Month: January 2014

26 Jan 2014

his life with books – best of 2013

I’ve mentioned that The Boy has been upping his reading game in recent years. In 2012 he read 25 books, then 30 in 2013, and this year he’s hoping for 35.

Since he is a normal human and not a librarian or even a particularly book-ish person, he reads much differently than I do. Lots of audiobooks. Books about music. And unlike most of us heathens, he actually reads books that people purchase him for gifts! You know, all those books that just sit on your shelves and taunt you for years. Those books. He reads them! How adorable.

Anyway, much like I pester him into reading various books, I pestered him into telling me his top 5 reads in 2013.

I am pleased with the results because most of them came as direct recommendations from yours truly. If Reading The Books I Think You Will Love and then Loving Them is a love language, then it is definitely mine. Especially happy about #2.

So without further ado… The Boy’s Top 5 of 2013.

After which I promise to stop talking about 2013 and move on with my life.

5. Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

4. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

3. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

2. Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

1. A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin






23 Jan 2014

reading wishlist: upcoming 2014 YA

So, idealistic, resolution-making Jessica, if you are going to read more 2014 titles this year, where shall you begin?

Well, how about some new YA. You like YA, right? Right.

This particular round-up is heavy on authors I already like. Ms. Lockhart and Ms. Perkins are the only two I would consider “insta-buys” at this point in my particular reading life, but many of the rest have a celebrated book or two under their belts. If you are a debut-hunter, look elsewhere. Or at least wait around until I collect a list of ’14 debuts I find notable. It might not be too long of a wait.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Mr. Whaley’s debut novel Where Things Come Back won the William C. Morris Award, the Printz award, won Mr. Whaley a 35 under 35. It was also my #3 favorite book in 2011. Highly prestigious.

Noggin seems to be a bit weirder and more sci-fi than Whaley’s debut. Luckily, I have become a bit more amenable to the weird and sci-fi since 2011. Early reviews are favorable, and seem to indicate that the non-weird stuff is just as strong as the weird in this book. About decapitation and brain transplants. Or something.

It does look awful weird, guys. But that is really not going to stop me from giving it a shot.

Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

Moriarty’s Cracks in the Kingdom is the second installment in the Colors of Madeleine series. As of today, I am about halfway through A Corner of White. It was a little slow going. Moriarty has a very distinct style that I have trouble investing in. Her writing isn’t dense, it isn’t heavy, but it is awfully verbose and rife with little phrase-long, sentence-long diversions that you aren’t sure if you should be paying attention to. Instead of following one sentence to the next, plodding along, reading Moriarty feels a little like swimming in words.

I’ve read enough, though, to start to enjoy the flow, and to feel pretty sure I will want to read the second in the series.

Wow, this is sounding really wishy-washy. I will “give it a shot.” I am “pretty sure I will want to read” it. Man, oh man. Well, you see, I have contracted an upper respiratory infection of some sort. Please forgive me, readers. And books. As of this moment, I guess I cannot imagine giving anything much more than “a shot.” Maybe I will give a nap a shot later today. Or give a shot of Dayquil a shot. That sort of thing.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

Speaking of sequels… here is a book #3. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone but couldn’t muscle through Days of Blood and Starlight on audio. I am not letting that minor personal failing keep me from getting hyped for Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I just have my work cut out for me now.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Aaaaand speaking of weird scifi follow-ups to works of contemporary realism…

Grasshopper Jungle sounds a little too weird even for me. However, everyone I know who has read it has supplied eloquent, well-reasoned, and overwhelmingly positive reviews. Like, “WOW SO GOOD” and “READ THIS NOW” and “ANDREW SMITH IS A GENIUS.” So yes, I am intrigued enough to read a book about “an army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises.”


Pointe by Brandy Colbert

A ballet book. Much more up my alley. This one seems to have all the required elements of a ballet drama – the perfectionism, the eating problems, the inappropriate love affairs – but is also about kidnapping and abduction! Oh my!
I have to say that I approve of the recent uptick in ballet-type YA books over the past few years… but I don’t think I’ve actually finished reading many of them. I don’t know. Maybe the writing just wasn’t there? Maybe this will be the book that changes my mind. If not, I can just watch Center Stage for the zillionth time I suppose.

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

And speaking of William C. Morris follow-ups, Jenny Hubbard’s first novel, Paper Covers Rock, was a runner up to Whaley’s Where Things Come Back. Good to see two Morris finalists putting out promising follow-up novels this year. I really enjoyed Paper Covers Rock, which was a moody boarding school book about carelessness and masculinity and friendship I found pleasantly reminiscent of A Separate Peace. And We Stay is another boarding school story, but with a female protagonist and told with prose and verse. And is also about Emily Dickinson, who I think is the hot YA literary reference of the moment, (replacing Walt Whitman, I believe).

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I am just going to take every opportunity I have between now and May to remind you about We Were Liars. If you don’t mind. It is very good. Please add it to your to-read list. The end.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Please don’t remind me how long we have all been waiting for a new Stephanie Perkin novel. It will send me into a fit. Not that Ms. Perkins doesn’t deserve ALL the time in the world… do what you do, lady, please! However, it has been positively ages since Lola and the Boy Next Door, and 2014 is the year! Yippee!

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

The older and wiser I get, the more I’ve realized that…. I just really love a good book cover. This one is good. Real good. If you were to create a book cover specifically to push all of my personal buttons, this is it.

I know, I know. Bad librarian. But there is just something about a book cover, you know. I did start reading an e-galley of this title last week and it’s about 75% more RPG heavy than I thought it would be. But I’m okay with that. I mean, I did like The Other Normals. And its cover was only so-so!

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Last but not least, another Morgan Matson. I liked Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour an awful lot. Second Chance Summer was slower, but still made me weep while riding public transportation. Ms. Matson is not quite an “insta-buy” author, but definitely an “insta-put-this-book-on-hold-at-the-library” author. Oh, and also a “make-damn-sure-the-library-buys-this-book-in-a-timely-manner” author.

22 Jan 2014

love letter 2014

My Dearest Boy,

Well, we made it to ten years.

Forgive me for lacking a sense of romance… but ten years just does not feel particularly remarkable. I mean, it is, of course. Ten years! A decade! I remember turning ten, feeling special pride in reaching double digits, that nice round number – 10. I remember turning twenty less well, but I bet you were there.

I’ve spent less than three decades on this planet. And I’ve spent one of them with you.

I really should be shouting from the rooftops.

But I’m just not there right now. I’m not in a rooftops shouting kind of place. First of all – I am sick. After nearly a year of staying disease-free (and bragging about it), I have succumbed to some sort of fever-y cold something. Today I cannot shout about anything. I can barely stand up long enough to do the dishes or ponder questions deeper than “can I take Nyquil yet?”

All germs aside, though, I will tell you where I am at with us. I am standing on the top of ten years and looking down. I can see how hard it has been these past ten years. Years of being young and stupid and careless with each other. Years of indecision and growth. Years of long distance. Moving across the country together. Deciding to get married and then doing it.

I can see Little You and Little Me, scrabbling up together, struggling. Most of the time happy, but always struggling.

Right now, in 2014, I am finally in a place where I can rest. With you.

I want very badly to say that marriage didn’t have anything to do with this. But I suspect that would be incorrect. Marriage was a place that we were headed and we’d been heading there for a long while. All of that struggle and climbing and hanging on was underneath our decision, and it is that history of pain and fun and hardship that helped us to trust and respect each other. Marriage didn’t put a shiny coat of paint over our history or our problems.

But it did something. I don’t know what, exactly yet. That’s the nice thing about marriage, I think; it means a lot, but you don’t have to know exactly what it means right away – maybe ever. It will be there, waiting, while you learn. Right now, it just feels like you marked off a big checkbox in my soul. And now that we’ve climbed a ten-year mountain, and now that box is checked, I can rest.

It only took me ten years.

I feel like this is an unnecessarily roundabout way of saying “I like hanging out with you.” But that’s where I’m at.

I’m glad that we met so many years ago, and glad that you liked me as much as I liked you. I’m glad that you wanted to stay with me, even when leaving would have been easier. Even when I wasn’t nice to you. I’m glad that we made it through this and that and the other thing and are finally here, on the other side, hanging out, resting, every day setting out anew together. I’m glad you married me, and I’m glad that we never have to get married again. I’m glad you read my book recommendations and then tell me about what’s going on in every chapter. I’m glad you like my family and like to travel and laugh at my jokes. I’m glad that you’ve treated me so tenderly while I’ve been sick, even though you had the same illness last week, and I’m pretty sure I remember saying something passive aggressive about doing the dishes at some point. I’m glad you are wearing the socks my mother knitted for me, the heels sitting somewhere in the middle of your foot. I’m glad that you climbed that mountain and checked my box and that you are you and you are here.

Yours forever,


17 Jan 2014

2014 reading non-resolutions

Yes, it is halfway through January and I am still talking about New Year’s resolutions. Bear with me, forgive me, shun me, scroll by me, close my tab, do whatever it is you need to do with me.

As much as I enjoy reading about other people’s book-related New Year’s resolutions, I don’t like to make them. Not because I’m anti-NYR, no no no. I love them. They light up some primitive perfectionism in my bones.  I don’t even particularly mind if I fail – and I usually do.

What I don’t like is making resolutions I have no intention of keeping. The last time I made a list of Reading Resolutions, I willfully ignored it. I read around it. I was in grad school. How, exactly, was I going to read 10 books in any category whatsoever? The list was all fluffy aspiration, willing myself to get some reading done I’d been meaning to do but without attention to my current tastes, reading habits, or relatively grueling schedule.

It was a list that was destined never to be finished. A list that reflected a Dream Life, a Dream Jessica, a lifestyle where I had not only the time to read Everything but also the inclination and the focus. If I finished that list, I would be a different reader, a different person. A Manic Pixie Dream List.

Four years later, I *am* a different reader (a different person), but I am still not that reader. And I don’t particularly care if I ever am. I am good with where I am at, reading-wise.

At my advanced age, what I am rejecting is the idea of New Year’s Resolution as a turnaround: a chance for redemption, an opportunity to correct and improve. I felt the same way last year.

But what if New Year’s Resolutions aren’t about aspiration or punishment or self-control? What if they are just about New and Different and Fun?

I blame my dear Boy. He loves NYRs and always keeps them. He is a truly unique species. Last year, he resolved to read 35 books, watching 50 movies, and listen to 100 albums from this book his mom got him for Christmas. This wasn’t particularly easy to accomplish – he spent his Christmas break hogging Spotify and begging me for 3 disc audiobooks – but it was fun, for him and for me. In 2013, I listened to a lot of good music, enjoyed frequent movie dates, and recommended many of my favorite books.

I’ve been thinking about my reading life (and my life in general) and how I can make 2014 different, how I can try some new things, and have more fun.

1) Read more pre-pub titles. Aim for three a month.

I am fairly awful at reading books before they are published. Unless they are by insta-read authors, get incredible amounts of buzz, or are handed to me as part of my Required Reading, then I don’t. I prefer to read books that are recommended by friends, that get good reviews, that win awards, etc.

This is all well and good, but it also leads me toward more Bandwagon type reading. I hear a book is good, I think I will like it, I read it, I like it, repeat, repeat, the end. Well and good, but this doesn’t necessarily let me flex my skills as a literature evaluator. And instead of trying authors that are new to me, that might be worth my time, I end up reading the same books I’d read eventually, anyway. Browsing upcoming titles without assistance is riskier, but will hopefully lead me to discover some new authors, genres, etc. Which will be Fun! And Different!

2)  Read closer. Read longer.

I read too fast. I want to slow down. I want to enjoy sentences for a change. I want to invite longer books into my life; books that read slower, that have something to offer other than a fun voice and zippy plot.

3) Read 100 books.

This is neither New nor Different. This is just what I do now. But I hope it will be fun. It has been for the past five years!

I hope y’all have fun reading this year too, whether you keep reading resolutions or reject them, whether you read 100 books or 1.

Well, I hope you read more than *one* book. Because then maybe we can’t be friends. Come back once you’ve read two.


14 Jan 2014

what to read next – january blues edition

So far in 2014, I am reading like this:

  • Pick up a book, read two pages, put it down.
  • Pick up a different book, read two pages, put it down.
  • Put seventeen books on hold even though I have seventeen perfectly good books already checked out.
  • Spend an entire 60 minutes browsing Overdrive and Goodreads to find seventeen more books to put on hold.
  • Listen to one disc of an audiobook, then stop listening and try another one.
  • Pick up another book, read two pages, put it down.

I’m in between cycles of Required Reading, which should be fun but sometimes isn’t. On one hand, I have all the time! In the world! To read whatever I want! On the other hand… I read 25 books in December. Can a girl get a break? For a few weeks.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t want a break. I’m sure some of you are familiar with this feeling, this Aarrrrrrgh where ARE YOU, book that I WANT? Why can’t I FIND YOU?

I am a professional. I’m better equipped to assess reading tastes and desires than most. You would think I could recommend myself The Book that will Soothe My Soul.

I cannot.

The truly sad part of this tale is how many truly tantalizing, juicy books I have at the ready. Fantasy. Literary memoir. Trashy exposé memoir. Books I’ve been waiting forever to read. Books I just discovered. . Audiobooks. Ebooks. Advanced Readers. Regular readers. I bring home one new book a day, in the hopes that a subway ride will be long enough to snare any one of them. Nope nope.

These specimens are all sitting in my apartment. Waiting patiently. For me. Should I try Ellen Litman’s Mannequin Girl, a March ’14 coming of age novel set in Soviet Russia, about a teen girl who has scoliosis and is sent to a special school for invalids? Or maybe Dave Eggers’s latest, The Circle? Do I dare scare myself away from social media and the Internet completely?

Or maybe a book that I have probably put on a list, oh, A HUNDRED TIMES??? Now I have acquired my own copy of Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, I am running out of excuses. Even psychological ones.

Perhaps, though, I am setting my bar too high. Maybe my brain is just small and inattentive right now, and I should turn to something completely scandalous. Like a good religious cult memoir. My hold for Jenna Miscavige Hill’s Beyond Belief finally came in.

Or maybe instead of coddling myself with ghostwritten scandal-books, I should get my gd nose to the grindstone and get ahead of the game. I have a copy of Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender in my possession. It looks magical and weird and something I might like.

If only I could get past those first two pages.

In the meantime, I have set the bar even lower than low. I am re-reading Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Despite my low esteem of myself and my reading motivations in this chilly, slumpy January, Fangirl is just as delightful as it was the first time around. While I can’t read anything else for longer than a few pages, I read Fangirl  for 30 consecutive minutes yesterday.

On my phone.

On the treadmill.


09 Jan 2014

2013 in reading

Ladies and gentlemen,

(do gentlemen read this blog?)

I present to you…

[Subtitle: Jessica has fun with spreadsheets]

[could also be the subtitle to my life]

Just when you thought 2013 was well behind us.

I read 145 books in 2013. Goodreads only gave me credit for 140, but that’s because Goodreads doesn’t believe in reading the same book twice in one year. To Goodreads, I say, “pooh-pooh.” Although it is fairly useless to say anything to a database because a database does what a database does. Also, I will blame Amazon.

Stay on task, Jessica. I read 145 books. This is the most books I have read in a year. Ever. Applause, applause, applause. I would spend some time speculating about why the uptick in reading this year, but in 2012 I read 141, so maybe this is just where I’m at. I should, however, give credit both to a steady diet of professional review books and Cybils participation. What, you mean you didn’t spend a weekend on the couch reading 10 nonfiction books back to back? Hmm.

On to the fun stuff. I made pie charts, guys.

First, some broader data. How did my reading break down this year in terms of audience and format?

A majority of my reading was YA, but I was still surprised to see how many adult books I read this year!

This is also interesting because, as a person who reads YA and children’s books for various professional purposes, adult books are almost always “fun” reading for me.

  • 12 of the adult books I read were audiobooks.
  • 4 were ARCs I picked up at work – stuff that was getting media buzz, mostly. 
  • 3 were graphic novels.
  • 2 were feel-goody re-reads
  • 4 were… ah… filthy
  • 6 were Game of Thrones

The rest were a mixed bag of last year’s best fiction, memoirs, creative advice books, and even one book from my Unread Library.

I only read 6 middle grade books. This is normal, but looking at that little pie sliver makes me think I should try to read a few more next year. Middle grade isn’t really my particular wheelhouse, but I’m thinking of some Horn Book editorial about YA taking all the credit/attention/page space away from children’s literature (see also: The World Thinks Anything That Isn’t a Picturebook is YA), which rankles me a bit. Perhaps more on this later?

So what kind of YA was I reading this year?

Despite threatening to become a fantasy fan, I’m still reading mostly realism, at least when I read YA. I’ll be interested to see how this compares to next year’s stats.

That big 30% of the pie is thanks to Cybils, and a lot of my realism reading is for review. This made me curious about how much of my reading was “required” and how much was not. This is a blurry issue – when given free reign over my reading, I will still tend toward books that help me keep up with trends or to gain a better perspective of the genre. I try to read award winners and classics and such. However, exactly how much of my reading is left up to me, and how much is straight up You Have to Read This Jessica Or Face Consequences?

At various times during the year I have felt completely swamped by required reading. Looking at this chart makes me feel like a bit of a whiner. Or at least reminds me that while I have months where I am pining over greener book-pastures, I also have months where no deadlines loom and I can’t be bothered to read anything.

See also: this month.

It also stands to mention that 100% of my required reading is YA or MG. The amount of free-reign YA reading I am doing is a bit less than my free-reign Adult reading – about 37 YA free reads and 49 adult free reads.

This chart could also be labelled “More Evidence That Jessica Has Complex Personal Issues Regarding Classic Literature.”

A more gracious interpretation could be that a lot of my 2013 reads fall under the category of Required Reads. 2012 was a lot of catching up on fun reading. 9 of the 23 books I read that were published between 2000 and 2011 were re-reads – comfort reading.

I am torn between wanting to give more of my pie to reading new books. I really should have read more 2014 books by now, from a professional standpoint and also a YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO CATCH UP WITH READING ANYTHING standpoint. But oh, I want to read more older stuff, I do.

In case you missed it, we have reached the point of this long, long post where I start to freak out because there are only so many more years in my life and what if I die before I read All Of The Books? Heaven help me…

I wanted to run this chart to make sure I am reading equitably, but I wasn’t really concerned about my performance. I naturally tend towards female writers, and I’m kind of on the girly YA beat for some of my professional reviewing. I am actually more interested in whether or not I am reading books written by and about folks of different ethnic backgrounds, but I didn’t keep that data this year. Next year, though, I will.

And last but not least…. is the printed book dead?????

No. Not in the Jessica-sphere anyway. I got an iPhone in January and a Kindle Fire in March. I still only read 9 ebooks out of 145. My problems with ebooks are as follows:

  • I work at a library. I don’t need to buy books unless I want to have my own copy of a favorite or support an author. If I’m going to do that, I’m going to buy a print copy.
  • I do check out ebooks from my library’s Overdrive collection, but you guys know how awful I am with reading books I check out. That same 14-day reading limit that inspires me to muscle through audiobooks has the opposite effect on my e-reading – once my hold finally comes in, I’m usually busy reading other stuff so I pretty much ignore them.
  • I like Netgalley & Edelweiss in theory, but so many of the books I’ve rented are so poorly formatted that I don’t actually read them.

I could also tell you how much money I spent this year buying print books for the library, but let’s suffice to say that it was a lot of money.

Other reading stats of note:

  • I read 5 Alex Award winners
  • I read 1 Boston Globe Horn Book Award winner and 1 honor
  • I read 4 Cybils Award winners (2 YA fic, 1 SFF, 1 MG)
  • I read 7 National Book Award finalists
  • I read 3 Printz Honors
  • I read 1 William C Morris winner and 1 finalist
  • I read 3 YALSA Nonfiction Award finalists
  • I listened to 11 Overdrive audiobooks between September and December.
  • I read 39 YA fiction books by authors that were new to me.
  • I re-read 12 books.
  • I read 33 books for professional review.

And I “reviewed” 21 books here for this here blog. I was aiming for 1 a week, but you know… I’ll take it.

What’s in store for next year? Well, I have thoughts and pie charts on that topic too, but I will save those for a later date. When you are better rested after making it through this ridiculous, naval-gazing exercise.

I don’t say this enough, but thank you for all of you – my readers – who show up here and watch me gaze at my naval. I like all of you. I do. Thanks for letting me share my 2013 with you.


03 Jan 2014



I was only sick once.

I kept an extra t-shirt and a pair of socks in my desk at work. Like an actual grown up.

I flew on eighteen different airplanes. Apologies, atmosphere. You may be pleased to hear, though, that I did not own a car for one single day in 2013.

I completed any number of tasks related to Getting Married. Most of them were difficult, unpleasant, vaguely mortifying, and made me feel like I was imposing unnecessarily on my loved ones and the world at large.

At the end of it, however, I got married. It should be stated that this was not always a thing I thought would happen in my life.

I fit into my wedding dress.

For all of 2013, I took cream in my coffee and never bought skim milk.

I still fit into my wedding dress.

In fact, I remain roughly the same shape and size as I was on the first day of 2013. My thighs might be slightly more powerful, as I walked and ran at least 300 miles this year.Not including daily Get From Here to There walking.

I also walked all over Rome.

I also walked all over Venice.

I bought embarrassing feminine products in an Italian farmacia.

I bought an iPhone and a new laptop and a couch.

We put 10,000 dollars towards The Boy’s student loans.

I read 145 books.

I sent out Christmas cards.

I averted all imminent disasters.



My official New Year’s Resolution is to write. Every day. Fiction. At least 200 words, or else what’s the point.

That’s it.

I am entertaining a few more recreational pursuits for 2014, as well as some Be a Better Person stuff. Of course. Because if I don’t make way, way too many resolutions, then I will have to accept the frightening reality that This Is It for me. I’ve peaked. I’ve settled. Change is futile, I’m just going to be sitting here on the same couch under the same electric blanket in January 2015 and go completely stagnant.

To review:

New Year’s Resolution #1: face identity.

New Year’s Resolution #2: face mortality.

New Year’s Resolution #3: write fiction.

New Year’s Resolution #4-#9: some generic do-goody things that are difficult to measure.

New Year’s Resolution #10: maybe try a new cocktail every week or something else that isn’t so dour.

Continue to avert imminent disasters.

And read as many good books as I can.

Cheers to a New Year, friends.