Monthly Archives: March 2016

Read Harder – February Progress

I blame Girl Scout cookies for the reason of the extreme lateness of any and all posts for this month, which is why our February progress report is making its appearance less than a week before the end of March.

My husband appears to be a more active participant in this year’s challenge. Probably because I’m not randomly throwing books at him (both figuratively and literally). He has been trying to find books that fit the various tasks, aiming for two books per month.

Speaking of tasks, February saw the across-the-board completion of our second task: #11 – A book < 100 pages long. Go us!

Emma: I only read four books this month, The HUB challenge taking up most of my reading time. My Lemoncello’s Library Olympics was not as good as the first book, but still enjoyable. One of the main antagonists, Marjory Muldauer, was incredibly annoying. The Fair Fight was well-written and well-thought out. The characters felt real within the historical context. I liked that their endings were not necessarily happy. I ended up enjoying Relish more than I thought I would. I want to try her huevos rancheros recipe specifically because it is different from how my mother made it when we were kids. My favorite part was her mention of the movie Antionia’s Line. It has nothing to do with food, but it is one of my favorite movies. I knew My Fair Lady ended differently than Pygmalion, but I never realized how much extra stuff was added for the movie.

Husband: Stuff Matters started out strong and focused, but started jumping around later on; the topics were too broad. He saw parallels between Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan in Most Dangerous – both are wars of compromises without concrete missions. He also liked that it addressed balancing the government’s needs to keep secrets with public accountability.  My husband tends to be a sucker for psychological character studies (Death Note and Code Geass are excellent examples of what he likes in this genre – books, anime, or otherwise). Heart of Darkness fits nicely into this, using the ivory trade in Africa as a backdrop for the depth of the human soul and how easy it is to go off kilter.

Sophia: Hamlet never came up in school, so I was excited to finally have an opportunity to read it. I enjoyed it, but I liked Macbeth better. I know you lose something in just reading a play as opposed to watching it performed; hopefully, I’ll get to see it at a theater. Men Explain Things was powerful and certainly hit home at times. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of her points, I do think this is a worthwhile read, especially as a jumping op point before delving further into feminist issues. A Late Verdict was recommended to me by a friend of the authors. It is a solid debut novella. Milo Bell perfectly captures the tone of classic British murder mysteries and creates a believable 1960s atmosphere. It was a fun, quick read, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of Bell’s works.

Without further ado:

Me 10/24
My Husband 5/24

Sophia 10/24

#2 – Nonfiction science book

stuff matters

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik

#3 – Essay collection

men explain

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

#4 – Read aloud to someone else

lemoncello olympics

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein

#11 – A book < 100 pages

heart darkness late verdict

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
A Late Verdict by Milo Bell

#15 – Historical fiction set pre-1900

fair fight

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

#21 – Politics (fiction or nonfiction)

most dangerous

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

#22 – Food memoir


Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

#23 – A play

pygmalion hamlet

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Hamlet by William Shakespeare



The Hub – February Progress

In February, I read eight books for The Hub’s challenge (to the detriment of the Read Harder Challenge).  Of the eight, one was a reread (Cinder) and one was already on my TBR list (Dumplin’). I wouldn’t have read any of the other six if not for this challenge.

I did start a ninth book, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but I absolutely could not force myself to read it past the first 20ish pages. I didn’t like how she as drawn or how she behaved. She felt like the kind of person who is latently annoying until she opens her mouth, and then she moves into the territory of nails on chalkboards. I could see what the humor was trying to do, but it fell flat, which is a shame because I like oddball humor. It has been a long time since I’ve had such a strong negative reaction to a book.

dumplinDumplin’ by Julie Murphy
A fairly quick read in both writing style and plot movement. I liked Will’s mix of self-confidence and self-consciousness. Some of the character dynamics bothered me, such as between Will and her best friend, Ellen, but how they behave and react is not out of the norm for what girls can be like in high school. The ending also felt underdeveloped.


zeroboxerZeroboxer by Fonda Lee
This was a good book that could have been great. Lee did a wonderful job with world building. I liked the central focus on martial arts/boxing. The fight scenes were written well, and I wish there were more of them. I also liked Carr’s overall attitude and sportsmanship. What kept the book from being great was the lack of a cohesive overarching plot.  The potential for it was there in the political antagonism between Terra and Mars, and the ethics (or lack thereof) of genetic manipulation. If there had been better development with either of those, the culminating fight scene would have been phenomenal. More time should have been spent on that and less on the tepid, forced-feeling romance between Carr and Risha.

drowned cityDrowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown
I’ll start off with the fact that this book made me cry – page 25 specifically. I cannot imagine how horrific it was to be in that kind of situation with your children. Thinking about it now makes me want to cry, and I read it over a month ago. The harsh lines, angular figures, and coloring of Brown’s illustrations beautifully capture the impact of Katrina, the helplessness and confusion caused by such a massive natural disaster and the deplorable government response to it. The only negative is that the ending felt too abrupt. It would have been nice to end on a more developed note of rebuilding.

ms marvel 2marvel 3Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why & Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3: Crushed by Willow G. Wilson
I read the first volume of Ms. Marvel when it came out and didn’t particularly care for it. I’m not a superhero kind of girl, and while I applaud what they’ve done, it’s just not my cup of tea. I would never have read any other volumes if not for this challenge, and can’t see myself reading future volumes either. That being said, one of the funniest things I’ve read so far this year was Kamala fan girling on Wolverine in volume two. It was absolutely hilarious.

echoEcho by Pam Muñoz Ryan, read by Mark Bramhill, David De Vries, Macleod Andrews, and Rebecca Soler
If I had to choose one favorite Hub read for February, Echo would win hands down. It was absolutely beautiful, and is well suited to the audio format. The incorporation of music enhanced the storytelling and tied the separate characters together. Several genres were blended together – fairy tale, magical realism, and historical fiction – and all of them fit nicely. The ending closed the circle the harmonica created, though it was bittersweet.

trollhuntersTrollhunters by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus, read by Kirby Heyborne
This book is a bit on the grotesque side at times. I liked the concept, and how the character dynamic and tensions change part way through when the bigger picture starts to appear. I also liked how Jim Jr. and Tub grew as characters.


awkwardAwkward by Svetlana Chmakova
This reminded me of Roller Girl in the sense of a tween girl trying to figure out who she is and how she fits in. I liked the character dynamics and the challenges they dealt with. It did a good job capturing middle school angst. The artwork was solid, and the cast diverse. I’ve put it on the graphic novel shortlist for my daughter’s birthday. She is the audience Awkward is geared towards, and she would easily relate to the messiness of the social dynamics.

cinderCinder by Marissa Meyer
I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings, and Cinder does a good job using the original as a springboard into a well developed world and political system. I wasn’t as absorbed with it the second time around (I first read it in 2013), but I still enjoyed it. The series as a whole uses the various fairy tales as a foundation to explore politics and imperialism.


February Books

February was another impressive reading month, with 46 books read. As with January, over half the books were either audio or graphic. I spent a huge chunk of time at work dealing with files, which lends itself to hours upon hours of audiobooks.

I am adding book thoughts this month because it bothered me to skip over it last month. Not every book will be included, and my thoughts on graphic novels/child read alouds are omitted entirely.

My favorite reads of February: Echo, Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, Enemy of Mine

Audiobooks (8) / Dramatizations (3)

neverwhere bbc dracula dram carmilla dram
never weird day life xmas carol dram echo
trollhunters nice girls fangs nice girls date flirt werewolf

Dracula as an audio book was very good, each character voiced by a different actor made all the difference in the world. I would never be able to actually read Dracula – it was wordy and got annoyingly fatalistic as story progressed. The dramatization of Carmilla was also good (hello, David Tennant!). I’ve heard of Dracula being a bit risque for its time, but never Carmilla. Having listened to both, Carmilla is the definitely the more risque of the two. Keith Richards has always been an intriguing person to me, and I’ve wanted to read/listen to Life for a while. He has lead an incredibly interesting life, and there were multiple times I wondered how on earth he is still alive. Echo was absolutely beautiful. It definitely lends itself to an audio format, incorporating music into the story. Molly Harper’s vampire and werewolf romances are hilarious. The main characters are slightly sarcastic women from crazy Southern families, and the narrator reminds me of Jenny Lawson.

Novels (11) / Novellas (2)

dumplin AA 1 dk 6.25 never judge maclean ana california
zeroboxer fair fight pygmalion manners mutiny wishing highlander
enemy of mine highlander of mine cinder

Dumplin’ had been on my TBR list ever since I first learned it about it a year ago. I liked that Willowdean was generally confident in herself, and essentially gave the status quo her middle finger when she entered the beauty pageant. Only the ending bothered me as it felt unfinished. Zeroboxer was a decent read with a focus on MMA-style fighting. It could have been a lot better if the focus had been more on the fighting and the political tensions between Earth and Mars, instead of a romance that felt like an unnecessary plot check mark. The Fair Fight had me at “18th century women’s boxing”. The characters felt real within their context, and their endings made sense (though several endings were a bit unsatisfying). Enemy of Mine was a surprisingly good time travel romance. The romance wasn’t overly cloying, and Erva, the heroine, knew her stuff as a military historian focusing on the Revolutionary War. The same couldn’t be said about the two Highlander time travel romances.

Graphic (10) / Manga (8)

one piece 13 relish phoenix requiem drowned city ms marvel 2 awkward

Child Read Alouds (4)

charlie chocolate factory lemoncello olympics mth moon