Monthly Archives: April 2018

Emma’s Read Harder 2018

While I managed to complete the entirety of Read Harder in less than one month, I felt like I missed out on some of the fun of it. Much like when you eat an entire cake in one day instead making it last longer, while initially satisfying, you’re left with a huge cake-shaped (or book-shaped) hole that can’t be filled by anticipation of the next slice/book. Once I’m done with graduate school, and done with Girl Scouts, and done with the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I plan on doing a second round of Read Harder.

Emma’s Read Harder 2017
Emma’s Read Harder 2016
Emma’s Read Harder 2015

Favorites

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 with nonfiction). 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 the unpredictability and volatility of their 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 also 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.

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 animals’ 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, then building experiments based upon those observations. Are We Smart Enough… was definitely eye-opening, creating good starting points for thinking about what constitutes intelligence.

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, and 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 with an edited narrative of our history. There have been class distinctions since 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 is highly relevant to our current political climate.

Tasks

  1. Published posthumously Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  2. True crime The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
  3. Genre fiction classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  4. Comic written and illustrated by the same person Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh’s Fortune by Sean O’Neill
  5. Set in a BRICS country (India) Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies
  6. About nature Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
  7. Western River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey
  8. Comic written or illustrated by person of color Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  9. (Post)colonial literature Everfair by Nisi Shawl
  10. Romance novel written by/about person of color Destiny’s Captive by Beverly Jenkins
  11. Children’s classic published before 1980 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
  12. Celebrity memoir The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  13. Oprah book club selection Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
  14. Social science White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
  15. One-sitting book Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  16. First book in new to you MG/YA series Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
  17. Female sci-fi author with female main character Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
  18. Comic not published by DC/Marvel/Image Ares & Aphrodite: Love Wars by Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens (Oni Press)
  19. Genre fiction in translation Super Extra Grande by Yoss
  20. Book with a cover you hate (British cover) Such Small Hands by Andres Barba
  21. Mystery by person of color/LGBTQ author Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
  22. Essay anthology Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite TV Show edited by Glenn Yeffeth
  23. Female main character over age 60 Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
  24. Assigned book you hated/never finished Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

PopSugar – March

I was hoping to read six books for PopSugar in March, but I only managed five. Not huge discrepancy, but because I’m now even closer to my self-imposed audiobook limit (17 out of 20), I have to focus more on my book-books, which is not always easy for reasons oft complained about.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
#2 – True crime
I liked Summerscale’s book, The Wicked Boy, and decided to read another title by her (given that both Book Riot and PopSugar chose “true crime” to be a task). While Suspicions was not as enthralling as The Wicked Boy, it was still a fascinating look at the birth of both modern detective work and the modern detective novel (along with amateur armchair detectives). The case was sensational at the time because the detective, the titular Mr. Whicher, was a working class man who went against social norms and accused a young woman of the gentry of murder.

A Dragonlings’ Haunted Halloween by S.E. Smith
#19 – About / set on Halloween
This book has been on my TBR for a while because I enjoyed most of the other books in this series. This one was only meh. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t read the other books in a while, or if I’m not in the right mental place for shape-shifting-alien-dragon-romance. It felt like the men were portrayed as doofuses (and not in a good way), and too much time was spent on their freakout on coming across what amounted to a Halloween theme park. The story would have been better served focusing on the children/dragonlings and the goddesses.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
#35 – Past Good Choice Awards winner (paranormal fantasy, 2012)
I enjoyed this book much more than A Discovery of Witches. While the story itself only minimally moved forward, the lushness of Harkness’ description of Elizabethan London and all of the historical tidbits more than made up for it. It is a book to get lost in, just don’t have high expectations for plot progression.

Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage by Brian Castner
#30 – Local author
This is the second book by Castner I have read. He definitely has a conversation-while-drinking-beer style of narrative, i.e. it meanders, but is interesting to listen to (my husband’s interjection is that this style of  “speaking” is how both he and the other military guys he knows talks). The book is split between following Alexander Mackenzie’s exploration of Canada in search of the Northwest Passage, and Castner’s retracing of Mackenzie’s voyage on the Den Cho / Mackenzie River. I enjoyed both narratives – Mackenzie’s story because I love learning about lesser known aspects/persons in history; Castner’s story because I love reading the traveler’s perspective on situations they encounter and people they meet.

Mad Hatters and March Hares edited by Ellen Datlow
#38 – Ugly Cover
I have been a fan of Alice in Wonderland for as long as I can remember. The nonsense and weirdness was utterly fascinating to my young self, and it still is today. The stories/poems in this collection are varied and run the gamut of genres, some with more magic than others. That being said, I enjoyed only a few of them. “Sentence Like a Saturday” and “The Flame After the Candle” were my favorites. “A Comfort, One Way” was interesting in how it presented the concept of Alices and Mary Anns, and what made a girl become one or the other during her adventures in Wonderland. “Mercury” and “The Queen of Hats” were also enjoyable.

Storytime: Balloons 2

Continuing with my theme of revisiting previous storytimes, in March the focus was on balloons (what I did before). I was hoping to find some fun books that dealt with air, but I must not have been creative enough because I wasn’t able to find any that were suitable for a storytime setting. They would have been perfect for one-on-one reading, but not in a larger group setting with children who have varying attention spans.

Opening Songs
“Hello, Hello, How Are You?”
“Zoom Zoom Zoom”

Books

Balloons, Balloons, Balloons by Dee Lillegard
Too Many Balloons by Catherine Matthias

Songs (Parachute Play)

“Let’s Go Riding on an Elevator” (Jbrary)

“The Parachute Goes Up” (Storytime All-Stars)
(Tune: “The Farmer in the Dell”)
The parachute goes up
The parachute goes down
The parachute goes up and up
And then it goes back down

Activities
1. Balloon Rockets – This is a simple, if somewhat logistically tricky experiment if you forget the clothes pins. Supplies needed are: balloons, straws, tape, clothes pins, and a long piece of string. Blow up the balloon and clamp closed with the pin. Use 2-3 pieces of tape to attach a straw to the balloon. Thread the straw onto the string (the other end being either held or tied to a chair), unclamp the pin, and watch the balloon rocket off. The experiment can be repeated several times with the same balloon/straw, though you will need to use fresh pieces of tape.

2. Dancing Balloons (from Babble Dabble Do) – This is a very simple activity requiring only a circular fan and balloons. Poster board tube optional (very useful if using water balloons).

Audible TBR

It is time for another update to my Audible TBR! In three months, I’ve managed to add 35 books, and even though there are books listed below that I desperately want to read right now, I have been showing tremendous willpower in not reading any of them until I have (mostly) read the books from my previous Audible TBR post. As it stands, I have only five books left to listen to. As much as I would like to have those remaining five books finished by the end of April, it will most likely not happen, especially since after this post goes live, I will allow myself to start listening to my new books.

            

March Books

My reading totals increased in March, up to 32 books. However, 11 of those books were either graphic or early chapter read alouds, both of which tend to be quick reads. I also continued to read non-challenge books in an attempt to stave off burnout and to knock down my ever growing  Amazon and Audible (new list forthcoming) TBR lists.

April Reading Goals
Audible TBR – 8 books (5 books in March)
PopSugar – 4 books (5 books in March)
Hub – 12 books (11 completed / 1 DNF in March)

Audiobooks Fiction (13) / Nonfiction (2)

           

The Bobiverse trilogy by Dennis E. Taylor is great. I love the creativity and originality for the basis of the Bobs, and how they grow into their own. All These Worlds is the weakest book, mainly because it felt rushed. I would love to see Taylor revisit this series at some point in the future because there is still so much potential. Forging Hephaestus took about three hours to get going, but once it did, it was fantastic! It was a hot mess (in a good way) of the supers vs. villains trope – supers with a perverted sense of justice, and villains with morals. I cannot wait for the sequel to come out. No Good Deed was entertaining, but not near as good as the author’s other book, Kill the Boy Band. I liked the satirical take on turning humanitarian work into a knock-down, drag-out competition. A Beautiful Work in Progress was alright. Most of the information in it can be found in various interviews online. Valerio spent a lot of time on her personal history as compared to her journey to running ultras. I was expecting a stronger focus on her running story.

 

Novels (5) / Nonfiction (1)

   

Graphic (5)

 

Read Alouds (6)

  

After a long drought of read alouds, we made it through six books in January. Eerie Elementary is a hit with both Bug and Max, and since they are not painful to read, it’s a win-win situation. Both also loved Travels of Thelonious (I read this to Bean years ago, and she loved it). This is the first book in a trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic/post-human world focusing on the adventures of a chipmunk who ends up a long way from home. The chapters alternate between prose and comics, and is a happy medium for Max who does not like books without lots of pictures. The Battle of the Boss-Monster was the final book in The Notebook of Doom series, and was honestly the weakest book in the series. It somewhat anti-climactic.

The Hub – March

The first month of Hub reading is over! My goal is to read 12 books per month (at least until I’m finished with my semester). In February, I completed 11 books and DNF’d one book. Most of the books were either audio or graphic because I don’t have the mental time to sit down and focus on a book. Most of the books were in my reading comfort zone for this reason.

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
This was an interesting imagining of how a 18th century boy became Santa Claus. There were definitely dark moments, but at its core, the story was about the importance of hope, goodness, and not giving up. The magic and the humor made it a fun read, enjoyable to both children and adults. And of course, Stephen Fry was the narrator for the audio version.

 

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
I loved that David Tennant was the narrator (he was the reason I listened to this book). He was wonderful with the various voices – though I could have done without the random sound effect explosions, especially when I was driving. The story was great – I loved Cowell’s idea of witches and what they meant to the rest of the characters. However, Xar was selfish, self-absorbed, and utterly convinced of his own greatness, to the detriment of those around him. I’m assuming he will grow as a character and realize his errors, but I have no interest in being there to see that happen.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells
I can see why YALSA thought it would be a good YA crossover. The story moved quickly, and Murderbot, for all that he was a ‘droid, was incredibly relateable. He was fairly apathetic about his existence, his job, and humans in general. His main desire was to have uninterrupted tv-watching time. While Murderbot didn’t completely lack emotions, he did try to quash them. Towards the end of the novella, he did start developing some level of attachment to the crew. I am looking forward to reading the remaining three novellas in this series as they are published.

My Brother’s Husband, Omnibus Vol 1 by Gengoroh Tagame
As an introvert, I had trouble with the beginning of this manga. The thought of having a large, loud stranger show up unannounced at my house would give me a huge amount of anxiety. Until the story got rolling, there were times I had to put the manga down because I found that situation stressful. My personal issues aside, the story itself was very good. Thought at times the story veered into educating territory – meaning the narrative felt it was attempting to teach instead of allowing natural interactions between the characters – it was an enlightening look at a man’s attempt to understand and accept his brother’s choices and his own personal prejudices. I liked how Kana’s social innocence was used to create the bridge of understanding and acceptance.

The Backstagers, Vol 1 by Jamie Tynion IV and Rian Singh
Generally I don’t have an interest in theater, front- or backstage, but the added magical element put The Backstagers in my reading realm. It was a good balance of adorable and creepy, both elements working well with each other. I loved the cast of characters and their (somewhat dysfunctional) dynamics. The McQueen brothers especially were entertainingly over the top. I want to learn more about the magic tunnels, and what happened to the 1987 backstagers.

Black Hammer, Vol 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston
I love the story idea of a group of superheros transported to an alternate universe, and how they would cope with being stuck there. This volume was mostly set up and character backstories. I plan to keep reading this series because the set up at the end makes me want to learn more. What I didn’t like (and this is one of the main reasons I don’t read traditional superhero comics) was the illustration style. I have a really hard time getting past how faces are sketched out. There are too many random lines and it can be hard to determine what emotion the character’s facial expression is supposed to convey.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
This is the second time I’ve read Down Among the Sticks and Bones, and it is still an amazing read. McGuire has a wonderful cadence to her writing that lends to the fairy tale feel of the narrative. The subject matter is dark, but it is balanced with the flaws and dreams of Jack and Jill. They are broken and far from perfect, and I love that the story showcases that there is no one right way to be a girl.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
I read Scythe last year for the Hub Challenge, and I listened to it this year for the challenge again. The story is suited to both formats. After reviewing what I wrote last year, I still agree with my thoughts on the enjoyment of watching Citra and Rowan learn about the rot that pervades scythedom, and how they decide to tackle it. Citra grew me this time, and I enjoy how both her and Rowan compliment each other in their approaches. She is definitely closer to the white hat side of the spectrum, but she is good at manipulating the system. I am looking forward to seeing how things progress in Thunderhead.

The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson
This was a fairly fast read – it helped that the chapters were fairly short. I liked that the chapters alternated between the present (June and her initiation into the world of avtomats, and her quest to find a way to save them) and the past (Peter and Elena’s story from the 1700s forward). The story was enjoyable, though it felt like there were plot explanation holes.

 

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green
Lighter Than My Shadow is definitely an uncomfortable read. Watching the adults in Green’s life fail her as she suffered from various eating disorders and sexual assault was hard. From the teenage perspective, I could relate because I had issues with food and regulation when I was in high school. It was so easy to go down that path because it was one of the few things I could control. From the perspective of a parent, I truly hope I never minimize and invalidate my children’s feelings and reactions the way her parents did. They were oblivious to how harmful their platitudes were. Both Green’s parents and doctors interacted with her only on a superficial level and didn’t really look at “Katie”.

Jonesy, Vol 1 by Sam Humphries and Caitlin Rose Boyle
I’m going to start with the fact that this is not a comic for me, and that I have zero interest in reading future volumes. I can see why it would appeal to readers, especially teenagers who feel like they are on the fringe of things, but I found Jonesy to be selfish, obnoxious, and fairly shallow. I couldn’t handle how annoying and spiteful she was.

 

**DNF** The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
I listened to about one hour before I had to DNF it. While the writing may have been lyrical on paper, it did not necessarily translate well to audio. The story was boring and felt monotone. I don’t know if this was due to the narrator or the writing, but I had a hard time listening.