2021 Reading Review

You probably wouldn’t know it from my dearth of reviews this year, but in 2021 I read about 150 books. This year I joined Storygraph to log my reading, so here are some fun stats from my 2021 reading. (You’ll notice it lists 135 as my total because I missed logging a few books)

I only reviewed three books over two blog posts this year, so here are some quick notes on the ones I didn’t have time to blog about, but still want to share.

Fantasy

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore: One of the first book reviews I did for this blog was Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, the third book in the Graceling series, so it was great to come back to the series with Winterkeep. Each book in that series is unique and wonderful, and I’m so happy to say that this fourth installment carries on that tradition. The worldbuilding is fantastic, moving into a new region of the same world, and the intrigue is suspenseful (there’s a character that really reminds me of Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials). The characters both old and new are engaging, and as always representation is on point. One downside: now I have to buy a new set of books so my covers match.

Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater: A fairy story set in the Regency period, which is like catnip for me. It manages to be fun and romantic while having surprising depth. As a debut novel from an indie author, it was one of my favorite surprises this year, and I’m so looking forward to continuing the series.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton: Another Regency fantasy! You’re shocked, I know. But this one is slightly different in that it is a novel of manners set in a world populated by dragons. If you like 19th century British literature, you will like this story. There are obnoxious relatives, country manors, marriages, courtroom drama, and descriptions of hats. All overlaid with dragon culture. It was a slow start for me but once I was in, I was hooked.

Fairy Tale Retellings

Valiant and Flight of Swans by Sarah McGuire: I’m so glad I discovered McGuire this year, because her work needs more hype. Her debut, Valiant, is a clever retelling of “The Brave Little Tailor,” and her next work, Flight of Swans, is a lovely take on “The Six Swans.” I loved them both, but Flight of Swans in particular has stayed with me. It’s a tale of love and loyalty in a beautiful ancient British setting, and I don’t know how she wrote a mute protagonist so seamlessly. I really feel it holds up next to the classics of the genre.

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer: This was a solid retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” with a few other similar tales thrown in. It gets major points for its magical-house atmosphere (including a magic library where you can jump into the stories) and the way it blended in the details of the different tales. There was nothing particularly unexpected here, but I really enjoyed reading it and I’m looking forward to the companion novel coming out this year.

Thorn and The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani: I mentioned last year that I got hooked on Khanani‘s first indie works, and this Dauntless Path series is really holding to that promise. Thorn is a fabulous retelling of “The Goose Girl” that holds up to Shannon Hale’s classic retelling of that tale. I had high expectations coming into Theft of Sunlight, and I was still blown out of the water. I think I read it like three times. It moves away from retellings into an original story, wrapping up some things from Thorn while moving into the new territory prepped by “The Bone Knife” story at the end of Thorn. The protagonist Rae is amazing, there is no overt romance just some squishy understated feels, and the plot is really getting interesting. The only reason you should not read this (yet) is that it ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER OMG. I need the next book NOW.

Author discovery: Mimi Matthews

In the course of my historical romance reading, I came across indie author Mimi Matthews and her wonderful, clean Victorian novels…and I kept reading. And reading. I read nine books of hers this year, including one series and several standalones: the most of any one novelist I read. In particular I recommend the Parish Orphans of Devon series and Gentleman Jim. Matthews also has her first release with a major publisher coming out this month, The Siren of Sussex, and I am so ready for it!

Nonfiction

Spain in Our Hearts by Adam Hochschild: During the semester I spent in Spain over a decade ago, I had the opportunity to attend an exhibit on the Brigadas Internacionales, the foreign volunteers who fought in Spain’s civil war in the 1930s. I had no idea of this history before then, and frankly many people in Spain still deal with Guerra Civil topics with a light touch. Hochschild’s book gives a good overview of the war, mainly from the volunteers’ perspective, from everyday Americans there to fight fascism to idealistic writers like Hemingway and George Orwell; there’s also an interesting bit about Texaco selling oil to Franco on credit, with no interference from the US government. It is an interesting look at a complex time; of course, it does read a bit like a tragedy since the Republicans eventually lost the war, leading to decades of fascist rule in Spain. For another book on the Franco period, I recommend Ruta Sepetys’s novel The Fountains of Silence.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick: Speaking of autocratic regimes, this book is a fascinating peak inside one of the most closed off countries on the planet. Having read Park Yeonmi’s memoir of her escape and taken in some South Korean TV shows like Crash Landing on You, I wanted to learn more about the people of North Korea rather than the government. This book focuses on the daily lives of six defectors and is surprisingly comprehensive, as much as that is possible. The parts about the famine in the 90s are particularly haunting; whenever I hear about current food shortages in the DPRK in the news I wonder what the real story is and if history is repeating itself there.

Manga

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I was intrigued by Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba when I heard the recent movie had claimed the title of highest-grossing anime release in Japan, beating out Spirited Away and Your Name. After watching the first episode of the anime on Netflix, I picked up the manga from the library and have been reading as fast as I can get it (each volume has a very long wait list). It is a dark story, sometimes creepy and sometimes gory, but the struggles of Tanjiro and his friends, and especially his bond with his sister Nezuko, are really compelling. I definitely had some feels at the end of the Mugen Train arc! If you liked Fullmetal Alchemist and other similar stories, I think you would like this one.

As far as reading goals, last year I said:

I’m not making any reading goals for 2021. I’m going to read whatever I want to!

And I did! haha I’m starting to figure out a way forward with my reading list that works for me as a working mom. Of course I wish I had more time to read award-winning novels or the latest hot thing, or that I hadn’t staying up til 2am reading on that night my kid wouldn’t sleep. But like everything in life, it’s a work in progress.

Next year I really want to get back to writing more, both here on the blog and my own fiction. I already have a couple book reviews kicking around in my head. Here’s hoping you’ll see me around more!

What were your favorite books from 2021? Do you have any reading goals for 2022?

Review: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card

34713646Most fans of anime will tell you that there was a “gateway drug,” so to speak: one show that hooked them and got them into the medium of anime in general.  Ask people of my generation, and they will name shows like Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon as shows still hold a special place in their hearts.

For me, it was Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP.

From my first viewing of the terrible English dub Cardcaptors, I was hooked.  The manga, with two story arcs of six volumes each, was even better, and remains to this day my favorite manga.  I own two versions of it, a boxed set of the volumes and an omnibus edition.  If you like magical girl anime, it doesn’t get any better than CCS.

When I heard a few months ago that CLAMP was putting out new volumes of Cardcaptor Sakura, I screamed so loud my husband came to ask me what was wrong.  Wrong?  Nothing’s wrong!  This is only the best day of my life!

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The first volume of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is now available in English, with more to follow in the next months, and the anime is currently running in simulcast on Crunchyroll and in “simuldub” on Funimation.  I have not seen the anime yet, but I devoured the first manga volume when I got it for my birthday recently.

The Clear Card story arc picks up exactly where the Sakura Card story arc left off.  The first chapter expands on the last scene of the last manga, where Syaoran surprises Sakura on her way to middle school, saying he’s returned to Tomoeda to stay for good.

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S+S shippers rejoice!

The story continues in a very familiar fashion, hiting all the typical Cardcaptor Sakura beats: a mysterious figure appearing in Sakura’s dreams, strange forces working in Tomoeda, new cards (this time they are transparent), a new, upgraded staff, and of course new costumes made by Tomoyo-chan!  All of Sakura’s friends and family are back as well.  I like that it has such a familiar feel, and I can’ wait to see what twists and turns are coming as the story develops more.  What secrets are Syaoran and Eriol keeping?

The artwork remains absolutely gorgeous.  There are so many beautiful large panels and two page spreads that really let you appreciate the art.

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Release!

I really enjoyed the experience of reading this volume, because for me it was the first time reading a CCS manga without having seen the anime first.  I’m sure I will watch the anime soon, maybe even before reading more volumes, but it was kinda fun to have an “all new” manga to read.

The only thing I found slightly jarring was the incorporation of modern technology in the story, like smart phones, email, and texting.  While it was worked seamlessly into the story, it was just surprising to me because the story takes place immediately after the original volumes which were produced in the 90s and therefore barely had the concept of primitive mobile phones. So it was a big jump forward in technology with no jump forward in time.  However, I don’t think they could have handled it any better and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

Basically, it’s just wonderful to be back in the CCS world after fifteen years away.  And this volume has only just whet my appetite for more.  This is just the beginning!

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The Lunar Chronicles/Sailor Senshi team

When I started reading Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, I knew that it was a sci-fi take on the Cinderella tale.  What I did not know was that it was also partly inspired by Sailor Moon!

I can’t say that I’m as obsessed with Sailor Moon as other girls my age (including Meyer!) because I was never able to watch it when it was first broadcast in the US.  But I’ve since read the manga and seen a few episodes of the dub and Sailor Moon Crystal.  It’s definitely a classic shoujo manga for a reason.

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As the Lunar Chronicles series progresses, Cinder picks up companions on her quest, eventually assembling a team that reminded me greatly of the Sailor Scouts, or Senshi: four girls all with Lunar heritage (and one very excitable android).  As I was reading, I had a lot of fun pairing up characters with the Sailor Senshi that they seemed similar to.

Mild spoilers ahead for all the Lunar Chronicles books.

Cinder — Sailor Moon

Image result for sailor moonOur protagonist Cinder is clearly the Sailor Moon equivalent of this story.  She is the heir to the Lunar kingdom, but has ended up on Earth (specifically in Asia) with no memory of her royal past.  Even her birth name Selene sounds similar to Sailor Moon’s other identities Princess Serenity and Serena (used instead of Usagi the Sailor Moon dub). (All these names have meanings related to the moon).

In terms of personality and looks, Cinder and Usagi don’t have too much in common, though sometimes Cinder’s ill-fitting prosthetics can make her as clumsy as Usagi.  (Meyer has actually said that Cinder is more like her favorite, Sailor Jupiter:tough on the outside, but soft and sensitive on the inside.”)

Random side note: I actually tend to think of Cinder looking like Princess Garnet from Final Fantasy IX.  I think it’s the gloves ~_^

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Scarlet — Sailor Mars

Image result for sailor marsScarlet was the next easiest to pin down; she is Sailor Mars through and through.  Her signature color, red, aligns perfectly with both Rei and the Martian planet that inspired her.  Sailor Mars wields fire, and as I mentioned in my review post, the bold and brash Scarlet fits the “fiery redhead” mold perfectly.  (Though I do think Scarlet’s physicality is also a bit like Sailor Jupiter.)

Scarlet is also the oldest of the group at 18, and her womanly independence and maturity reminds me a lot of Rei.  They both have limited contact with their parents, instead living with a grandparent.  They also share an affinity for shooting; Scarlet carries a gun her grandmother gave her, and Rei is an archer, which even features in some of her Sailor Mars attacks.

Rei is the second of the Sailor Senshi to be discovered by Sailor Moon; Scarlet is the second of the Lunar team that Cinder meets (Cress is the first, though only via vid link).

Cress — Sailors Mercury and Venus

Image result for sailor mercuryTo me, Cress is a mash-up of Sailor Mercury with a little bit of Venus thrown in.  As I said above, she is the first of the team to meet Cinder, and her geekiness with computer hacking skills, plus the way she experiences the real world through media, are very much like the shy, bookish Ami.

But there’s also another side to Cress shown in her effervescent crush on Thorne that reminds me of Minako, aka Sailor Venus, Guardian of Love and Beauty.  She loves to sing, and I can see her dreaming of being a J-pop idol, same as Minako. Venus actually has several attacks using the word “Crescent,” which is part of Cress’s full name Crescent Moon.  And the orange tutu that Cress wears to infiltrate the palace inImage result for sailor venus Winter gave me a little giggle as I recalled Venus’s orange skirt.

A few more characteristics also indicate Ami and Minako.  Cress’s hair starts off being very long and blonde (like Minako’s) but then is cut off short (like Ami’s).  Also, Cress enjoys video games and is very good at them from all her time spent playing them alone in her satellite.  Minako trains to be Sailor V by playing a video game of the same name, and Ami is later shown to be very proficient at the Sailor V game.  (Minako was actually already active as Sailor V before Sailor Moon even came along, and Cress had likewise being carrying on her surveillance and searching for Princess Selene well before Cinder knew her true identity.)

Winter — Sailor Saturn (with a little Pluto)

Image result for sailor saturnWinter’s beauty should probably qualify her as Sailor Venus, but the “other-ness” of her personality really stuck me as belonging to the Outer Senshi.  Specifically, she reminds me of Sailor Saturn, who has trouble getting close to any of her classmates because of her seizure-like episodes.  Winter does not have many close friends, because unlike most Lunars she does not use her powers and thus suffers from “Lunar sickness,” where she has periods of intense, crippling hallucinations.

Hotaru is the youngest of the Senshi, which pairs well with Winter’s child-like innocence, bordering on naïveté.  She also occasionally demonstrates healing powers, and Winter seems like she has a similar tendency: she cares for Scarlet during her captivity on Luna and sneaks her medicine disguised in apple candies.

Winter is only member of the group to have spent her entire life on Luna, which reminded me a bit of Sailor Pluto, who is kept stationed guarding the Space-Time Door.  And like Winter, Pluto is also depicted as having the darkest skin of the group.

Iko — Luna/Chibiusa

luna_2I almost stopped with the Lunar girls, but Iko is just as important a member of the team!

At first I thought of Iko as being like Luna the cat because she lives with Cinder and acts as her assistant in the repair shop.  She’s also small and has a very human-like personality despite being an android.  Though she didn’t always know Cinder’s true identity, I think she encourages Cinder to accept her destiny (she certainly wants her to go to the ball).

After Iko goes through some transformations, first as a ship’s AI and then getting anImage result for chibi moon humanoid body, I started to re-evaluate her role.  It was actually her continuing lighthearted crush on Kai that sealed my opinion of her as Chibiusa, the future daughter of Usagi and Mamoru, who appears during the second story arc of Sailor Moon.  Chibiusa and Usagi develop a relationship almost like sisters even as Chibiusa constantly tries to steal Mamoru’s attention away from Usagi.  Cinder and Iko are similarly close, and even though Cinder did not originally build Iko, she did help repair her (and continues to do so throughout) such that Cinder seems to have a bit of a creator/parent role.  Plus, Iko enjoys glomping on everyone and her android body sports an unconventional, brightly-colored hairstyle.

What do you guys think?  Do you agree with my interpretations, or did you see certain characters as different Senshi?

Christmas Haul!

I got so many awesome things from my family and friends this Christmas!  One of my friends actually made me pottery.  How cool is that?

Millenium Falcon

You’ve already seen the awesome Falcon my husband made me…it was filled with candy, as well as Star Wars-themed cups.  The cups had images from various movies, etc., but I was kinda disappointed that the Rebels one had Ezra, Kanan, and Zeb but not Hera or Sabine. 😦  I did get a Captain Phasma lollipop though!

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Look, there’s even a satellite dish and a spot for the cockpit to angle off.

He also got me some Christmas lawn decorations.  There was some jumping and excited screaming involved.

t.rex

Yes, that is a T-rex with a Christmas present.  Yes, his head moves.  YES, THERE IS A MATCHING STEGOSAURUS WITH A SANTA HAT THAT ALSO MOVES ITS TAIL.  I’ll post pics of that one some time, too.

My husband is the best.

Books (aka the best gift ever)

  • xxxHolic v1 by the incomparable CLAMP and Ms. Marvel v1 —I want to read more comics this year!
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde—all my friends rave about this author
  • Several sci-fi and fantasy books by local authors, including The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
  • Skylights by Luther Siler—oh wait, I bought that for myself.

Board Games

  • Splendor—a very fun card drafting/development game with very pretty art.  It has pretty simple mechanics, plays 2-4 people, and has good replay value.
  • Mysterium—the English version of a fun social game I wrote about previously; it’s like a mix of Dixit and Clue
  • B also received One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Sheriff of Nottingham, and Codenames

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The board game pile keeps getting bigger.

Other Media

  • Frozen—there’s going to be a lot of singing
  • The Force Awakens soundtrack by John Williams—I can’t wait to get a better listen to this.  I think it will be great writing music!

Last but not least:

  • R2 soup—yes, my parents got me a can of Star Wars soup as a Christmas present.  I absolutely ate it and it was delicious.

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The Star Wars shapes totally make it taste better.

Year of the Horse

Rin Sohma, the Horse
Rin Sohma, the Horse

Happy New Year to those of you celebrating–Friday started the lunar new year, which is celebrated in many East Asian cultures.  This year is the Year of the Horse.

In the shoujo manga/anime Fruits Basket, the Horse is represented by Rin Sohma–not one of my favorite characters, but a very strong, independent girl who feels things deeply.

I have kind of a personal quandary when it comes to the Chinese zodiac.  My birth year is listed as a Tiger year.  However, my birthday is in late January…it falls just before the lunar new year.  That means I am actually an Ox.

Truthfully, my personality is more like the Ox: placid, steady, diligent.  However, I still like to claim that I am a Tiger.  I even wear a necklace with the kanji: 虎.  It serves as a daily reminder of things I aspire to, namely courage and passion.