And I Darken by Kiersten White

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Ahhhhh, finally. Historical fiction as it was meant to be done.

And by that I mean taking a well-known figure like Vlad the Impaler and gender bending him. This novel is the first in The Conquerors Saga.

Lada is vicious, slightly mad, and has a weird dependence on her little brother, Radu. The novel spans a good few years, beginning with her trade to the Ottoman Empire in exchange for her father’s obedience. Lada struggles to look out for her brother in an unfamiliar place in a time when being a woman was already a strike against her. Lada has to watch out for conniving mothers, unknown love triangles, asshole fathers and, you know, being a teenager.

White’s novel hit all my interests: Transylvania, boys pining for boys, war, girls hating pining for boys, detailed descriptions of torture, horses.

I love a girl with a body count.

 

Favorite quote:

So…I sent And I Darken off to my mom so quickly I actually forgot to write down a quote?

But it’s definitely the part where Lada climbs to the top of the peak and looks out over Wallachia and is all like, “This bitch is mine, just you wait.”

I’m paraphrasing but that’s how I remember it.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Oh, Simon. You precious little pancake.

High school sucks, that’s a given. And when you’re being blackmailed because one jerk found out you’re gay and decides to threaten to out you…the weeks can last literally for-ev-er.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hits that perfect spot between heartbreaking and hilarity. Simon is able to take everything with a grain of salt and a sarcastic and sardonic “What the fuck.”

I love Simon and we must protect him at all costs.

Side note: Does anyone else think Taylor Metternich has two dads?

 

Favorite quote:

If she thinks me drinking coffee is big news, it’s going to be quite a fucking morning. (page 162)

The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey

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If you loved Good Omens and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll love The Everything Box.

An angel sent to wipe out flood survivors loses his doomsday device: humanity happens.

He spends the next few thousand years looking for the Box.

Coop (reminiscent of a very put-upon Arthur Dent) gets swept up in a mystical tug-of-war for the Box he recently lifted from a fancy estate. Impervious to magic, Coop surrounds himself with criminals (capable of clouding people’s minds, breaking locks), a poltergeist, and best of all, his ex-girlfriend.

Between a stint in a mystical prison, a trip to Jinx Town, and his sudden recruitment by the police, Coop’s inability to hold things together while simultaneously trying to run away ends in world-saving and shenanigans.

Honestly, I could have read an entire novel about the Cladis Abaddonis Lodge and the Caleximus cult pulling pranks on each other.

 

Favorite quote:

The priest said, “A boar would be the equivalent of a metric ass-ton of corn chips. Did you buy a metric ass-ton of corn chips?”

“No. Just the one bag.” (page 49)

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

If intricate world building is your kind of thing, A Darker Shade of Magic is for you. Set in a kind of Victorian London, a magical Victorian London, a scary Victorian London, and a place no one talks about, there’s a world for everybody.

Kell is an Antari, one of few who can pass between London’s and adoptive son of the royal family of Red London. He serves as their emissary between the London’s, along with some under-the-table smuggling. It’s a dangerous job, especially when the rulers of White London not only have their own Antari but are looking to complete the set (not to mention, they’re insane.)

Lila Bard is a badass fingersmith who has dreams of being a pirate (if not the means) who stumbles upon Kell. And then she stumbles back upon him. And then he stumbles on her again. And finally they decide to team up because trouble is quick on their heels.

The descriptions are intense (but necessary) and the dialogue is quick, quippy, and will make you laugh out loud despite all the horrible things happening to everyone. All the time.

 

Favorite quote:

It seemed like a good plan, or at least, like the best of several bad ones. (page 116)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Nebraska author? Check.

Set at my Alma mater? Check.

Hardcore fangirling? Double check.

I have been accused once or twice of being obsessed with something (this is a lie, my husband tells me on the daily). Therefore, I identified pretty strongly with Cath, our novel’s protagonist. Cath’s happy in her fictional world with Simon Snow but accepts (grudgingly) that moving on to college is a necessary evil. Despite joining a high-level writing class, Cath keeps herself isolated. Her twin sister Wren takes the opposite approach to college, joining the party scene with gusto.

Their college experience has it’s ups and downs: learning the dining halls, parties, midterms, jerkface English majors, manic dads, hands-off moms, roommates.

Cath is the uncertain, shy, awkward kid in all of us who just wants to read and be left alone. Honestly, I would have totally understood if by the end of the novel she was like “Nah, I’m gonna stay with Simon” but it wouldn’t make for very compelling storytelling.

 

 

Favorite quote:

Smiling is confusing, she thought. This is why I don’t do it. (page 208)

and

“No. Because they remind me that we live in a place where you can still get away with, even get excited about, Ugg boots. In fashionable places, you have to pretend that you’re over them, or that you’ve always hated them. But in Nebraska, you can still be happy about new Ugg boots. That’s nice. There’s no end of the innocence.” (page 256)

(as a Nebraskan, I endorse this message)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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Magic! Vampires! Boyfriends! Dorms! References to past adventures! Victorian dresses! Platonic friendships! Catacombs! Wizard School! Goblins! Pigs! Magic spells! More vampires! Swords! Rats! Fancy estates! Parties! Horrible pining! Frenemies!

If you read one book this year, make it Carry On. This novel is perfection.

 

Favorite quote:

I swear he gets less ruffled the more that he’s threatened. (When I’m the one threatening him, that’s infuriating. But it’s kind of cool now.) (page 332)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

me before you

Let’s talk about books I shouldn’t read on airplanes.

The flight from Omaha to Denver was fine. Louisa was positively adorable. Her boyfriend was a dud. Nathan was a sweetheart. Will was an asshole.

Everything was smooth sailing. Louisa and Will were slowly falling in love. There were ups and downs and horse races and movies. Ridiculous outfits. Treena being snippy. Dinners. Concerts. Tattoos. Love it.

Denver to San Diego…was not fine. The world is horrible and I ended up sniffling on the plane to the point where I’m sure the two giant dudes in my row thought I’d been dumped. Even hours of plane travel couldn’t stop me from finishing the book that night.

I just love ripping my own heart out.

And even better, there’s a sequel! Which I’m sure is lighthearted and fluffy. And I will read it when I emotionally recover from Me Before You.

 

Favorite quote:

“I just…want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more.” (page 166)

One Year aka Grief is a Sneaky Bitch

One Year aka Grief is a Sneaky Bitch

 

I’d walked into a lot of hospital rooms over the course of our two-decade long friendship, there was little reason to think this time would be much different. It was serious, but it always was. The clock was ticking, but it had been for twenty-six years. This, as it turned out, was my brain lying to protect me. As long as I had distance, I could pretend everything was fine.

I couldn’t get there fast enough but when I did, reality set it with all the subtly of a sucker punch. This was not like every other visit. Everything was not going to be fine. This was going to gut me and all I could think was fuck.

I’ll make this very clear: when I thought about the future, I never considered Abigail wouldn’t be in it.

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This was irrational and another instance of my brain lying. Abigail had Cystic Fibrosis. It wasn’t a secret, wasn’t something I didn’t know. It slipped easily between facts like, Abigail has light brown hair and stunning green eyes, Abigail’s entire kitchen is apples, Abigail is sick, Abigail has horses.

The Abigail-Facts I kept on hand matured as we did. Abigail lives in Ravenna, Abigail drives a brown car, Abigail has a chest port, Abigail lives in a refurbished barn and cheats at Spoons (we all cheated at Spoons.)

When I saw her in August, we went out for Thunder Punch and chatted about the same things as always: boys, hair, gossip. We’d both recently been stylist-shamed into promising never to use box dye again. Abigail had moved to Kearney, making the daily drive to Ravenna happily. I joked, not for the first time, that she was turning into my dad who makes that same trek. “I get it though!” she laughed. “I have my coffee and my music and I don’t have to talk to anyone. I can get psyched up for the day.”

I asked how she was, how she really was and she answered, aloof as always (because she was protecting me too), “I’m good.” She went on to explain what was new: gastroparesis, anti-depressants. “Just because I want to punch walls sometimes doesn’t mean I’m depressed.” We talked about our nieces and nephews, her niece had recently learned to use the potty and we clinked glasses over the accomplishment and then wondered how our lives had come to the point where we celebrated potty-use for children who weren’t even ours.

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We left before midnight, laughed that we were so old, hugged quick and sprinted off in the sudden downpour. I didn’t know this was the last time we’d sit and joke and reminisce. That’s the shitty thing, you never know.

There are plenty of hospital rooms in our memories together. My first trip out of town, without my parents, was with Abigail and her dad for a check-up in Omaha and when we were older I always brought candy and coloring books.

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But there are other memories. Getting pulled over joy-riding on a school permit which resulted, hilariously, in Abigail jumping out of the car to tell the officer, “I missed the stop sign!” (He’d noticed). The Miss Annevar pageant junior year when the promise of “No matter who wins, we’ll all be friends” turned to pouting. Abigail insisted on going to the after-party, MISS ANNEVAR sash worn proudly. A Saturday during State Basketball when the question “What should we do before the game?” ended with us at Ink Machine, getting our first tattoos together. My dad remembers a day spent sledding. My grandma remembers us dressing up in her silk night-gowns and clip-on earrings.

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Friendships like ours don’t happen often. The fact that we spent toddlerdom to elementary school attached at the hip is impressive. That a move to another town didn’t stop our friendship is extraordinary. It should be clear now, when my past is so flooded with memories of Abigail, my future was meant to be too.

That wasn’t the case. The hospital room I walked into would be Abigail’s last. We did our best to keep things light while we all crumbled. I will never forget her little niece leaning over to press a goodbye kiss to Abigail’s forehead asking, “When is Aunt Abby going to wake up?” and her mom having to answer, “She isn’t.”

Again, fuck.

Abigail passed away on December 17, 2014. We held her hands and told her it was okay to go, though none of us were ready to let go of her. We still aren’t. We made it through the day, and then a week. Then a month. And here I am at a year still getting sucker punched by grief when I hear a certain song or see something purple or look at my first tattoo.

A recent one is just for her, two lines of text that wrap around my left forearm, lyrics from Brand New’s “Guernica” My lungs are fresh and yours to keep, kept clean and they will let you breathe. People ask about it, what it says, what it means and I answer, “I lost my best friend Abigail to Cystic Fibrosis.” It feels good to say her name, to tell people she was dealt a shitty hand and fought like hell. That she meant so much to me.

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This summer, while watching Inside Out (and pretending not to tear up at a children’s movie because seriously what is up with Pixar and the tear jerkers?) I thought about how great it would be to walk through my long-term storage. In 26 years, I’m sure I’ve forgotten hundreds, thousands of memories with Abigail.

I’ll remember days spent on the farm, in Ravenna, in Omaha and Lincoln. Laughter. Car rides and sleep overs. Park Elementary and Prom, gravel roads and cornfields and boys. A red Suburban, brown cars and black trucks. Fourth of Julys. Annevar and 4-H. I’ll remember that 26 years was never going to be enough but I was there at the start, and there at the end, and our friendship was a miracle.

 

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Check out Ian Pettigrew’s project: Salty Girls

Wool by Hugh Howey

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Reading this novel actively stressed me out.

Normally, I could sit down and read a 500-page novel like Wool in a day, maybe two. However, the tension (between the characters themselves, and the characters vs. the silo (vs. the world, vs. The Man, vs. science)) was such a slow build that I kept having to put the book down and step away. I just wanted Jules to return to Mechanical and be happy where no one could hurt her (I realize this would have made the novel very, very dull but still).

The content of Wool is quite heavy as well so stepping back gave me time to process what I thought was going on. We learn along with Jules, or in flashbacks from other characters, trying to put together the pieces, discover who the bad guys are, if the air outside is actually poison.

Why “cleaning” sounds so sinister.

Wool is definitely a must-read for any sci-fi fan.

 

Favorite quote:

The suit came up, and Holston thought that maybe people went along with it because they couldn’t believe it was happening. None of it was real enough to rebel against. The animal part of his mind wasn’t made for this, to be calmly ushered to a death it was perfectly aware of. (page 20)