2017 Manga / Graphic Novels (Second Half)

My manga/graphic reading for the second half of 2017 was pretty much non-existent. Most of my reading time was dedicated to audiobooks because I didn’t have the focus to really sit down and read something. Of the GN that I read, Such a Lovely Little War and The Best We Could Do are the two that stood out. Both are about families directly impacted by the Vietnam War, but they come from different perspectives. The former is written by the child of a Vietnamese diplomat, and the latter is written by the child of teachers. Both are worth picking up for a read.

Graphic Novels (1)
All’s Faire in Middle School

Graphic Nonfiction (2)
Such a Lovely Little War
The Best We Could Do

Manga (8)
Happy Marriage ?!, Vol 1-4
That Wolf-Boy is Mine, Vol 1-4

PopSugar – January

Even though my focus in January was Read Harder, I still managed a decent showing for PopSugar. Both the books themselves and my thoughts on them crossed the spectrum, though I did lean towards sci-fi and fantasy.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
#1 – Made into a movie you’ve already seen
I saw Coraline the movie years ago, and remember it being incredibly weird and like a scary fun house. The eye buttons were the creepiest part of it, and are the first things that come to mind when I think of Coraline. It is a fairy tale with all the dark bits left in. I like that Gaiman doesn’t condescend to children when he writes, and acknowledges that children accept the macabre (and often live in it as well).

Trouble with Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones
#3 – Next book in a series you’ve already started
Charlie is in full Charlie mode throughout this book. I found myself snorting multiple times because of her snarky humor. And STUFF HAPPENED! Unlike some of the previous books in this series, Twelfth Grave, moved the overarching plot forward instead of getting bogged down with weak novel-length plot lines. I like those smaller plots, but not when they feel half-assed. The ending didn’t happen quite the way I was expecting it to, but it was still a good foundation for the final book.

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
#4 – Involving a heist
Even though this is a fictionalized account of the first train robbery in Great Britain, there is a lot of infodumped history included, with the narrative weaving between the two. It works in this case, helped along by the fact that is reads (or listens) like a deadpan British nature documentary. I enjoyed the story much more than one would expect given the various elements of fiction, infodumps, and deadpan delivery. I would listen to it again.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
#9 – About a villain/anti-hero
I absolutely loved The Cruel Prince. Black’s writing was on point and her world-/magical rule-building was amazing. The story was a good mix of adventure, tension, and nastiness. Black’s darker, and quite frankly more realistic (as such) characterizations of fairies was a joy to read – there is always a consequence or loophole or interesting interpretation when humans make deals with immortals.  The story gets you from the opening scene and steadily ramps up from there, kicking into high gear during the coronation scene. The characters are also well-written – not a single good or bad guy; all of them are vaguely unlikable shades of gray. I cannot wait until the next book comes out. I recommend reading this as opposed to listening to it. The narrator wasn’t bad by any means, but given the tone of this book, I’d rather read the words and hear them in my head.

Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin
#10 – About death
I attempted to read this book several years ago, but failed to finish because it didn’t hold my attention. As it works for a PS category, I decided to give it another go, this time on audio. I liked the idea of a world where everyone knows the date of their death, though not the reason or cause. It had potential to be interesting, especially given the ending. However, the characters and plot were bland and uninteresting. The only two things that kept me listening were the fact that it would fulfill a challenge requirement and that I wanted to know why Denton and company were turning purple. Things I did like: Paolo (my favorite character), and that Denton made an effort to tell his classmates at least one positive thing about themselves.

Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks
#11 – Favorite color in title
Lotus Blue got off to a bit of a rocky start, mainly because Sparks kept switching between eight-ish points of view. The only good thing was that even as POVs switched, the plot kept moving forward and each POV brought something to the table. The story would be tighter if some of the bit player POVs were done away with. The dynamics of characters and their world were fascinating, and I loved the idea of semi-sentient technology. I hope Sparks writes a sequel because I want to learn more about this world and its history, and the other Lotus generals.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
#12 – Alliteration in the title
This was quick read. I liked the story, and there were no major character flaws in either the hero or heroine (this can be hit or miss in with romances). As a whole, the story was fairly breezy with no real conflict or drama, only minor blips on the road to the main characters’ acknowledging their love for each other.

Sandstorm by James Rollins
#14 – Weather element in the title
I ended up enjoying Sandstorm more than I thought I would. It is not a genre I read at all – I think the closest thing was The Da Vinci Code when it came out in 2003. Sandstorm was a fairly straight forward adventure/espionage story with enough magic to make the plot work. I was somewhat surprised by the inclusion of magic because it didn’t seem to fit with the basic elements of adventure/espionage stories that use (slightly beyond) cutting edge technology. But I guess if the characters are tracking ancient relics and secrets, some suspension of reality is required to make it work.

The Lifeboat Clique by Kathy Parks
#15 – Set at sea
The best reaction I can come up with is “eh”. The Lifeboat Clique was marginal at best. The tone of the writing felt judgemental and not tongue in cheek. Consequently, I did not particularly care for Denver, the main character, as it was written from her perspective. All of the characters felt stereotyped/clichéd, and I didn’t like any of them. Abigail’s accent was overly affected and annoying, and I don’t think I have ever heard any of the Texans I know use the slang she employed. Plot-wise, I would have liked more of it to have been spent on the teens’ survival and less on the drama-filled backstory between Denver and Abigail. I could have also done without the moralizing at the end. The closing pages of the book started pushing it into hackneyed territory.

Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean by Morton Strøksnes
#16 – An animal in the title
Shark Drunk is not a cohesive narrative, but rather multiple threads of related anecdotes, social and physical history, and science centered around the author’s attempt to catch a Greenland shark. I’ve read many books where this style of writing fails miserably, but in this case, it works well. The threads play off of each other and make sense within the context. All of this is done with a toned down Bill Bryson-eseque sense of humor.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
#20 – Characters who are twins
This book was a chore to get through. It was not a fandom book as the title suggests. It would have been better if it had been billed a coming of age story/grappling with mental illness, using fandom as a tool to help Cath overcome and/or accept. I didn’t mind the Simon Snow interludes, but they didn’t necessarily mesh with the main narrative of Cath trying to overcome her social anxiety. If the interludes had mirrored or shed some insight into Cath and her situation, they would have been more relevant and less of a distraction. I also didn’t like that Cath’s social anxiety and ineptitude was blamed on her fangirlness, when it really stemmed from issues with her mother’s abandonment and her father’s mental illness. Rowell gave only superficial lip service to this, and in doing so did both the story and the characters a huge disservice.

The Time Traders by Andre Norton
#21 – Female author / male pseudonym
Espionage, time travel, and aliens. I didn’t have high expectations because of some of the reviews, but was pleasantly surprised to find the story was interesting. It’s not without its flaws for sure – the plot was a bit messy, acting as a set up for the sequels. I don’t have any interest in reading the sequels because they are about the aliens and less about the time travel. It’s almost like the history and time travel in The Time Traders was a one-off. Norton isn’t an author I would seek out again unless one of her books fit into a reading challenge requirement.

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
#22 – LGBTQ+ protagonist
I was somewhat confused at the beginning of this book because it felt like too much world building and character introduction was going on with not enough context. This went on periodically throughout the novel where something would happen, and I had absolutely no clue how we got there. There was a lot of good stuff in Amberlough, but it didn’t come together as well as it could have. I didn’t really care about the characters because we never really learn anything about them. I know I’ve yet to say anything really positive, but even with the hot mess this novel kind of was, once I figured out what was going on, I found it interesting and enjoyed the use of language.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
#31 – Mentioned in another book (A Brave New World)
The Tempest is not one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare. The story was too short, weak and somewhat muddled, and at times a bit confusing. I’m sure part of this was because I audiobooked it, and there wasn’t an easy way to determine when a scene/characters had shifted.

 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
#33 – Childhood classic you’ve never read
I grew up watching the Megan Follows television version of Anne of Green Gables, and absolutely loved it; watching whenever it aired on PBS.  However, I never had an interest in reading the books, especially when I read descriptions of later books and found they didn’t focus on Anne and seemed to have extraneous characters (bear in mind I was a child). As with the show, I loved the audiobook, and Rachel McAdams did a good job as narrator. There were definitely some differences between show and book, and as a parent, there were times that Anne drove me bonkers, but I still love the magic of it.

Beneath a Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
#34 – Published in 2018
Of the three Wayward Children books, Beneath a Sugar Sky is the weakest. I still enjoyed McGuire’s writing style, her world building, and her descriptions, but the plot suffered from the question of who was the main character? Cora or Rini? The story opened with Cora, but she felt like she was only a vehicle for Rini’s appearance and Rini’s quest. It would have been better if either Cora didn’t exist and the focus was solely on Rini and her quest, or if Rini didn’t exist, and the story focused on Cora, her self-acceptance, and her desire to return to her portal world.

Bean’s 4th Quarter Books 2017

Bean discovered or revisited several book series, and spent a decent amount of her winter break listening to books on her new Kindle. Her favorites (which account for most of what she read) are:

*Curse Workers trilogy: They were well-written, I liked the rules of magic the author created, and I liked that the main characters were not perfect.

*Magisterium series: series I liked Call because he is supposed to be the bad guy, but is trying to do the right thing and be a hero. I also liked the rules of magic the author created.

*Willow Falls series: Each book had multiple points-of-view with different plots that all came together in the end. Each plot revolved around a central character, and nothing would have happened without that character.

1st Quarter
2nd Quarter
3rd Quarter

Audiobooks (14)


Books (2)

Read Alouds (1)

Emma’s Read Harder (The Rest of It)

I managed to finish Read Harder before my semester started! Three comic books and 11 audiobooks were a large part of why that was possible.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
#1 – Published posthumously
Even though this novel was published posthumously, it is very much a first novel. I can see what Austen is trying to accomplish satirically, but her writing style is still in development. This is my least favorite Austen story by far. Catherine was obtuse, silly, and annoying with her “everything is a gothic novel” goggles. While I know her growth from that fantasy world into reality is the point of the story, it is a somewhat tedious journey for the reader.

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
#2 – True crime
I really enjoyed this book. It was both interesting and a fairly fast read (always a plus in a nonfiction book). I liked how she presented Robert, and Nattie, laying out the facts as she could find them. She did offer some conjectures, but those were grounded more in child psychology than personal opinion. My opinion is that the home life of Robert and Nattie was somewhat volatile, and that unpredictability and volatility of his mother while their father was at sea was the underpinning for why Robert killed her. His life after his verdict doesn’t lead one to believe he was psychotic. I am glad that Summerscale included an epilogue. It gave Robert’s story closure, and the gave readers the suggestion that some of his later decisions were made with the potential to atone for killing his mother when he was a child.

Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies
#5 – Set in a BRICS country (India)
The story started out well – I loved the descriptions of India – however, as it progressed, Eliza became more annoying. While I am aware that romances require some amount of suspension of belief, I have a hard time doing that when the romance in question goes unquestionably against the societal norms of the time. A relationship between British widow and an Indian crown prince is not out of the realm of possibility, but it becomes so once marriage makes its way to the table.  Eliza turned into a pouty child when the reality of Jay becoming the Raj happened, even though she was fully aware of the political implications and complications of their relationship, i.e. he couldn’t marry her or there was a good chance the British could find away to take his power away from him.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
#6 – About nature
This was an interesting look at how humans test other animals for their capacity of intelligence and social behaviors. In general, humans tend to see themselves as superior to all other animals, and see their intrinsic intelligence as less than ours because it is different. When conducting experiments, we tend to take a human-centric methodology and claim animals are less intelligent instead of looking at how animals behave in their natural habitats and build experiments from those observations. Are We Smart Enough… was definitely eye-opening, creating good starting points for thinking about what constitutes intelligence.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl
#9 – (Post)colonial literature
I had a hard time finishing this book, and if it wasn’t for a challenge, would have DNF’d it. The concept was ambitious with a huge amount of potential, but the execution of the story lacked cohesion. Each chapter represented a jump in time (ultimately covering approximately 30 years), focusing on a different character. The problem with this format was that there was a lot of information skipped over that was somewhat important to the flow of the narrative. I found myself confused because significant life events and the why behind changes in character dynamics were ignored. For a novel about the evils of colonialism, this kept everything at a superficial level, which is bad. Either the scope of the novel should have been whittled down, focusing on a smaller time frame or fewer characters, or the novel should have been significantly increased in length, allowing for depth and development of characters and events.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
#13 – Oprah book club selection
Daughter of Fortune is a slow book, meandering through the plot. This style of book is hit or miss, but it works in this case. Even though it was a book I could put down, I was still absorbed in it when I was reading because of how Allende uses and molds words. I liked the different characters’ stories, and even though it broke up the overall narrative, each story related to either the plot or the characters’ relationships with each other.

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
#14 – Social science
Many Americans live under the illusion that we have never had class distinctions in the US, that our country was founded with the idea of equality. However, that is not the case, and the idea of such distinctions were shoved under the rug in order to fit in with an edited narrative of our history. There have been class distinctions from Plymouth and Jamestown, and those distinctions – especially with regard to how the poor were perceived and treated – have continually played a part in historical events and how America was shaped. This is not the history you learned in school, but it is definitely a history you should know and highly relevant to our current political climate.

Super Extra Grande by Yoss
#19 – Genre fiction in translation
I bought this book for my husband several years ago when he was in a “reading translated science fiction” stage. He enjoyed the differences in perspective and writing style. I agree that there is a difference, and it was refreshing. The technological advancements in SEG were imperfect. Meaning, humans and several other alien civilizations had the ability to travel via wormhole, but didn’t necessarily have any other super-fancy technology that one would expect (like overcoming disease). In addition to the main story, there was a fair amount of digressions that related to the main character’s life, the functioning of his universe, or about other alien species. I also liked the social and political commentary that slipped in along with the story, such as comments on humans achieving interstellar space travel before we solved our political/racial issues and how that put humans at a disadvantage in the greater scheme of the universe.

Such Small Hands by Andres Barba
#20 – Book with a cover you hate (British cover)
This was a creepy book. The tone and flow of the words made the story feel surreal and detached. It was not an orphanage horror story, but instead was about a young girl’s need for love after the loss of her parents. Neither she nor the girls at the orphanage know how to deal with their unexpressed emotions. Barba did an amazing job capturing the girls’ contradictory behaviors. There are no wasted words, and even though the book is short, it is complete.

Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite TV Show edited by Glenn Yeffeth
#22 – Essay anthology
I watched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie when it first came out, but have only seen a handful of episodes (none of them in their entirety). I was never on the Buffy train because at that time in my life, I wasn’t really watching tv. However, I have recently had a desire to rewatch the movie and then give the tv show a go. After reading Seven Seasons of Buffy, I will definitely get the first season from the library – after this semester is finished, of course. It was interesting to see how varied the authors’ perceptions were of Buffy’s characters and their relationship dynamics. There were many different interpretations of story arcs, characters, and the Buffy world as a whole.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
#23 – Female main character over age 60
I liked the story, but it’s definitely not as good as And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express. The plot felt somewhat weak and predictable, and there were no really good red herrings. I also had issue with the narrator pronouncing Lettice (leh-TEESE) as “lettuce”.

 

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
#24 – Assigned book you hated/never finished
I read this play for an English 101 class when I was 19, and I absolutely loathed it. I was completely disgusted by Willy Loman’s selfishness. Fast forward 18 years, and I still loathe this play. Loman is a repugnant braggart and adulterer. He has emotionally beat down his wife, tacitly encouraged his sons to steal and blow off their education, and turned his head away when he was told of teenage Biff’s treatment of girls and women. Actually, Willy, Happy, and Biff are all guilty of treating women like objects. If anything, Death of a Salesman encapsulates the entitlement middle class white men believe is their right. Loman lives in his own version of reality, won’t take personal responsibility for his actions and decisions, and is incapable of listening to anything he deems a criticism of himself or is contradictory to how he perceives himself. I have absolutely zero sympathy for his situation and his inability to achieve the American Dream.

 

January Books

2018 started out strong, in large part because I wanted to complete Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge before my semester started (which I did). I also managed a decent number of books for PopSugar’s Reading Challenge as well. Every single book read in January related to either reading challenge, and 12 of them were on my Amazon TBR.

Audiobooks Fiction (18) / Nonfiction (3)

             

Novels (10) / Novellas (5) / Nonfiction (2)

        

Graphic Novels (3)

2017 Books (Second Half)

My consumption of book-books (as opposed to audiobooks) dropped by half in the latter part of 2017. I read 100 between January and June, but only 50 between July and December. Part of that was due to my return to graduate school, and part was because I was feeling too antsy to sit down and actually focus on reading – I can’t do chores or drive a car while reading a book.

2017 Books (First Half)

2017 Audiobooks (Second Half)
2017 Manga / Graphic Novels (Second Half)

Favorites

Both of my favorites are rereads, but there really weren’t any new books that stood out to me as “OMG! That was freaking amazing!”.

*Cowboy from the Future – The title is what initially caught my attention, the description furthered my interest, and so I bought it. I like Gannon’s writing style, her use of pop culture references, and the fact that her main characters lean towards strong, resourceful, and sometimes sassy. This is the third time I’ve read Cowboy from the Future, and part of why I keep rereading it is because of the dynamic between Adeline and Cade, and the fact that Adeline, who is not thin (and therefore not pretty) by current standards, is considered breathtakingly gorgeous and desirable by future standards.

*A Court of Mist and Fury – The first time I read ACOMAR, the whole love triangle thing bugged the daylights out of me. After complaining about it to my sister, she gave me a different perspective (Tamlin had a preconceived notion of who Feyre was and should be, while Rhys encouraged her to be who she could be), and that made all the difference with my second reading. If anything, ACOMAR was better than ACOTAR. Feyre started to come into her own, and was encouraged to embrace herself and not allow herself to be shut into a preconceived box.
A note: A Court of Wings and Ruin is not listed because it was incredibly weak compared to the first two books. Too much talking about doing things, and not enough actually doing them. While the talking portions were important, the book would have been better if the talking had been rolled into the action.

Honorable Mentions: Un Lun Dun, The Gauntlet, Caraval, At the Edge of the Universe, Waste of Space

Fiction (19)
Envy of Angels
The Ballad of Black Tom
My One True Highlander
Crazy
Firelight
Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You
Cowboy from the Future
Love in the Time of Zombies
Dark Planet Warriors
Dark Planet Falling
Pirate (The Space Gypsy Chronicles)
Rebel (The Space Gypsy Chronicles)
Sinner (The Space Gypsy Chronicles)
King (The Space Gypsy Chronicles)
Grim
Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed
Gunpowder Alchemy
The Stolen Child
The Infamous Heir

Nonfiction (1)
Chrysalis

YA (21)
A Court of Mist and Fury
Caraval
A Court of Wings and Ruin
At the Edge of the Universe
Fairest
Mechanica
Spinning Starlight
These Broken Stars
Whatever
I Woke Up Dead at the Mall
This Savage Song
Flying
Flash Gold
Wax
The Strange Case of Finley Jayne
The Girl in a Steel Corset
The Darkest Part of the Forest
Waste of Space
Eternally Yours
A Darkly Beating Heart
Un Lun Dun

Children’s (9)
Dogsbody
The Science Fair is Freaky (Eerie Elementary #4)
The Gauntlet
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
Maniac Magee
The Westing Game
School Freezes Over (Eerie Elementary #5)
The Finest Hours
Sneeze of the Octo-Schnozz (The Notebook of Doom #11)

Sophia’s Book Riot Read Harder 2018 – Halfway!

My reading momentum this year has been intense (for me at least) – I’m up 30 books already, and 12 of those make up the first half of my Read Harder challenge.  There doesn’t seem to be any threat of it waning anytime soon either, which has me tentatively aiming to finish Read Harder completely before spring.

It took me awhile to warm up to this batch of challenge tasks, but once I started researching titles to fulfill them, my level of anticipation rose exponentially.  Come New Years Eve, I was chomping at the bit and woke up early on January 1st to read my first two books of the year.  And so far, most of the books have been good or great, with a couple of pleasant surprises as well.  Here are my top three:

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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll – this graphic novel collects five original stories seemingly inspired by classic folktales, with shades of Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, and even a little Lovecraft.  I’ve thought about this book many times since I first read it and will probably purchase it at some point.  It’s eerie, creepy, and fun, and the illustrations suit and set the mood perfectly.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – I chose this for the classic genre fiction task, and my hopes weren’t high.  Not that I expected it to be terrible, but sometimes older fiction gets bogged down in the style of the time.  I was more excited about the fact that the audiobook  was narrated by Alfred Molina than I was about the book itself, even knowing it established most of the tropes that define pirates in the pop culture consciousness.  Well shiver me timbers, I freaking LOVED it.  It was exciting and gripping and totally entertaining.  Alfred Molina was excellent as well, clearly having fun with accents and dialects.  This is one I will read again.

True Grit by Charles Portis – This book was another welcome surprise.  I haven’t read many westerns, mainly due to a lack of interest (so I guess that makes this a great challenge task for me…).  I picked True Grit after enjoying the recent movie remake with Hailee Steinfeld, and I was sucked in completely from the first page.  Mattie Ross is one of the strongest voices I’ve ever read in fiction – she’s confident and sure and brooks no nonsense from anyone.  The story was engaging and suspenseful, but she’s the most impressive part of the book.

Completed Tasks:

1) A book published posthumously – Ariel, Sylvia Plath
3) A classic of genre fiction – Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
4) A comic written and illustrated by the same person – Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
7) A western – True Grit, Charles Portis
8) A comic written or illustrated by a person of color – Black Panther: World of Wakanda, Roxane Gay et. al
9) A book of colonial/postcolonial literature – Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
10) A romance novel by or about a person of color – Destiny’s Captive, Beverly Jenkins
11) A children’s classic published before 1980 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
15) A one-sitting book – Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
18) A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image – Lumberjanes, Vol. 7: A Bird’s Eye View, Shannon Watters
19) A book of genre fiction in translation – Penance, Kanae Minato
24) An assigned book you hated – A Separate Peace, John Knowles