I read at least 57 books in 2021 (probably missed tracking a few picture books or graphic novels). You can see My Year in Books on Goodreads for additional stats and the full list of books.
My Favorite Reads from 2021
What is it?
The A to Z Reading Challenge is simple. You have one year to read 26 books, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet. I am not sure where I saw this challenge, but decided to adopt it for myself. And I just decided I want to do it twice; this would be a really fun picture book challenge.
Come up with a list of 26 titles, starting with each of the letters of the alphabet. Can be any type of book you want: novel, anthology, graphic novel, novella, poetry, nonfiction, children's book. I'm not judging! My list is mostly novels, with a scattering of short story collections and non-fiction.
Once you have your list, you can start reading. I'm going to wait and start in January. Order is not important. You can read from A to Z, or cross them off in whatever order you are feeling. Pacing should be about two books per month, or one book every two weeks.
I'll keep updated on the sidebar what letter and title I am currently reading. You are welcome to read along with me, or at your own pace. Here is my list on Google Drive.
Where to find books?
Start by looking at your own bookshelves. Are there any books you own and have been meaning to read? Next, check your wishlists, library lists, and Goodreads 'want to read'. Ask your friends, ask social media. You can ask for general suggestions, certain genres, or specific letters. You may find a great recommendation you wouldn't have considered on your own.
If you have trouble finding a title for a certain letter (like X), there are lists on Goodreads!
I am buying one book for this challenge (Xanadu anthology, older book, had to buy used). The rest are coming from my own collection or from the library.
Picture Book Challenge
This is just a fun bonus challenge. I'm not going to get a list of these in advance, due to the nature of my job; I will see plenty of picture books as I work at the library. 26 titles, again starting A to Z, but all picture books. I'll track these on a second tab on my sheet. Later in the year, as my list starts filling in, I may need to look for specific letters, but I'll start by picking up whatever grabs my attention. I'm a sucker for pretty covers, especially on picture books.
Let me know if you're going to do either (or both) of the challenges. I already have my main titles, but feel free to recommend picture books. I'm always happy to recommend books as well, so don't hesitate to ask!
T. Kingfisher is the nom de plume for Ursula Vernon for her adult fiction. Kingfisher once stated that, regarding The Raven and The Reindeer, she was "kind of worried that no one who isn't familiar with the source material will find this story even remotely readable". I have to disagree. Though I am familiar with some of the basic elements, I have yet to read the original Hans Christian Anderson tale (I will be doing so before our official discussion). I found The Raven and the Reindeer to be very steeped in fairy tale and accessible at its basic elements.
My birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year. To celebrate, I'm giving away a Poetry Prize Pack! This includes a paperback copy of my poetry book Chiaroscuro, a $10 Amazon gift card, an Enchanted Garden Book Club bookmark, stickers, a postcard with a handwritten poem by Mary, and a gorgeous literary themed notebook from Obvious State. Pictures of the prize pack below.
Poetry Prize Pack
Giveaway starts Monday, November 11, 2021 and ends on Monday, November 29, 2021 at 11:59pm MST.
There will be one prize winner, determined by random drawing.
Prize will only be shipped within the United States.
Are these the same show?
We've been watching the first season of Resident Alien as Dexter: New Blood premiered. Resident Alien is a comedic SyFy show starring Alan Tudyk about an alien who crashed on earth and took human form to fit in. Dexter is a (supposedly) reformed serial killer. As different as the concepts for these shows are, I keep seeing more and more similarities. Now, the below commentary is just for fun. I love both of these shows, so am not criticizing them in any way. Merely amused by the similarities. For context, as of this blog, I have seen two episodes of Dexter: New Blood, and five episodes of Resident Alien.
Spoilers below the break.
Another amazing book from TJ Klune. Earlier this year I read and reviewed The House in the Cerulean Sea. I loved it so much I bought it and preordered Under the Whispering Door. I was not disappointed.
It takes dying for Wallace to learn how to live. A Reaper collects Wallace from his own funeral and takes him to the ferryman's teahouse. This is a place of transition, where you have time to adjust before choosing to go through the door into whatever the afterlife holds. Wallace goes through all the stages of grief. He starts out a very unlikeable character, but learns and grows in his time in the teahouse. This is a heartfelt story about love and loss and redemption. It's not about religion or what is on the other side of the door. I laughed; I cried.
This is light on the fantasy compared to The House in the Cerulean Sea. In that it will probably appeal to a larger audience. It is very queer and diverse friendly. I highly recommend the book, especially if you enjoyed his previous title. And these books look amazing on the shelf. I adore the artwork.
"We aren’t supposed to force someone before they’re ready. That’s not our job. We’re here to make sure they see that life isn’t always about living. There are many parts to it, and that it continues on, even after death. Its beautiful, even when it hurts."
"The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you share tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share tea, you become family."
I have been remiss to not officially announce my book release here! Chiaroscuro is available on Amazon in both print and ebook. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free. You can sign up for my newsletter for the most up to date news.
What is Chiaroscuro?
Chiaroscuro is a poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. It’s a journey through a crumbling world that leaves a gritty taste. It shines light on the edge of awareness where dark magic wars with childish innocence.
These poems range from internal conflict to worldwide war to creatures of myth, but all follow the themes of finding havens of light in dark days, persisting despite the odds. The light is only brighter for the darkness that surrounds it.
House of Salt and Sorrows is a haunting, gothic tale steeped in lore and the sea. This is a retelling of the Grimm tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Erin A. Craig does a magnificent job elevating this story. Each of the sisters is given a name, but collectively known as the Thaumus Dozen. The family lives at Highmoor, a manor on the sea. Their life and religion revolves around the sea, and the sea god Pontus. I could hear the sea and smell the salt.
The story begins with their mother and four of the sisters tragically dead. Rumors begin that the Thaumus family is cursed. The point of view of the story is Annaleigh. She is convinced that this latest death was no accident, and seeks to find the truth. She meets a mysterious man not from the islands, and also reunites with an old childhood crush. Tired of years of mourning, the sisters find an escape to dance away their woes.
One part ghost story, one part mystery, one part romance, and all fairy-tale. This was a completely new retelling of a familiar tale, yet manages to still be very recognizable as such. I was thoroughly enchanted and swept away. Craig's descriptions are immersive, the characters come to life, and the mythology seeps through the pages. You can tell she did a lot of world-building, with each region having its own deities and culture. The world felt very alive and that it had a history, it didn't just exist for this story alone.
I highly recommend this one. It felt very Haunting of Bly Manor - both haunting and romantic.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall...
Mirrors have long been considered mysterious objects. This is reflected in our superstitions and literature.
One of the most common superstitions is that breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck. Did you know that there are also ways to reverse the curse? One method is to take the pieces outside and bury them under moonlight. Another way is to turn yourself counter-clockwise three times after breaking the mirror.
Though you don't want to live in a household without mirrors. Mirrors in the home bring good luck, perhaps because they deflect evil. But hanging a mirror too low, cutting off the top of the tallest family member's head, will bring about headaches. And beware an undisturbed mirror falling suddenly, as it portends a family member's death within a year.
A common belief in earlier history was that a mirror contains part of the soul, and that is what looks back at you. There are villains that use mirrors to trap or steal souls. Perhaps that's how the entity in the magic mirror of Snow White got there, only able to share the truth he sees.
Many stories deal with idea that another world exists on the other side of the mirror. In "Through the Looking Glass", by Lewis Carroll, Alice steps through a mirror into a surreal other world. The glass extends the vision that would have ended in a wall, doubling the size of a room. Multiple mirrors create an infinite hallway, only blocked by your own reflection. What is it that draws us to the other side?
Magic mirrors can also be used to reflect truth, scry other parts of the world, bring long life, or reflect attacks. An ordinary mirror can be used to distort an image or multiply oneself – a strategy for battle or a trick on a friend.
Harry Potter looks into the Mirror of Erised and sees his heart's greatest desire. Perseus uses a mirrored shield to reflect Medusa's stone gaze back at herself. In the movie Brothers Grimm, the Mirror Queen is young and beautiful only in the reflection of her magic mirror, but is in reality ancient and hideous. When the mirror is broken, she falls apart. In "Testament of the Dragon" by Margaret Weis, Justinian Sterling can only communicate with his Dragon Master through mirrors.
A few other interesting mirror "facts"
What is our fascination with mirrors? Do we see in the mirror the same phenomena as "the grass is greener on the other side"? Is it our own soul looking back, or an alternate world? Or perhaps it is only an illusion.
The June book for our Enchanted Garden Book Club is Towering by Alex Flinn. This is a Young Adult, modern retelling of Rapunzel. The story is told in two perspectives, both first-person present-tense, of the main characters Rachel and Wyatt.
Rachel, 17 years old, has been kept isolated by her Mama, cut off from the world in an old tower. What she knows of the outside world are old memories of her youth and books. The books are all older, classics, so she has no knowledge of the workings of the modern world.
Wyatt is the same age as Rachel. After a tragedy back home, losing his closest friends, he moves out to the country to live with Mrs. Greenwood, mother of his mom's childhood friend. There he comes across a diary of Danielle, Mrs. Greenwood's daughter, who had disappeared seventeen years ago.
Wyatt is able to hear Rachel's singing and finds a way to track the voice and meet her. The two end up saving each other, and solving a mystery of missing people in town.
This book wasn't a must-read for me. I was hoping to enjoy it more. Despite the first-person perspectives, I didn't feel connected to the characters. Some of the writing, especially in the early chapters, was confusing, with thoughts interrupting actions and conversation in odd places. Rachel is of course very naïve, due to her protected nature. I felt the romance was rushed, very much a fated, love at first sight, with no weight behind it. There were magical aspects to the story that didn't really get explained. I had hoped for possibly a connection to the Fae, but that didn't seem to be the case. There is a prophecy with nothing to support it, and no reasons given for Rachel's magical properties.
I have not read any of Alex Flinn's other titles, so cannot say how it compares. This does not seem to connect to the Kendra Chronicles. This met the basic premise of a Rapunzel retelling, but I'm sure there are better ones out there. Do you have any you would recommend?
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.
A to Z