Monthly Archives: February 2017

Sophia’s Book Riot Read Harder – Halfway!

After successfully finishing both major reading challenges last year, I was feeling burnt out and overwhelmed by my ever-growing library pile.  Most of the books I had checked out weren’t applicable to the challenges and they just kept building up, so I decided this year I would take a break from challenges and focus on purging the backlog first.

That plan…it didn’t last long.  Especially after my sister told me she was going to try to finish both Read Harder and PopSugar Ultimate as quickly as possible. I wanted to see if I could reasonably keep pace with her (I’m not cocky enough to attempt racing her – the woman is a reading machine), so here we are.

Fortunately, a lot of the books I had out DID fulfill this year’s challenge tasks – I’m over halfway through Book Riot’s Read Harder and only a few books shy of halfway on PopSugar Ultimate.  It’s been a good year so far too – lots of amazing books already.  Here are some of my favorites from Read Harder:

22318499How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis – after experiencing a personal epiphany while visiting the farmhouse that inspired Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis decided to re-read some of her favorite books featuring influential heroines.  The result is a funny, fascinating, and often poignant analysis of several classic and popular works (most I’ve read, some I haven’t) that perfectly captures how it feels when we internalize and attempt to emulate beloved characters and narratives.

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older – this book is awesome.  A teenage girl living in Brooklyn discovers she’s part of a supernatural legacy, the Shadowshapers, people who can connect with spirits through art in all its forms.  The imagery is vivid: you really get a feel for the culture, the mythology, and summer in the city.  Sierra is thoughtful, creative, and smart, and the characters surrounding her are just as engaging.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.  Also, Anika Noni Rose’s narration on the audiobook was fantastic.

25935592Armada by Ernest Cline – this was my reread, but this time I went for the audiobook edition.  I enjoyed revisiting this story (Ready Player One still wins, though), and Wil Wheaton narrates it perfectly.  He brings the characters and the plot to life, using different tones and accents without sounding forced or awkward.  Basically, I’ll read anything Ernest Cline writes and listen to anything Wil Wheaton narrates.

 

Completed Tasks

2) Debut novel – IQ, Joe Ide
3) Book about books – How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much, Samantha Ellis
8) Travel memoir – Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
9) Book you’ve read before – Armada, Ernest Cline
12) Fantasy novel – Three Dark Crowns, Kendare Blake
13) Nonfiction about technology – Tetris: the Games People Play, Box Brown
15) LGBTQ+ YA or middle grade novel – George, Alex Gino
17) Classic by author of color – Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin
18) Superhero comic with female lead – Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson
19) Character of color goes on a spiritual journey – Shadowshaper, Daniel Jose Older
22) Collection of stories by a woman – Where Am I Now?, Mara Wilson
23) Collection of poetry in translation, not about love – Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke

Read Harder – January

ultra-mindsetThe Ultra Mindset by Travis Macy
#1 – Book about sports
This is as about as sporty as I get. I don’t have a strong interest in sports, and while I know I will never be an ultramarathoner, I am starting to run again. Macy uses anecdotes to illustrate his tenets for how to become a better runner, person, etc… Because it’s a little bit of everything, it isn’t going to be useful for someone looking for hardcore lessons on building endurance, but it’s accessible, telling people they are capable of more than they think they are. It’s a mentality shift, not a physical shift. It’s good motivation for me as a beginner.

invisible-libraryThe Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
#3 – Book about books
I liked the premise of the book – interdimensional librarian spies saving books – but the execution of the story didn’t really hold my attention. It was alright, but not not as good as I was hoping it would be. There was too much information, too much going on, and even with that…it was still kind of boring. I also didn’t make much of a connection to the characters. There was no growth. I have no interest in reading any of the sequels.

in-the-country-we-loveIn the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
#5 – Written by an immigrant / immigration as central narrative
I’m not sure how tightly this book fits into the prompt given that it’s more about the long lasting impact the deportation of Diane Guerrero’s parents had on her. Immigration is central in that it is what brought her parents to the United States, and also what tore their family apart. I couldn’t begin to imagine what life was like for Diane, living with the threat of losing her parents hanging over her head, and then how crushing the reality of it was when it actually happened. Immigration is such a complex and controversial topic, and having a personal story that humanizes it is important, especially now.

boneBone, Vol 1: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith
#6 – All-ages comic
This book has been recommended to me in the past, and the library director I used to work for loves this series. However, I wasn’t able to get into it. The first volume is mostly set up (which isn’t necessarily bad), and while I liked Fone Bone, I didn’t like his cousins. They seem to be the ones who will cause all of the forthcoming trouble. My dislike is mostly my reaction to Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, but the plot didn’t hold my attention either.

gatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
#7 – Published between 1900-1950
I’ve tried to read this book before, but have never been able to get very far into it before becoming distracted by another book. I decided to give it a go on audiobook (Jake Gyllenhaal as narrator), and found it was much easier to listen to it than to read it. The whole book seemed somewhat futile and the characters selfish. Gatsby’s whole motive for his ostentatious life was to impress a girl with whom he had a summer fling with prior to being shipped off to the trenches, a girl who was as petty and selfish as he was obsessive and insecure. That being said, Fitzgerald did an excellent job skewering various levels of society – the need to climb to the higher strata, and the disdain the higher levels of society had for the lower levels.

long-way-homeA Long Way Home: A Memoir by Saroo Brierley
#11 – Set at least 5000 miles away from your home
So to start, Saroo was five years old when he rode a train across India and ended up alone in Koltkata. My son is five years old. I kept imagining my son in Saroo’s place and couldn’t fathom how he was able to survive. I also found it incredible that he retained enough of a detailed memory to be able to find his hometown on Google Maps 25 years later. In regard to the writing, it was fairly informal and not the content was not overly in-depth. It’s more “this is how it happened” versus introspection.

georgeGeorge by Alex Gino
#15 – MG/YA author is LGBTQ+
While not the most polished book (debuts tend not to be), it’s a much needed book, and age appropriate for the middle grade crowd, either for a child in a similar situation as George, or for children trying to understand a classmate. George is a girl, and her dilemma is the difference between her reality and how others perceive her. I like that she had support from unlikely source (her brother). There is no “lesson”. The story is simply about George knowing who she is and what she wants (to play Charlotte), and having the courage to be both.

hunterHunter by Mercedes Lackey
#12 – Fantasy novel
After 27 years of reading fantasy novels, this was the first Mercedes Lackey novel I have ever read. A bit shocking really, given how prolific a writer she is. I loved the intersection of post-apocalypse and magic; how old world technology and terminology have been repurposed and used in conjunction with magic. For all that it’s fantasy, it’s political as well with a huge government conspiracy. Joy is a strong character, and not hot-headed. I had to force myself to not listen to the sequel right away since I want to finish my book challenges first.

ms-marvel-4Ms. Marvel, Vol 4: Last Days by Willow G. Wilson
#18 – Superhero comic with a female lead
I’ve been somewhat ambivalent towards Ms. Marvel, even though it is excellently written and drawn. It’s more that I have never really liked superhero comics. That being said, I keep reading Ms. Marvel though because of various reading challenges. However, volume 4 is the one that has tipped my ambivalence over into love. It felt like the storytelling has hit finally its stride. Complex and dark, Kamala has to confront a crisis that has the very real possibility of not ending well, and in realizing that she has to learn that superheros can’t save everyone. There were still plenty of clever details in the background, like the random pigs or the rat with a bowler hat or some of the storefront signs, which added some levity. Kamala also has some good scenes with both her mother and Bruno.

labyrinth-lostLabyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
#19 – Character of color goes on a spiritual journey
This is a book I heard about, read the description, and then told myself it looked interesting, but it wouldn’t be something I read. Thank you Book Riot for making this category, because without it, I would have never read it. Labyrinth Lost was rich and detailed, and the bruja religion was fully developed. The storytelling was beautiful. The only quibble I had had to do with the romance/love interest. It didn’t feel right, sort of like it was there because there should be a romance. It didn’t develop organically, and would have been better left in the friend zone, with the potential for it to grow in future books.

PopSugar – January

pinesPines by Blake Crouch
#4 – Audiobook
I don’t exactly know how I came across this book – probably Audible – but it was amazing. I couldn’t stop listening to it. There is definitely something creepy and off about Wayward Pines, and various citizens are champion gaslighters. The weird ratchets up even more once Ethan starts his attempts to escape, and what he discovers upon his partial success. I plan on watching the TV show once I’ve finished the trilogy, especially since I’ve seen multiple reviews saying the show is better than the book.

scandal-in-springScandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
#6 – One of the four seasons in the title
This book was only alright. The basic romance was enjoyable, but there was a lot of POV-time spent on characters secondary to Daisy’s and Matthew’s romance. Lillian also had some serious blinders on, and was a downright shrew. I liked her hardheadedness in It Happened One Autumn, but I did not like her in Scandal in Spring. Lillian dragged the book down, with her inability to accept that Daisy had a valid opinion regarding Matthew.

awaken-onlineCatharsis: Awaken Online by Travis Bagwell
#10 – Cat on the cover
This is the best book I’ve read in the RPG sub-genre. It takes the concept and twists it a bit, placing the MC, Jason, as the villain of the newly launched MMORPG, Awaken Online. He has to grapple with what real life has thrown at him, and with his growing realization that he has been cast as the villain online. Aspects of both his real life and online life collide, and both he and his adversaries exist in a gray zone. Is the hero really good? Is Jason really bad? I can’t wait to listen to the sequel when it comes out.

holiday-in-nokoMy Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E. Simmons
#14 – Involving travel
A look at the surreal alternate reality that is NoKo. It’s funny, but not ha ha funny, more like the I can’t believe this is real/really happening/don’t know exactly how to react funny. Alice in Wonderland quotes start each chapter, and they are apt metaphors to what the author experiences. She doesn’t disparage the people, but she questions the government and country that forces people to live like in those conditions. After a while, she likens her visit to living in a psych ward – you can tell things aren’t right, but you can’t necessarily discern the truth from the lies. Her questions were not always answered, her guide deflecting them or throwing out random answers. I liked her concept of “proptalking”, the constant stream of propaganda talking she listened to. It reminded me of 1984 with the doublespeak. NoKo seemed like a parody of modern life that doesn’t quite get it right. It has to be incredibly hard for the people who work with tourists; to reconcile their reality and their indoctrination with what tourists say the outside world is like.

cinnamon-gunpowderCinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
#19 – About food
The basic premise of this book: private chef is kidnapped by pirate and forced to serve her an elegant dinner every Sunday. Food played a central roll, of course, and Owen, the chef, must get creative in coming up with a worthy meal while at sea on a minimally equipped pirate ship. However, my favorite aspect was watching Owen grow as a character. He started out with a very rigid and narrow worldview, but even with the brutality he saw and dealt with, he ended up accepting and embracing the fact that nothing is strictly black and white. People who might seem good on the surface are really cruel, and vice versa. It turned out to be a really lovely book.

fatherlandFatherland by Nina Bunjevac
#23 – Red spine
Part family history, part Croatian/Serbian history, Fatherland looks at Bunjevac’s father’s actions as a Serbian terrorist in Toronto. It traces his personal history and discusses potential reasons for his actions through the lens of actual history. She tries to sort information out and make sense of it in order to have a better understanding of the father she never knew. I liked how bigger picture history was woven through personal history. My only complaint is that the book ended too abruptly. I am really curious as to how all of this effected her older brother, Petey. The history is fascinating because it’s not something that really gets covered in school beyond Tito = Yugoslavia.

revenantThe Revenant by Michael Punke
#24 – Set in the wilderness
My sister has been after me to read this book for the past two years. My husband read, and enjoyed it. I figured it would be a good read. It was, don’t get me wrong, but after all of the brutality and hardship that Glass has to endure, the ending was incredibly anti-climactic. I know that endings aren’t necessarily clear cut, but after what happens when he crosses paths with Fitzgerald at the end, coupled with the fact that it just kind of peters out after that…I wish there had been a bit more to close it up.

dragonsongDragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
#25 – Book you loved as a child
While Bunnicula was the first chapter book I ever read, it was Dragonsong that got me hooked on reading. When I was nine, my librarian mother, who despaired about my middling interest in reading, thrust this book into my hands one day. It was all downhill from there. I connected with Menolly, with her feelings of being unwanted and out of place. This segued into a love of dragons, and my obsession with their existence and the possibility that I might get lucky and end up being adopted by one. I don’t deny that I had some issues.

singing-bonesThe Singing Bones by Shaun Tan
#30 – A book with pictures
A collection of very short fairy tales, supplemented by photographs of sculptures that added a dreamlike and sometimes unnerving weight. It felt like movement was happening just beyond the edge of perception. Some of the stories are snippets of the fairy tale, or the entire thing boiled down to its most salient point. I loved that Neil Gaiman wrote the foreword, and I agree with him that Tan gave the fairy tales a tactile dimension that adds to heft of the stories. He captured the feeling fairy tales evoke – magical, but also uncomfortable and gruesome. Tan made these fairy tales his own, and gave them new dimension.

bollywood-bride

The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
#31 – MC different ethnicity than you
This is the second book by Sonali Dev that I’ve listened to. Both were light and fluffy romances, but even with that in the background, it was fun reading a romance novel through the lens of a different culture – same, same, but different.

 

hotel-rubyHotel Ruby by Suzanne Young
#35 – Set in a hotel
If “Hotel California” and “The Sixth Sense” had a YA novel baby, this would be it. It was creepy – things were slightly off. Not a lot, but enough that a little thread of WTF started running through my head. I couldn’t put it down, staying up way too late on a work night in order to finish it. I did figure out what what going on part way through the book, but it didn’t detract from the story. The ending was satisfying. (It looks like the paperback version of this book is known as Hotel for the Lost).

medium-rawRedium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
#36 – Written by someone you admire
I’ve enjoyed Anthony Bourdain since I first saw him sarcastic and ranty on No Reservations. I enjoy is perspective and the way he uses words. I admire him because he not only knows and understands his flaws and failings, but he embraces them, never trying to push the blame on to someone else. He knows exactly who he is, warts and all. The essays of Medium Raw did not disappoint. I will never look at food the same way as him, but it is still fun to live vicariously through his descriptions. “Go Ask Alice” was my favorite, and showcases Bourdain’s snark, but also his understanding of his own pessimism and why others might love what he hates.

tenTen by Gretchen McNeil
#37 – Becoming a movie in 2016
This book piqued my interest because of its comparison to And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but if it was turned into more gruesome teen slasher book (not gruesome for some, but I have a low tolerance for anything horror-related). It was an interesting read, and I will probably watch the movie when it makes its way to DVD.

moon-calledMoon Called by Patricia Briggs
#39 – First book in a new to you series
Tentatively on my TBR list, I decided to give it a listen when I learned that Lorelei King (Charlie Davidson series) was the narrator. It was alright. I know that’s not high praise, but I’ll give the second book a listen to see if the pace picks up a bit.

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January Books

After feeling burned out at the end of last year, reading fever kicked in on January 1st. I want to get these challenges done! Las year, I allowed myself to get distracted by non-challenge books, and ended up finishing PopSugar at 10pm on December 31st. Not gonna happen this year. Once I get all major challenges taken care of (or at least mostly taken care of), then I can focus on other books without guilt (and possibly other non-book projects as well).

Audiobooks (11)

moon-called medium-raw bollywood-bride pines hunter gatsby ultra-mindset subtle-art awaken-online queens-poisoner one-good-dragon

Nine of the books are for various challenges, so they’ll be written about in future posts. The Queen’s Poisoner was a disappointment. There wasn’t a cohesive plot, Owen was wishy-washy and kind of weak, and Elysabeth Victoria Mortimer was incredibly annoying. So very annoying. The author also couldn’t make up his mind of King Severn was evil or just misunderstood. I have no interest in reading any other books in this series. One Good Dragon Deserves Another was a decent listen. It dragged on a bit in the beginning, but the wheels started turning, and now I’m looking forward to listening to book three.

Novels (9) / Nonfiction (3)

george holiday-in-noko hotel-ruby scandal-in-spring cinnamon-gunpowder revenant invisible-library labyrinth-lost in-the-country-we-love long-way-home dragonsong ten

Every single book in this section is for a reading challenge, so they will be written about in future posts.

Graphic (5)

singing-bones fatherland ms-marvel-4 bone monstress

The first four books are for various challenges, so more will be written about them in future posts. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening was the lone “read for the fun of it” graphic novel. The illustrations were lush and complex, as was the story. I’m looking forward to reading the next volume.

Read Alouds (2)

ng-2 stories-from-hi

Bug (my 6-year old) liked the first Never Girls book, so we gave the second one a try. They are only minimally annoying, which is good for me. I read Stories from Hawaii to all three kids because of their curiosity about Maui after watched “Moana” in the theater (very catchy songs). This was the only book on Hawaii my library system has. The writing was a bit simplistic and redundant, but the kids enjoyed the stories.

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