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?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Most Anticipated Releases (for the rest of 2016!)

This actually took me a while to compile, mainly because I've been a lot more picky with adding books to my TBR ("to be read") list. As you scroll through this extended list, I'll be crossing my fingers and hoping that these will all be five-stars reads for me :p

There needs to be more talk about Wolf by Wolf because that book was so good. It dips into various genres (alternate history and paranormal, to name a couple) but it isn't forced at all. The world-building is done really well, I am SO READY for all the action!!!

CREEPY + INTENSE are the two words I'd use to describe Illuminae, which I'm hoping will carry through to Gemina. (It works perfectly for the storyline, I think!) I wish we would continue with the same main characters, but I'm sure it will be an amazing read anyway.

Another book by Jay Kristoff, that man must be a writing machine! I heard it was compared to Harry Potter? SOLD.

LOOK AT THE COVER. PRETTY COLORS, PRETTY FONT. But before the cover was even released, I read a description and found the premise to be enthralling. The higher you live in the building, the more status you have in the world. And one day, a woman falls from the thousandth floor ... It's categorized under sci-fi, so I am *really* hoping for it to be FULL of science fiction-y things. I mean, I hope it's properly categorized and not just there because it takes place in the future.

The name Britta (the main character) will forever remind me of Britta from Community! But that is not why I put this book on my list ... To be completely honest, it's here because I've been hearing good things about it on Twitter.

If you've been around since the beginning of this year, you would know that I have SO MUCH LOVE for First & Then, Mills' debut novel. Macmillan/Henry Holt was so kind as to grant my wish on NetGalley, so I will be reading this very soon! I still don't know what it's about, but I will read anything with Mills' name on it :)

Meyer is BACK AT IT AGAIN with another fairy tale retelling, this time in the perspective of the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Here's to hoping I finish The Lunar Chronicles series by the time it gets released!

Meant to Be was such a fun contemporary romance, I have no doubt I'll feel the same about My Unscripted Life. After reading the synopsis for this book, I realized that I'll automatically want to read a book if it involves a movie set. There's just something about "behind the scenes" that I love.

I feel like I'm cheating a bit by placing Lee's next book under this category because I haven't read anything of hers yet, but I DID get to meet her at the Bay Area Book Fest last weekend (!!!) and she was so sweet. I will make the exception :p

Anna Kendrick is such a versatile human being. She is hilarious, but she can be serious too — just watch The Last Five Years. And I love that she can make fun of herself. Like Mills', I will read anything Anna Kendrick puts out.
What are some releases you are most looking forward to? Have you read any of the ones I mentioned yet? And because I've been in and out for a while — what are you currently reading?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

April + May 2016 Recap: Lake Tahoe, The Flash + The Last Five Years

To everyone who still reads amarisafloria: I have accepted the fact that this blog is all over the place (as is my life) but I still want to share what I can!

  • Weekend trip to Lake Tahoe with the fam — the first trip my whole family has gone on together since 2005. Ten whole years ago, can you believe it? We weren't able to go snowboarding, but it was still a good time barbecuing, playing pool, hanging out at the lake (it was BEAUTIFUL) and eating as much sushi as possible.
  • I GOT BAPTIZED! — I've been meaning to for ages now, but haven't had the right opportunity until now. I'm really thankful for all the friends who came to support me, and I am very happy to have had the chance to share my testimony with everyone.
  • My baby brother graduated from high school! — he's really not a baby anymore, but it's so strange to think that he'll be going to college in the fall ...

Books and pages read in April and May: 6 // 2,122 pages
Books and pages read in 2016: 22 // 7,137 pages

Faith #1 and #2 by Jody Houser
I really love that Faith isn't your typical pretty girl hero with boobs. It was an OKAY first issue — there's a bit of mystery as to why she left her old team, and it ends with a boom. But we don't get to see her fight (which I was looking forward to) and the reason she had to encounter these perps was kinda lame. Also, the eyes for the characters were CREEPY. Second issue: nothing much happened, which I am really disappointed about :(

The Flash, Vol. 1: Move Forward by Francis Manapul
The art was cool (I LOVED the introduction pages for each issue) but the story was so-so and not memorable at all. It pains me to say that, especially because I *love* the television show ... BUT! I heard Geoff Johns' run is excellent, so I'm going to give it a try — issues #164-176, if you're interested.

The Superior Spider-Man, Vol. 2: A Troubled Mind by Dan Slott
Much better than volume one, mainly because it was more about the Avengers trying to figure out what was going on with Spider-Man and less about Doc Ock's personal life. I guess I'm just not a fan of him?

  • CWTV's The Flash — SUCH A GOOD SHOW.
  • After finding a video of Grant Gustin singing If I Didn't Believe in You, I watched the movie version of The Last Five Years (Anna Kendrick + Jeremy Jordan) on Netflix and LOVED it. Which, considering the topic, is very strange. The story is told in the two perspectives of a couple who spends five years together. What makes it interesting is that Jamie's is told from beginning to end and Cathy's from end to beginning. The songs are incredibly powerful and heartbreaking. Favorite songs from the soundtrack: Still Hurting, See I'm Smiling, Nobody Needs to Know, and, of course, If I Didn't Believe in You.
  • Other songs that have been on repeat all month long: Heartbeat by Carrie Underwood, Break Up in a Small Town by Sam Hunt, Work ft. Drake (R3hab Remix) by Rhianna.
Okay, how many of you guys watch The Flash? WE NEED TO DISCUSS. Which books are you looking forward to reading in June? What type of comics are you in the middle of right now?
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