Tag Archives: verse novels

My Favorite Books of 2021

6 Dec

Every year I blog about my favorite reads, though I admit that this year was hard! I went really out of my comfort zone and read a lot of age categories and genres, but particularly adult romance, including the famous Ice Planet Barbarians series. This was also just a busy year in general for me. My (now) husband and I bought our first home, renovated said home, planned a wedding, got married, and went on a trip. I went back into the office for the first time since March 2020, and we’re still in a pandemic, so naturally, my focus was a little all over the place. I started so many amazing novels that I never ended up finishing, not because they weren’t amazing, but because I had to return them to the library before I got through it, and instead of checking it back out, more holds continued to roll in. That said, I finished reading 87 books this year. You can see the full list on my Goodreads.  To add a little clarity, these are books that I read in 2021, not necessarily books that released in 2021. My favorites are below! I hope you find something to read. I’d also love to hear what you loved this year. 

Verse novels

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Me (Moth) by Amber McBride are fantastic, heart-felt reads about difficult topics. I greatly admired both stories, and I cannot wait to read more from these diverse authors. These are young adult novels written in verse, but if you’re not used to poetry, I think you’d still be able to easily follow them and enjoy the content. Definitely recommended for kids going through hard times!

Graphic novels

All three of these graphic novel—The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag, A Man and His Cat by Umi Sakurai, and The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen—took my hand and held it as we trapezed through fantastic art, adorable storylines, and heartache. I highly recommend all three of them. A Man and His Cat is a four-book series. Each book is a gem. And they’ll make you want to hug your cats even harder. 

Young Adult Novels

Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare: I’m a huge Cassandra Clare fan. I’ve been reading her Shadowhunter books since I was 15, and the current trilogy is one of my favorites. Chain of Iron hits you in the feels so many times, it is cruel. I literally cannot wait for the last book. 

Graceling by Kristin Cashore: This book has been on TBR for years. Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I only just read it. It’s intense, exciting, and fun. I loved Poe so much, and I know it’ll stay with me for a long time.   

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: I listened to the audio book while painting my house and could not have been more enthralled. I actually stopped painting at times just to listen! And honestly, listening to this story was really neat because there are lots of languages, and that narrator speaks them. For me, it added atmosphere. If you haven’t checked out this Romeo and Juliet retelling, do so! The sequel is now out, too. 

Adult novels

Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren: This is a pretty well-known adult romance book. It’s heavy on the sex, and yet still has a substantial plot interwoven throughout. I can see why it’s popular. I finished it in a day or so. It definitely comes with alpha male energy, so if that’s not your thing, you may not like this one. But it’s an entertaining read! 

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L Armentrout: This book had very delicious fantasy trope that you want in a great fantasy series. Despite all the tropes, Armentrout found amazing ways to twist them to give this story a fresh, exciting feel. I immediately put book 2 on hold, and I’m currently waiting on book 3. It’s also a rather large read, but you’ll love every minute if you adore paranormal romance or romance fantasy.  

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: This book is epic, both in word count and in content. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s a very, very gruesome read, but I absolutely loved it. Every scene kept me on the tip of my toes, and I was looking for any excuse to get back to reading. I listened to the audiobook as I read along, so that helped! All three books are now out as well, so you don’t have to wait for the sequel to drop. 

Most Surprising

She Wouldn’t Change a Thing by Sarah Adlakha

I picked up this book knowing that it was about a woman who had to face a parallel version of her life and decide between her old life and her new one. I definitely wasn’t expecting such a dark, thought-provoking read. I emphasize the darkness of this piece, because the description didn’t get into the types of trauma this book covers, and it gets into a lot of really serious topics, so be warned if you have any potential triggers. That said, I could not put this book down. Even in the slowest parts, I just had to keep reading to know what would ultimately happen. The entire book is uncomfortable in the best ways. I had to keep stopping to go debat a new question with my husband every chapter. It’s definitely a great book club read. I still think about it from time to time. 

Honorable Mention

Ferryman by Claire McFall

This is a new category this year, because – to be 100% honest – I had already written this entire blog post before I picked up Ferryman by Claire McFall. (That’s the risk of writing one of these posts with one month in the year to go.) If I had read it earlier this year, it probably would’ve been placed in my favorite YA slots. I absolutely loved Ferryman by Claire McFall. It’s about a girl who dies and then must cross the wastelands of the afterlife with her ferryman…who she falls in love with. Problem is, once she crosses, she’ll lose him forever. I mean, the stakes alone were enough to get me to pick up this read. It’s apparently a re-release. This book originally came out in Scotland in 2013, but released in the US this year. There are two more books in the trilogy, and it’s being made into a movie. I can totally see why! I could not put it down. (And I really struggled to connect with books this year.) This one is a must-read.

Ultimate Favorite

The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

Never did I ever think an adult nonfiction title would top my list. I mean, I am a fantasy/science fiction sort of a gal. But I was utterly engrossed by this book. It tackles the subject of war by looking at different strategies of battle. What I loved most is that it’s organized by strategy, so the book jumps around time, rather than being written in a historically chronological format. This keeps the stories feeling fresh and exciting, and you can start to see the parallels through time more. I loved that Greene gave credit to women and people of color, particularly Alexander the Great’s mother as an influence when she is so rarely referenced in other narratives. I found myself taking pages and pages of notes for a book idea I’ve been working on for a long time, only to realize I was practically writing everything down. It’s worth picking up, and the audiobook is incredible. The narrator has a way of setting atmosphere while never letting it overtake or exaggerate the facts. A must-read if you’re interested in warfare and history. 

These were my favorite reads of 2021! What were yours?

~SAT

Writing About Grief

4 Oct

As someone who usually writes science fiction and fantasy, I decided to take a sharp turn during these last few months of 2021 to write my first contemporary. It’s a verse novel, centered on the loss of my mother when I was 11. (For those of you who are new to my blog, she died from a drug overdose, and I struggled to find books for kids like me in the middle grade section.) I finally want to try to make that happen. Granted, it’s going to be a while before I finish, but I’m halfway through and thought it was time to talk about the lessons I’ve learned while writing about grief. That isn’t to say you must be writing a contemporary novel centered on grief. Grief can be present in any novel in any genre, but these tips are designed for someone who is writing a novel that is exploring grief as the central theme. 

First and foremost, when grief is the central theme of your work, it’s important to keep track of your emotions, especially if what you’re writing about is deeply personal or based on real-life. Check in with yourself. Give yourself permission to put your work down and come back at another time. Have something else to write on the side. Whatever you need to do to stop yourself from rumination. If you’re trying to write about a tragedy that recently happened, that’s okay, but I would caution you to take time to grieve before you dive into writing a book about your grief. Let time give you space to heal.

Now for writing advice:

Read Other Books About Grief

I know this might sound counterintuitive. Too much grief might be too much grief. But for me, I decided to lean onto other works of art. I picked up some nonfiction and fiction that centers on the topic I’m covering, and I’m still combing through them right now. Seeing how others covered grief in their stories helps me see which events in my life will work for a story rather than a diary entry. It can be extra helpful if you can find books in the same age category. That will help you with voice, but also give you some possible comp titles, so that you can pitch your book knowing where it will land on the shelf. 

Balance the Sad with Happy

Even though I’m writing a book about an extremely dark time in my childhood, I still remember happy slices of life. Granted, when I started writing this book and took a step back, I realized those were missing. It takes another muscle to my brain to recall those happy moments that took place in the dark. Though, I think that’s perfectly normal. When you’re dealing with grief—especially the death of the loved one—guilt can be associated with happiness. That might happen in your writing, too. Be prepared to stumble along the way. 

Take breaks. BIG ones. And don’t forget your resources.

You may get overwhelmed, and that’s okay. I made a promise to myself that I’d stop writing any time it started to feel like too much. During those pauses, I liked to search through some resources, such as The Grief Toolbox: How to Write About Grief in a Story or Novel. There’s lot of fantastic articles out there that I’d recommend. Give yourself some time to research others’ methods. 

Finally, it’s okay to get inspiration from real life, but remember that you’re writing a story. My mom’s death didn’t happen in a neat little package that fits on a storyline arc. I didn’t follow the traditional five stages of grief in order, jumping from one period of growth to the next with clear transitions. Life doesn’t work that way. Instead, I am using these events and emotions to write, and it’s okay to write messy, especially on a first draft. From there, it’s my job as a writer to get an actual plot out of it all. 

The biggest surprise for me? Grief can feed off other grief—and spark more inspiration. 

Writing about my childhood grief also brought up my teenage grief. Two tragedies in my life really fed off of the other. I didn’t know why I kept thinking about my teenage years when I was trying to think of my middle grade years, but I realized my teenage years was when I started to come to terms with it, and there is no writing about one without bringing up the other. Not for me. So, I opened up a fresh document and began writing a YA verse novel at the same time. I’m often flipping back and forth between the two with little idea which one I’ll finish first. But at the end of this, I know I’ll have a book about grief. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll make it to the shelves one day, so a kid like me can see it and know they aren’t alone in their grief. 

~SAT

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