars overseas, and the new hope for England’s opponent at the time, the French court determined to retake their territory. I’m of the opinion that this volume might be the best at juggling them out of all three in the Henry VI trilogy, but it’s missing some of the things that make Shakespeare at his most popular so enjoyable: if you’re looking for true agency, for example, for the play’s titular king, you’re more likely to find it elsewhere.


57. The Vorrh by B. Catling

Seeing as this book was recommended by a friend with way more eccentric taste than mine, I probably should’ve been forewarned: this book is genuinely unnerving. It’s a work of fantastical alternate history set in and around an impenetrable primordial forest, following a cast of strange characters with, in my opinion, very little solid connection to be found between them. Catling, a sculptor, is way more concerned with the in-the-moment experience of his writing than with its overarching structure, which yields some ultra-vivid imagery but renders the story overall pretty self-defeating. I’m also uneasy about a white author writing about “Africa” in a vague way meant to evoke something like Heart of Darkness. This choice of setting strikes me as especially loaded with the white gaze, and the few Black characters Catling puts in prominent roles all read as pretty powerless.


58. This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith

If you think Shakespeare’s plays have been talked to death, you may want to take a gander at Emma Smith’s This Is Shakespeare, a volume of essays that take a bunch of brand new angles on 20 of the Bard’s plays, old favorites and overlooked gems alike. There’s no overarching theme, really (sometimes Smith pulls from history, sometimes she doesn’t; sometimes the plays’ source material matters and sometimes it doesn’t), but I think that’s to the book’s credit. Each essay builds its approach from scratch and you can never guess what angle Smith will take: she cracks open Romeo and Juliet as a shattered romantic comedy, re-evaluates Antony and Cleopatra in a strikingly modern lens of celebrity and scandal, and makes the case for a much more subversive Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s best enjoyed, though, if this isn’t your first Shakespeare rodeo: Smith does her best, but there just isn’t room for background amidst all the festivities.


59. Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Coming in fourth in The Chronicles of Prydain, right after The Castle of Llyr, this book might be––no, scratch that, is––the best in the series. It’s the one where Taran breaks from the battle-against-evil mold to find himself, as well as answers about his parentage, in the Prydain countryside. Lloyd Alexander not only makes the right move in denying him easy answers from start to finish; he also gives him a way to grasp at meaning that has nothing to do with his heroic role in the rest of the series. And, with something that follows medieval fantasy’s mythic prerogative the way The Chronicles of Prydain does, that’s an opportunity all too easy to miss. When it comes to villains, as well, Taran Wanderer challenges and contrasts its namesake in all the right ways, and its somewhat open resolution bodes well for the finale ahead.


60. Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare

After the events of Henry VI, Part I, England has a new queen, the York and Lancastrian factions have new reasons to hate one another, and King Henry has a spate of new political problems right under his nose––only some of which he’s, like, actually aware of. This play, like its prequel, is full of scheming, deliciously conniving characters like Margaret of Anjou and Richard, Duke of York, and its fair share of absolutely banger rhyming couplets. But it’s also held back by its structure. While Part I expertly wrangles three simultaneous struggles, Part II sort of parades through its royal crises, one after another, with about an act for each. It doesn’t kill the suspense, but it does make me miss how well Part I pulled it off.


61. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Everyone seems to be head-over-heels in love with this book. But no one’s part of ‘everyone,’ every time. In this case, I can certainly agree that the atmosphere, the prose style, and the concepts that Erin Morgenstern weaves into her titular magical circus are all dutifully lovely, but her choice of distantly and omnisciently following so many characters over such a long time can make them feel more like thought experiments than like people. Especially the two romantic leads, for whom the thought experiment is “What if magicians on opposite sides of a duel fell in all-encompassing forbidden love?” You’re obviously supposed to buy into it and have it sweep you off your feet, but I had to rely on the book’s other charms. They’re there, to be sure, but they’re not quite magical for the reader unless that central conceit sticks.


June in Blogs 💜

Krysta @ Pages Unbound made some excellent points in a YA Book Wishlist!

Jordyn @ Birdie’s Book Nook has been doing a delightful Author Spotlight series!

Aria @ Snow White Hates Apples wrote a really thoughtful review of Queen of the Tiles

Naemi @ A Book Owl’s Corner paired a gorgeous travelogue of her trip to Poland with some book recommendations!

Uncommonly Bound reviewed a fascinating micro-history in What The Ermine Saw!


Thank you all so much for reading! How was your June in books? I’d love to hear anything and everything, in the comments below 💕

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 💕

The Pigeon’s Guide to Reading and Enjoying Shakespeare

Hello and welcome to the blog! If you’ve been around here awhile, you’ll know that I love the works of William Shakespeare: watching them, reading them, and occasionally even performing in them. But they’re not always the most accessible for new readers. Language has changed a lot since they were written, much of their context no longer exists, and even with some schooling behind you, these plays can be demanding reading.

So, today, whether you’re picking up Henry IV because you miss your English class, using Macbeth to fill the If We Were Villains-sized hole in your heart, or trying your hand at Much Ado About Nothing because you’ve heard Beatrice and Benedick are the original idiots-to-lovers (it’s true; they’re legends), I hope I can help you find some joy in my favorite plays of all time. My amateur advice is as follows:


1. Get Some Background

If you were studying your play of choice in a literature class, your professor would give you the low-down: here’s the basic premise, here’s who the characters are, here are some lines from the play, here are a few important scenes. So do the same for yourself! Read the introduction included in your edition if it’s there, watch videos about the play, or otherwise know your characters and your places apart so that Act I, Scene 1 doesn’t throw you into the deep end. There is also no shame in taking notes, which I am known to do! Whatever helps you get what’s happening and when is worth a little extra time.

If you’re looking for some resources, my favorites include:


2. Watch It First!

When it comes to enjoyment, I find Shakespeare is the reverse of most books: always go straight for the movie. (Or, if you’re lucky and have some actual stage productions nearby: go see them, go see them, go see them, go see them!) There are so often depths to these plays that only directors and actors can really convey. For the darker tragedy and history plays, these are the speeches, the fights, the death scenes. For the comedies (my favorites!), this is the physicality and comedic timing that will have you doubling over in your seat if you see them live. Also, if you watch the plays first, you get some faces and voices to put to the character names, which will help you out if you like to visualize scenes while you’re reading. All the plays have at least one version that’s been taped and put on YouTube, but you can also try:


3. Act It Out!

Curling up with a paperback is a lovely way to spend an evening, but I find Shakespeare to reward a reading experience that’s a little more boisterous: there’s nothing like staging a one-man production of King John in your kitchen. If you can get up on your feet and pretend you’re playing one of the characters on stage, I highly recommend it! If you’re only comfortable with whispering the lines to yourself, that’s equally as good. Plays, whether they’re Shakespeare, Hansberry, Gunderson, or Wilde, are meant to be staged, and because of that leave a great deal of interpretation up to you as you read them. This can be as limiting as it is liberating. The difference between the two often lies in how much like an actor you’re willing to think––solo production in your kitchen or no.


4. One Line At A Time

I got this trick from Thinking Shakespeare by Barry Edelstein, a book about how to confront the Bard as an actor. All you need is a bookmark or index card, and whatever text you’re reading. Whatever line you’re on, cover up everything immediately below it, and only move the paper down once you’ve read and more-or-less understood it. Rinse and repeat many hundred times.

By going one line at a time, you force yourself to concentrate on the piece of the task in front of you, instead of seeing the block of text still ahead. It’s a great way to avoid getting overwhelmed, but it also helps you use the line breaks as natural stopping points in a character’s thought process. Take this bit from a soliloquy in Richard II, where the now-deposed king is reflecting on his rule from prison:

Thus play I in one person many people,

[Line break; he thinks about it for a second, spurring on the next line.]

And none contented […]

Act V, Scene 5

Instead of hitting you all at once, these thoughts build upon each other in manageable pieces, and they’re much easier to enjoy one line at a time.


5. You Know More Than You Think

If you like books––scratch that, if you like stories, period––you know Shakespeare. A litany of his plots have been repurposed in books and movies you know like the back of your hand, and you’ve heard the writing quoted hundreds of times, maybe without even registering some of them. Even if you’ve never read or watched one of the plays, their subject matter (life, power, friendship, responsibility, love, mortality!) can speak to you. As unapproachable as the Bard may seem, his plays, along with everything in the storytelling tradition, no matter how distant, belong to all of us. If you want to read the plays, you are absolutely “smart” enough to read the plays.

Never, ever let anyone tell you they’re beyond you.


Thank you so much for reading! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and––if you want to start reading the plays but don’t know where to go first, I made a quiz that will give you a personal recommendation of one of my favorites 💚 Happy reading!

What I Read In March 💕

Happy April, everyone! I’m so happy to be sharing with you what will be my fifth wrap-up in a row! (🥳) March brought me some new favorite books, a great play or two, and myriad wonderful things to shout about in them all. Without further ado, here they are:


20. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

Boasting portals to other worlds, a fallen empire, and a few uncharacteristically funny scenes for the character who would eventually become the White Witch, this 1955 prequel to the Narnia series surprised me in a lot of good ways. In it, we follow the schoolkids Polly and Digory, who stumble into an experiment intended to rip passageways into other universes. Among these universes is the place that the rest of the series knows as Narnia, but there’s way more than that for the book to play in, and I’m now almost mad that the other Narnia books don’t return for more. Where The Magician’s Nephew isn’t surprising, though, it’s depressingly familiar. Lewis’ magical mentor figure, Aslan, again kills conflict wherever he goes, a few later chapters are almost fatally actionless and ceremonial, and for all the book’s potential, it has a hard time living up to its ideas.


21. Extasia by Claire Legrand

Extasia is a strange beast, but a very welcome one. Claire Legrand builds a riveting work of paranormal horror from both archaic and post-apocalyptic clay, yielding a rich story that reads sometimes like a theocratic dystopian à la The Handmaid’s Tale, sometimes like a taut, colonial-era suspense à la The Crucible, and often like something new altogether. The book begins when the solemn, pious Amity is about to be anointed one of her village’s four Saints––young girls who act as religious scapegoats for their neighbors’ anger, fear, and sorrow. But all is not well in Haven and its deadly surrounding forest, and in order to save it, Amity will have to defy her church and learn magic. From there, Extasia had me reading on with rapt attention and a white-knuckled grip: it’s excellently-paced, the characters and their terror freshly rendered, and Legrand’s observation of a fearful society searingly true. (Reviewed here.)


22. The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

The Forest of Stolen Girls, set in Joseon-Era Korea, is a murder-mystery helmed by the daughter of a missing detective, as she re-traces his footsteps and investigates the disappearances of thirteen girls from an island fishing town. June Hur, in juggling the tasks of historical consideration and an emotionally honest story of family, seldom lets any pins fall, but when they do, they take a toll on her main character, Hwani, and her journey towards reckoning with her father’s flaws. The prose, for instance, often defaults to explaining rather than describing what she’s feeling, which gives some of her most important emotional moments a distancing effect. But in atmosphere and motives for possible suspects and accomplices, Hur consistently shines. She also makes a point of using the context of time and place to the mystery’s advantage, rather than just setting the story against it––a deep, structural choice that, in the end, sticks Forest’s landing.


23. The Lives of Saints by Leigh Bardugo

Though it doesn’t quite reach the emotional power of the rest of the Grishaverse, The Lives of Saints still has something to offer people (me) who can’t get enough of it. This volume collects the (often disappointingly) short tales of saints from the world of Bardugo’s fantasy books––some of them managing to be haunting despite their length (Anastasia), some of them actually wickedly funny (Lutkin!!), and some sadly forgettable (Petyr). It’s a worthy experiment that I’m glad exists, for the simple fact that series lore is my lifeblood, but almost all the stories lose something in brevity. The Language of Thorns, another anthology from the Grishaverse, does so well with its task precisely because it lets the stories get a little longer, and I can’t help but feel that The Lives of Saints would’ve been better equipped to follow it up had it done the same.


24. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials, #1)

I’m utterly in awe of this book’s vision. Set in a world like our own (but not quite!) it charts the power plays of conniving liturgical institutions and officials, the discovery of a mysterious new elementary particle, and the adventures of a fiercely loyal and dangerously important girl by the name of Lyra. I could talk about the system of science-magic, the construction of alternate history cultures, or the almost cinematic use of perspective intercutting at work in The Golden Compass for hours, but what I was most impressed by was Philip Pullman’s willingness to not expound on his world before giving us a chance to walk in it. He lets the reader put the pieces together with the characters, in a way that made me just as eager to learn more about where we were as I was to find out what would happen next. And I, being the nerd that I am, was totally mesmerized from start to finish.


25. The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

As much as I love the vibes, The Winter’s Tale might be Shakespeare’s most self-defeating play. On paper, it’s a story about redemption: the wrath of a jealous king, Leontes, kills his wife with grief, and loses him a daughter, but through the intervention of a miracle or two, they’re all reunited with Leontes a changed man. But, really, it’s hard to read or watch, without the nagging thought that Leontes didn’t need to act like he did, and none of this needed to happen––especially if we’re going to end the play mostly in the same place we began. A fog of pointlessness lies over The Winter’s Tale that, try as it might, the play just can’t shake. The fourth act, too, a pastoral starring characters only tangentially related to the earlier action, is dangerously close to insufferable. (But judging by my opinion of As You Like It, I might just hate pastorals altogether 😬)


26. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This work of historical fiction is based on a very real hoax. It’s 1885 and a sea serpent is rumored to haunt the marshes of Aldwinter, as a warning from an angry higher power, or a remnant from a Mesozoic ocean long gone, or both. We follow a widow, Cora Seaborne, as she investigates the rumor and strikes up a tumultuous, intimate friendship with Aldwinter’s devoted vicar. If you’re into science of any kind, The Essex Serpent has to its advantage an erudite bent that draws on the history of paleontology and medicine, and puts them to fascinating use. Also mostly to its benefit is the central friendship, which takes on refreshing narrative importance, even if its trajectory can be frustrating. Overall, this title proved a way more compatible read for me than I expected, which has me wondering if I should pick up more historicals. (I also love Liz Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. Recommend away!)


27. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials, #2)

As the sequel to The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife takes the trilogy in several fascinating new directions at once, only some of which worried me. The expansion of the series into new universes, one of them being ours, gives the book plenty of awesome concepts to work with, from the correlation of book one’s science with our contemporary understanding of physics, to a power struggle that careens the story’s scope into literally unfathomable territory––for better or worse. In this volume, we also meet Will, a boy whose troubled family history ties him to the fate of Lyra’s world. As deuteragonists, their shrewdness functions well against the pretense and status of those in power, and even if connecting with them is a little harder this time around, Pullman’s reliance on the ensemble approach gives us myriad eyes to look through in the meantime. (And a vast, constantly-changing landscape to look at, too, which is always a plus.)


28. I and You by Lauren Gunderson

Lauren Gunderson is one of my favorite playwrights, and what I and You achieves in a little under 70 pages pretty much explains why. It’s set in chronically-ill 17-year-old Caroline’s bedroom, where Anthony, a classmate from the school she can no longer attend, enlists her help for a project on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Over the course of a few hours, the two connect over the poem, get to know each other in a miraculous, theatrical totality, and, if you’re anything like me, will have you sobbing three times or more before curtain call. Gunderson gets something about humanity and experience and why we need each other so much that’s otherwise inarticulable, and hearing it said––shouted!––in I and You was a catharsis unlike any I’ve ever experienced.


29. A Thousand Steps Into Night by Traci Chee

A witty, hopeful, spirit-studded riot of a fantasy adventure from The Reader author Traci Chee, A Thousand Steps Into Night holds delight after delight. Its heroine, Miuko, must embark on a quest to reverse the curse that’s about to turn her into a demon, and along the way, she’ll fall in with a clever, complaining magpie, contend with a vengeful demon prince for the fate of the kingdom of Awara, and fight to keep her humanity all the while. A Thousand Steps manages a great deal in its comparatively limited page time as a standalone, from directly challenging Miuko’s weaknesses in a satisfying way to offering a broad sweep of Chee’s ultra-vivid world in a number of one-of-a-kind scenes I’d love to see put to animation. Characters appear and exit rather quickly, with a couple scenes of action bypassed or skimped on to the book’s detriment, but it’s largely an unbroken joy.


30. Richard II by William Shakespeare

This history play is tragedy, political theory, and character study all at once. While it flounders with its supporting cast (a point I controversially think its prequel, King John, excels at!), Richard II has such a keen eye on where power comes from, and what it does to those who hold or seek it. Shakespeare’s Richard is as compelling as he is infuriating; a devastating indictment of inherited privilege and a bittersweet elegy for those it eats away. Shakespeare also establishes with precision the weight of his transgressions, and why they set his countrymen against him, something he struggles with in King John. I also definitely cried while watching and reading this, not least because the language in it is so hauntingly beautiful and even––dare I say it?––a cut above the Bard’s rest.


Thank you so much for reading! May the next month bring you small joys and many good stories ☕️ 📚

What I Read In February

Welcome back to the blog! As we clear another month, I hope you’re doing what brings you joy, whatever form that takes. For my part, I found plenty of joy in the books I picked up this month, and even more in reviewing them 🤓


11. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

This charming comedy of manners, mistaken identity, and ethically dubious pranks is an ever-renewing treat. In it, we meet Viola, who’s just lost her brother in a shipwreck on unfamiliar shores. There, she enters the service of the duke Orsino disguised as a pageboy, and marvelously funny hijinks ensue. Twelfth Night contains some of the most iconic antics, clever uses of dramatic irony, and painfully sincere scenes of pining in all of Shakespeare, and in addition to being a favorite of theatre companies, it’s also a dear one of mine. The last of the Bard’s comedies in my dogged quest to read ‘em all, it proves a fitting swan song for the category that will likely remain first in my heart.


12. Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans

Tracing the art form from its courtly inception to its contemporary shifts, Jennifer Homan’s 500-page ballet history is all about one thing: context. This book’s commitment to illuminating ballet against the backdrop of everything else––politics, money, other artistic disciplines––makes it as much a vast chronicle as it is a critic’s look at changes in style and staging. I loved reading Homans’ long chapters of biography interwoven with choreography interwoven with the happenings of the wider world. (Even if it started to wear on me around page 450, where we enter ballet’s 20th-century American heyday, and lose some of the earlier chapters’ perspective and restraint.) All in all, I had a great time, despite ending the book feeling a little like this.


13. Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis

I’m looking to finish more works of classic fantasy this year, and after clearing The Lord of the Rings (again) with much weepy fanfare, I’m arriving at the sequels to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which I read in 2020 and delighted in. My mileage with this next book is mixed, though. We meet the four child heroes of book one, the Pevensie siblings, as they return to the Narnia of their fond and fantastical memories, only to discover centuries passed in their absence and a terrible king on the throne. Their mission, which I found awkwardly paced and anticlimactic, is to help the titular exiled prince to his rightful crown. What Prince Caspian has to its advantage, though, it has in spades: a cast of characters bound by a deep, unwavering love, a tradition steeped in myth and fairy tale, and an adventurous spirit that has its kindred in fantasy books to this day.


14. Half Life by Lillian Clark

YA sci-fi author Lillian Clark conducts a promising experiment in 2020’s Half Life, even if its results aren’t always up to par. Following the 15-year-old perfectionist and Ivy-League aspirant Lucille, the book injects the dilemmas of human cloning into ordinary teenage life, using Lucille and her eventual double to poke holes in both corporate greed and soul-sacrificing personal ambition. As promising as this fusion is, though, doing both has its drawbacks. Neither of these aspects feel like they have enough time, and Lucille’s clone is much fainter of a character than she is. Still, Clark is scarily honest about the aforementioned perfectionism––having been swallowed by it at regular intervals in my past, I often felt a little too Seen.


15. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

Helmed by the two younger Pevensies, Caspian, and a new character or two on a perilous journey across the sea, the rocky experience of this book’s soaring achievements and punishing failures is genuinely messing with my head. Hysterically funny! Heavy-handed as hell! Magical! Patronizing! Inspired! Infuriating! Though I admire Lewis’ departure from the quest form for something more episodic and fluid, the book’s structure feels unfocused and totally unmoored. Though Eustace Clarence Scrubb and his bah-humbug vibes were some of the most fun I’ve ever had with an ‘unlikeable’ character, I found myself actively cursing the means and timing of his redemption. And, though I love the mysticality and ambiguity of the ending, I take some serious objections to how Lewis uses his mentor figure, Aslan. On the whole, I come down on the side of disliking this book, but given how much potential I found in it, I’m totally bummed about that.


16. Aerie by Maria Dahvana Headley

Aerie is the sequel to Magonia, which follows a girl who discovers her secret heritage as one of the Magonians, a nation of sky sailors whose magic guides the weather over Earth. Both books are filled with song magic, maritime settings re-imagined for the clouds, and lots of identity-flavored angst, but this second book struggles with the climate allegory, and suffers from too much time spent away from our antagonists. Still, the world is as memorable as ever, and the way Headley illuminates the love interests’ flaws is incredibly considerate; one subplot in particular matches much of the first book for emotional depth. While I don’t necessarily think this sequel outpaces its predecessor, it comes damn close. And as far as duologies are concerned, this one is a shining example in its restraint and skillful completion.


17. The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

I think this next entry in the Chronicles of Narnia makes a much better swing at adventure for a lot of reasons, but allow me to begin with the one nearest and dearest to my heart: Eustace Clarence Scrubb is a grouch again, and this is a blessing and a relief. Our other leads, Jill and a Marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum, follow suit, showing more flaws, more conflict, and, as a result of both, more memorability than the earlier books’ Pevensie siblings. Also, the settings, villain, and general trajectory of this book are nicely dialed for mythical resonance, novelty, and, above all, focus. It’s fun to see a litany of fresh places in Dawn Treader, but I’d take The Silver Chair’s near-perfect handful over them all any day.


18. King John by William Shakespeare

Following the sequence of the titular characters’ reigns, King John is the first of Shakespeare’s history plays, a collection of cycles, Henriads, and notoriously long run times dramatizing the lives of kings throughout English history. This play starts the category with a bang: it’s a morally complex, ensemble-bolstered interrogation of shaky authority and what an increasingly paranoid king does to keep it. Several of King John’s supporters also undergo expertly-timed disillusionment arcs, with one in particular, a bastard son of the late Richard I, straddling the archetypes of cynical fool and determined young hero in a really interesting way. Some developments feel a little quick (as do a few scenes of tragedy and remorse that dip into melodrama), but the play triumphs overall as a portrait of a deeply flawed ruler.


19. War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

In a post-apocalyptic Nigeria racked by civil war and scoured by exploitation, War Girls welds a moving odyssey of parted sisters Onyii and Ify to a blistering, hard-edged vision of a futuristic world. With real history and a real Republic of Biafra as a basis, Tochi Onyebuchi constructs an intensely considerate work of sci-fi: he writes riveting scenes of tech-powered combat without ever reducing the casualties of war to thrills, and handles his two leads’ indescribable trauma with care that speaks to their analogues in actual child soldiers. It’s not rare that, through Onyii and her crushing responsibility, Onyebuchi will utterly floor you with a glimpse at the senselessness of war’s waste (a senselessness often accompanied by the greed/apathy/active malice of wealthier countries watching from the sidelines for opportunity). Part III of the book can flag, though. It struck me as sutured onto an incompatible first two thirds––never truly deciding whether it wants to be about consequence or recovery.


Thank you so much for reading! How was your February in books (or anything else)? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 💕

What I Read In January

Happy February! (And happy premature Valentine’s day!) I hope you got to start your year with a wonderful month of books. Mine was lovely, and I have my fingers crossed for many more like it to come.


1. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings, the classic fantasy series, marked such an important love in my childhood that it has ripples to this day. Peregrin Took, the hobbit and erstwhile prankster, is the source of my chosen name. I probably owe LOTR most of my current love of fantasy. There was even a brief period in fifth grade where all my notes were written in elf-runes. I’ll admit that this first volume isn’t always on the pacing––it’s obvious why the leisurely first half turns so many readers away––but it has so much else to its favor, from the iconic ensemble, to the immersive scenery, to Tolkien’s committed use of the legendary past, that I often even enjoyed the notorious initial slog.


2. All’s Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare

Not fully a comedy but certainly not a tragedy, All’s Well That Ends Well joins Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida as a problem play, with a tenuous, happy-ish ending and a delicious set of dilemmas that invites wildly different interpretations. Of the trio, though, All’s Well That Ends Well is my favorite. It shows our romantic leads contending with a troubled arranged marriage, critiques toxic masculinity, and even reads at times like a fairy tale…if a very complicated one. But what really puts this play atop its (excellent!) companions is its capacity to be both complex and deeply earnest. Helena, our heroine, is nothing but sincerity, and the ending, should you chose to read it happily, is unwaveringly sappy as hell.


3. A Sorrow Fierce and Falling by Jessica Cluess

This YA historical fantasy (mostly) sticks the landing for the Kingdom on Fire trilogy, an intrigue-heavy take on Victorian England in which three magical traditions must unite to face an army of interdimensional demons…or perish. I lead with the worldbuilding here because it’s Jessica Cluess’ greatest strength: the three hierarchies, and the fraught history between them, make for an engrossing look at old institutions floundering in crisis. That drama, far more than the monster stuff, is what really animates A Sorrow Fierce and Falling. The monster stuff, in fact, is the source of most of its weaknesses. Sometimes vivid and harrowing, but mostly oversimplified and under-articulated, the fantastical threat itself doesn’t pull all that much weight, but luckily for this book, its political and personal scaffolding make up a fair part of the difference.


4. The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

This panoramic sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring makes a world’s worth of worthy additions to its predecessor. Taking the ring to Mordor––and protecting the rest of Middle-Earth in the meantime––loses what remains of its optimistic, early-quest luster for something much more perilous, and, I think, much richer. As we see the effects of Sauron’s mustering more closely, the industrialization-weary subtext comes into starker relief. As things darken on the horizon, the characters’ conviction in protecting what, and who, they love shines with a sincerity that puts The Two Towers firmly into tear-jerker territory. I cried often, and generously, though this reading, and that’s to say nothing of book three. 😭 😭


5. Red Tigress by Amélie Wen Zhao

The sequel to 2019’s YA fantasy Blood Heir, Red Tigress also makes a rewarding go at expanding the world of its series, following the exiled princess Anastacya as she tries to gather allies in her bid for the throne. The villains are iffy, and the climax is clumsy and drawn-out, but on the whole, Red Tigress is a well-structured fantasy of political intrigue, and it makes a keen use of character that speaks well to Zhao’s talent for cutting to the heart of things, something she swings with equal prowess as a worldbuilder and as a chronicler of people. Red Tigress is actually slightly shorter than Blood Heir, but because it does that expansion so well, it feels a lot bigger. (Reviewed here.)


6. The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

While it veers often into soapy territory, this sequel to 2020’s The Inheritance Games makes three crucial improvements on its predecessor: higher emotional stakes for the love triangle, a more personal slant to the late-stage twists, and a banter-y group dynamic that lets the puzzles get more dangerous while, paradoxically, the general tone veers very light. It may seem an odd approach for a sequel whose subject matter is a little darker, but in all things, Jennifer Lynn Barnes errs on the side of maximum fun, yielding another volume of pure popcorn that reads splendidly in three sittings or less.


7. Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

Based off of characters from the Iliad, Troilus and Cressida follows the ill-fated love of a Trojan prince and the daughter of a defector to the Greeks, as the war over Helen of Troy drags on with progressively less purpose. It’s bitter for its shaky place among the comedies (and just bitter, period), but that’s part of its appeal: Shakespeare paints a frustratingly modern picture of a conflict that persists only because it’s been persisting, and his pretty open disdain for the entire cast allows him to put them all under harsh scrutiny, a boon that very nearly makes up for the fact that it’s difficult to get attached to them as I would plenty of the Bard’s other ensembles. Lots of the characters typically seen as “noble” in tales of the Trojan War are shallow, stupid, and inconsistent here––but after centuries of deification, maybe they need to be.


8. The Return of the King by William Shakespeare

If I think the Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers are good (an understatement), I think The Return of the King is marvelous (also an understatement). Tolkien’s writing continues to inhabit a well-chosen crossroads in a visibly vast history, and, line-by-line, his prose again allows place and time to marinate in a reading experience that’s downright luxurious by modern standards, but the soul of this final book, in comparison to the first two, is something truly special. It shows us loss and stewardship; responsibility and resilience, with an urgency unlike anything Tolkien accomplished before. The long ending, in contrast to the extended beginning, feels wholly purposeful, standing as one of the deepest catharses I’ve ever read. I’ve been feeling the past Frodo can’t return to since I turned that last page, and I doubt I’ll ever recover.


9. Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen

I’m still chewing on this one. Ibsen, the 19th century Norwegian playwright behind A Doll’s House, tackles a heroine familiarly at odds with the expectations of marriage and motherhood in this later play, but Hedda’s chafing is harsher. Rather than suffocating in her role, she lashes out at it by setting those around her against each other and watching the resulting fires from afar. While I like the unrestrained take on a woman who feels genuinely trapped, Ibsen handles her with too much of a bent towards sensation. The ending feels abrupt and irresponsibly trivializing, and I think the play sets out to shock us, rather than turning our eyes towards the structures of power they need to see underneath the spectacle.


10. Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi

Set in the vivid, enthralling world of Roshani Chokshi’s Star-Touched Queen duology, this lovely trio of novellas is the best sort of gift: the kind you are not clever enough to ask for. Two feature familiar faces, and one does not, but all three are a testament to how well Chokshi uses conflict to give her characters exactly what they need, whether it’s the courage required to love in the face of loss, or a willingness to offer one’s true self at the risk of rejection. While they don’t quite reach the emotional power of Chokshi’s preceding novels, all the magical delights are there, and this addition to the Star-Touched world is orders of magnitude more than just a few cameos. (My favorite story was Rose and Sword! Chokshi’s use of a framing device to contend with the coming of the inevitable is just genius.)


Thank you so much for reading! How was your January in books? I’d love to hear all about it, in the comments below 💕

What I Read In December, Part II

Hello, and welcome to the blog! Last week, I shared the books I read earlier last month, and today, I’m wrapping up the wrap-up with seven more. The second half of the month had a fun mix of titles, a few delightful surprises, and the 120 books milestone! Without any further ado, I’m thrilled to be sharing it with you:


114. A Snake Falls To Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Set in both our world and in a perilous realm of shapeshifters and spirits, Darcie Little Badger’s follow up to 2020’s wildly inventive Elatsoe is somehow even more ambitious. A Snake Falls to Earth juggles a sizable ensemble, a climate allegory, two coming-of-age stories, a race to rescue an endangered species, and a viral video subplot: a valiant effort that’s impressive just in the undertaking, but comes at a sizable cost. Little Badger’s worldbuilding, and the way she weaves the paranormal into the mundane with charmingly practical considerations, remains a strength in her writing, as does the richness she brings to her Lipan Apache lead’s depiction, but in the end, A Snake Falls To Earth tries to carry so much that things feel like they get dropped. The aforementioned viral video subplot reads haphazardly, the ensemble is cramped in its limited page time, and the inclusion of a vague, never-seen villain faces the book’s suspense with obstacles it can’t overcome.


115. The Excalibur Curse by Kiersten White

This series finale for The Guinevere Deception is bound to frustrate some of its readers: Kiersten White opts for the vastly unexpected in answering her trilogy’s questions, from Guinevere’s true identity to the rightful course of her future, and not everyone who liked the first two books will be happy with how the cards fall in The Excalibur Curse. For my part, though, I had the time of my life. White’s Arthuriana is rich with love, duty, and sacrifice, and her moral dilemmas are well-poised to ask the most of her characters in thoughtful ways, including and especially when she puts them at odds. Her refusal to give Guinevere (and us!) every answer makes for a refreshing take on a mythos whose familiar patterns often feel set in stone, and the nuance The Excalibur Curse brings to its tenuous happy ending, is, strikingly, more gratifying than certainty could ever hope to be.


116. A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde

Going into this play expecting something as riotously funny as Wilde’s The Important of Being Earnest is a mistake, but, if you’re attentive, you’ll un-make it as soon as you realize what else A Woman of No Importance has to offer. High-brow quips and their jaded upper-class deliverers corner the stage at first, but as the story progresses, Wilde pulls off a perspective shift that interrogates the people we instinctively center, and asks us to reconsider the play’s forgotten women––calling particular attention to the way both rigid morality and cynical amorality fail them. Admittedly, the wealthy-nihilist characters tend to blend together, but the core cast and their ties are rendered very keenly, with special regard to Hester Worsley, a dour Mary Bennet type who could’ve easily been wasted as nothing more than comedic relief.


117. This Book Is Not Good For You by Pseudonymous Bosch

Pseudonymous Bosch’s Secret Series is one of the 2000s’ many militantly quirky middle grade sagas. You know the type: takes after A Series of Unfortunate Events, narrated by a snippy author character who likes to address the audience, puts its hyper-competent child leads adrift in a sea of comically evil or downright oblivious adults. How This Book Is Not Good For You lands in this sub-category, I can’t firmly say, but on its own, it’s enjoyable, albeit in a very selective way: if a mystery in which three precocious middle schoolers are pursuing a sinister chocolatier and his army of bean-sorting capuchins is precisely what you’re looking for, read it. If not, and I cannot stress this enough, don’t. These books are unabashedly weird and make use of their setpieces in a way that dubiously evokes Wes Anderson, two statements that can’t even begin to express how diligently Bosch hams it up––and how little he cares if you’re tired of the schtick.


118. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Another entry into Shakespeare’s notorious trilogy of yikes (accompanying The Merchant of Venice and Othello), this tale of a braggart marrying and “taming” a loud/violent/hysterical woman is precisely what it’s been criticized for over the years: sexist, reductive, and, when staged to the letter, cringe-inducing. That said, there’s something that makes me want to return to it anew. The idea of Katherine finding the love she’s been denied in someone who doesn’t make a show of being afraid of her is compelling, and if the staging makes an effort to show how wrong Petruchio is in trying to “tame” her, I could see it being a delightful watch. (With the allowance made, of course, that all of this must work against a misogynist original text.) For me, it’s fun for Shakespeare’s language, the breadth of potential interpretation, and the skill of his humor, but I don’t blame anyone else for not feeling this way, and, yeah, okay, maybe this shouldn’t be one of his most popular.


119. Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Held against the highs of the first two installments in Brandon Sanderson’s YA space opera, Cytonic, as solid a work as it is, can’t help but be a letdown. For one thing, Sanderson opts to start from the ground up and craft a lovable ragtag team in a wholly new setting for the third time instead of leaning on what he already has, and this go-round, it crosses the line from impressive and drifts into irritating. For another, we leave the galaxy explored in book two for the smaller, sparser world of the Nowhere, an unreality of time warps and pirates that just can’t shake the side-quest vibes. Sanderson does well with what he gives himself, though: the flight sequences we experience through our protagonist, Spensa, continue to be invigorating, and this volume is reflective in a way that adds favorably to the others.


120. Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 by David Petersen

Mouse Guard, a comic starring anthropomorphized fantasy mice, gets a satisfying expansion in this second arc of six issues, following guardmice from the stronghold of Lockhaven as they struggle to secure supplies and allies for the difficult winter ahead. Instead of lingering on the rebellion plot he introduced earlier, Peterson takes a lesser-trod but better-fitting path in turning his focus to the nuts and bolts of survival, both for the mouse cities struggling to persist in a world full of predators, and for the mice trapped on the roads between them in peril. In Winter 1152, the Mouse Guard world is enriched by extremes, made more vivid with memorable staging grounds, and re-invented in a way I hope the rest of the series makes good on.


Thank you so much for reading! How was your December in books? Do we have any titles in common? I’d love to hear about it, 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 November

Happy December, everyone! I hope you’re all having a wonderful end to your reading year and rounding out looooong favorites lists. This month gave me some great reads, and I can’t wait to share them with you!


97. The Ivies by Alexa Donne

Alexa Donne’s first foray into the thriller realm is as salacious as it is scathing. Following a clique of teen saboteurs jockeying for spots at elite colleges, The Ivies pairs the fun of a rich, ruthless boarding school setting with the kind of critique everyone who’s been paying attention craves. Pay-to-play admissions, falsified applications, and general wealthy fuckery are front-and-center, and Donne is careful to keep the class tensions in mind as she crafts friendships, yielding a contemporary more status-aware than plenty in recent memory. The dialogue and execution occasionally veer into cheesy territory, and some of the murder suspects are a tad easy to eliminate, but taken as a whole, it’s timely, keen, and bitingly fun.


98. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

This classic play follows Nora Helmer, a young housewife and mother, as a dangerous secret from her past threatens to upend––and forces her to re-evaluate––her marriage. It’s subtle and rich in its investigation of the power imbalance between husband and wife, but it’s also, crucially, generous with Nora’s characterization, as potent an argument as any that one can be happy in moments; content as a mother, even, and still live in a household built on false pretenses. The play also boasts a couple standout side characters, a solid and intelligent use of foils, and a class-sensitive handling of the cast’s circumstances. I eagerly await my next opportunity to see it staged.


99. The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

It would be folly to expect anything to outdo Holly Black’s utter banger The Wicked King (reviewed here), and, indeed, its follow-up and concluding volume, The Queen of Nothing is not *quite* so brilliant––but it’s still very good! While Black never managed to have me on the edge of my seat, she gave Jude one of the most satisfying character arc conclusions I’ve ever read, soothed my weepy heart with a lovely ending, and managed the stakes with excellent care. In a choice between the two, I’d opt for the controlled, fastidious third volume over the bombastic one, and The Queen of Nothing will forever be my reason why.


100. Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor’s exquisite novel Strange the Dreamer is a gorgeous example of fantasy at scale: she combines the history of a textured, lived-in world with strong visuals and spellbinding concepts for a book that invites awe above all else, and its sequel, Muse of Nightmares, is more than apt to bear the torch. This tale of a librarian and a lost city––of dreams and citadels, destruction and love––is one you can vanish into, and for five hundred wonderful pages, I did just that. Dense in prose and heavy with lore, this duology asks much of your attention, but it rewards you with an utterly magical reading experience that it almost pains me to imagine missing out on.


101. The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Following a young woman who finds herself in a battalion of magical warriors after being uncovered as a demon, this vivid West-African inspired fantasy has everything. Training sequences that are more than just a montage and handwaving? Check. A late-stage reveal that turns our entire understanding of the world upside-down? Check. Excellent fight scenes? Check. With the exception of its somewhat rushed conclusion, The Gilded Ones is never not firing on all cylinders. If you like the girl-discovers-powers, girl-becomes-soldier school of YA fantasy, Namina Forna’s contribution to it is among the best, and I endorse it heartily. (Reviewed here.)


102. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

I rather enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so I can’t imagine what must have changed in advance of my starting its follow-up. Regardless, I had an awful time: the jokes (including one trite and overlong gin-n-tonic gag that I will remember forever) tested my patience, the characters tested my ability to tell them apart, and all-in-all the book was longer than a 250-page mass-market paperback has any right to feel. Restaurant is one of the universe’s more miserable offerings, as far as I’m concerned––Total Perspective Vortex included.


103. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

This is an erstwhile favorite of mine, so I can hardly be prevailed upon to provide a crystalline first impression, but I can say this: I’ve seen the play in-person twice, watched the taped Julie Taymor version and the ballet, and even had a minor role in a production as a kid, and it still hasn’t gotten old. Shakespeare’s comedies are sparkling examples of great subplots and even greater ensembles, the dialogue is absolutely dripping with poetry, and every line is a delight. Wow I love this play.


104. Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

This space opera follows the human clone of legendary Royal Fleet Captain Thao Argentian, as she struggles under the weight of her predecessor’s mantle and manages the awkward transition from contemporary teen life to active intergalactic combat. Tina herself makes for a snarky yet complex lead, but Victories Greater Than Death isn’t quite as lucky with the rest of the ensemble. After introducing them all at once, it fails to cut to the heart of all but two, leaving the found-family aspect feeling rushed and underdeveloped. In worldbuilding and ideas, though, the book has indomitable prowess: Anders crafts a resonant large-scale conflict, her aliens are inventive and fun, and her universe feels vast and storied, begging to be explored. Even if it weren’t for Elza, my favorite supporting character, and her upcoming perspective subplot, I’d be eyeing the sequel’s promises to take us to the Royal Space Academy and the Firmament with curiosity, and no shortage of temptation.


105. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

While not quite as elegant a story as North and South, Mary Barton, a social drama set against working-class life in Manchester, definitely has its moments. Gaskell uses her two love interests––one exorbitantly wealthy and one restricted by poverty––to moving effect, and the climax of the novel, which takes place during a murder trial (!!!) is engrossing and well-paced. But, as Gaskell’s first (published in 1848), it shows a heavy-handedness in writing about the poor that holds her back from fully considering her characters, and it ultimately shies away from full-bodied social critique, leaving the theme aspect lacking. Gaskell made some solid points, but she needed to make them much louder.


106. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

There will always be a place in my heart for anthropomorphized fantasy mice, and the first book in David Petersen’s Mouse Guard graphic novel series is no exception. As an artist, Petersen picks dynamic and vivid setpieces (you get to see a guard mouse use a leaf as a boat; it’s great!) and his illustrations have a memorable, rustic charm. Story, however, is more of a mixed bag. The good: Petersen understands the scale of his medium, and adjusts cast size and plot accordingly. The build is steady, the world is fleshed-out but not overwhelming, and he doesn’t try to plumb depths he can’t reach. The bad: the villains and their motives are ill-defined, limiting the potency of the conflict, and the climax feels a bit emotionally lacking. Tentatively, though, I think I’ll continue on.


Thank you so much for reading! How was your November for books? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 💕