Category Archives: Reading Challenges

Sophia’s Bookish Monthly TBR – Halfway!

This year I decided to add yet another reading challenge to my list, because there’s no such thing as too many challenges, right?!  Bookish.com created a list of monthly categories intended to help you clean out your TBR pile.  I’m officially at the halfway point, and so far it’s been a lot of fun!  I like the relaxed pace, and the tasks are just specific enough to get you thinking but not so much so that you feel the need to do any shoehorning.  Here are my books for the first 6 months:

27161156January – Read a book that supports your New Year’s resolution.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

J.D. Vance

After the horror of our last presidential election, I decided I wanted to make more of an effort to understand how we as a nation arrived at this point.  To that end, I’ve been building a list of books focusing on regions, cultures, and experiences within the United States that are different from my own.  Hillbilly Elegy was the first step.  It’s an interesting memoir – Mamaw is by far the star of the narrative and I’d love to know more about her – but Vance’s social analysis was not as well-formed.  He was very fortunate to find himself on a path where his hard work did actually pay off, allowing him to boost himself out of the poverty that plagued his ancestors.  As a result, he can’t seem to help repeating that tired trope: the only people stuck in poverty are those who refuse to help themselves.  Poverty is far more complicated than that, and he comes across as condescending and judgmental towards anyone who doesn’t finish school or ‘settles’ for a lifetime of blue collar work.

18584855February – Read a love story.

Heartless

Marissa Meyer

In this engaging prequel to Lewis Carroll’s classic stories, Meyer imagines how the decapitation-happy Queen of Hearts came to be the scourge of Wonderland.  This book swept me off my feet – I tore through all 453 pages in a single weekend.  Her vision of Wonderland expands on Carroll’s, including the use of familiar nursery rhymes.  It’s also shot through with references to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, adding a sense of unease and lurking horror.  I really felt for Cath and her struggle with first love and trying to do right by her family’s expectations without sacrificing her dreams.  Knowing she ends up a raging, tyrannical monarch only compelled me to read faster so I could find out how she got there.

589071March – Read a book published the decade you were born.

Ironweed

William Kennedy

I was originally planning on using this book to fulfill a task on a different challenge, but I found a replacement and decided to use it for the TBR instead.  This is not an easy book, and I’m not sure I liked it all that much.  But I do appreciate the literary merit and the tragic intensity of the story.  Francis Phelan is an interesting character, his difficult life and personality flaws make you want to judge him and sympathize with him in equal measure.   Kennedy also captures that hollowed-out feeling of inevitable doom during the Great Depression.  I came away from the book feeling heavy and sad.

16059322April – Read a National Book Award winner.

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

George Packer

The Unwinding is another on my list of books about the state of the U.S.  This one was a solid block of text – no charts, no graphs, no pictures.  The narrative is divided into sections by year, starting in the 1970s.  Packer follows three individuals from various backgrounds throughout the book, and features a notable public figure or event in each section.  Each year is introduced by a single page word collage, collecting headlines, song lyrics, and quotes from public figures and popular media into a hodgepodge of visual sound bites that set the tone for that moment in time.  This was a maddening, eye-opening, and fascinating read.  Packer masterfully weaves each thread together, creating a concerning and frustrating portrait of cultural upheaval.

30045683May – Read a book about mental health.

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

Meik Wiking

I probably fudged the category a bit with this one, but it does pertain to mental health.  Hygge is the Danish concept of the sense of well-being you feel when you’re in a comfortable, cozy space, often with people you care for and/or delicious food.  I first saw the word on a friend’s Instagram post and upon finding several new books about it, I checked out the first one available at my library.  While I wasn’t necessarily expecting an analytical opus on the subject, this book was a little fluffier than I’d hoped.  It offered basic guidelines for what is essential to establishing hygge in your home, including recipes and lighting ideas.  Still, it’s a nice concept – I definitely feel at peace when snuggling under a blanket by a fire with a snowstorm billowing outside, or reading on a rainy afternoon while drinking a hot cup of tea.

21413846June – Read a book set outside of your home country.

Wolf Winter

Cecilia Eckback

I had high hopes for this book.  The summary on Goodreads hooked me right away – a brutal murder on a creepy mountain in 18th century Lapland?  Awesome.  It was intensely atmospheric, pulling the reader right into a sense of isolation and bitter winter weather.  There were some magical realism elements that added a surreal touch.  Ultimately though, there were too many threads, and by the end it felt like the author wanted to use all of these ideas but couldn’t decide which should take precedence.  As a result, the ending felt jumbled and confused.

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The Hub – June

June was the final month for 2017 Hub Reading Challenge. I only had five books left that I wanted to read. I managed to finish three, DNF’d one, and the fifth on – Burn Baby Burn – was set aside because I had library books that were due and couldn’t be renewed. I do plan on reading it at some point in the near future.

Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why by Sady Doyle
My sister has been after to me to read this book since it came out last fall. I was surprised at how much I connected with this book. In part because of the realization that I am guilty of the negative perceptions Doyle points out. She does a good job conveying the hypercritical expectations set for women, not only by men, but by women themselves. We’re all guilty of the schadenfreude surrounding “trainwrecks”. It is so easy to look down upon women who don’t follow the stringent rules they’re expected to obey. When they step out of line, their worth and legitimacy vanishes. It is an exacting double standard. A man and woman can follow the same path, but the man will recover being seen as a survivor. The woman, however, will be forever tarnished and less than. People will glory over where she went wrong.

The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution’s Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life’s Biggest Problems by Matt Simon
A book that makes evolution interesting by focusing on some of the weird and grotesque adaptations that have allowed various species to succeed. The tone is tongue in cheek, and does not take itself seriously. The chapters are also short, so it’s an easy book to read a bit, put it down, and come back to it later. Some of the adaptations I knew about (the wasps and fungus that turn other creatures into their zombie nursemaids), but others were unknown (such as the snot-ejecting hagfish and sea cucumber-anus inhabiting pearlfish) and I am now slightly traumatized with knowledge that will never leave my brain.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
This is a hard book to read. It’s a pulls-no-punches look at rape culture, dealing with sexual assault and its aftermath. Part of what makes it a hard read is because the main character, Emma Donovan, is not a likeable character. She is vain, selfish, entitled, and jealous of her friends. She is exactly the kind of girl whom everyone would say she was “asking for it” if she were raped or assaulted, and no one would offer any sympathy. I’m glad O’Neill wrote about someone like Emma because (as written about in Trainwreck) some women are more valued than others based upon how well they toe the line of appropriate feminine behavior, as deemed by society. Even with concrete evidence of the boys’ disgusting behavior, the town still considers them the victims of a “drunk and regretful” girl. Readers watch as Emma spirals downward in her own despair, as her family becomes pariahs, even as the town rallies behind the boys. One of the hardest things for me, was how her parents, especially her father, treated Emma – before she was raped, after she spoke with the police and became and international news sensation, and after she made the decision to drop the charges. A happy ending, it is not…but it is definitely a realistic one.

DNF – Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
I cannot convey how boring and unegaging this book was. It felt like a contrived mash up of Little House on the Prairie and demons/psychotic episodes. There was absolutely no dramatic tension. Allusions to Amanda’s psychotic episode during the previous winter ended up being more annoying than intriguing. I ended up skipping around in the story to see if it got any better, but it didn’t.

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PopSugar – May

My PopSugar goal for May was to finish the first 40 tasks of the challenge. I had only two books left, so it was doable even with both books being nonfiction. Though I’ve been suffering from challenge reading burnout, it beats finishing the challenge at 11:30 pm on December 31st like last year.

I also managed to read four books from the advanced list, leaving me with four books remaining. Though I’m mostly finished, PS is going to go on the back burner for a bit because I’m itching to start reading down my Amazon list. Also because I pushed myself with challenges and am now dragging my heels for challenge books, even if they’re books I want to read.

Bum Voyage by David Greer
#18 – A reread that never fails to make me smile
Bum Voyage was one of my mother’s favorite childhood books, and she introduced it to me when I was kid. A 10-year-old boy is dragged to Europe by his mother on a multi-week, multi-country tour. It’s an interesting look at post-war Europe as it rebuilds itself. The biggest thing I clung to as a child was how hamburgers in England were essentially sausage patties in a bun, and not what Americans would consider hamburgers. And when I visited England in 1998, I confirmed this (at a regular restaurant, not a fast food chain). As a child, I absolutely adored David and how he perceived the world around him. Fast forward to the present day, and while I still find David’s view entertaining, as an adult I am now aware of how misogynistic the book was at times (keeping in mind it was written in 1960).

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
#20 – Has career advice
This book was mostly irrelevant to me because I will never be an entrepreneur, and the nature of my current job precludes regular telework. That being said, I did have some useful take away, mainly in regard to travel and mini-retirements (I love the concept of mini-retirements). I also liked his reinforcement of not letting work consume your life.

 

 

ADVANCED LIST

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
#4 – Takes place over character’s lifespan
Be warned – this is a very slow book. I recommend listening to it in an audio format that allows you to change the listening speed. 2x kept it from being too draggy. Plodding pace aside, it was a really fascinating read. I loved the concept of Harry reliving his life over and over again (he’s a kalachakra – an immortal being continually reborn). I loved how the kalachakra communicated with each other across the centuries, and how the threat of the rogue kalachakra was handled. Harry himself was a bit bland and emotionally divorced from what was going on around him, but at the same time, I can understand this could be a defense mechanism to living the same life on repeat.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
#9 – Bought at a used book sale
This was the first of the two books that fell well below my childhood expectations. The Phantom Tollbooth was one of my favorite movies as a child; the book definitely translates well to film. And while l adore nonsensical stories, I did not like this one in book format – the book spent too much time moralizing. I don’t like being moralized at when reading.

 

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
#10 – Mentioned in another book (View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman)
The second of the two books of crushed childhood expectations was this one – Wonderworks mini-series all the way! Maybe it’s because I listened to it instead of reading it (not a fan of Michael York except in the movie, The Taming of the Shrew). The inflections used when describing the interactions of the children with Aslan, felt a bit pedophilic. Those scenes themselves bothered me, but I’m coming at this from the angle of a modern mother, and not a child from the 1950’s. I could very well be reading too much into it.

 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
#12 – Based on mythology
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, and Norse Mythology doesn’t disappoint. I love how he uses words and sly asides. I love the cadence of both his writing and narration. I love how he takes Norse gods and their stories and makes them his own, while staying true to the nature of the beings. My only complaint was that the book wasn’t longer.

 

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The Hub – May

May was my burn out month for reading challenges. This wouldn’t necessarily appear to be the case because of the number of books I read, but I had a run of books that were either unimpressive or DNFs. It feels like there was a better book selection last year, or I at least had a better connection with the selection. That being said, some of the best books I’ve read so far this year were Hub books – The Truth About Forever, Along For the Ride, and The Female of the Species.

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
This book was enjoyable enough, and the concept was unique and well-thought out. My problem was with the main character. I had a hard time with her bull-headed devotion to her special snowflake status – the dream that she could be the queen even though she failed miserably at all of the requirements necessary to even be considered as a candidate. Adapt and overcome, and sure enough she becomes a dark horse. I dislike the current belief that anyone can be anything, and to see it so bluntly in this book detracted from the imagination of the spirits and how humans co-existed with them.

 

You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan
I liked this book. It was a fast read, and I liked the story, but it didn’t particularly grab me. It was lyrical, though the language was at times felt inauthentic for teens (more how adults daydreamed they would have talked when they were teens). I did like how positive and open it was for LGBT teens learning and accepting who they were.

 

 

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner
Another fast read that was a basic overview of Minamoto Yoshitsune. It didn’t really go into a lot of details, feeling like it skimmed over a lot of the violence and destruction involved with toppling a regime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
I ended up liking the Sarah Dessen books more than I expected to. They all have similarities – parents who are absent (physically or emotionally), young teenage girls who are a little bit on the outside of things, still slightly awkward with themselves, and the journey from that awkwardness into self-confidence. They felt innocent and hopeful and it made me wistful for my high school days, learning about love for the first time. Of the four books, The Truth About Forever and Along for the Ride were my favorites. I felt a connection with Macy and Auden in regard to how their families disfunctioned. Keeping the Moon was alright, but I didn’t like how Colie was told she was a shallow person for not being attracted to Norman. It felt like she talked herself into liking him because of other people’s opinions. This Lullaby was my least favorite. I liked that Remy had some edges to her, but Dexter was annoying, and I didn’t care for how the story unfolded.

In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis
Unfortunately, this book was only somewhat interesting, and only somewhat focused on what the title said the book was about. I was expecting, and hoping, for more information about the five people enslaved by four presidents, but instead of taking what we know of their lives and expanding on what we know of slavery in general from that era, he put the focus on the presidents. I would have liked to learn more about the hidden history of slavery, how it affected those who were enslaved, and the culture they created.

 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Another book I’d heard about but wasn’t on my reading radar. I’m glad it was on the Hub list because it was wonderful. Both Theodore and Violet were interesting relatively well-fleshed out characters. I liked how they connected, even if the use of Virginia Woolf was a bit pretentious. I do have several complaints with the book. Theodore’s mental illness was  glossed over to the the point I had no clue what it was. A school guidance councilor mentioned that he thought Theodore might be bipolar, but it was speculation on the part of that character. The adults in the book were awful, ranging from ambivalent to neglectful to abusive – and none of them were called out for it. Their behaviors were treated as par for the course. And finally, it felt like suicide was treated in such a way as to make it appear tragically beautiful. Which it is most definitely not.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
This is a fairly brutal tragedy of a book. It deals with some nasty topics, but at the same time is darkly funny. The humor is a good counterpoint to what happens, and keeps the story from being overwhelming. I like that the main characters, and even some of the secondary characters are complex while staying away from special snowflake-cliche end of the spectrum. I adore Alex, and even though some of her actions are outside of the law, she is still a relateable character who is aware of her flaws (and the flaws of society).

 

 

DNF – Every Sun a Star by Nicola Yoon
I like the concept of this book, but I couldn’t stand it. The writing style and instalove got on my nerves, but what kept me from making myself overlook those for the sake of an interesting story was how the immigration office was portrayed. I have first-hand experience working for the benefits side of immigration, and it is most definitely NOT like how it is written in the book. We’ll start with the fact that USCIS has absolutely nothing to do with removals/deportations. That’s all ICE. USCIS deals with benefits (green cards, becoming a citizen, etc…). It is not law enforcement. If you went to a USCIS office to talk about removal proceedings, you would be told that we can’t help you, please go talk to ICE. Also, if you’ve scheduled a walk-in appointment, you won’t know the name of the officer ahead of time. You will get whoever happens to be working the information counter on that day. The same goes for interview appointments. On top of that, an immigration officer isn’t going to give someone the name of a potentially skeezy lawyer/fixer who might be able to help a person stay in the US. Maybe it was different “back in the day”, but it was never my experience.

DNF – The Reader by Traci Chee
A book with an interesting concept, but it was just. so. freaking. boring. And highly implausible once I started to get into it – how was there no system of writing or some sort of equivalent? I had to force myself to get to page 50. Then I read the last few pages. And I realized I had no interesting in learning what happened in between.

DNF – Dryland by Sarah Jaffe
My third DNF for May was Dryland. Another book that seemed interesting, and one that would be a good fit because I lived through the flannel-wearing-teen-angst of the 90’s. But it was another boring book. I didn’t connect with Julie, and wasn’t able to push myself past around page 30.

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PopSugar – April

So…I didn’t manage to finish PopSugar in April, but I did get pretty darn close – two books left out of 40 for the regular list, and three more knocked out for the advanced list, putting me at four out of 12 completed. Most of the books I read skewed towards the side of disappointment, or at the very least a strong indifference. The only one that really hooked me (meaning that I will read it again) was Geekerella.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston
#1 – Recommended by a librarian
A librarian I know recommended this because of the mix of geekdom and fairy tales, and they work surprisingly well together. I loved how all the props from Cinderella fit into the modern world, i.e. magic pumpkin = vegan food truck. High form literature it’s not, but it is a solid beach read. I would listen to it again.

Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton
#2 – Been on my TBR list way too long
The Disney movie, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, was one of my childhood favorites. I picked up the book a while ago with the intention of reading it to see how it compared to the movie. Unfortunately, it was awful. Book and movie are two completely separate entities. The movie used the book as source material, and then created an entirely new everything. The personalities and actions of the characters, and the adventures the children went on were completely different.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
#3 – Book of letters
I first read this in college for a Christian literature course, and I enjoyed it immensely. A lot of what Lewis writes about is still so very relevant to how people live their lives today; how easy it is to twist (supposedly) good actions into evil ones. I don’t recommend reading this if you are stressed out or are mentally being pulled in multiple directions as it makes it harder to process.

All By Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark
#12 – Bestseller, not from usual genre (mystery thriller)
I have only read one other MHC book, Loves Music, Loves to Dance, and that was in middle school (bought it from a Scholastic bookclub order form – probably not a book that would be on there today). And while more than 20 years has passed since I read it, I could swear there was more going on, and that the murders and motives weren’t so transparent (need to reread to verify). All By Myself, Alone was mediocre at best. I liked it in that it was a moderately enjoyable fast read, but that’s about it. MHC pretty much gives away who the killer is before the book even gets started, and there were too many subplots with cliché characters.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker
#15 – Book with a subtitle
This book falls into my ‘declutter my mental and physical space’ kick. Becker has some solid things to share, and it fits in with other lifestyle books I’ve listened to recently, but he lost me on the toxic relationships section. I know he’s coming at minimalism from a Christian perspective, but there are some relationships that just need to be let go.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
#28 – Set during wartime
I have mixed feelings about this book, enough that I know I won’t read the sequel or any subsequent books. Bradley was too heavy-handed with pointing out the lack of education/life experience of Ada and Jamie. It also seemed like Ada was too quick to learn – you don’t go from zero experience riding horses to successfully jumping one over a hedge. On the positive side, I did like how Ada, Jamie, and Susan created a family.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
#34 – Month/day of the week in the title
I have read three books in this series, and while the first one was clever and cute, it began to wear a bit in the second book, enough so that I didn’t want to read the third. One of Our Thursdays is Missing is the sixth book in the series, and the main character is book world Thursday, and not real world Thursday. RW Thursday was entertaining, BW Thursday was not.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
#38 – Set around a non-Christmas holiday
Of the few Agatha Christie books I’ve read, Hallowe’en Party was my least favorite. The plot was interesting, but I didn’t always follow how Poirot came to the conclusions he did. I will read more AC, but I plan on sticking with her earlier works.

 

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
#40 – Book bought on a trip (ALA Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, 2014)
I picked this book up after going to a speech McGonigal gave at ALA. I don’t remember the content anymore, but I do remember being fascinated with what she said. Both my sister and I bought her book, and had her sign it. I really like the idea of incorporating gaming into our everyday lives as a way to make reality more bearable and motivating, or as ways to crowdsource tackling large issues. But as she says in the book, our attention span for any one game only lasts for so long before it becomes boring and we move on to something new. It doesn’t necessarily feasible for socially-conscious MMORPG to go attract a significant population for a length of time.

ADVANCED LIST

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
#3 – Family member term in title
I like the idea of the book – two brothers on a mission to complete a hit in the Wild West, but it fell short. There was a lack of character development, and the plot felt rambling. This is not a bad thing in and of itself, but rambling plots need strong characters, and the characters all blended together. Admittedly, I am not a fan of westerns in any format, so this may have something to do with my lack of enjoyment. (My sister thinks this also could be because I listened to the book as opposed to read it.)

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
#6 – Genre/subgenre you’ve never heard of (mannerpunk)
Even though I’ve read mannerpunk books before, I was unaware that it was its own subgenre. Lies looked interesting with the concept of pulling off heists again the wealthy in a Venice-like city, and I liked how the multiple threads and players added complexity. However, the story felt like it went on forever – and that was listening to it at 2x speed. Losing words would have tightened it up and made the story immensely more engaging.

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
#11- Difficult topic
This book was mediocre at best. I hate that I have this opinion about such a dark and complex topic, but there was no gut-wrenching emotion.  The characters were two-dimensional and boring. They showed no signs of moral ambiguity or other flaws. They were written as such that it was blindingly obvious who were the victims – all were heartstring-pulling “special” in some way. and who was the villain – basically a guy who has a major temper tantrum because people are essentially not living life the way he wants them to in relation to him. I also had issues with how character diversity was handled. Too much time was spent pointing out what made the characters different/diverse, and it made the “diverse” characters feel like caricatures.

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The Hub – April

Signs of fatigue showed up during month number three of Hub reading. Not so much from this challenge as all reading challenges in general. Because of course, I’m being forced into participating and aren’t allowed to read other books. That being said, I read a good mix of books this month, with Every Heart a Doorway being my favorite (can’t wait to read the sequels as they come out). I did not have any DNF books in April, so that was also a plus.

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
I had this book sitting on my shelf for more than a month before I sat down to read it. I knew it would be amazing (and it was), but I also knew it would be painful. It is unfathomable to me how people can be so cruel, and how we really haven’t progressed much. The graphic format makes it so much more powerful than words would alone.

 

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
This was a well-written and intriguing book, but it was not for me. I am not a fan of horror or the grotesque, and have a low threshold for both – the monsters were proper monsters. It was creepy, and at times, gory, but never gratuitously. The narrative was solid – as seen through the traumatized eyes of a young boy, who was the apprentice of the titular monstrumologist. Aspects of the plot brought up interesting philosophical questions regarding humanity and science.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
McLemore is a fantastic storyteller, with aspects of her style reminding me of Neil Gaiman. Moon was lyrical with a dreamy cadence, and a dash magical realism. The focus was more on the characters and their individual struggles as opposed to a cohesive plot, so at times it could be hard to follow exactly what was going on. However, it was a beautiful story about both self-acceptance and loving others unconditionally.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
I think I would have liked this book more if I hadn’t skipped to the ending to see what happened. What I thought would be the plot trajectory turned out to be only a subplot. And I know I would have enjoyed the book more if Faith Sunderly’s father hadn’t been such a raving, abusive asshole. His behavior put such a pall on the rest of the book, that it was hard to appreciate the clash between changing scientific views and societal struggles, and the small dip into the magical.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
I love fairy tales, and I love Alice in Wonderland, and both are mashed up in Every Heart, looking at what happens when the children who stepped through the portal or went down the rabbit hole return to the normal world. It’s weird and painful because of the crushed dreams and unlikely hopes of such children, and the lengths some of them will go to in order to regain their alternate lives.

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third
I will start with the fact that I am not the demographic this graphic novel is geared towards. If I review it based purely on my connection to it, then my response would be negative. If I review it based upon the fact that if the right child/teen read this and found a connection to lowriders and tricking out cars, then it would be a great choice. From that standpoint, it’s accessible with a subculture that isn’t often represented in books.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
I made the mistake of not writing my thoughts down when I finished Scythe,  so about all I remember is that I liked it enough that I will read the sequel when it comes out. I enjoy books that take the prevalent system in the story and then have the main character learn about and try to expose the rot and corruption of that system. Of Citra and Rowan, I prefer Rowan. He is more firmly placed in the moral gray zone than Citra, which makes him more interesting.

Emmas’ Read Harder 2017

This year, I managed to complete Read Harder in record time – early April instead of high summer. As with previous years, the prompts were diverse and interesting. Some were easy, such as task 12: Fantasy novel, and some were the bane of my book hunting, such as task 23: Poetry in translation, not about love. All in all though, the tasks promoted a good mix of books, many of which I would never have read otherwise.

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

Favorites

*The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows by Brian Castner
(task 14: About war)
My husband has been after me to read this book since it was first published, and I’m ashamed to say that it took me this long to get around to reading it. The whole book felt surreal. In part because it’s not written on a straight timeline – the narrative moves fluidly though past and present, fractured because Castner was fractured. And in part because I know some of the people mentioned in the book. My husband has worked with people mentioned in the book; he has been to some of their funerals. Castner brings a different perspective, but also reinforces, what I know of my husband’s experiences.

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

*Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown
(task 13: Nonfiction about technology)
I chose this book because it looked to be a fast read and because my sister recommended it. I’ve read another graphic nonfiction by Box Brown, and was unimpressed to say the least with both the writing and illustration style. However, my sister was right, and Tetris was an engrossing book. I ended up reading it in one session because it was fascinating – how Tetris was invented, how it made its way out of the USSR, the legal fight between competing game producers, and how Tetris finally became so ungodly popular. Be aware that the book starts with a history of Nintendo before moving on to focus on Tetris. I’m assuming this was to both set the stage for Tetris domination, and because Nintendo was the company that ended up victorious.

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

Tasks

  1. About sports: The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life by Travis Macy
  2. Debut novel: Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmbert
  3. Book about books: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
  4. Set in/author from Central/South America: Death Going Down by Maria Angelica Bosco
  5. Written by immigrant/immigration as central narrative: In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero
  6. All-ages comic: Out from Boneville (Bone #1) by Jeff Smith
  7. Published between 1900-1950: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. Travel memoir: Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
  9. Book you’ve read before: Hellhole by Gina Damico
  10. Set within 100 miles from your location: City of Light by Laruen Belfer
  11. Set more than 5000 miles from your location: A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley
  12. Fantasy novel: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey
  13. Nonfiction about technology: Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown
  14. About war: The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows by Brian Castner
  15. LGBTQ+ MG/YA author: George by Alex Gino
  16. Banned/frequently challenged in your country: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  17. Classic by author of color: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  18. Superhero comic with female lead: Ms. Marvel, Vol 4: Last Days by Willow G. Wilson
  19. Character of color goes on spiritual journey: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
  20. LGBTQ+ romance novel: The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian
  21. Micropress publication: The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr
  22. Story collection by female author: Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller
  23. Poetry in translation (not about love): View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems by Wistawa Szymborska
  24. All POV characters are people of color: The Sellout by Paul Beatty

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