Reading, lately

Reading? What?

As a high school English teacher, my reading life changes drastically in late August. It’s hard to keep up a 3-4 book a week reading momentum when you have a full-time job and are drowning in essays on the weekends. Blah, blah, teacher complaints. Plus, Netflix added the entire Gilmore Girls series and re-watching that has been on the top of my free time priority list. 😉

I’m adopting a quick-review structure today called Twitterature, thoughtfully conceived by another voracious reader over at Modern Mrs. Darcy. The only rule is to write a book review in 140 characters or less. Here’s what I’ve been reading, lately.


  • All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness:  Witches, vampires, daemons, oh my! This one has time travel, true love, and battle scenes; there is something for every type of fantasy fan.
  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce: As a childhood Tamora Pierce fan, this was a bit of a letdown. Probably because it’s about animals and I am not an animal lover. (Try Song of the Lioness quartet instead.)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak [for work]: A beautifully written tale of a young German girl finding the true power of words during World War II. I cannot recommend this enough.
  • Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: Fluffy, silly YA, but extremely satisfying. Perkins writes very realistic characters and I can often see my students (and myself!) in her books.


  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer [for work]: Nonfiction account of Chris McCandless’s tragic foray into the Alaskan wild. I especially love the excerpts of books Chris thought were important, as well as his own journal writing.
  • Isla and the Happily Every After by Stephanie Perkins: The “sequel” to Lola above (different characters); very similar and equally satisfying.
  • Outlander: by Diana Gabaldon: I love me a good time-traveling romance, and this does not disappoint. Don’t be put off by the length, it is so worth the time commitment.


  • Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon: Still working on this one. I don’t love it quite as much as Outlander (some slow parts 1/4 of the way in), but I’m still invested in the characters.


On the docket for November/December (I rarely stick to “to-read” lists, but these are all in a pile next to my couch sooo….maybe I’ll read them?)

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Adiche
  • Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Don’t You Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Raven Boys

(Full disclosure: I’m writing this post because I want to win an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Maggie Stiefvater’s upcoming novel, Blue Lily, Lily Blue. That being said, I truly do love Maggie Stiefvater and everything she writes.)

I cannot recommend Maggie Stiefvater’s books enough. While my very favorite of her novels is the exquisite Scorpio Races, her most recent series/quartet/set of related novels is the Raven Boys Cycle, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in that cycle. I love reading these novels for Stiefvater’s ability to turn a phrase. She has a creative and lyrical writing style that I only wish I could emulate. The first novel of this cycle was an intriguing mix of fantasy and prep school politics, but the second lost me slightly because I didn’t love the focus of narration — I missed Blue’s voice. I wrote in my Goodreads review of The Dream Thieves (book two) that I hoped the third novel would return to a focus on Blue, and it looks like it does! I can’t wait to get my hands on this novel and lose myself in Stiefvater’s writing.

Sidekick Characters


The last two “Top Ten Tuesday” posts I’ve written have gotten me thinking about secondary characters. When I wrote about characters I wanted with me on a deserted island, I realized that I was drawn most often to characters who are in a supporting role in novels, rather than the main characters. Why is that? What is it about secondary characters (or tertiary characters) that makes them so much more interested and fun?

Protagonists are so burdened. The weight of the world in on a main character’s shoulders and they are responsible for making all the life or death decisions required to move the plot forward. Secondary characters though? They don’t have that weight hanging over them; they have room to make jokes and lighten the mood. They are the comic release that breaks up the tension created by the main characters.

Let’s use something many people are familiar with as an example: the Harry Potter series. Harry is a great character; he’s well-developed, he grows and changes throughout the novels, he’s very likable. However, Harry is also very burdened. He literally has the fate of the wizarding world weighing on his conscience at all times, and it constantly affects his decisions and the way he lives his life.

But, then think about Ron. Ron could be considered a first or secondary characters, but for the sake of this article, we’ll call him secondary. Ron has a lot of responsibility too; he worries about his family constantly, and he is often tasked with helping Harry. But, Ron has much more freedom than Harry. Ron can date, he can crack jokes, he can play pranks — Harry is much too serious and conflicted to do these things. While I like Harry, and I appreciate him as a character, I ultimately like Ron better, and I would rather be friends with Ron (and hang out with him on a deserted island) than I would Harry.

Authors can have fun with the smaller characters in a novel. If we’re sticking with Harry Potter, think about all the smaller, less important characters that add comedy and fun to the series: Rita Skeeter, Dobby, Luna Lovegood, even Hagrid. It’s not just books, but movies and television shows as well. Jesse is more interesting than Walter White in Breaking Bad. Han Solo has more jokes than Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. The list can go on forever!

So, what do you think? What other secondary characters are more interesting, likable, or fun than the main character? (I like Robin more than Batman, Haymitch and Effie more than Katniss, Dill more than Scout…)

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas


dangerousgirlsGenre: mystery, young adult

My rating: 3.5/5 (liked it a lot)

Life lesson: Don’t get too close to you best friend.


Dangerous Girls is a stand-alone YA mystery; in the first 25 pages we find out that Anna has been accused of murdering her best friend, Elise, while they are on a spring break trip to Aruba. Part murder mystery, part expose on rich teenagers, this novel is mature in its subject matter, but offers a glimpse into how easily someone’s past actions (especially on social media) can be used to create a narrative about their life, whether it’s true or not.

When I first started reading this novel, I jotted down a few initial thoughts after the first 50 pages: who is the audience? high school? emerging adult? (early college age) — content is mature with sex, drinking, drugs, and murder, but the language and writing style seem immature. I almost had to put down the book with this sentence: “Chelsea’s twin brother, Max, is already off bro-ing it up with AK by the bar, trying their luck with a pair of Swedish-looking blondes” (6). Am I reading something written by a sorority girl? But, it’s gotten good reviews (lots of mentions of a good twist near the end) so I’ll keep reading.

I was really worried about the writing style at first, but it either got better or I got used to it as the story went on, and I didn’t notice the immaturity as much later in the novel. There is a twist in the final chapter of the novel, and while I didn’t spoil myself this time (self-control FTW!), it wasn’t quite as unexpected as I was hoping. I liked my prediction better.

My favorite part of this novel, by far, is the focus on how Anna’s social media history is used against her in trial. She, like many teenagers, posted her entire life online: underage drinking, promiscuous photos, inside jokes that might be perceived differently than intended. I thought this book did a really great job of showing how dangerous it is to post too much of your life on the internet (says the person writing a blog…) and just how careful you have to be about the “online persona” you create for yourself. It’s a good message that I think could be useful for all teenagers.

So, I recommend sticking this one out past the immature writing in the first 1/4 of the novel. The mystery is engrossing and the author does a great  job of revealing just enough at a time to keep the reader engaged.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty


WhatAliceForgotGenre: adult contemporary, chick lit

My rating: 2/5  (it was okay)

Life lesson: Make time for your partner.


Honestly, I was disappointed in this novel. It’s a good idea: a woman falls off spin bike and loses 10 years of her life, forgetting  her husband, children and they myriad of changes that have occurred in those 10 years of life. Alice struggles to come to terms with how her marriage has changed over ten  years, when she still thinks they are newlyweds. Since I am in a new-ish marriage (just starting year two!), I really liked reading about how the marriage grew and changed over the course of ten years — in good and bad ways. It was a good lesson in making time for each other once kids and work begin to take over, and while kids are still a little ways off for my husband and I, I really appreciated reading a warning, so to speak, about keeping our marriage healthy.

However, while I connected to the plot and loved the idea of the novel, I had a hard time connecting to the characters; even Alice, whose voice is the primary narrator, didn’t feel like a real person to me. I was frustrated by some of her decisions (although, I did think her bewilderment at her “new” life after amnesia was well-done), and thought there needed to be some more detail about her current life. The author spent too much time in flashbacks for me; I thought the present-day storyline was more interesting than how Alice’s relationship began. I also didn’t like how the author changed the narrator to Alice’s sister’s and grandmother’s point of view. I didn’t think those alternate voices added much to the story, and the grandmother’s especially seemed random and disjointed from the rest of the narrative.

Overall, if you like chick lit authors like Jojo Moyes, Emily Giffen, and Jennifer Weiner you’ll probably enjoy this one. I think my critiques are more personal peeves than anything else. 🙂

Goodreads Stats

Did you know Goodreads could do this?!? I sure didn’t.

July end Goodreads

Directions, in case you’re curious for yourself: after you log into Goodreads, click on the “My Books” tab at the top > then at the top of your list, next to the search bar, are three options — click on the one that says “Stats” > click on “details” to see the image from above > marvel at your reading habits!


(visit me on Goodreads, we can be friends: click here)


Why I Read the End First

True confession: I skimmed the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows almost as soon as I opened the book.

I often read the end of a novel first. I know you’re thinking I’m insane – why would I want to spoil great stories for myself?? The answer is simple (and a cliche): it’s more about the journey than the destination. Once I’m invested in story,  I have an overwhelming urge to find out RIGHT NOW if my characters meet the end I’ve planned out for them in my head.

I don’t spoil everything for myself. I always read a significant portion of the novel (or series) before skimming the last few pages — this way I connect to the characters and the plot. If that connection isn’t there, then I’m not invested in the book and while I’ll probably still read the rest of the novel, I won’t bother putting the effort in to think about and analyze the story as I’m reading. If I do make a connection with the characters or the storyline, I want to know the end so that I can better understand the story as I read it. Why does a character make the decisions he or she does? Does it follow a pattern? Are the pieces of rising action building toward something meaningful? Why did the author add that little detail? This probably sounds ridiculous to you, but I really do think these things as I read. If a character does something unexpected, I want to understand why they make that decision and if I know how the story ends, I can better understand the character’s choices. For me, seeing how the story and characters develop is more important than the element of surprise that comes with a twist at the end of the story.

(I sound like such an English teacher right now)

It’s not just books I spoil for myself; I spoil television shows and movies too. IMDB and Wikipedia are my best and worst friends. Sometimes, when I start watching a show on Netflix and really like it, I’ll read up about the best episodes and they skip ahead to watch those – especially if there’s a budding relationship between two characters. This can be really frustrating for my husband, because he never wants to know what happens, and I’m always trying to jump ahead.

As you can imagine, this habit of mine drives my friends and family crazy. Because I care so little about surprise endings, I sometimes inadvertently spoil the end of a novel for a friend. This happens less these days, and because people have gotten really upset with me in the past, I’m much more careful now.  Here’s a blanket apology  if I’ve ever spoiled a book or t.v. show for you: I really am sorry to have ruined the surprise (I am so bad at surprises).

What do you think? Am I committing the worst book-reading sin of all time? Or are you a fellow human spoiler alert?