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 💕