Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Fall Reading List of 2016

Fall (or rather, AUTUMN, because it sounds fancier) is my favorite season. I just love the idea of reading under a comfy blanket and drinking a nice cup of tea. But it's quite hard to imagine that now, especially since it was in the nineties yesterday! And lemme tell you, it never gets that hot until summer starts saying goodbye. *Insert that one emoji where the eyes are looking up*

Knowing myself, I'd be lucky if I read five of these. I really think it could happen this time around though, especially since I'm a lot more picky about what I read now. If you're planning on reading any of these, please tell me! And maybe we can do a buddy read or something :)

1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I've been getting into psychological thrillers recently! While this one has been buzzing for quite some time now, I haven't wanted to read it until I accidentally watched the trailer. This storyline is INTENSE, and there's just something about a mysterious disappearance that entices me.

2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling
This one is slightly embarrassing, considering the fact that I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. Even if it's just a long list of magical creatures, I still want to learn about them!

3. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
I'll be honest, I have little interest in reading this aside from the fact that I want to see the movie. I don't think it's the kind of genre I enjoy, but I hope I'll be surprised anyway! Seems like a perfect fit to match this season.

4. Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin // November 1st
I've already spoken about this book in my most anticipated releases post, so you probably already know I BEEN ready to read this one. If you're following this duology: do you think I'll need to read Iron to Iron (the novella) before diving into Blood for Blood?

5. Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra // September 20th
Another "girl goes missing" story, but what makes this one interesting is that it's told in the perspective of the person who takes over the missing girl's life. I've heard it's fast-paced, but I don't want to know anything else because it's a psychological thriller. (Surprise! Another PT I want to read!)

6. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff // October 18th
Yes, another book I mentioned earlier this year. For good reason, I promise. It was intense (as I keep saying ... I'm like a broken record, really) and I am dying to know what happens!!!

7. When I Don't Desire God by John Piper
In picking this book, I want to challenge myself to think about what I believe in, what joy really is, and what I can do, as the title says, when I don't desire God. Maybe it's a book I'll be able to share about on this blog when I finish!

8. The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
This book has been on my radar for almost a year now, and I'm not quite sure why I haven't picked it up yet. I'm planning to read this for the #OwnVoices October read-a-thon (watch this video if you're interested!) but I'm actually not sure why it's considered "own voices" ... perhaps Heilig is from Hawaii?

9. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I've realized just recently that while I am Asian American, I rarely read anything with PoC characters. Not that being Asian American means I should, but reading about characters like me is something I support. I've heard only good things about Ng's debut novel, and it'll be an "out-of-comfort" read for me, as I don't read literary fiction often (if at all ...)

10. In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
I can't imagine being in the right sort of mood to read this one, so I don't know if I'll actually pick it up this autumn. But it's on this list because I *hope* to get to it soon. I want to learn about her experience in North Korea/China and how it shaped her to become the person she is today.

What's on your reading list this fall?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Summer 2016 Recap — Getting my driver's license, Songs from Waitress, and other things that happened this summer

This was an unusual summer. Last summer was my first summer out of school, and I interned in New York City so it FELT like a vacation. But this summer was the same as spring — I worked during the week and went out on some weekends, nothing special. I don't love summer as much as I used to when I was in school, which makes sense because it doesn't mean "a break from school" anymore. But not loving summer doesn't equal hating summer. In fact, I'm happy that I was able to do new things (go strawberry picking, try a new Thai restaurant, celebrate an engagement, etc.) But I am even happier now that autumn is arriving :)

  • Bay Area Book Festival — Joseph was very sweet to suggest spending our first Saturday in June at this event. We went to the panel titled "A Sense of Place: Writing Where We Live (and Lived)" and met Stacey Lee after!
  • My family and I rarely travel together, so it was really nice to take a weekend trip to Monterey this summer. We didn't get to visit the aquarium there, but we DID visit Point Lobos and see sea lions! Just being together is enough for me.
  • I took Joseph to watch/listen to Ratatouille at the San Francisco Symphony in July — the perfect combination since he loves the orchestra and Disney. (Ratatouille is actually his favorite Disney movie!) There's nothing like hearing movie music played live, it was a good experience!
  • I PASSED MY DRIVING TEST, finally! It was my first time trying, but driving is so scary. I still have anxiety doing it but I'm happy that's over and done with. Now my family and friends can stop bugging me about it :p
  • I celebrated my 24th birthday in August with three of my good girlfriends, and it was good just being with them. Joseph took me to Bouchon Bakery the weekend before (to celebrate) and we played a lot of Pokemon Go. I'll be honest, I'm not too invested in that game ... but I was very excited after taking over a gym!

Books and pages read in June, July and August: 10 // 2,827 pages
Books and pages read in 2016: 32 // 9,964 pages

I still have three or four more short stories to read in Summer Days and Summer Nights, an anthology edited by Stephanie Perkins, which I can't seem to get myself to read. I've also returned A Tyranny of Petticoats (edited by Jessica Spotswood) to the library ... I think I need to stay away from anthologies for the time being.

  • I totally forgot to photograph Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda, but you've probably seen it already. And if you haven't, I *should* be sharing the spine in an upcoming post :)
  • I still haven't read Cress (by Marissa Meyer) but I still felt the need to buy Stars Above, the ending novellas. I guess having a 20% off B&N coupon helps my case. Maybe.
  • Like I mentioned earlier, Stacey Lee was at the Bay Area Book Festival so I had to get Outrun the Moon, her newest young adult novel. I've since read + reviewed it in my mini reviews post last month and really liked it. It's perfect for younger readers (middle grade age) and those looking for an accurate representation of Chinese culture.
  • Scored Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson for less than $5 at Half Price Books, but I'm not ready to cry my eyes out :(
  • This was supposed to be a stack of books I bought from Book Outlet, but I left out Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle and added Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Good job, self. Other books pictured: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, and The Bitter Kingdom, the final book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson.
  • I had no idea Jen Wilkin wrote another book earlier this year, so I got None Like Him with a gift card that one of my very sweet friends, Stephanie, gave me for my birthday. (Thank you, girl!!!) I also purchased When I Don't Desire God by John Piper because I think the man is an excellent theologian. I haven't heard anyone talk about this one though, but I trust that it's good.

  • What's Inside: Songs from Waitress by Sara Bareilles — I had this album saved on my Spotify from ages ago, but for some reason I didn't listen to it until this summer. (C'mon, past Amaris ... WHAT ARE YOU DOING.) Sara did an amazing job with these songs, and I really think this set deserved to win the "Best Score" award. Too bad it was competing against Hamilton. My favorites: What's Inside, When He Sees Me, She Used to be Mine, and Lulu's Pie Song :)
  • I flew through the first season of Jane the Virgin at the end of July and you guys, it is SO dramatic and funny. CW is killin' it with all these excellent shows. My only problem with JtV = there's a love triangle. My poor heart can't take it ...
  • Psychological fiction — This started out after I watched Ex Machina, a sci-fi/psychological thriller about a programmer who is given the chance to develop an AI with his CEO. (Great movie, by the way.) Now I just want to read all the books that'll mess with my mind. This also explains why I read Gone Girl :p
  • Grant Gustin's "CW EYES" — YOU'RE WELCOME!
Did you read anything this summer that ended up on your FAVORITES list or take any trips outside of your normal living area? Do you have any recommendations for good psychological fiction? 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

2016 Mid-Year Reading Update

Earlier this year, I shared some reading/blogging goals for 2016. I was honest about wanting to stick with them, but I've been doing a pretty crappy job at it. This is the first time I've looked at the six-item list since writing it. Oops. I know 2016 is more than halfway over, but I still have some time to revise and start/continue working toward my goals. Since I'm looking over January to June, I will consider July a "lost" month for now. It will be removed from my brain for the time being, until I talk about my year as a whole!

Read 70 books from my shelf.
Purpose: To create a smaller physical TBR pile

I'm pretty sure I was dreaming when I made this goal, because I can barely read 70 books in total. AND I visit my library at least once a week. Yikes. By the end of June, I only read 37 things (and by "things," I mean comics, graphic novels, full-length books, short stories, etc.) — 25 were from the library and 5 were ARCs, which means I have only read 7 books from my bookshelf.

Revised goal: Read two books from my shelf each month. (Gotta start somewhere, right?!)

Choose books I am 100% interested in.
Purpose: To avoid reading slumps

Compared to last year, I am doing WAY better. But I could still use a bit of improvement, especially since I'm easily suckered by enticing blurbs. As I'm looking at my reading pattern for the first half of 2016, I can see all the lulls ... and it happens right after a "tough-to-get-through" book. Which, more than likely, I chose on a whim.

Revised goal: Make better choices?

Continue to document what I read in my book journal.
Purpose: To remember more of what I read (ex: favorite quotes, cringe-worthy scenes, etc.)

I don't jot down my initial feelings after reading, which is what I originally hoped to capture BUT I'm doing pretty good with recording! I usually chicken-scratch all my thoughts on recycled paper while I'm reading, and then transfer what I really want to remember in my book journal. It's nice to revisit a book after a couple of days (or weeks!) and re-read all my favorite parts. I'm caught up with documenting all the books I've read since the end of June, but this is probably the easiest goal to keep up with.

Review every book I read.
Purpose: To share more of what I read

Like I mentioned in my first goal, I read 37 things in June and 27 of them are now reviewed/rated on Goodreads! 73%! I'm actually surprised to be more than halfway there. Like I mentioned briefly in my mini reviews post on Monday, I never review until it's too late. And by "too late," I mean WHEN MY BRAIN DOESN'T REMEMBER ANYTHING ANYMORE. But it helps that I am writing things down, I just need to do a better job of typing something up immediately after I read.

Refrain from participating in reading challenges.
Purpose: To avoid reading books I don't actually want to read

The more I think about this one, the less I like it. I originally added this to my list to keep from restricting myself to certain genres and stay away from burnout, but I've since realized that challenges can be a good thing for me. (Why do I have a rule about having no rules?!)

Revised goal: None, I'm going to trash this one!

Start a favorites page.
Purpose: To share my recommendations with everyone!

I STILL haven't done this. In fact, I haven't really updated anything on my blog this year. Except for my 2016 reads page. Not knowing how to organize it all is what's holding me back, so let me ask you — how do you enjoy browsing through favorites? By genre? Subject matter? Title/author? Do you like seeing covers?

TL;DR VERSION: Read two books from my shelf each month. Make good choices. Keep taking notes and reviewing. Stop making rules about having no rules. Add all favorites to one page!

What is something you've been working toward this year?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mini Reviews: Very Good Lives, Outrun the Moon, Kindred Spirits

I tend to avoid reviewing books right after I finish in case my immediate feelings affect my actual thoughts, but this often leads to never actually talking about my opinion because I'm also forgetful. I don't share too much on Twitter while I'm reading (spoiling someone is something I hope never to do), so here you go: A THREE FOR ONE DEAL! I'm actually just playing catch-up (I will probably never catch up, tbh) and sharing my recent reads: an inspirational speech and two stories — one that takes place during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the other about a passionate fan.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
Non-Fiction • 5 stars
In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, Very Good Lives presents J.K. Rowling's words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?

Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life's most important questions with acuity and emotional force.
"Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination
to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged." (32)

If you haven't heard Jo's speech or read this short piece yet, please drop everything you're doing and pick it up. I really wish I had this back when I was in high school — timid and afraid me would've benefitted greatly from it. While I can't say for sure that my life would be completely different had I heard this speech then, I'd like to think I would have tried more things and taken more steps outside my comfort zone. Very Good Lives was incredibly inspiring, and knowing that she has experienced failure before becoming successful brings a bit of hope as well as validity on why failing doesn't have to be a bad thing.

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously
that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default." (34)

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Young Adult // Historical Fiction • 4 stars
San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty of Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare's School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare's is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong — until disaster strikes.
How can I say that this book was simple without diminishing its value? (I'm still trying to figure that out.) It's clear that this story takes place before/during/after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and while that is a big deal in and of itself, the characters and the way racism/prejudice is woven in is what makes Outrun the Moon shine. We follow a headstrong Chinese-American girl, Mercy Wong, who doesn't take "no" for an answer. She goes after what she wants, no matter what people say about her. But even when she's treated differently because of her ethnicity and status, she responds unlike most would. Outrun the Moon is simple in the way it's told — anyone reading this book will see how family is valued in Chinese culture, for example, and I am thankful that this is a good representation of where I come from. (For those of you who don't know, I am also Chinese-American!)

"... all cards return to the deck at some point — kings, queens, and even twos." (239)

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
Young Adult // Contemporary • 3.25 stars
If you broke Elena's heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she's expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does.

What she's not expecting is to be last in a line of only three people; to have to pee into a collectible Star Wars soda cup behind a dumpster or to meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels.
Finally, an author who writes about the struggles of waiting in line and needing to pee! I've seriously wondered more times than I'd like to admit — when will authors start including characters who have bladder troubles? But I digress, it would probably make an uninteresting story. Maybe.

I read the first ten pages of Kindred Spirits at least five times because I couldn't commit to finishing it (note: it was only 62 pages. I know, I'm pathetic ...) but it was far from boring. Who knew a story about waiting in line could be interesting? You don't need to have seen Star Wars to read this one, but I think you'll appreciate it more if you are passionate about something. My only complaint is that I wish there was more. A couple of things were brought up (for example, Elena's dad being her gateway to Star Wars) that seemed to have significance but ended up being nothing much. Cutesy story, nonetheless. Not surprising, especially coming from Rainbow Rowell.

What did you read this past week?
If you've read any of these books, please tell me what you thought!
Do you like reading mini reviews? Or do you prefer a thorough review?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Going for Gold (The Flip Side by Shawn Johnson)

The Flip Side by Shawn Johnson

Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Format: eARC // 320 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars

I'm not claiming to be a huge Shawn Johnson fan, but I distinctly remember being in high school and cheering for her when she competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Of course, it was from my living room couch. And it was my dad who was mainly watching ... but my eyeballs *did* see her flipping and twisting on my television screen. This only explains why I chose to read The Flip Side, and in no way influences what I think of the content.

"Charlie Ryland has a secret. She may seem like your average high school sophomore — but she's just really good at pretending. Because outside of school Charlie spends all her waking hours training to become one of the best gymnasts in the world. And it’s not easy flying under the radar when you're aiming for Olympic gold ... especially when an irresistible guy comes along and threatens to throw your whole world off balance."

Right from the start, I noticed that the style of writing and form of storytelling caters to a young audience. This was solidified when the word "bae" was used in dialogue. That's the thing kids use nowadays, right?! Not gonna lie, I was baffled when I read it. I still have no words. As simple as The Flip Side was, it *did* explore a great theme: FRIENDSHIP.

Although Charlie and Gwen are training/competing against each other, they are also real friends. There are many ways that backstabbing and catty behavior could've been written into their situation, but it was nice to see that they genuinely encouraged and pushed each other to be better. Side note: The Flip Side reminded me a little of the Disney movie Ice Princess, which I just Googled and found out that MEG CABOT (the author of The Princess Diaries series) wrote the screenplay for?! Thankfully, Gwen's mom does not go out of her way to sabotage Charlie's career ... but I digress.

As much as I loved Gwen and her willingness to take risks for Charlie, I thought she (and the other characters) were TOO PERFECT and one dimensional. We don't know much about Gwen, just that she's dedicated to performing her best, and I would have loved for her character to be developed in some way. We also hardly get to know the guy that just shows up in Charlie's life — why did he like her so much, and vice versa? The lack of backstory for this guy emphasizes the want for this book to be about Charlie experiencing love ... and that was my main disappointment.

For a book centered around a gymnast, I was hoping there'd be more about the actual sport. I feel like it was more about a teenage girl wanting to experience the normal high school events, like prom, and less about an inside look at how a gymnast balances her dream and high school. But it's partly my fault — even the description hints at a budding romance.

The relationship between Charlie + guy didn't work for me, but I appreciate seeing the ways her family is impacted because of the choices Charlie makes. Her parents and brother sacrifice many things for her, privacy and comfort being two. I'm glad that part of being a gymnast was shared.

The Flip Side is ...
  • "basic" (read: opposite of unique) ... can you tell I'm trying to be hip like the kids?)
  • slightly entertaining but lacking in conflict. I wanted more drama!
  • probably written for youths in middle school/entering high school.
  • a quick read. If I didn't have priorities, I would've easily finished in one sitting.
  • not too much about gymnastics and mostly about ... meeting a cute boy in high school?
I love a cute book that ties in sports — what is something you'd recommend? (Mine would be First & Then by Emma Mills!) Have you ever picked up a book because of the "celebrity" author?
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