Monthly Archives: March 2017

Read Harder – February

I managed to gun through nine Read Harder books in March, leaving only five left until I complete the challenge. Go laser focus!

Five Final TBR Books

#8 – Travel memoir – An African in Greenland by Tété-Michele Kpomassie
#13 – Nonfiction technology – Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
#14 – Book about war – A Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner
#23 – Translated poetry, not about love – View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska
#24 – All POV characters are POC – The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
#2 – Debut novel
I wouldn’t have finished if not for the challenge. If Ceony Twill was training to become a paper magician, then the focus should have been about her gaining and using those skills. While she did learn some rudimentary paper magic, the majority of the book took place while she was trapped inside a human heart, learning about her master’s past. Yes, she did use those skills to save his life, but it felt like it was a detail rather than the purpose. There was also no foundation created for her to start falling in love with her master. It happened because it was “supposed” to happen, but there was no legitimate path toward falling in love.

Death Going Down by Maria Angelica Bosco
#4 – Set in South or Central America, written by a South or Central American author
I chose Death Going Down because it was compared to Agatha Christie’s novels. I can see the similarities in tone and description, and the ensemble aspect of the storytelling reminded me of Murder on the Orient Express. It took a little bit of time to get into the book as the opening pages were a bit clunky and confusing. However, the story and writing evened out.

Hellhole by Gina Damico
#9 – Book you’ve read before
I read this book for Read Harder 2015 (#11 – YA). Since then, it’s been hovering in the back of my mind, whispering that I needed to read it again. It’s snarky and sarcastic, and the whole concept of discovering a devil in your basement, eating Cheetos, wearing a velour tracksuit was definitely different from what I’ve come across before. It had a madcap adventure feel to it. I liked how the characters played off of each other, and how Burg slid between helpful and selfish – it was always a bit unclear as how good or bad he actually was.

City of Light by Lauren Belfer
#10 – Set within 100 miles of home
City of Light is set in Buffalo, which is general geographic area of where I live. And if I had realized that Written in Red by Anne Bishop would have fit this category, albeit in an alternate universe, I would have chosen it instead. I had a very hard time reading this book, and had to set “reading goals” like I do for nonfiction in order to finish it. As a transplant to Buffalo, the historical aspects of the story were interesting, but they amounted to information dumps bogging down plot progression. A good 100+ pages could have been axed, which would have helped immensely with making the book more readable. The plot itself was a bit loose, with too many subplots. The main plot – power company murders – had very little page time.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#17 – Classic by an author of color
I first read this book when for an English course when I was 19. I remember loving the book, and it’s been simmering on my TBR list as a reread for quite some time. In the simplest terms, it is about the unnamed narrator’s coming of age. In more in-depth terms, it’s about alienation, invisibility (because of race, because of socio-economic status, because of not living in a way segments of society believe you should, etc…). It’s a powerful book, and I can see why it left such an impression on my 19-year old self.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#16 – Banned/frequently challenged in US
I enjoyed this book more than I probably should have. It was extremely well-written; disturbing, but well-written. Humbert Humbert was vile, but at the same time Nabokov gave him charm, made him a master of deception. HH was constantly justifying his actions to both himself and readers. On some level, he knew it was wrong, but whenever those thoughts bubbled to the surface, he shoved them down before he was forced to acknowledge how reprehensible his actions were. He pushed the blame onto Lolita. A love story this is not. It is a story about abuse and moral depravity.

The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian
#20 – LGBTQ romance novel
I picked this one up because of a mention on Book Riot. It was a nice story, and even if all the romance scenes were cut, would still stand strong. I liked that both men brought the each other out of their respective shells, and allowed each other to be a better person than they thought they could be.

 

The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr
#21 – Micropress
I first read Brian Allen Carr a few years ago for Read Harder (2015, #4 – Book published by an indie press, Motherfucking Sharks), and loved how weird and completely out there his storytelling was. I figured that I couldn’t go wrong with another BAC book, and I was right. The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World was equally weird and dark and amazing. He has a phenomenal way with words, and doesn’t use more when sparse is perfect.

Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller
#22 – Collection of stories by a woman
I enjoy reading books with flawed women as main characters, but this was not one of those books. All of the stories were depressing and pointless, and the women blended together to form a single one-dimensional person. They all felt the same, and it made reading the stories a chore. There were also several stories that had gratuitous descriptions or actions that would have had no impact on the plot if removed, but by being left in made it feel like it was there for shock value: “She stands and bends over, makes her anus pulse” is the one that comes to mind (“Big Bad Love”). While it related to a child in a non-sexual way, it had no bearing on the narrative. That being said, there were two stories I almost enjoyed, or at least I could relate to aspects of them: “Always Happy Hour” and “Charts”.

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PopSugar – February

My dedication to timely completing all book challenges this year is paying off. I hit and passed the halfway mark for PopSugar in February. I’ve been trying to stay focused on challenge books instead of being lured by the siren’s song of every other book. If I can finish the main list of 40 books by the end of April, I will be thrilled.

Kindred by Octavia Butler
#5 – Author is person of color
I loved Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood trilogy, so I thought I would give another one of her books a try. Time travel is one of my preferred genres, and the concept of Kindred seemed interesting – a modern African American woman traveling back to antebellum Maryland multiple times for the purpose of keeping her white, slaveholding ancestor alive. Dana’s journeys were fascinating and horrifying. She had to learn to navigate the reality of being a slave while attempting to keep herself psychologically separate from it.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick
#7 – A story within a story
I was absolutely in love with the book for the first 400 pages (the illustrated story), and then the prose section happened. The prose story was well-written, but it ruined the magic created by the illustrations. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me when the connection between the two stories was revealed. Ultimately, though, it was a beautiful story. A sad story, but a beautiful one.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
#8 – Multiple authors
I remember hearing about this book before it came out, and thought it sounded interesting, but not one I would ever read. While it was a fun, tongue-in-cheek fantastical reimagining of how Lady Jane Grey became queen, it was also trite, mired in tropes and clichés, suffered from a lack of solid rules of magic, and had many moments of characters behaving stupidly.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
#9 – Espionage
I grew up loving James Bond (especially Sean Connery), and both of my parents were fans of the books/movies. Espionage isn’t really my genre of choice, but I figured giving Bond a go wouldn’t be too awful. It’s definitely a book of its time, especially in how women are treated. I prefer the movies, even though I know they are equally sexist.

Feed by Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire)
#11 – Author uses pseudonym
A blood and guts zombie book, this is not. It is political espionage set against the backdrop of a post-zombie apocalypse world. Blogger journalists are part of the staff, covering a presidential candidate on the campaign trail, and end up uncovering a conspiracy. Aspects of it are eerily similar to some of the behind-the-scenes machinations going on in current politics.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
#13 – Author/MC has disability
This felt like a down-to-earth telling about Cece Bell’s experience as a child, warts and all. I can’t imagine the social intricacies of navigating elementary and middle school while wearing a phonic ear, the frustrations of dying batteries, or dealing with people treating you like a small child who equate lack of hearing with a lack of competency.

Eleventh Grave in Midnight by Darynda Jones
#16 – Book published in 2017
I really enjoy this series (though I don’t recommend binge reading/listening as the character flaws tend to be overwhelming). Charlie is still willingly obtuse and complains about not understanding how to use her powers, even though she doesn’t make an effort to figure them out. Uncle Bob and Reyes are still keeping secrets from her in the name of “protection”, and then keep getting mad at her when she doesn’t do what they want her to. That being said, Charlie finally, finally started to experiment with her powers, and Reyes finally, finally started showing her how to use them. We also got to learn more about Reyes’ past, which was good. But the overall series plot didn’t advance much.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
#17 – Involving a mythical creature
My sister has been after me for a long while to read this, and I finally broke down because I realized it fit a needed category. I’ve read books by Seanan McGuire, but found them to not really be my thing (even though I’m a fan of urban fantasy). However, I absolutely loved Rolling in the Deep. Yes, you already know how the book is going to end before it even starts – that’s kind of the point. What makes the story fun and exciting is how it gets there. She did a fantastic job with her mermaids. No buxom beauties here, but instead, highly evolved deep sea predators.

The Bees by Laline Paull
#21 – Book from a nonhuman perspective
The Bees was a quick read, and held my attention, though I was still able to put the book down. The hive was a religious dystopian society, and completely non-human (and completely non Nature Channel). How the bees interacted, how they were controlled by the Queen and Sages, was fascinating. The worldbuilding was a little uneven at times, specifically with regard to the anthropomorphization of the bees. However, it was an enjoyable read.

The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr
#22 – Steampunk
Steampunk has been one of my favorite genres since I stumbled upon Soulless by Gail Carriger almost five years ago, so finding a book for this challenge consisted of pulling from an already long TBR list of steampunk titles. I liked the riff on Jekyll and Hyde, but the the pacing was off and there was a lack of plot focus – too much going on. Neither plot nor characters were captivating.

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
#27 – Title is character’s name
This book was much shorter than I expected it to be. Given how the book was written, it wouldn’t have worked in a longer format. It had a dreamlike quality to it, and was disjointed, offering fairly superficial snippets of Margaret’s life instead of in-depth narration. That being said, the style fit with her personality of never quite behaving the way an adult should.

Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach
#32 – Book about an interesting woman
Getrude Bell was a very singular woman, and had an incredibly solid understanding of the geopolitical climate of the Middle East. She also had strong personal connections with many of the region’s powerful men. There are definite parallels between how Great Britain et al. wanted to reshape the Middle East after WWI, and how current international relations with the Middle East stand.

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Sophia’s PopSugar Ultimate – Halfway!

Passed the halfway mark on the PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge a few days ago!  I also hit 50 books out of the 150 I pledged to read on goodreads.  My goal now is to finish both PopSugar and Book Riot Read Harder by the end of June, if not sooner.  I’m not so much keeping pace with my sister anymore – originally I was maintaining a gap of only 3 books, but she’s since pulled ahead by 8 books.  I’ve had a lot of new movies come in for me at the library, OKAY?

Image result for napoleon dynamite gosh

So far this year, PopSugar has been a lot of fun.  They expanded their task list to include 12 bonus categories, which I had at first intended not to attempt until I finished the main list.  In the interest of efficiency, though, I’ve decided to just consider them part of the challenge as a whole.  A good number of the books I’ve read up to now ended up earning five star ratings from me.  Here are three of them:

23513349milk and honey by Rupi Kaur – I’ve mentioned it in other posts: poetry is not my thing.  It’s often too opaque for me, though I can appreciate the lyricism of it at times.  This volume, however, hit me right at home.  I loved the free verse, I loved the language, I loved the artwork that appeared on some of the pages.  This work is accessible without pandering to any one sensibility.  It was emotional and moving.  At some point, I intend on purchasing a copy.

30555488The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – This book was brutal and compelling.  It often gave me chills, made me cry, and had me on the edge of my seat.  I liked how he conceptualized the Underground Railroad as a literal subterranean train system – the descriptions of the different stations made me wonder about the people who protected them and the places they were hidden.  The book also contains what has become one of my all-time favorite quotes.

29358401Trainwreck: the Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why by Sady Doyle – Participating in reading challenges has really pushed me to read beyond my fantasy/sci-fi/lady classics comfort zone and start picking up more books like this one.  Social and cultural analysis has always fascinated me (anthropology major), and feminism is becoming more important to me – this book makes a great contribution to the discussion in both areas.  It’s well-researched, nicely balanced, and very readable.

Completed tasks:

2) On your TBR list for way too long – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
3) A book of letters – Griffin & Sabine: an Extraordinary Correspondence, Nick Bantock
4) Audiobook – Gemina, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
8) Multiple authors – The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares, ed. Jason Blum
10) Cat on the cover – The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis
11) Author who uses pseudonym – The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket
12) Bestseller from genre you don’t normally read – milk and honey, Rupi Kaur
14) Involving travel – The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
15) With a subtitle – Trainwreck: the Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, Sady Doyle
17) Involving a mythical creature – The Gentleman, Forrest Leo
18) Read before that never fails to make you smile – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
20) Career advice – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson
21) Nonhuman perspective – Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw
22) Steampunk novel – Etiquette & Espionage, Gail Carriger
25) Loved as a child – From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
26) Author from a country you’ve never visited – Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
27) Title is a character’s name – A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro
28) Novel set during wartime – All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
30) With pictures – The Singing Bones, Shaun Tan
35) Set in a hotel – The Witches, Roald Dahl
36) Written by someone you admire – Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick
37) Becoming a movie in 2017 – Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
39) First book in a series you haven’t read before – These Broken Stars, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
42) Bestseller from 2016 – The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena
47) Eccentric character – Trouble Makes a Comeback, Stephanie Tromly
51) Difficult topic – Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
52) Based on mythology – Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman

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2016 Manga/Graphic Novels (Second Half)

My graphic reading has continued to drop, in part because I’ve stepped out of the library world and am not as exposed to it as I once was, and in part because my library system does not carry many of the (manga) titles I would like to read. I also have over a 1000 books/graphic novels/manga in my TBR list, so it’s going to take some time.

2016 Manga/Graphic Novels (First Half)

Favorite Graphic Novels

starlight white-donkey

Starlight
Starlight was bittersweet, and I absolutely loved it. A man well past his prime, living on the memories of his interstellar adventures, who is shunted aside by society and children who don’t believe him. One evening, he gets whisked away by a boy in spaceship to help save the world he saved decades before.

Terminal Lance: The White Donkey
This one was harshly beautiful and depressing. A young man went to war, saw incredibly traumatic things, and then was unable to reconcile that trauma with normal American life.

Graphic Novels
Saga, Vol 6
Lumberjanes, Vol 4: Out of Time
Paper Girls, Vol 1
Sex Criminals, Vol 1: One Weird Trick
East of West, Vol 1: The Promise
Starlight
Terminal Lance: The White Donkey
Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Manga Favorites

tg-8 say-i-love-you-8

Tokyo Ghoul, Vol 6-8
Tokyo Ghoul was on of my favorite manga from the first half of the year, and it continues to remain so. Horror is outside of my normal reading range, but the characters and their motivations are fascinating. As is the dynamic between humans and ghouls – both see the other as monsters, and a serious rumble is brewing.

Say I Love You, Vol 8-10
I haven’t read this story in a while, and it was nice to see the love story still progressing between Mei and Yamato with all it’s happiness and bumps. I also liked learning more about some of the secondary characters. In all, it’s a good love story where the lead is a good guy and not an asshole with a hidden heart of gold.

Manga
Tokyo Ghoul, Vol 6-8
One Piece, Vol 31-33
A Silent Voice, Vol 4-6
The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Vol 1-4
Say I Love You, 8-10

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The Hub – February

YALSA’s the 2017 Hub Reading Challenge has started! There are definitely some good books on the list this year, though not as many of them catch my attention as last year. This isn’t an issue as there are still many interesting books that will take me out of my reading comfort zone. My reading challenge focus is still on PopSugar and Read Harder, so I haven’t done lot of Hub reading yet. That being said, I did manage to read/listen to seven titles in January, but  six of those titles are graphic novels, which tend to be fast reads.

Some of the books on the list I’ve already read, and don’t plan on rereading for this challenge:

*In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero (just read it in January)
*The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzalez
*The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash

Of the books listed below, I had Paper Girls (both volumes) and Giant Days (first three volumes) at home already, not knowing that they were going to be a part of this challenge. It was only because I was trying to plow through other books first that I hadn’t already read them. Gemina I’ve had downloaded on my phone for months, but put off reading it on the chance it would be included. Good guess on my part.

And last, but not least: what I read for the 2016 Hub Reading challenge. I read 36 books last year and will probably read a similar number this year.

paper girlsPaper Girls, Vol 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
I read this last year, and decided to read it again because the second volume came out recently. PG is very much a WTF is going on graphic novel. There are two groups of “others”, and the intentions of both are ambiguous enough that it’s hard to tell who’s good, who’s bad, and who’s in it only for themselves. The tree of knowledge imagery (apples, specifically) is worked in throughout the story, and I’m curious as to what those references are setting up.

giant-days-1 giant-days-2Giant Days, Vol 1 & 2 by John Allison & Lissa Treiman
Both volumes were fun and enjoyable. There were moments of snorting, but nothing really jumped out at me as being amazing. Possibly because it was completely different from my college experience? I didn’t go until I was in my 20’s, lived off-campus by myself in a crappy apartment, and balanced a full course load with working full-time.

geminaGemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
The sequel to Illuminae was very good, but not quiet as good, because how do you follow up the awesomeness that was HAL900 and reavers? You don’t, really, but you give it a good shot. The suspense wasn’t up to par, but the plot twists were satisfying. Hanna was also a surprisingly strong lead once she got past her spoiled, entitled existence.

 

mighty-jackMighty Jack by Ben Hatke
Mighty Jack is the opening volume of what looks to be an interesting reimagining of Jack and the Beanstalk. It is a bit slow in and of itself, but it is a strong set up for the adventure to follow. Jack and his sister, Maddie, buy seeds at a flea market and plant a garden once they get home. The garden seems to be the one thing that gets Maddie out of her non-verbal shell, so they spend most of their time caring for it. However, the garden starts to get out of control, and for the sake of protecting Maddie, Jack destroys the garden. Jack and Lilly (an awesome, intelligent, sword-wielding homeschooled neighbor) must rescue Maddie from the results of the final packet of seeds she planted after she realized what Jack did.

plutonaPlutona by Jeff Lemire & Emi Lenox
The positives: the kids weren’t cookie cutter. Each had their own definitive personality, and acted like real teenagers, warts and all. The concept was interesting, a nice twist on superheroes, looking at their fallibility and what happens if that fallibility is discovered. The ending also fit the mood of the story. It is somewhat abrupt and “this is it?”, but at the same time, it’s similar to what the characters are feeling. It works. The negative: because Plutona is one contained volume, there wasn’t enough character development or story depth. I would have been a much better story if spread out over several volumes. So much potential, not enough pages.

prez-1Prez, Vol 1: Corndog-in-Chief by Mark Russell & Ben Caldwell
A very good satire of current politics, and the way politics could potentially go (blatant corporate ownership versus the more behind the scenes wheeling and dealing of today). Beth is a fabulous dark horse who isn’t owned by any of the corporations or lobbyists. Once she’s elected, she starts cleaning house and trying to do what’s right regardless of how politicking is supposed to be done. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does in future volumes.

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February Books

Audiobooks (9)

casquette-girls written-in-red kindred gemina
my-lady-jane invisible-man feed cd-11 lolita

The Casquette Girls was a good spin on the vampires in New Orleans sub-genre. Adele was a strong character who thought on her feet and didn’t do obviously stupid things (other than dealing with vampires). I will listen to the sequel when it comes out later this year. Written in Red has been on my TBR for a few years, and I finally got around to reading/listening to it. I ended up liking it more than I thought I would. Meg was well-written, and while she she was guileless, she wasn’t an idiot, and her lack of awareness of how things are supposed to be served in her favor. Sam and the ponies were my favorite characters.

Novels (13) / Novellas (4) / Nonfiction (1)

ghostly-echos margaret-the-first paper-magician rolling-in-the-deep marvels casino-royale  eyre-affair hellhole always-happy-hour desert-queen city-of-light lawrence-browne-affair diabolical-miss-hyde midnight-dance thousand-pieces-of-you last-horror-novel bb the-bees

Ghostly Echos was a decent book, but Jackaby is still the best. The writing this time around wasn’t nearly as strong – the wit and banter between Jackaby and Abigail was missing and the plot was weak. I will read the final book (with the strong hope of resolution between Abigail and Charlie). The Eyre Affair was supposed to be for a challenge (PopSugar, #7 – Story within a story), but only around 30 pages of the book fit that requirement. It was still a fun book and a quick read. I loved the details that showed the story takes place in a parallel universe. A Midnight Dance was only meh. It was a bit light on plot, and leaned a bit much on characters exclaiming in French to show that they were in France. The positive was that Sabine was a strong lead, stood up for herself and her family, and didn’t let herself get pushed around. A Thousand Pieces of You was my February Bookish choice (love story). I liked the concept, and I liked the characters. However, I don’t have an interest in reading the rest of the trilogy. Beauty and the Beast by Vivienne Savage was awful. I finished it only because I love B&B retellings, and hoped that at some point it would redeem itself. The whole thing lacked depth and substance, and for an adult romance, the writing was very juvenile. Anastasia was a total Mary Sue, and everything just sort of fell into place without any real conflict or tribulations. Add in the pseudo-Scottish aspects of the Beast, and I’m surprised my eyeballs didn’t get stuck in the back of my head.

Graphic Novels (11)

paper girls paper-girls-2 giant-days-1 giant-days-2 giant-days-3 el-deafo nextwave-1 nextwave-2 mighty-jack plutona prez-1

Paper Girls Volume 2 was interesting, and the complexity of the plot increased immensely. I can’t wait to see where it goes. Nextwave, volumes 1 and 2, was entertaining, though it was incredibly crass and sarcastic. The whole thing being a superhero satire focused on the rejects and delinquents of the superhero world.

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