Author Archives: books&biblio

About books&biblio

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

Reading Challenges of 2017

Let’s just start with this, shall we?

read-all-the-books

Because this is essentially what 2017 is going to look like for me. It’s a whole new year, and even though my book love was dragging at the end of 2016, I am ready and motivated and will do my damnedest not to get distracted by other books until I have finished all the challenges. Two weeks in, and my willpower is still holding, even though I desperately want to give in to some sequels that keep calling my name.

Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge
Of course this one is at the top of the list. Twenty-four categories of awesomeness, and books for 16 of them are already in my house. I am lifting my “no rereading” ban this year, because Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (#17 – Classic by author of color) has been on my TBR for years. I read it 17 years ago for a college English class, so I’d like to think enough time has passed that it’s alright to reread it.

This year will also be different in that my husband won’t be participating. He is back in school, so fun reading has been mostly sidelined for him. Sophia will be late joining the party – she has a massive TBR stack of library books that need to be read and returned (she works at a library, so no late fees, which unfortunately encourages book hoarding tendencies).

What am I excited about this year? Well beyond the fact that I already have over half the books at home, the categories feel more challenging this year. Micropress? Nonfiction about technology? Set within 100 miles of where I live? There are some good categories for sure.

PopSugar 2017 Reading Challenge
The behemoth got a bit bigger this year. In addition to the normal 40 categories, they upped the ante by adding 12 more in their “advanced” reading list. I am not going to let myself touch the advanced list until I’ve finished the normal one (though I have already chosen six of the books). The ante was also upped with the categories they chose. They feel much more rigorous, more horizon-expanding. I’m going to have to dig for a few of these – “story within a story”, “month/day of the week in the title”, “book bought on a trip”.

PopSugar was my Achilles heel last year. I didn’t finish it until the evening of December 31st. My reading motivation was down the drain, and even though I could have had it done months earlier, I kept getting distracted by other reading challenges or other non-reading challenge books. The latter being the main culprit. “I will not get distracted” is my reading challenge mantra for 2017.

Bookish: 12 Ways to Kill your TBR this Year
I saw Bookish’s challenge last year, but didn’t add it to my challenge list because, well…I was already participating in three of them. One more seemed a bit much. This year, however, I am adding it to the happy family that is Emma’s obsession with reading challenges. Both Sophia and my step-mom will (hopefully) be participating as well. I really hope my step-mom does as it is not as hard as other challenges. Twelve books in twelve months. A different theme each month. Very doable. It will help to make a small dent in my TBR mountain.

YALSA’s The Hub Reading Challenge
No link for this one yet since it hasn’t come out yet (probably towards the end of January, like last year). I am excited to see what books are on it this year. It definitely expanded my YA horizon. I tend to stick with YA fantasy and graphic formats, so this challenge forced me to read a larger slice of the YA pie. Like last year, my aim is at least 25 books, but not every book.

Emma’s Amazon Challenge
This one stems from the fact that I have 1000+ books sitting in my “books to read” wishlist on Amazon. The struggle is real. Some of these books will be removed from the list because of other reading challenges, but once I’m done with those (minus Bookish), my goal is to start knocking these bad boys out. Not the whole thing, of course. It would take me three years of dedicated reading to do that, as the list currently stands.

 

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Emma’s PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge 2016

I mostly finished this challenge! 2016 was the first year I participated in PopSugar’s reading challenge and I enjoyed it, even though I was dragging by the end of it. Some of the categories were hard for me (political memoir, I’m looking at you…), but my reading horizons were expanded – this is one of my favorite things about participating in reading challenges. I knew about it in 2015, but felt it would have been overwhelming to do it in addition to Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. Fat lot of good that caution did for me. I managed to overwhelm myself with book challenges in 2016 (and 2017 is shaping up the same way).

Initial PopSugar 2016 Post

Favorites

badass ink and bone

*You Are a Bad Ass – This is a love it or hate it kind of book. I’m on the love it side of the fence. She is no nonsense and doesn’t pull any punches – you control you. While this sounds very obvious, most people don’t actually live that way. We like the idea of doing something, but not necessarily doing it. I like the idea of getting up before work and going for a run, but it’s just. so. hard. How badly do I want to get back into shape? Obviously, not badly enough. And that’s the gist of the book – you have to want something badly enough to make sacrifices in order to get it. Things will get harder before they get easier.

*Ink & BoneInk and Bone turned out to be one of the more original and complex dystopian YA books I’ve read. No love triangle, and if there were any tropes, they were done well enough that none of them jumped out at me. It’s technically set in the future, but steampunk and alchemy rule the day. Global power is held by The Library, and incredibly Big Brother-ish entity that controls access to all knowledge and suppresses anything that could remotely be considered a threat to their authority and power. So often, dystopian lit focuses on the aftermath of society’s collapse from disease or war or alien invasion. In this case, the dystopian society grew organically from an initial wish to make sure knowledge was available to all. It made me think of early libraries – knowledge available to the masses, but only for their education and betterment.

Other Favorites: Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, Bryony and Roses

Uncompleted Tasks

12.) Recommended by someone you just met

The lone task I did not complete was #12. In general, I very rarely meet new people. In part because I just don’t, and in part because I don’t talk. As it happens, I did get a book recommendation from my seatmate while at training in South Carolina this past summer. He recommended Ender’s Game (after much astonishment that I had never read it). I already had that book pegged for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge (book published in your birth decade). I don’t like double-dipping with my book challenges, so this lone category went unfinished.

Completed Tasks

1.) Fairy tale – Bryony and Roses
2.) National Book Award winnerThe Hemingses of Montecello
3.) YA bestseller – The Girl at Midnight
4.) Haven’t read since high schoolEaters of the Dead
5.) Set in home state – The Dirt on the Ninth Grave (I am also an ABQ girl transplanted in NY)
6.) Translated into English – Core of the Sun
7.) Romance set in the future – Date Night on Union Station
8.) Set in Europe – Naughty in Nice
9.) Under 150 pages – Reader Abduction
10.) NYT bestseller – Snow White
11.) Becoming a movie in 2016 – Nerve
13.) Self-improvement – You are a Badass
14.) Finish in a day – Agent to the Stars (audiobook at 1.5x while doing chores on a Saturday)
15.) Celebrity author – I’ll Never Write My Memoirs
16.) Political memoirWhy Women Should Rule the World
17.) At least 100 years older than youEvelina
18.) 600+ pages – A Court of Mist and Fury
19.) Oprah Book Club – The Underground Railroad
20.) Sci-fi – Armada
21.) Family member recommendation – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Library (step-mom)
22.) Graphic novel – Delilah Dirk & the King’s Shilling
23.) Published in 2016 – Homegoing
24.) Protagonist same occupation – Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs (former children’s librarians)
25.) Takes place during the summer – Act of God
26a.) A book… – Her Royal Spyness
26b.) …and its prequel – Masked Ball at Broxley Manor
27.) Murder mystery – And Then There Were None
28.) Comedian author – Modern Romance
29.) Dystopian – Ink & Bone
30.) Blue cover – The Rest of Us Just Live Here
31.) PoetryThe Princess Saves Herself in this One
32.) First book you see in a bookstoreThe Hopefuls (Powell’s online)
33.) 20th century classic – Murder on the Orient Express
34.) Library book – Eligible
35.) Autobiography – Life
36.) Road tripEat Brains Love
37.) Unfamiliar culture – Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back
38.) Satire – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
39.) Takes place on an island – Into the Dim
40.) Guaranteed to bring you joy – As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

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PopSugar – December

Better late than never, right?

PopSugar Ultimate (4)

core-of-the-sunCore of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
#6 – Translated into English
My sister loved this book, but I thought it was kind of meh. Using chiles as illegal drugs/currency was creative, as was the reason why chiles became contraband. I never built a connection to Vanna, and didn’t particularly care for her. The fact that chile was spelled “chili” bothered me as well. For former is the fruit/vegetable. The latter is the bean/meat dish you eat. Petty, I know, but sometimes it’s the little things in a book that drive you bonkers.

date-nightDate Night on Union Station by E. M. Foner
#7 – Romance set in the future
I had an incredibly hard time finding the right book for this category. Date Night ended up being my last ditch effort to fulfill it. I didn’t really like it. The world-building was interesting, but the story wasn’t. The ending was also out of left field and then it just…stopped.

 

why-women-shouldWhy Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers
#16 – Political memoir
Another category I had a hard time finding any book that seemed remotely interesting (politics is not my genre of choice). I chose this one because it was short. Luckily for me, it turned out to be fairly interesting.  Myers mixed her personal experiences with her thoughts on the overall positive impact women have, and will have, when there are greater numbers of them in the workplace. It wasn’t a man vs. women, or one gender is better than the other kind of book. She looked at how men and women react to situations differently – both have strong and weak points – and how when there are more women in the workplace, these differences can make things better for the company and employees.

princess-saves-herselfThe Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace
#31 – Poetry
A very personal and raw collection of poems. One can argue that most of the poems lacked substance, but poetry is as fluid as it is subjective. The poems were short, but most of them packed a punch. I liked the asides/quips at the end of each poem that off-set them. In the same vein as Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty.

 

PopSugar Fall (1)

pope-joanPope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
#6 – Skipped book club pick
So I didn’t think I would actually cross off this category as I don’t participate in book clubs. And I only last minute remembered that I did give it the good old college try during my first summer at library school. I went so far as to join the group…and then did nothing. Pope Joan was the first book chosen. I found it to be very interesting, very well-researched. I was sucked into it until about the last 50ish pages. From then on, it felt like the author realized she needed to wrap things up, and the story got sloppy – the love interest had to come back into play, and Joan stupidly steamrolled progressive thinking into the Vatican.

December Books

My reading slowed down as the end of the year approached. I overdid it with the book challenges (given everything else going on), and by December I was in a reading rut from “having” to read certain books even as my neglected TBR list continued to grow. We’ll see how 2017 goes.

Audiobooks (12)

man-on-the-moon nice-dragons-1 critical-failures hungry-earth magicians
royally-screwed tom-stranger shadow-queen redshirts
artifact masquerading-magician understanding-japan

Most of my December reading consisted of audiobooks. I didn’t feel like I had the time to sit down and focus on an actual book. Plus I have a bunch of titles sitting in my Audible queue, and I needed to make them disappear. A Man on the Moon was wonderful. I’ve listened to several other space race/outerspace books recently, and it’s always nice to get slightly different perspectives on both people and events. It also brought back memories of when I got to listen to an astronaut give a talk in the officers club at Kirtland AFB when I was kid (couldn’t tell you who, but I was mesmerized during the entire thing). I ended up finishing it a few days before John Glenn passed away. The Magicians is a reread, and I liked it more than I did when I first read it in 2009. It’s full of ennui, and I can relate to that because I feel like I’m in a life rut. Royally Screwed ended up being a bit of a disappointment. I know to suspend belief when reading romances, but I couldn’t get past the complete lack of plausibility of a crown prince falling for an American commoner, and then abdicating for lurve. Redshirts was more entertaining than expected. A fun riff on Star Trek and other old sci-fi shows – this is what happens when a tv show intrudes on another reality. I liked the main ending, but could have done without the various epilogues focusing on some of the secondary characters.

Novels (5) / Novellas (3)

dragon-fever smoke-and-fire natural-charmer core-of-the-sun
pope-joan date-night princess-saves-herself why-women-should

Five of the books listed here were from the PopSugar reading challenges, and there will be another post with my thoughts about them. As a whole, I enjoy the Dark Kings series by Donna Grant, but I’m kind of over the romance part of it – it’s fairly predictable and formulaic, and generally doesn’t add anything to overarching plot. The overarching plot and various secondary characters are what keeps me coming back. These characters tend to be more complex, more ambiguous in what their angle is or whose side they’re actually on. Dark fairies vs. dragons, dragons vs. exiled dragon(s), light fairies claim neutrality, the Reapers (what amounts to the fairy Justice League) have made their reappearance, and the humans are unwittingly caught in the middle of it all. Natural Born Charmer was a cute book. It was well-written, and the plot generally felt believable.

Read Alouds (2)

bunnicula clementine

Bunnicula was the first chapter book I ever read (age 8, finished while riding in a car somewhere in Nevada). It will always have strong sentimental value to me. I still have the same copy, and a few years ago, I got it signed by James Howe at a book festival. It was the highlight of my day. This time around marks the third time I have read it to my children, and I am happy they enjoy it as well. While trying to find books to read to my 6-year old, I stumbled across Clementine. She absolutely adores it. Me…not so much. I found her kind of bratty in a pig-headed, “they don’t understand me” kind of way.

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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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