Monday, December 31, 2012

Books I Read in 2012

It seems like everyone's putting up their 2012 best-of lists, so I wanted to join in on the fun! Most of the books I read hadn't been published this year, but whatever. I decided to come up with my own categories and highlight the books that I found particularly memorable, whether for good or for ill. These are all my personal opinions based on my very particular set of pet peeves and preferences, so please don't take these mini-sort-of-reviews as assessments of quality — they're basically just me ranting and raving about my reading experience.

Let's start out with a good one:

The Only 5-Star Rating

So I guess this would be my favorite book of the year (and yes I am super stingy with 5-star ratings, and even 4-star ones). Unfortunately, since I read it in February (which was a long time ago and before I started writing status updates while reading), I don't quite remember all the details. But I do remember that it made me cry (which isn't hard to do), and that it impressed me (which is), and that I loved the unconventional story structure. I am such a sucker for nonlinear story lines. I don't think I really fell in love with the protagonist and the love interest, but they didn't annoy me, which is actually saying a lot considering how picky I am. I do remember being moved by the relationships and the way we found out more and more about the group of kids from the past. Great read.

Made Me Laugh the Most

Dude, this book made me crack up SO much. I've been slowly and haphazardly making my way through the Discworld novels (I'm fortunate my library carries many of them), and while some of them turned out to be duds (at least to me), this one was a blast. I laughed so hard that my friend thought I was completely nuts, and that just made me laugh more. And it happened more than once! Ahh, Granny Weatherwax is so badass. I liked her a lot in the Tiffany Aching series, which I'd read before (love that series, particularly A Hat Full of Sky), but in this one she was just absolutely hilarious, and definitely made me eager to pick up all the rest of the witch books in the Discworld series. (Incidentally, the runner-up for this category is a Discworld book as well: Going Postal, featuring Moist Van Lipwig.)

Pissed Me Off the Most

This year I abandoned 30+ books while reading, but this particular DNF probably annoyed me the most out of all of them. I ranted about the green eye thing on my blog and the cultural appropriation stuff on Goodreads (with some great input and discussion from my friends — their posts are very much worth reading, more so than mine, haha). The disappointment hurt, a lot. I'd hoped so badly for this to be an amazing YA Asian fantasy because we definitely need more of those, but instead we got an author who doesn't think "exoticism" and "appropriation" are real things and that it should be ok for him to make stupid mistakes about someone else's culture and language just because he wanted his novel to have an aesthetic that's not overdone. Sigh.

Favorite Series

I don't manage to finish many series, since I frequently give up after disliking the first one, or get too lazy to hunt down each book, or worry the sequel will ruin the first book, or whatever. But I managed to check out all three books in the Chaos Walking trilogy from my library this year, and I thought this series was great in spite of all those elements I usually dislike: cliffhangers, protags that annoyed me, a romance I didn't much care for, weird dialect. But the experience of reading these books is just so intense I couldn't put them down; I felt exhilarated by the roller-coaster ride despite the fact that my fondness for the protags deteriorated rapidly over the three books. I think this was because my increasing dislike for them was balanced by my growing sympathy for the villains, which amazed me. There were characters I'd absolutely hated at first who grew on me and earned my compassion. By the end of the series, I wanted happy, redemptive endings for the villains even more than I wanted the protagonists to stay alive. Ultimately, I loved the masterful characterizations and the edge-of-your-seat pacing. I definitely didn't expect to like this series so much.

Favorite Historical Fiction

This book isn't for everyone, as there isn't much of a plot, and the voice of the main character didn't really fit her age. But I loved this book because I adored Calpurnia so, so much. I love science, and I love smart, strong-willed female characters, and this book had both. I very much enjoyed reading about Calpurnia's interactions with her family, her scientific outings with her grandfather, and the way she fought against the prescribed roles for women and girls. She is a feminist scientist in the making, which is AWESOME, and she completely won my heart.

Most Miserable

I don't even remember how this book made it to my to-read list, but I probably thought, "Huh, Harry Potter plus Narnia for grownups, sounds good," and made a note to look for it at the library. But I had no idea that it'd actually be about a miserable, selfish, hateful young man who makes a lot of stupid, self-absorbed decisions and mopes around being angsty all the time and then acts in such an jerkass way that terrible things happen to the one decent-ish character in the entire book. But it takes place first at a Harry-Potter-ripoff-magic-boarding-school and then in a Narnia-ripoff-fantasyland, so I guess that accounts for the description. It was so freaking depressing to read, and I hated pretty much everyone in the book (they mostly all hated themselves and each other, too). I was just like WHAT THE HECK IS THIS CRAP and was so disappointed and depressed and angry when I finished (plus relieved that it was over, I guess). Not to mention very, very miserable as well.

Favorite High Fantasy

I've had this on my to-read for a while, but it was Maya's recommendation that really spurred me to get it from the library. And I really enjoyed it! Vin was a great protagonist — smart, capable, brave, had to work for her skills, and wasn't whiny. I rooted for her throughout the book, and it was great to see her inner and outer transformations and growing relationships with her co-conspirators. All the plotting, cons, secrets, and mysteries were right up my alley. Plus, it had an interesting and unique magic system. Over all, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and I look forward to reading more by this author. (Also, I ended up recommending this book to a friend and we read it at the same time, so I'm relieved it was good and that we both liked it!) (Longer review for Mistborn: The Final Empire here.)

Most Relieved I Liked

I bought the 5-book Lyra series bundle for Kindle because of a Cyber Monday sale, and also because I adore Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles (particularly Searching for Dragons) and very much enjoyed her Mairelon series. The first four books were a little disappointing, though -- they weren't as good as her latter books, and the ratings for those ranged from 1.5 to 2.5. But I'd heard that The Raven Ring was the best, so I was hoping it'd be good. And I ended up liking it, even though it has a prophecy and a love triangle, both of which are usually things I don't like. But Wrede handled both those elements really well and while I didn't love those elements, they didn't frustrate me. Most of all, I loved Eleret — smart, sensible, capable, practical. Ah, definitely my kind of character. Seriously, I was so relieved after I finished this book and liked it, because I would've been so sad if I didn't like any of the Lyra books, given how much I enjoy Wrede's later work! (Longer review for The Raven Ring here.)

Everyone Loved But Me

It's kind of sad how many of the books I've read this year are contenders for this category. Ultimately I decided to go with Daughter of Smoke and Bone because of how popular it is and how little I liked it. I know a lot of people absolutely adored this one, but I just could not get over how the romance in this book turned the characters into people I hated. I found them to be shallow, stupid, and selfish, and I just couldn't bring myself to root for them. I know a lot of people like Taylor's writing, and I did like it in Lips Touch, but the descriptions of how enthralled these characters were by one another's beauty seriously put me off the prose in this one. I did find the worldbuilding interesting, but since characters and plot are what matter most to me when reading, in the end I did not enjoy this book the way most other readers did. I'm still very curious about how the series will end, though! I'm secretly hoping Karou and Akiva will actually not end up together, haha. (Longer review for Daughter of Smoke and Bone here.)

Favorite Fan Fiction

I don't usually read fanfic, but I saw this review by Livia Blackburne and decided to give it a try. And guess what, I really liked it! In fact, I may have liked it better than the original Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (don't kill me!). I mean, this Harry is brilliant, and he's trying to turn Draco to the good side by teaching him about genetics, and he's doing experiments to discover the rules of magic with Hermione (both Ravenclaw, of course), and Professor Quirrell lets all the students compete in a giant mock-war with generals and traitors. The plot may not be the strongest element, and the writing isn't the best either, but the fanfic is full of nerdy goodness that I found incredibly fascinating and fun, so I was never bored. Plus, I liked the fanfic take better than the original take for so many aspects of Harry and the wizarding world. The story by turns made me laugh, made me think, and moved me to tears. Over all, a wonderful reading experience that gave me a lot to think about.

Side Character Who Stole My Heart

So for most of these other books, my comments tend to focus on the main character, because how I feel about the main character has a very good chance of determining what I feel about the entire book (although an amazing twisty plot or well-executed nonlinear story structure or laugh-out-loud humor can win me over as well). It's rare for me to latch on to a side character so strongly, so the last spot on this post goes to a character from the last book I read (and probably the last book I'll read this year): Raan, vessel of Maara of the Scorpion Clan. I love Raan so freaking much, you guys. She's spirited, clever, tricky, brash, and is fiercely determined to stand up for her own right to life when everyone else demands her death. I love that she rebels against the gods and tradition and the ritual of human sacrifice, and searches for a way to save her clan without the need for her own death. She drinks and swears and is always running away, struggles so much with her prescribed role of a vessel, somehow become friends with the other vessels despite their complete opposite views, and then, in the end, does what she thinks is best even though it costs her so much — and even then she never stops fighting. Just, love. (And best of all, she doesn't spend most of the book mooning over men when she has so much more at stake!) Anyway, Raan was the one who made Vessel a worthwhile read for me, and I so wish she had been the protagonist instead. Then this book would've been competition for Jellicoe Road! ;) (Longer review for Vessel here.)

So yeah, those are a few of the books I read in 2012 that made an impression on me, for better or for worse. I'm looking forward to reading more books in 2013 — and hopefully I'll be better at choosing books I like!

Feel free to steal one of the categories I've used above, or make up your own, and tell me about one of your 2012 reads that was memorable, whether in a good or not-so-good way!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunshine and the Next Big Thing

So I usually put awards and memes on my awards & memes page, but since I haven't blogged in a while, I thought posting some Q&As in my actual blogging space would be a good way to get back into the swing of things. (Except not really because I'm on vacation in the States right now, so it probably won't work, haha.)


Thanks, Sophia, for passing this to me (and our fellow cabinmates from this summer's Camp Nanowrimo)! :)

I'm going with the set of questions Sophia posted, so here goes:

1: Do you sleep with your closet doors open or closed? 

Um, basically in whatever configuration they're in when I fall asleep. Most of the time one would be open because I like the convenience and am too lazy to bother closing them, but sometimes I close the doors for aesthetic purposes.

2: Do you take the shampoos and conditioner bottles from hotels? 

Not often. I don't like taking random free things unless I'm likely to use it (I dislike clutter), so I'd only take them if I really like them and would use them in the near future.

3: Do you sleep with your sheets tucked in or out?

Hm, the only sheet on my bed is the bed sheet; I don't use a top sheet. But in hotels, they usually tuck in that top sheet and it always annoys me because it's so uncomfortable! If it's hot, I want want to be able to uncover my legs sometimes, and if it's cold, I want the blanket tucked around ME, not the entire bed. Warming up all that extra space is a waste of my body heat!

4: Have you ever stolen a street sign before? 

No. See above re: dislike of free things that will just become clutter. I guess a really cool street sign would make an awesome decoration for some people, but that's not really my style.

5. What is your favorite time of year?

Vacation time! I like being lazy. Weather-wise, whenever it's not too hot or too rainy. In Taiwan, that would be autumn. It's the best time to visit!

6. What is your favorite time of day?

Late afternoon, for the pretty golden glow, and nighttime, because that's when I get to do my own things. Mornings are the WORST. Do not try to make conversation with me at breakfast unless you like monosyllabic answers served with a side of scowl.

7. Which are better, Legos or Lincoln Logs? 

I never played much with either when I was a kid. Legos, maybe? I feel like they're more versatile. And also they have more books on the NYT Bestseller List. (WHICH IS TOTALLY LAME, btw.)

8. Do you always smile for pictures? 

Ha. I'm one of those people the photographer is always telling to smile more. To which I usually want to say, "But I'm already smiling!" I guess I prefer smirks and small smiles to big, toothy grins, and have a tendency to err on the side of not being smiley enough. People have told me I look mad when I thought I was being perfectly neutral. (Poll: Do I look mad in that photo of me in the sidebar? I think I look relatively neutral. But I'm pretty sure I thought I was smiling, at least a little bit, when that photo was taken. See how much effort it takes me to even get to neutral? Sigh.)


I was tagged by Lura, whose non-traditional epic fantasy sounds fascinating! Thanks for thinking of me, Lura. :)

What is the working title of your book?

Ahh... I don't really have one yet. For Camp Nanowrio I just went with "PURE AWESOMENESS" because I'm optimistic like that. :P I really suck at naming things.

Where did the idea come from for this book?

I still remember reading Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane and becoming fascinated with the idea of a magical reenactment of past events. I think I've seen that in other books as well, but that was the book that really made an impression on me. I love the idea of people having to take on the roles of great legendary figures of the past, and going through a ritual reenactment of an important major event, and having it actually do something magical rather than just for symbolism. So that's how the premise came to be.

How long did it take to write the first draft?

*cries* It's not done yet! I have random beginnings and free-writes but no draft of even a full outline yet. I do mull over my idea a lot and I do have some of the characters and pieces of the plot figured out, but my progress is sooooo slow. I'm someone who needs to have everything planned out before I write, and plotting is SO HARD, so I'm still very much in the brainstorming/plotting/outlining phase. Where I've been for a really long time. But I really don't want to plot AND write at the same time — I'm determined to come up with a good outline, with most of the holes filled in, before I officially begin drafting.

What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?

Meh, I'm not really fond of this whole choosing-actors-for-book-characters activity. I don't care much about matching book characters to photographs of real people. Plus I don't watch a ton of movies, so the only actors I can think of are the major stars, and none of them really fit for my story. Since my characters' looks would be similar to that of East Asians in our world, ideally they'd be cast with Asian American actors. (Which I think would be preferable to stars brought over from Asia, but even that would be better than — universe forbid — WHITE ACTORS *shudder*). Ooh, maybe Sophia can be in it, since she totally qualifies as an Asian American actress. :D

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Gah, I suck at this one-sentence thing! It sounds so dumb when I try to condense the story. Didn't realize how impossible it is until I had to do it myself. And I don't even have definitive names for people yet (yes I suck at names)! This will probably be revised later, but here's my (terrible, horrible, no good, very bad) shot at it for now:

Confident and talented [protagonist] fully expects to be her goddess's representative for the Empire's most important ritual reenactment; but when an inexperienced newcomer is chosen instead, she takes it upon herself to make sure the girl's incompetence — and the rebel group determined to see a different outcome for the ritual — won't put the entire Empire at risk.

Will it be self published or represented by an agency?

Eh, dunno. Possibly neither. I'll worry about it after I've actually written the thing; I feel like it's too early for me to be thinking about this stuff already. I'm mainly interested in writing this story as a fun thing for myself. If it turns out to be decent then I'll think about monetizing it. Haha.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

If you follow me on Goodreads or have discussed books with me, there is a good chance you've noticed that I have an inordinate amount of pet peeves (and Alz says they're even peevier than hers, so you know how bad they are!). Given how particular I am, it can be hard for me to find books that don't push my RAGE buttons while hitting all the right notes, like making me laugh or having characters I love or a brilliant plot (and all of that is very subjective and personal). So I guess I wanted to write a book for myself — one that includes my favorite tropes and stomps on the ones I hate. You know, like making a custom pasta dish yourself instead of going to a fancy Italian restaurant and picking one of the ones they have. Sure, the execution might not be as good (I'm a terrible cook), and some people will probably think my custom pasta is gross, but at least I will like it because it will have all of my favorite ingredients and NO MUSHROOMS!!!

Ahem. Mushroom hate aside, here's an old blog post about why I want to write that goes a little deeper.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Other than the YA Asian fantasies already out there, I'd want to compare it to Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst. Vessel also features a PoC heroine in a non-traditional epic fantasy setting who is involved in magical rituals that are important to her people, and decides on her own to take up a quest to fix an unexpected complication that pops up after years of training and dedication. At least that's my impression from reviews I've seen, since I haven't read it yet, so... yeah. But I got the ebook so I'll be reading it soon, and I'll let you know how it goes! (Also crossing my fingers that it doesn't have TOO many similarities with my story.)

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Hm. I guess you could say that it's the story of someone who'd usually be the "bitchy mean girl." I mean, there's a special snowflake in this story — she's suddenly swept into a new life, surprises everyone with an incredibly rare and powerful ability; she's expected to do great things; she doesn't think she's beautiful, but catches the eye of the Most Desirable Male on the first day (along with many of the slightly-less-desirable ones); she doesn't fit in with the popular girls, and her quirky sidekick — er, loyal friend — assures her that they're just jealous. But though she'd usually be the protagonist, she's not for this story.

One of the popular girls is the actual protagonist. She cares about looks, can be kind of conceited, and isn't particularly warm toward strangers. But she's also fiercely ambitious and practices her spells in the early hours because she's determined to be the best. She also has a close group of girlfriends (the other "popular girls") with whom she enjoys jokes and banter and gossip — particularly about Most Desirable Male, who she's been crushing on for longer than she'd like to admit. ;)

It might not work out, I know, but I thought it'd be kinda fun to try anyway. :P

That's it, and I hope you enjoyed reading my answers to these questions! Now I'm so curious about what everyone is working on. If this is something you'd be interested in doing, PLEASE steal these questions from me and do your own post about your WIP. I'd LOVE to hear about your inspirations and ideas! :)