Author Archives: books&biblio

About books&biblio

Librarian-in-training, Girl Scout Leader, (former) homeschooling mom.

Emma’s PopSugar Fall Challenge 2016

I love the fact that PopSugar puts out multiple reading challenges throughout the year, and for better or for worse, I know know they exist. The Fall Challenge was bite-sized comparatively, and I liked some of the categories. I had initially thought I was done with the challenge when I finished The Hobbit because I couldn’t remember ever participating in a book club. Turns out I was wrong. During my first year at library school, one of the students put together a book club. Pope Joan was the first selection. My involvement didn’t extend beyond joining the Goodreads group, and then completely forgetting about it. Luckily for the challenge completist in me, my memory was jogged while looking through my Amazon “holy cow, woman, you have almost 1000 books here” TBR list.

Favorites

it-happened-one-autumn bird-box

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas
I had never read any of Lisa Kleypas’ books before this, but I am now a fan. I’m a sucker for smart, sassy MCs in romance novels, and Lillian fit the bill. She was opinionated, but not to the point that I wanted to throw the book across the room. Marcus was also a well done “asshole with a heart of gold”. He was cold and gruff and superior, but even in the early stages, he still looked out for Lillian’s welfare and safety. I loved how they played off of each other.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
I’m sure I ruined a decent amount of the psychological impact of this book by reading the end after only 20 pages into it, but I am a wuss, and I don’t like being scared. Bird Box is definitely Hitchcockian in the scare aspect – giving enough snippets for your mind to run rampant. The whisper of terror is so much worse than actually showing it. Which probably makes it a bit hypocritical on my part that I thought the suspense could have been ramped up in parts. The only thing that bothered me in the book was the scene where Malorie gave birth. Having gone through pain med-free childbirth three times, the descriptions of it felt off, especially in where/how the Malorie felt the pain.

List of Tasks

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
#1 – Scary book

The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash
#2 – Male protagonist / female author

The Rook  and Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley
#3 – A book and its sequel

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore
#4 – Celebrity memoir

The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
#5 – Independent bookstore employee recommendation (Powell’s)

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
#6 – Skipped book club pick

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
#7 – A book you’ve always wanted to read, but haven’t

The Gunslinger by Stephen King
#8 – A famous author you’ve never read

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson
#9 – Based on a historical event (Cholera epidemic in London, 1854)

Sabriel by Garth Nix
#10 – Published in 1995

Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale
#11 – Published in 2015

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
#12 – A book with “food” in the title

What’s a Ghoul to Do? by Victoria Laurie
#13 – Pun in the title

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas
#14 – Takes place in the fall

The Gentleman by Leo Forrest
#15 – Orange cover

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PopSugar Ultimate – November

PopSugar Ultimate (5 tasks)

hemingses-of-montecelloThe Hemgingses of Montcello by Annette Gordon-Reed
#2 – National Book Award winner
The Hemingses of Montecello was fascinating, if a bit long and dryly academic. The dynamics between Jefferson and various Hemingses were interesting, as were the overall attitude and social mores concerning slavery in the very early years of the US. Gordon-Reed does make a lot of conjectures, but they are supported in part by contemporary documents. The big question that cannot be answered (for me, at least), is why James and Sally Hemings would willing leave France, where French law recognized them as free, and go back to a life of slavery in Virginia.

eaters-deadEaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton
#4 – Haven’t read since high school
I read this book somewhere around my freshman/sophomore year in high school. The only lingering impression I have of it from then is that it was fairly dark and somewhat unnerving. Reading it 20+ years later, it feels sort of like fantasy or a form of magical realism given what we know believe we know of Neanderthal culture.  I did like the formatting of it as an eyewitness report, including foot notes. Though because of this, there was no real connection to any of the characters. The reader remained on the outside.

snow-white-graphicSnow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
#5 – NYT bestseller
I liked the Depression Era setting of this version of Snow White, however, it lacked substance. The panels were sparse (not necessarily a bad thing given when this was set), and the pacing was too fast, only glancing over most of the details. I would have liked to have spent more time in the story.

undground-railroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
#19 – Oprah book club
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would given there wasn’t a lot of character development. I would have liked to learn more about the inner workings of some of the characters (especially Caesar), but the detachment fit with the narrative style, highlighting the brutality. I also liked the concept of the underground railroad being a physical thing, and the vignettes about various secondary characters.

eat-brains-loveEat, Brains, Love by Jeff Hart
#36 – Road trip
Zombies have never really been favorite of mine. I don’t like gore and horror, so I tend to avoid them. But there are times that the zombies pull me in (such as “Shaun of the Dead” and Warm Bodies – the book is much better than the movie). Eat Brains Love falls into this category, in part because it does not take itself too seriously. Jake is a teenage boy, and well…he acts like one. I also like that the zombie mythology is different from what’s considered traditional.

 

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PopSugar Fall – November

PopSugar Fall Challenge (6.5 tasks)

bird-boxBird Box by Josh Malerman
#1 – Scary book
I’m sure I ruined a decent amount of the psychological impact of this book by reading the end after only 20 pages into it, but I am a wuss, and I don’t like being scared. Bird Box is definitely Hitchcockian in the scare aspect – giving enough snippets for your mind to run rampant. The whisper of terror is so much worse than actually showing it. Which probably makes it a bit hypocritical on my part that I thought the suspense could have been ramped up in parts. The only thing that bothered me in the book was the scene where Malorie gave birth. Having gone through pain med-free childbirth three times, the descriptions of it felt off, especially in where/how the Malorie felt the pain.

stilettoStiletto by Daniel O’Malley
#3 – Book + sequel
I like Stiletto better than The Rook, though the multiple POVs was a bit much at times – it would have been better if they focused on less characters, like Myfanwy, Felicity, or Odette. This book also suffered from “could have lost 100 pages” syndrome. Aspects of the plot came about circuitously, and at least one subplot could have been removed completely without affecting the overall story. It would have tightened up the narrative, and made it more readable.

wildflowerWildflower by Drew Barrymore
#4 – Celebrity memoir
Wildflower consisted of non-linear vignettes of Drew Barrymore’s life (as read by the lady herself). She had some crazy adventures, and her parenting style reflects lessons learned from her wayward youth. The only negative is specific to the audiobook – Drew Barrymore can get unexpectedly loud and emphatic, which can kill if you’re listening to it with earbuds.

palace-jobThe Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
#5 – Independent bookstore employee recommendation (Powell’s)
Powell’s had me with the “…if you like Terry Pratchett, you’ll love this…” And while I do love Terry Pratchett, I was only lukewarm about The Palace Job. The heist itself clever, but I didn’t see the sly humor TP used so well. I have no interest in reading either of the sequels.

 

hobbit

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
#7 – A book you’ve always wanted to read, but haven’t
This is another one of those books that when people find out I haven’t read it, they are completely shocked. I devoured fantasy novels as a child, but never had any inclination to read The Hobbit. In large part, this is because the snippets of the ’80s cartoon version I occasionally saw seemed cheesy, and all the bright oranges and greens turned me off of it as a whole (however, I absolutely loved “Flight of Dragons”, so there’s no accounting). It wasn’t until post-Lord of the Rings as an adult, that I felt I should give this one a try. Honestly, I was disappointed. It wasn’t horrible, but the cadence of the story bothered me. Both Gandalf and Bilbo felt flighty in how they interacted with other characters.

great-troubleThe Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson
#9 – Based on a historical event (Cholera epidemic in London, 1854)
This book was alright, and would be fine for its intended middle grade audience. It took a specific event and fleshed out the details by adding Eel. He was good as a character – resourceful, curious, protective, and not perfect. When the story focused on the epidemic, it was strong. The weak point came from the unnecessary added tension of the secret Eel carries. The climax of the B plot was, frankly, anticlimactic, and not effectively closed.

food-a-love-storyFood: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
#12 – A book with “food” in the title
I have never watched any of Jim Gaffigan’s stand up comedy, so all of the material in this book was new to me. It was cynical and funny, and he made some very on point observations about Americans and food. His relationship with food, and his food sins are put out there for everyone to see.  I liked that he did a food road map of sorts. Buffalo was mentioned – and yes, Frank’s Red Hot Sauce gets put on most things my husband eats. It’s something of an institution. But then, green chiles are something of a New Mexican institution (same with flatbread and tamales – especially ones you by at random roadside stands). They make cheeseburgers fabulous.

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November Books

Life has been crazy recently. Holidays, upcoming (now completed) travel, and Girl Scouts, have made life fairly overwhelming. Quite frankly, I want to curl up in a little ball, read some fluff romance novels, and be left alone.

Audiobooks (10)

hemingses-of-montecello wildflower food-a-love-story astronaut-wives palace-job artful anubis-gates lesser-beasts breakfast-tiffany american-gods-10th

The Hemingses of Montecello was fascinating, if a bit long and dryly academic. The conjectures she made were fascinating – such as why Sally and James Hemings would walk away from freedom in France in order to go back to slavery in Virginia. The Astronauts Wives Club was also fascinating. One doesn’t normally think about the wives behind the scenes, but they had to maintain the “All-American” front, sometimes to the detriment of their own health. NASA dropped the ball on giving them support when they needed it. The Anubis Gates has been on my TBR list for a while because it’s considered a classic steampunk novel. I liked it, but I wouldn’t consider it steampunk. It’s magically focused, not technologically focused. Lesser Beasts was very good, and I highly recommend it – a history of the pig and humans’ relationship with keeping and eating pigs. American Gods is my least favorite Neil Gaiman book. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, but it feels rougher than his other books. That being said, matching the old gods against the new human-made gods is a cool concept; and I liked the small vignettes that focused on various gods and goddesses.

Novels (8) / Nonfiction (1)

big-tiny doon undground-railroad stiletto
bird-box eat-brains-love eaters-dead great-trouble hobbit

Seven of these books are for various PopSugar reading challenges, so there will be another post with my thoughts on them. The Big Tiny was on my TBR list for a while, and it ended up being a good read. I like the idea of tiny houses (though I know I would never want to live as tiny/off-grid as the author). Life is so much easier with less stuff. It was an uplifting read in that she took a horrible experience/health issue and used it as the springboard to reevaluate her life and her things, and ended up freeing herself from a lot of the previous stress and disconnectedness. I had high hopes for Doon, being that it involved Scotland and time-travel (interdimensional travel, in actuality), but I had to push myself to finish it. I have no interest in reading the remaining books in the series. The plot was poorly developed, stereotypes and clichés abounded. Character-wise, Mackenna is the one who drove me nuts. She is supposed to be the foil for Veronica (a complete Mary Sue), but Mackenna came off as self-absorbed and idiotic.

Graphic (8)

magus bride say-i-love-you-8 snow-white-graphic

Read Aloud (1)

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PopSugar Monthly – October

PopSugar Ultimate Challenge (1 task)

hopefulsThe Hopefuls by Jennifer Close
#32 – The first book you see in a bookstore (online on Powell’s website)
While an interesting book, it was not always an easy read. Following a marriage over a longer period of time, most of it focused on the downward sprial caused by the husband’s political ambitions to the detriment of his relationship with his wife. It was well-done, just hard to read because aspects of it hit too close to home. Not one of the characters is perfect or innocent, and they all sort of play off of each other. The ending is positive, but realistic.

PopSugar Fall Challenge (3 tasks)

geeks-guideThe Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash
#2 – Male protagonist / female author
I liked this book more than I thought I would. I enjoyed all of the references to various fandoms. It was refreshing to see a romance played out in a realistic way – the ramifications of professing your undying love towards your best friend and comic book coauthor. The only negative is that because everything is from Graham’s perspective, we don’t really get to know Roxy that well.

gunslingerThe Gunslinger by Stephen King
#8 – A famous author you’ve never read
So…I didn’t really like this book. It felt dreamy and didn’t really make a lot of sense. Aspects of it were interesting, but as a whole, not a story that grabbed me. I would have stopped reading it if I wasn’t reading it for a challenge. I Wikipedia’d the plots of the other books in the series, and don’t have any interest in reading them.

clash-of-eaglesClash of Eagles by Alan Smale
#11 – Published in 2015
In a world where Rome never fell, a legion is sent to North America to find gold. Instead, the entire legion is destroyed, with only one survivor, who must figure out how to live in a culture completely alien to him. It was a phenomenal concept. Very well researched, and any historical holes were believably filled in. This book is more of my husband’s cup of tea, than mine (I still enjoyed it), so I probably won’t finish the trilogy. I’ll just bug him to tell me what happens.

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October Reads

October saw a decrease in how many books I read – only 18 instead of my normal 30+. It’s quibbling, I know, since 18 books is still a large number of books to read in a given month. My decrease was caused by an increase in other obligations: Girl Scouts, deep cleaning my house, swim meets, etc… There wasn’t a way to make time for everything, and books got the boot because even I get sick of looking at my disaster of a house sometimes.

Audiobooks (9)

dark-waters death-of-riley care feeding vampires dreams-gods-and-monsters accidental-alchemist
schooled-in-magic oliver-twist bollywood-affair bronze-key

Of the nine books I listed to this month, three were in the magical boarding school genre: Dark Waters, Schooled in Magic, and The Bronze Key. I loved all of them. Dark Waters was an adult book, with the school being a college, and the plot focusing on a murder mystery. Schooled in Magic was YA, with the main character, Emily, being transported to a different universe because a necromancer wanted to sacrifice a “child of destiny”. She was rescued by a sorcerer, and then then shipped off to a boarding school to figure things out. Both this book and The Bronze Key followed the standard trying-to-keep-evil-from-taking-over-the-world plot line. The Accidental Alchemist was surprisingly entertaining. It was unique story idea that was well executed. Oliver Twist was very good as well. Very tongue in cheek and sarcastic. And horrifying to know that the squalor and treatment of children it depicted was a part of life back then. A Bollywood Affair was another book I enjoyed more than I thought I would. A light, fluffy romance read.

Novels (8)

geeks-guide start-a-scandal restoree gunslinger
paper-and-fire throne-of-glass clash-of-eagles hopefuls

The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love, The Gunslinger, Clash of Eagles, and The Hopefuls were all PopSugar books, so there will be another post with my thoughts on them. Do You Want to Start a Scandal was a fun romp. Two characters who needed a book finally got one. I loved Charlotte’s straight forwardness. I attempted to read Restoree for PopSugar, but while it was a romance, it wasn’t set in the future (even though I’d seen it on lists for that very thing). The concept of being abducted and then resurrected on an alien planet was well done.

Read Aloud (1)

wizard-of-oz

I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to my younger daughter (with my son listening in on most of it, but it didn’t always hold his attention). She absolutely loved it! To the point that she dressed up as Dorothy for Halloween, complete with silver shoes. I know the movie is much beloved, but I still think the book is incomparably better.

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Audiobook TBR List 2.0

Looking back, I last did a TBR list for my audiobooks at the end of May. I’m not binge listening as much as I was earlier this year – my new position focuses more on people than files, so headphones aren’t an option. I still listen during my commute, though. I’ve tried driving while listening  to music, and it is not a pretty sight.

From my previous list of 22 books, I listened to 19, DNF two (A Curious Beginning and The Girls of Atomic City), and still have not listened to one (A Man on the Moon – it’s over 23 hours long, and nonfiction, so…it will probably be “need to clear the queue” read). I also listened to an additional 31 books (I did to a bit of binge listening recently).

My current queue is at 16 books, and that is only because I am forcing myself to put potential reads in a wishlist instead of buying (and buying) more credits. I’m sure there are some books I could get from the library, but I have a really hard time listening to CDs anymore because I can’t make the listening speed go faster. My library does have some books in Playaway (which as several listening speeds), but I haven’t had a lot of success in finding books I want to listen to in that format.

anubis-gates artful breakfast-at-tiffanys critial-failures crucible-of-souls gemina hungry-earth lesser-beasts medieval-world nice-dragons-finish-lasat queens-poisoner single-undead-moms-club understanding-japan view-from-the-cheap-seats magicians american-gods-10th

The Anubis Gates – A fantastical, madcap, time travel adventure.
Artful – The Artful Dodger battles anti-monarchy vampires.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – A society girl and her fascinated neighbor.
Critical Failures – D&D just got real.
A Crucible of Souls – Epic fantasy. Young orphan learns about sorcery and evil.
Gemina – Sequel to Illuminae. What goes down on the Heimdall while Katy battled Hal9000 and its crew of Reavers.
Hungry Earth – Sequel to Dark Waters. Magical boarding school/college + murder mystery.
Lesser Beasts – A history of the creature that (in part) becomes bacon. Mmm…bacon…
The Medieval World – 36 lectures about the medieval world. Pretty self-explanatory.
Nice Dragons Finish Last – A dragon forced into human form has to prove his ruthlessness or stay a human forever.
The Queen’s Poisoner – Young boy, hostage in a king’s court, must learn to survive.
Single Undead Moms Club – Newly turned single mom learns to navigate being undead.
Understanding Japan: A Cultural History – A history of Japan.
The View From the Cheap Seats – It’s Neil Gaiman nonfiction collection. Do I really need to say more?
The Magicians – Magical university mashed with Narnia.
American Gods –  Old World Gods vs. New World Gods in America.

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