Monthly Archives: December 2013

in which I read 150 books

So I read 150 books this year.

That will come as no surprise to anyone who has met me. I am never without a book. I read as often as most people eat. I know more fictional people than I do real ones.

I also took a lot of classes this year that involved an absurd amount of reading. That helped.

But I did it! 150 books! There were days I certainly didn’t think I’d make it, usually accompanied by that little angry red message from Goodreads reminding me how many books behind schedule I was.

So I put together my end of the year wrap up. I did an A to Z book quiz earlier this year and it was fun, so I tried to do A to Z categories for this, but that did not pan out. So I just wrote about the things I loved about the books I loved. Basically this is just gonna be me gushing about books.

So here it is.

Mackenzi Lee’s 2013 Year in Books!

scorpio

Pages Read: 49,585
Longest: The Rise of the Theodore Roosevelt at 960 pages
Shortest: Bunnicula at 128 pages
 
Best Adult Book
Not adult books as in porn. Adult books as in I mostly read children’s books, so it’s a big deal when I pick a book out of the adult fiction section. I actually read a lot of really good “adult novels” this year. I think my favorite might have been The Art Forger by BA Shapiro. My love for this book is definitely in part due to the Boston-ness of it. And my love of art. And forgers.
 
Best Title 
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka BruntI dare you to come up with a better title than that.

Biggest Crush on a Fictional Character
Sean Kendrick from The Scorpio Races. Oh buddy. Sean Freaking Kendrick and his blood-red, man-eating horse.
 
Biggest Disappointment
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell was a huge letdown for me, mostly because it seemed to be everyone’s favorite book of the year, and it was just barely not a two star book for me. No feels. None.
 
Best Epic Fantasy
Graceling by Kristen Cashore. That book made me proud to be a Simmons girl. (Kristen Cashore, it should be noted, is also a Simmons grad)
 
Funniest
Gotta give this one to Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. Because it satisfied both the musical theater nerd in me and the lover of hilarious children’s books.
 

nate
Best Graphic Novel
I read a lot of awesome graphic novels this year, but my favorite was probably Gris Grimley’s Frankenstein. Because it is a great marriage of classic text and beautiful art. If I had had this book in high school, I would have read Frankenstein a long time ago.
 
Best Historical Fiction
So the very obvious answer is Code Name Verity, which only sort of counts because I re-read it this year. Twice. So I’m gonna have to say…ah but this is impossible! I read so much historical fiction! And so much of it is so good! So if I was forced to pick, I would pick Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt. Which is a book I liked as a child, reread ten years later for class, and it totally knocked me over.

I Will Go Down With This Ship  
Em and Dex from One Day by David Nicholls. My OTP. Forever.  
 
Scariest
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn seriously freaked me out. In that very real, “people are truly horrible” sort of way. But The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson had me checking over my shoulder my whole walk home because I thought the ghost of Jack the Ripper was following me. Correction, I did not think it—I knew it.

gone girl
Best Minor Character
So the biggest scene stealing minor character was Strumhound from Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. Mmmm. I love me some sassy pirate prince.
 
Best LGBTQ
If You Could be Mine by Sarah Franzien was my favorite of the year in this category.

Favorite Fairytale Retelling  
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy. This one was also in the running for funniest book of the year.
 
Most Marvelous Middle Grade
Another category I read SO MUCH good stuff in. But if we’re not counting rereads, since Millions by Frank Cotrtrell Boyce, which I’ve read by my conservative estimate nine million times, I’d have to say The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

Book that made me Angry
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. NO. JUST NO. SHTAP.

Most Ghostly Ghost
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I do love me a good ghost book.

Best Leading Lady
This year’s reading list was populated by amazing ladies. It might be impossible to pick a favorite. But I really love Deryn Sharp from Leviathan.
 
Most Tears Shed
A true, unexpected, and mildly embarrassing fact about me is that I tear up in a lot of books. Sometimes not because it’s sad—I’m just feeling too much (Feed by MT Anderson). Or the writing is too beautiful (Scorpio Races). Or just because I love these characters so much (One Day). But I also definitely cry when sad, sad, sad impossible things happen (Code Name Verity). Rose Under Fire, the companion novel to Code Name Verity, had me crying real tears in a restaurant. That probably wins the most tears award for the year.

rose
Best Poetry
Gentleman Practice by Buddy Wakefield
 
Favorite Quote of the Year
“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.” –Neil Gaiman, Ocean at the End of the Lane

Best Contemporary Realistic Piece
I don’t read a lot of contemporary realistic novels. Usually I need something magical to keep me engaged. I only found a couple this year that really grabbed me. If I had to pick, I’d probably say Boy Toy by Barry Lyga. Because sometimes I still think about that book.  
 
Steampunk (is the best punk)
Steampunk is a new genre for me that I got hard core into this year. Far and away, the best steampunk series I read was the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld. Nothing else can even compare.
 
Best Time Travel Novel
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terril. The most wonderfully unexpectedly awesome book of the year.

leviathan2
Up the Latest Reading
I was up veeeery late reading both The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater and its exceptional sequel, The Dream Thieves. The Dream Thieves was slightly more hazardous because it was reeeeeallly scary.
 
Most Villainous Villains
The Darkling from Siege and Storm. Do you want to kill him or make out with him? Only the third book will tell.
 
Most Vivid Setting
The island of Thisby in The Scorpio Races. Ah Thisby. Let me live on your chalky beaches and run from your man eating horses.  
 
Best Dystopian
There are a lot of dystopians out there right now. The best dystopian book I read this year was Feed by MT Anderson. I didn’t think I liked dystopian books until I read Feed.
 
Most Classic Classic
I gotta say, Frankenstein was the most impactful classic text I read this year. I’d never read it before, and I holed up in my apartment during the great February blizzard and plowed through it. It was good when I read it. But then the more I thought about it, the better it got. Now I’m obnoxiously obsessed with it.  
 
Best Zombie Book (because who doesn’t love a good zombie?)  
My favorite zombie book of the year was Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard and it’s only slightly less marvelous sequel, A Darkness Strange and Lovely. 

something
A full list of the books I read and the star ratings I gave them can be found on my Goodreads page.

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in which I talk about anxiety

My brain is made up of two parts.

One part works full time at telling me in a gentle monotone to be patient, and that things will work out because they always do, and nothing is as bad is it seems. It has a sharp tie in muted pastel and wire framed glasses, and starts most sentences with the word “actually.” Its shoes are sensible, its tea earl grey, and it’s always in bed by ten o’clock sharp. That is the rational part of my brain.

Then there is the other half. It wears neon colors and it screams. It flashes the lights so that I can’t focus on anything else and hollers NO THINGS WILL NOT WORK OUT. YOU WILL NEVER BE GOOD AT ANYTHING. AND EVEN IF YOU ARE, IT WON’T BE GOOD ENOUGH. It is not patient. It is not kind. It is mostly made of bottle rockets and alarm bells, and it can take one sentence, one email, one deadline six months away and chatter about it for days and days and days until it blows up like a hand grenade. That is the irrational part of my brain.

Sometimes they balance. I can keep them talking to each other instead of talking to me, and the scales even out to something like quiet.

But then there are days like today, when one thing—and that one thing can be anything from the dust under my bed to where I see myself in forty years—and suddenly I am 99% irrational brain, and it is screaming and stamping and sending up sparks and flying off the handle, and the rational brain is fighting to be heard over top of it so he starts shouting too, and then they’re both shouting, shouting, shouting and it’s altogether too much noise inside me.

It’s not a good feeling.

Anxiety manifests itself in different ways for different people. I am not the sort of person whose anxiety makes it so I can’t get out of bed or eat, and it doesn’t make me feel the need to strip in the middle of a crowded square or stop breathing. My anxiety can look you straight in the eyes and smile and say I’m fine, even though my teeth are gritted and everything inside of me is screaming out of control like a runaway train.

I don’t know why some days I can deal with my anxiety and others I can’t. Why some days, I can step back from myself and listen to that rational part of me and understand that things will work out, and there’s not point worrying over what I can’t control. But there are other days where I can hear what that rational voice is saying and even understand it, but I can’t believe it. And then other days where I can’t even hear it because my worrying is too loud.

I give advice I can’t take. I make obsessive lists. I schedule every minute. I stare at the ceiling. I don’t sleep.

And I keep going.

That is how I deal with my anxiety. I keep going.

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in which I complete my mentorship

In May, I will become a master, much like Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker of old. Except I will be a master of writing for children, rather than of the ancient Jedi arts. Honestly, I’m not sure which is cooler. But just as any good Jedi must complete a series of training and trials before they can become a master, so must I. One of these trials is the completion of a mentorship, which are two creative pieces that fall in the category of children’s, middle grade, or young adult literature. The first of those was due yesterday. This project, which I have mentioned in passing a few times here on the blog, began last February, when I sent the MT an email with a short synopsis of my idea. The first line of the email was, “I think I’ve finally come up with an idea that’s too weird.” Fortunately, the MT did not think a YA novel with steampunk cyborgs based on Frankenstein was too weird. She told me to write it. So I started writing it last term in my writing class, and received enough positive feedback from my classmates that I decided to make it my mentorship. I turned in a proposal in April, it was approved in May, and I started writing. Then, after a couple months of thinking about it, I scrapped everything I had worked on and started over. I wrote the whole first draft over the summer. I actually typed the last words in the Church Office Building during my lunch break. It clocked in at around 65,000 words. The integral part of the mentorship, and from where it derives its name, is that you work with a mentor from the wide world of publishing on this project. They read your piece and offer advice, much like a master and apprentice. So the last day of August, I sent my finished manuscript to my mentor, who I’m going to call Master Yoda because “my mentor” is going to get old fast. A few weeks later, she and I sat down in the Cambridge Public Library to discuss it. She pulled this out of her bag. Image It was my manuscript. Post-it noted. Color coded. She had really thought about this. I was so flattered that I creepily took a picture of it. Because I believe in making solid first impressions. So we sat down. And the first question she asked me was, “What is this manuscript about?”

Not what happens. What is it about.

I hemmed and hawed because really I didn’t know. I had written this thing in a furious burst this summer and it still felt like a stranger to me. I didn’t really know my characters, and the plot was slapdash and random in places. But more than that, I didn’t know what my book was about.

So I made something up. Master Yoda listened to me babble, then said, “Well I think it’s a novel about guilt, atonement, and forgiveness.”

Yes, I realized. Yes it was.

And suddenly, my book had a shape. And that shape got me excited.

I have been manic about this project since that first meeting in September.  I have thought about it constantly. I have read dozens of essays about Frankenstein, other books with similar themes, and every Frankenstein retelling I could get my hands on2. I went to films and plays and lectures about Mary Shelley. I read her original manuscripts and journals. And I wrote more than I ever have in my life. And it has been amazing. I’ve felt like a real writer, with focus and drive and a project I felt passionately about and that I understood.

And my manuscript got better. It is still far from anywhere close to perfect, or even good, but it got better. I’m astounded by how far it came in three months under the guidance of Master Yoda. As I read over it this past week in preparation for sending it off, I couldn’t believe how well the changes I made had worked, and how spot on Master Yoda’s suggestions for changes had been. In two drafts, I have a whole new manuscript. And it looks like this:  Image 72,000 words. 243 pages3. Because I have always been a student of the Hermione Granger variety.

Part one of mentorship is done. Now we do it all again in January!

  1. If you’ve been around me at all in the past five months, you’ll know my Frankenstein obsession has gone from endearing to annoying.
  2. If you ever want a recommendation, I’m here for you. I have very niche things that I know lots about.
  3. So thick! So heavy!
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