Travel reading wrap-up (fall 2021): A batch of mini-reviews — high school drama, Aztec vampires, and classics retold

I’ve just returned from a one-week trip (which was all sorts of awesome), and realize that I’ve fallen way behind on my reviews. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read while I was away (and the week before, when I was already in pre-trip mode). As always, a mix of genres, topics, and new vs old.

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado: A YA story starring a plus-sized Latina high schooler who dreams of a first kiss, even while feeling like she’ll never measure up. The story emphasizes the importance of true friendship and trust, as well as body positivity. Charlie experiences a first relationship, has her relationship with her best friend tested, gains confidence as a writer, and learns to stand up for herself and not let others’ negativity undermine her belief in herself. While there are some plot points that I found frustrating (such as a mother whose toxicity about Charlie’s weight is never truly resolved, and unnecessary break-ups with both her boyfriend and her best friend), I loved the lead character enough to make this a really enjoyable read overall.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: This is my 3rd book by this author, but it definitely won’t be my last. Certain Dark Things is a gritty, noir-ish story of vampires, gangs, and drug runners in Mexico City. The main character is a teen boy who devotes himself to helping a lone Aztec vampire escape the city and the various other clans of vampires who want to see her and her people wiped out. It’s a fascinating spin on the world of vampires, and while I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the origins and natures of the different vampire species, I still really enjoyed this book. It’s dark, fast-paced, and surprising.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: I guess I should have read the full synopsis, instead of deciding after just the first sentence that this book sounded like fun. The main character wakes up alone in a Las Vegas hotel room with a vague, hung-over memory of having married an adorable woman the night before. All she has to go on is a note left by the woman with a radio station listed. Grace decides to track down the mystery woman… but for the most part, despite the potential rom-com set-up, this is a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world, figure out who she’s meant to be, and understand her relationships with family and friends. Maybe because I went into it with incorrect (or incomplete) expectations, I was mostly frustrated and annoyed by the depth’s of the main character’s introspection and occasional selfishness.


Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle: This YA retelling of Romeo and Juliet offers a fresh perspective — that of Rosaline, the girl Romeo loved before meeting Juliet. Here, the teens are seniors at an upscale California high school. Rose has been looking forward to reuniting with Rob, her best friend and boy next door since they were small children, especially since their near-kiss right before he left for his summer job. But within a few days of school starting, Rob dumps Rose for the new girl in town — the mysterious Juliet, who also happens to be Rose’s cousin. I really liked the way the author turned the classic story into a contemporary YA drama, and found her portrayal of Rose very thoughtful as well as being a creative twist on a tale that’s been told and retold so many times. When You Were Mine follows some, but not all, of the original’s storyline, and the little differences keep this book fresh and engaging. Sure, I have a few quibbles and would have liked to see a few plot points handled differently, but overall, this is quite a good read.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi: Another classic retold! This twist on Pride and Prejudice centers on the “Bennet Women” — the young undergraduate women living in Bennet House at Longbourn College. EJ (the Elizabeth stand-in) is a senior studying engineering and the RA of Bennet House, who holds the values and standards of Bennet House dear to her heart. Her best friends are a trans woman, Jamie, who’s our Jane stand-in, and Tessa, who has a smaller role and seems to be taking the place of Charlotte Lucas. While hitting the major plot beats of P&P, it’s a fresh take full of woman power and feminism, with a nicely diverse cast and some clever approaches to the expected storylines. I really appreciated how EJ’s education and aspirations were given prominence. Here, marriage isn’t a goal or even talked about much — it’s about finding love and respect while also finding themselves, pursuing their dreams, and not giving in to the many ways the world outside of Bennet House might want to limit their opportunities or pull them down.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

That’s my reading round-up! And now, back to all the ARCs and other books calling my name…





What not to read before flying! Three shorts about airplane travel

It’s really not that bad…

I’m getting on a plane today, flying home from East Coast to West — so what did I read yesterday? Why, just three different short stories about air travel. And why did I choose to do that on the day before a flight? No idea, really… because they were there?

In any case, they didn’t all freak me out. They’re not all scary, but still — an odd choice, given the timing.

Here’s what I read:


Wingspan by Chris Bohjalian: This is a one-act play by an author who’s always terrific. The action centers on two flight attendants, one young and inexperienced, one closer to middle age and with enough years of flying and life to be both practical and somewhat jaded. As they prepare for takeoff, the younger woman’s fear of flying is obvious, and as they talk, she begins to reveal her long-held secrets that led her to this point. The dialogue is sharp and clever, showing the slow development of trust and support between the two characters. Wingspan is not frightening from a flying perspective, but it is disturbing in terms of what is revealed and what the younger woman has experienced. This is a great short read (32 pages), available as an e-book standlone. Definitely recommended.


Next, two shorts by the amazing Seanan McGuire, both originally Patreon stories:

Carry On: Published on Patreon in 2016, available to read online at Nightmare Magazine (

A creepy tale that’s not too implausible. Airlines charge for legroom, carry-on bags, food, earlier boarding, the privilege of choosing seats… what’s next? Carry On takes that question to an answer that’s not all that far-fetched. Instead of making larger people buy two seats while having skinnier folks get to sit in comfort by virtue of their smaller size, why not charge by total weight? You buy a ticket based on the combined weight of you and your carry-ons — and you’d better hope you pass the pre-flight weigh-in!

Emergency Landing: Seanan McGuire’s newest Patreon story (not available elsewhere at this point):

Wow, this is one creepy story! It’s not terrifying from the flying perspective — nothing bad happens to the engines or the rest of the plane. But what happens when you’re in the air on a routine flight and learn that the rest of the world has maybe just been wiped out? This story is horrifying and disturbing in all the best ways.

So, really, nothing to put me off flying too badly, and all great reads!

And hey, at least I didn’t dive into this collection, which keeps showing up in my recommendations list:

A collection of 17 horror stories about… yes… flying, edited by Stephen King, with this tasty hint in the description:

All the ways your trip into the friendly skies can turn into a nightmare, including some we’ll bet you’ve never thought of before… but now you will the next time you walk down the jetway and place your fate in the hands of a total stranger.

I actually wouldn’t mind reading this — but not today, thanks!





Travel reading wrap-up (summer 2018): A big batch of mini-reviews — bread, tea, roller derby, and more!

As I mentioned in my post-vacation blog post, I’m home again after three weeks away. And yes, as always, my reading time was an essential part of my fun! (But try explaining that to my 16-year-old son, who is most adamantly not a believer in recreational reading…)

Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read while I was away. Definitely an odd assortment of topics and genres, which is just how I like it!


The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See: A haunting, beautiful story of a young woman’s life in a remote village in the Yunnan province of China, growing up as part of the Akha ethnic minority with their unique blend of rituals, traditions, and superstitions. Li-yan’s family depends upon the rare tea trees they nurture for their income, but as the outside world discovers their valuable tea, their entire way of life is changed by their collision with the modern world. Meanwhile, Li-yan’s personal life leads her into sorrow and redemption, and we span the globe as we follow Li-yan and her family members through this touching saga. Fascinating and lovely, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a provocative look at a culture I knew nothing about previously. Above all, it’s a moving story of a woman whose life changes dramatically and the power of family bonds and traditions.



Sourdough by Robin Sloan: Sourdough takes the prize for my weirdest read of the year. I bought it on a whim at the airport, despite having a fully loaded Kindle in my backpack. Well worth it — I “devoured” Sourdough in a day. (Mmmm, sourdough.) This is such an odd book. It’s the story of a young woman who comes to San Francisco for a tech job that sucks the soul out of her, until her life turns around thanks to a strange pair of brothers who gift her with their mysterious sourdough starter. As Lois learns to nurture the starter, she is slowly introduced into a (literally) underground world of foodies who attempt to reinvent peoples’ relationships with food and eating. Meanwhile, the sourdough starter has an uncanny tendency to display odd lights and make strange sounds… and oh yeah, the bread loaves baked from the special starter have faces etched into the finished crusts. The writing is funny and quirky, and I just loved it. I think I’m the only person on earth who hasn’t read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (by the same author), and I know I need to fix that pronto.



The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg: This collection of retellings is a mixed bag, which includes some truly creepy fairy tale retellings, and some stories that simply failed to make an impression. I particularly loved The Daughter Cells (a retelling of The Little Mermaid) and The Six Boy-Coffins (a retelling mash-up of the Grimm stories The Six Swans and The Twelve Brothers). For sheer creepiness, you can’t beat The Rabbit, a retelling of The Velveteen Rabbit that’s just awfully bloodthirsty and disturbing and wonderful. As a whole, the collection is worth reading, especially if you’re familiar with the original stories. I’m really not much of a short story reader, and some of the stories here left me cold — but the ones I liked, I really liked.




Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne: This was a re-read for me — I read the book when it was first released two years ago, but after seeing the show on Broadway, I just had to read it again. The visuals and presentation of the live show are stunning, and having experienced it, I was able to much more fully enjoy reading the book. (I’ve since learned that the show will be coming to San Francisco in 2019, and I definitely want to see it again!)






InCryptids! Books #5, 6, 7 in the delightful series by Seanan McGuire: Saving the super awesomeness for last! I couldn’t help myself — I binged my way through the remaining 3 books in the InCryptid series, and now I’m stuck waiting for the next new book, which doesn’t come out until 2019. Sob. This series is just so much fun. Chaos Choreography goes back to the original lead character, Verity Price, who battles snake-god-summoning idiots while competing in a reality TV dance competition. Weird, wonderful, absolutely delicious. In books 6 and 7 (Magic for Nothing and Tricks for Free), the focus shifts to Verity’s younger sister Antimony, who ends up joining a carnival and later, working at a Florida theme park that’s almost (but not quite) Disney World. The magic at this kingdom is not particularly friendly, mayhem ensues… and there’s plenty of trapeze work and roller skating too. Oh, and an awesome boyfriend who has quite a few secrets of his own. The InCryptid series, about a family of cryptozoologists who battle evil in order to keep the world safe for all sentient creatures, is silly and funny and totally hilarious — but also contains moments of real emotion and pathos. And hey — talking mice!



And that’s what I read while I was away! No matter how busy we were, I always managed to sneak away here and there for a bit of reading in the sun. Bliss!





Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a FLYING READER!


Actually, it’s just me, flying round trip cross-country and reading lots of books along the way!

I did a quick there-and-back-again trip across the country to attend my wonderful stepson’s medical school graduation. *bursting with pride*

Man, do I read a lot when I fly. I loaded up with some Netflix downloads, but ignored all media in favor of plowing through some books. I caught up on all my group reads, and also read a few novels, and basically had a ridiculously fun time ignoring the world around me and devoting myself to my Kindle. I ended up in a race against the pilot — my Kindle showed me I had 20 minutes left in my book, and the pilot kept announcing how many minutes to landing. Would I make it? Would I finish the story before the wheels met the ground?

Yup, I did. With five minutes to spare!

Who says flying has to be boring?

Travel reading wrap-up: A big batch of mini-reviews — mothers, sisters, dogs, hippos, and more!

I can’t call the last two weeks a vacation. Yes, I was away from home. No, it wasn’t relaxing. And while there were plenty of fun moments spending time with my sisters and friends, for the most part, it was stress, work, and exhaustion that ruled the day.

Side note: When we imagine our adult lives, I’m sure none of us think about caring for elderly parents and the hard decisions that involves, but sooner or later, if we’re lucky enough to have parents that live that long, it’s something that we inevitably have to deal with.

Meanwhile, I did a lot of reading while on airplanes and sitting around hospital rooms and nursing homes. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read while I was away… everything from feral hippos to church ladies to war stories.


The Mothers by Brit Bennett: Contemporary fiction about teen lovers and the impact on an entire congregation, as told (mostly) through the eyes of the older women who form the backbone of their close-knit church community. The story is engaging, but at times the actions of the characters made me so angry I wanted to hurl the book at the closest wall. (Since I was reading on an airplane, this would not have been a good idea.) Still, I enjoyed the character development, the look at the impact of the characters’ decisions and how these set the course of the rest of their lives, and the intricate weaving of connections, friendships, and family loyalty.





The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan: If you’ve ever checked out the Bookshelf Porn website, you’ll know what I mean when I say that this book is booklover porn. No, there’s nothing graphic or dirty or illicit here — but it’s sure to touch the fantasies of every devoted bookworm who ever dreamed of owning her own bookstore. Here, the 29-year-old main character, a downsized librarian, buys a big van, stocks it with every book she can get her hands on, and drives around the Scottish Highlands selling books to people who clearly need them. Lives are changed. Quirky villagers abound. And there’s even a love story! This is a sweet, lovely book, perfect for vacation reading or really, for any time you want to get away from the daily grind and wallow in the fantasy of finding a perfect life that combines reading, handling books, and being madly in love.





Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy & Becky Hepinstall: A beautiful yet devastating story of sisters, love, and sacrifice set during the Civil War. When Libby’s husband Arden is killed on the battlefield, Libby vows to get revenge by joining the Rebel army herself and killing one Yankee soldier for every year that Arden lived. Libby’s older sister Josephine can’t talk her out of it and can’t stand the idea of Libby going off alone, so the two sisters disguise themselves as teen boys and enlist. Sisters of Shiloh shows the savage butchery of the Civil War battlefields and the horrible deprivations suffered by the soldiers, but above all, it’s a story about courage and sisterly devotion. While I occasionally wanted to just shake some sense into Libby, I loved Josephine and found her part of the story deeply affecting and inspiring. I’d consider this book must-read historical fiction.





Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley: Warning: If you can’t handle sad dog stories, walk away now. Lily and the Octopus is the story of a lonely man whose life revolves around his beloved dachshund Lily. He constructs elaborate fantasies to narrate their life together (including interactive games of Monopoly and pizza nights), and simply can’t face reality when he spots what he calls an “octopus” on her head — his make-believe image for a tumor. As the story progresses, his battle against the octopus to save Lily’s life becomes increasingly complex — but ultimately, this is the story of a man slowly losing his steadiest, truest companion, and it’s a tearjerker. The octopus and other pieces of the fantasy were a little too much for me at times, but other than that, this is a moving story of love and connection.





River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey: Oh my. Feral hippos in the Mississippi River marshlands! In this alternate version of US history, the government has solved the country’s meat shortage by importing hippos to be bred in the bayou. Hippo ranches are huge moneymakers, and cowboys ride exotic breeds of hippos known for their overland speed. Meanwhile, feral hippos haunt the criminal-run riverboats — a handy punishment for those who get caught cheating at cards. A ragtag band is assembled to stop a dastardly plot, and this gang is loads of fun, and full of people representing all the shades of the gender rainbow — all without blinking an eye. This novella is oodles of entertainment, and its underlying silliness absolutely hit the spot on a stressful day. I can’t wait for the sequel, Taste of Marrow, due out in September.





The Deep by Nick Cutter: This is a quick page-turner, but I found myself weirdly unengaged. An odd global virus starts the book on a promising note, but the virus piece is soon overshadowed by the malevolent goings-on deep in the sea at a research lab at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. There are lots of icky and creepy things in a setting that should be terrifying… but it just wasn’t scary, there’s no pay-off for the initial premise, and ultimately, the conclusion simply wasn’t satisfying. There is, however, tons of yuck and ick, so definitely not a book for the squeamish.






We Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughan: A graphic novel limited series (consisting of six installments) that tells the story of a US invasion of Canada and the scruffy resistance team that fights back. It’s quite fun, and a quick read. Fans of Saga and Y: The Last Man will absolutely want to check this one out.







And that’s what I read while I was away! I covered a lot of ground — horror, historical fiction, comics, and dogs, to name a few — and that’s just the way I like it. Give me a stack of books with a lot of variety, and I’m a happy camper, no matter where I may find myself.

And now that I’m home, I’m looking forward to diving back into my bookshelves and seeing what odd array of books I can come up with next!