Category Archives: Reading Challenges

PopSugar – January

Even though my focus in January was Read Harder, I still managed a decent showing for PopSugar. Both the books themselves and my thoughts on them crossed the spectrum, though I did lean towards sci-fi and fantasy.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
#1 – Made into a movie you’ve already seen
I saw Coraline the movie years ago, and remember it being incredibly weird and like a scary fun house. The eye buttons were the creepiest part of it, and are the first things that come to mind when I think of Coraline. It is a fairy tale with all the dark bits left in. I like that Gaiman doesn’t condescend to children when he writes, and acknowledges that children accept the macabre (and often live in it as well).

Trouble with Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones
#3 – Next book in a series you’ve already started
Charlie is in full Charlie mode throughout this book. I found myself snorting multiple times because of her snarky humor. And STUFF HAPPENED! Unlike some of the previous books in this series, Twelfth Grave, moved the overarching plot forward instead of getting bogged down with weak novel-length plot lines. I like those smaller plots, but not when they feel half-assed. The ending didn’t happen quite the way I was expecting it to, but it was still a good foundation for the final book.

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
#4 – Involving a heist
Even though this is a fictionalized account of the first train robbery in Great Britain, there is a lot of infodumped history included, with the narrative weaving between the two. It works in this case, helped along by the fact that is reads (or listens) like a deadpan British nature documentary. I enjoyed the story much more than one would expect given the various elements of fiction, infodumps, and deadpan delivery. I would listen to it again.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
#9 – About a villain/anti-hero
I absolutely loved The Cruel Prince. Black’s writing was on point and her world-/magical rule-building was amazing. The story was a good mix of adventure, tension, and nastiness. Black’s darker, and quite frankly more realistic (as such) characterizations of fairies was a joy to read – there is always a consequence or loophole or interesting interpretation when humans make deals with immortals.  The story gets you from the opening scene and steadily ramps up from there, kicking into high gear during the coronation scene. The characters are also well-written – not a single good or bad guy; all of them are vaguely unlikable shades of gray. I cannot wait until the next book comes out. I recommend reading this as opposed to listening to it. The narrator wasn’t bad by any means, but given the tone of this book, I’d rather read the words and hear them in my head.

Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin
#10 – About death
I attempted to read this book several years ago, but failed to finish because it didn’t hold my attention. As it works for a PS category, I decided to give it another go, this time on audio. I liked the idea of a world where everyone knows the date of their death, though not the reason or cause. It had potential to be interesting, especially given the ending. However, the characters and plot were bland and uninteresting. The only two things that kept me listening were the fact that it would fulfill a challenge requirement and that I wanted to know why Denton and company were turning purple. Things I did like: Paolo (my favorite character), and that Denton made an effort to tell his classmates at least one positive thing about themselves.

Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks
#11 – Favorite color in title
Lotus Blue got off to a bit of a rocky start, mainly because Sparks kept switching between eight-ish points of view. The only good thing was that even as POVs switched, the plot kept moving forward and each POV brought something to the table. The story would be tighter if some of the bit player POVs were done away with. The dynamics of characters and their world were fascinating, and I loved the idea of semi-sentient technology. I hope Sparks writes a sequel because I want to learn more about this world and its history, and the other Lotus generals.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
#12 – Alliteration in the title
This was quick read. I liked the story, and there were no major character flaws in either the hero or heroine (this can be hit or miss in with romances). As a whole, the story was fairly breezy with no real conflict or drama, only minor blips on the road to the main characters’ acknowledging their love for each other.

Sandstorm by James Rollins
#14 – Weather element in the title
I ended up enjoying Sandstorm more than I thought I would. It is not a genre I read at all – I think the closest thing was The Da Vinci Code when it came out in 2003. Sandstorm was a fairly straight forward adventure/espionage story with enough magic to make the plot work. I was somewhat surprised by the inclusion of magic because it didn’t seem to fit with the basic elements of adventure/espionage stories that use (slightly beyond) cutting edge technology. But I guess if the characters are tracking ancient relics and secrets, some suspension of reality is required to make it work.

The Lifeboat Clique by Kathy Parks
#15 – Set at sea
The best reaction I can come up with is “eh”. The Lifeboat Clique was marginal at best. The tone of the writing felt judgemental and not tongue in cheek. Consequently, I did not particularly care for Denver, the main character, as it was written from her perspective. All of the characters felt stereotyped/clichéd, and I didn’t like any of them. Abigail’s accent was overly affected and annoying, and I don’t think I have ever heard any of the Texans I know use the slang she employed. Plot-wise, I would have liked more of it to have been spent on the teens’ survival and less on the drama-filled backstory between Denver and Abigail. I could have also done without the moralizing at the end. The closing pages of the book started pushing it into hackneyed territory.

Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean by Morton Strøksnes
#16 – An animal in the title
Shark Drunk is not a cohesive narrative, but rather multiple threads of related anecdotes, social and physical history, and science centered around the author’s attempt to catch a Greenland shark. I’ve read many books where this style of writing fails miserably, but in this case, it works well. The threads play off of each other and make sense within the context. All of this is done with a toned down Bill Bryson-eseque sense of humor.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
#20 – Characters who are twins
This book was a chore to get through. It was not a fandom book as the title suggests. It would have been better if it had been billed a coming of age story/grappling with mental illness, using fandom as a tool to help Cath overcome and/or accept. I didn’t mind the Simon Snow interludes, but they didn’t necessarily mesh with the main narrative of Cath trying to overcome her social anxiety. If the interludes had mirrored or shed some insight into Cath and her situation, they would have been more relevant and less of a distraction. I also didn’t like that Cath’s social anxiety and ineptitude was blamed on her fangirlness, when it really stemmed from issues with her mother’s abandonment and her father’s mental illness. Rowell gave only superficial lip service to this, and in doing so did both the story and the characters a huge disservice.

The Time Traders by Andre Norton
#21 – Female author / male pseudonym
Espionage, time travel, and aliens. I didn’t have high expectations because of some of the reviews, but was pleasantly surprised to find the story was interesting. It’s not without its flaws for sure – the plot was a bit messy, acting as a set up for the sequels. I don’t have any interest in reading the sequels because they are about the aliens and less about the time travel. It’s almost like the history and time travel in The Time Traders was a one-off. Norton isn’t an author I would seek out again unless one of her books fit into a reading challenge requirement.

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
#22 – LGBTQ+ protagonist
I was somewhat confused at the beginning of this book because it felt like too much world building and character introduction was going on with not enough context. This went on periodically throughout the novel where something would happen, and I had absolutely no clue how we got there. There was a lot of good stuff in Amberlough, but it didn’t come together as well as it could have. I didn’t really care about the characters because we never really learn anything about them. I know I’ve yet to say anything really positive, but even with the hot mess this novel kind of was, once I figured out what was going on, I found it interesting and enjoyed the use of language.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
#31 – Mentioned in another book (A Brave New World)
The Tempest is not one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare. The story was too short, weak and somewhat muddled, and at times a bit confusing. I’m sure part of this was because I audiobooked it, and there wasn’t an easy way to determine when a scene/characters had shifted.

 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
#33 – Childhood classic you’ve never read
I grew up watching the Megan Follows television version of Anne of Green Gables, and absolutely loved it; watching whenever it aired on PBS.  However, I never had an interest in reading the books, especially when I read descriptions of later books and found they didn’t focus on Anne and seemed to have extraneous characters (bear in mind I was a child). As with the show, I loved the audiobook, and Rachel McAdams did a good job as narrator. There were definitely some differences between show and book, and as a parent, there were times that Anne drove me bonkers, but I still love the magic of it.

Beneath a Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
#34 – Published in 2018
Of the three Wayward Children books, Beneath a Sugar Sky is the weakest. I still enjoyed McGuire’s writing style, her world building, and her descriptions, but the plot suffered from the question of who was the main character? Cora or Rini? The story opened with Cora, but she felt like she was only a vehicle for Rini’s appearance and Rini’s quest. It would have been better if either Cora didn’t exist and the focus was solely on Rini and her quest, or if Rini didn’t exist, and the story focused on Cora, her self-acceptance, and her desire to return to her portal world.

Emma’s Read Harder (The Rest of It)

I managed to finish Read Harder before my semester started! Three comic books and 11 audiobooks were a large part of why that was possible.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
#1 – Published posthumously
Even though this novel was published posthumously, it is very much a first novel. I can see what Austen is trying to accomplish satirically, but her writing style is still in development. This is my least favorite Austen story by far. Catherine was obtuse, silly, and annoying with her “everything is a gothic novel” goggles. While I know her growth from that fantasy world into reality is the point of the story, it is a somewhat tedious journey for the reader.

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 in a nonfiction book). 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 unpredictability and volatility of his 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 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.

Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies
#5 – Set in a BRICS country (India)
The story started out well – I loved the descriptions of India – however, as it progressed, Eliza became more annoying. While I am aware that romances require some amount of suspension of belief, I have a hard time doing that when the romance in question goes unquestionably against the societal norms of the time. A relationship between British widow and an Indian crown prince is not out of the realm of possibility, but it becomes so once marriage makes its way to the table.  Eliza turned into a pouty child when the reality of Jay becoming the Raj happened, even though she was fully aware of the political implications and complications of their relationship, i.e. he couldn’t marry her or there was a good chance the British could find away to take his power away from him.

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 their 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 and build experiments from those observations. Are We Smart Enough… was definitely eye-opening, creating good starting points for thinking about what constitutes intelligence.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl
#9 – (Post)colonial literature
I had a hard time finishing this book, and if it wasn’t for a challenge, would have DNF’d it. The concept was ambitious with a huge amount of potential, but the execution of the story lacked cohesion. Each chapter represented a jump in time (ultimately covering approximately 30 years), focusing on a different character. The problem with this format was that there was a lot of information skipped over that was somewhat important to the flow of the narrative. I found myself confused because significant life events and the why behind changes in character dynamics were ignored. For a novel about the evils of colonialism, this kept everything at a superficial level, which is bad. Either the scope of the novel should have been whittled down, focusing on a smaller time frame or fewer characters, or the novel should have been significantly increased in length, allowing for depth and development of characters and events.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
#13 – Oprah book club selection
Daughter of Fortune is a slow book, meandering through the plot. This style of book is hit or miss, but it works in this case. Even though it was a book I could put down, I was still absorbed in it when I was reading because of how Allende uses and molds words. I liked the different characters’ stories, and even though it broke up the overall narrative, each story related to either the plot or the characters’ relationships with each other.

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

Super Extra Grande by Yoss
#19 – Genre fiction in translation
I bought this book for my husband several years ago when he was in a “reading translated science fiction” stage. He enjoyed the differences in perspective and writing style. I agree that there is a difference, and it was refreshing. The technological advancements in SEG were imperfect. Meaning, humans and several other alien civilizations had the ability to travel via wormhole, but didn’t necessarily have any other super-fancy technology that one would expect (like overcoming disease). In addition to the main story, there was a fair amount of digressions that related to the main character’s life, the functioning of his universe, or about other alien species. I also liked the social and political commentary that slipped in along with the story, such as comments on humans achieving interstellar space travel before we solved our political/racial issues and how that put humans at a disadvantage in the greater scheme of the universe.

Such Small Hands by Andres Barba
#20 – Book with a cover you hate (British cover)
This was a creepy book. The tone and flow of the words made the story feel surreal and detached. It was not an orphanage horror story, but instead was about a young girl’s need for love after the loss of her parents. Neither she nor the girls at the orphanage know how to deal with their unexpressed emotions. Barba did an amazing job capturing the girls’ contradictory behaviors. There are no wasted words, and even though the book is short, it is complete.

Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite TV Show edited by Glenn Yeffeth
#22 – Essay anthology
I watched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie when it first came out, but have only seen a handful of episodes (none of them in their entirety). I was never on the Buffy train because at that time in my life, I wasn’t really watching tv. However, I have recently had a desire to rewatch the movie and then give the tv show a go. After reading Seven Seasons of Buffy, I will definitely get the first season from the library – after this semester is finished, of course. It was interesting to see how varied the authors’ perceptions were of Buffy’s characters and their relationship dynamics. There were many different interpretations of story arcs, characters, and the Buffy world as a whole.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
#23 – Female main character over age 60
I liked the story, but it’s definitely not as good as And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express. The plot felt somewhat weak and predictable, and there were no really good red herrings. I also had issue with the narrator pronouncing Lettice (leh-TEESE) as “lettuce”.

 

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
#24 – Assigned book you hated/never finished
I read this play for an English 101 class when I was 19, and I absolutely loathed it. I was completely disgusted by Willy Loman’s selfishness. Fast forward 18 years, and I still loathe this play. Loman is a repugnant braggart and adulterer. He has emotionally beat down his wife, tacitly encouraged his sons to steal and blow off their education, and turned his head away when he was told of teenage Biff’s treatment of girls and women. Actually, Willy, Happy, and Biff are all guilty of treating women like objects. If anything, Death of a Salesman encapsulates the entitlement middle class white men believe is their right. Loman lives in his own version of reality, won’t take personal responsibility for his actions and decisions, and is incapable of listening to anything he deems a criticism of himself or is contradictory to how he perceives himself. I have absolutely zero sympathy for his situation and his inability to achieve the American Dream.

 

Sophia’s Book Riot Read Harder 2018 – Halfway!

My reading momentum this year has been intense (for me at least) – I’m up 30 books already, and 12 of those make up the first half of my Read Harder challenge.  There doesn’t seem to be any threat of it waning anytime soon either, which has me tentatively aiming to finish Read Harder completely before spring.

It took me awhile to warm up to this batch of challenge tasks, but once I started researching titles to fulfill them, my level of anticipation rose exponentially.  Come New Years Eve, I was chomping at the bit and woke up early on January 1st to read my first two books of the year.  And so far, most of the books have been good or great, with a couple of pleasant surprises as well.  Here are my top three:

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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll – this graphic novel collects five original stories seemingly inspired by classic folktales, with shades of Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, and even a little Lovecraft.  I’ve thought about this book many times since I first read it and will probably purchase it at some point.  It’s eerie, creepy, and fun, and the illustrations suit and set the mood perfectly.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – I chose this for the classic genre fiction task, and my hopes weren’t high.  Not that I expected it to be terrible, but sometimes older fiction gets bogged down in the style of the time.  I was more excited about the fact that the audiobook  was narrated by Alfred Molina than I was about the book itself, even knowing it established most of the tropes that define pirates in the pop culture consciousness.  Well shiver me timbers, I freaking LOVED it.  It was exciting and gripping and totally entertaining.  Alfred Molina was excellent as well, clearly having fun with accents and dialects.  This is one I will read again.

True Grit by Charles Portis – This book was another welcome surprise.  I haven’t read many westerns, mainly due to a lack of interest (so I guess that makes this a great challenge task for me…).  I picked True Grit after enjoying the recent movie remake with Hailee Steinfeld, and I was sucked in completely from the first page.  Mattie Ross is one of the strongest voices I’ve ever read in fiction – she’s confident and sure and brooks no nonsense from anyone.  The story was engaging and suspenseful, but she’s the most impressive part of the book.

Completed Tasks:

1) A book published posthumously – Ariel, Sylvia Plath
3) A classic of genre fiction – Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
4) A comic written and illustrated by the same person – Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
7) A western – True Grit, Charles Portis
8) A comic written or illustrated by a person of color – Black Panther: World of Wakanda, Roxane Gay et. al
9) A book of colonial/postcolonial literature – Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
10) A romance novel by or about a person of color – Destiny’s Captive, Beverly Jenkins
11) A children’s classic published before 1980 – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
15) A one-sitting book – Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
18) A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image – Lumberjanes, Vol. 7: A Bird’s Eye View, Shannon Watters
19) A book of genre fiction in translation – Penance, Kanae Minato
24) An assigned book you hated – A Separate Peace, John Knowles

Sophia’s 2015 Reading Challenge Redux

January 2018 marks the beginning of my fourth year doing reading challenges!  When my sister first brought these nifty lists to my attention I was immediately hooked, and they really have helped me expand my reading interests.  I’ve discovered some fantastic books along the way.  That being said….I never actually finished all of my challenges in 2015.  By the end of that first year, I had one book left in Book Riot’s Read Harder and ten books left in PopSugar.

First, I said I wouldn’t start my 2016 challenges until I finished the ones from 2015.  NOPE.  The siren call of new books and new spreadsheets was too strong.

Then, I said I would finish the 2015 challenges before the end of 2016 – which was almost successful: I managed to read 9 of the 10 books leftover from PopSugar, leaving that final book and the one from Read Harder.

Finally, in 2017, I wrapped up that year’s Read Harder in July and Popsugar in October.  With that done, it was time to defeat these last two hangers-on, these ink and paper albatrosses that had been weighing me down for almost three years.

Reader, I finished them.

Actual footage of me when I closed that last book for the last time:

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Without further ado, here they are:

Read Harder 2015 Task 9: A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture.

18339647The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden – This book was beautiful and brutal.  And I mean brutal.  I wasn’t able to read through this novel without stopping frequently and walking away.  It’s full of strong but conflicting emotion, as the story is told through the point of view of a captured young Iroquois girl, resentful of the loss of her family; her captor, Bird, a powerful Huron warrior concerned about the white European newcomers; and Christophe, a French missionary traveling with Bird and struggling to bring his god to an alien people.  Boyden’s elegant prose brings 17th century North America to life with a stark, violent intensity.

PopSugar 2015 Task 21: A book your mom loves.

121534Storm, by George R. Stewart – This book was a straight up challenge.  It was quaint but somehow ruthless at the same time.  Dated and a bit boring, but occasionally fascinating and horrifying.  I didn’t particularly care for it by the time it was done, and it took me weeks of slogging and whingeing to actually finish it.  But, I can appreciate why it’s beloved by many – the various vignettes depicting the effects of the massive storm system, the description of how meteorology was actually done before fancy electronic instruments, and the fact that it originated the idea of naming significant storms.  I respect it, but I don’t like it.

And finally, here is the second half of my 2015 PopSugar task list (books read in 2016 in blue):

2) A classic romance: Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare
8) A funny book: Harrison Squared, Daryl Gregory
16) A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet: Beauty, Robin McKinley
18) A Pulitzer Prize winner: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
21) A book your mom loves: Storm, George R. Stewart
22) A book that scares you: Locke & Key Vol. 1-6, Joe Hill
24) A book based on its cover: Uprooted, Naomi Novik
25) A book you didn’t read in school: Night, Elie Wiesel
26) A memoir: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Felicia Day
29) A book set somewhere you want to visit: The Carnival at Bray, Jessie Ann Foley
30) A book from the year you were born: Fried Green Tomatoes, Fannie Flagg
31) A book with bad reviews: Armada, Ernest Cline
34) A book with a love triangle: Re Jane, Patricia Park
37) A book with a color in the title: Black River, Josh Simmons
39) A book with magic: The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins
42) A book you own but have never read: The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World, Brian Allen Carr
43) A book that takes place in your hometown: First Grave on the Right, Darynda Jones
44) A book written in a different language: Blood on Snow, Jo Nesbo
45) A book set during Christmas: Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
46) A book by an author with your initials: At the Water’s Edge, Sara Gruen
47) A play: Macbeth, William Shakespeare
48) A banned book: Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
49) A book based on or turned into a TV show: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1), Jennifer Graham
50) A book you started but never finished: Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear

Emma’s Read Harder Halfway Point

What started out as a post for my January Read Harder books changed as my reading goal quickly escalated to an attempt to complete the entire challenge before my semester starts on January 29th. At that point, any reading not related to my classes will most likely be confined audiobooks listened to during my commute and household chores.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#3 – Genre fiction classic
This is the second audiobook I’ve listened to narrated by Michael York, and I’ve realized that I don’t like his narration style. He is too whiny with some of his interpretations.  I’ve also realized that I am incredibly cynical and jaded in that I found John the Savage to be annoying and overly self-righteous. I had very little sympathy for him given how judgemental he was towards Lenina. Other than those annoyances, the book is good – remembering that it was written in 1931, and many of the technologies/ideas discussed didn’t exist or were in their infancy. There are definite parallels to our modern world: drugs/soma to get rid of unwanted emotions, and the blatant push towards consumerism.

Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh’s Fortune by Sean O’Neill
#4 – Comic written and illustrated by the same person
I had trouble with this comic’s use randomly bolded words. It made it hard to read book, and it took me until a third of the way through to stop seeing them. It really ruined the flow of the story given that so many words were unnecessarily emphasized. Rocket as a character was somewhat annoying, but that’s my personal thing rather than a flaw on how he was written. I did like the adventure of the story though. It reminded me of Tintin.

River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey
#7 – Western
Because both novellas are being rolled into one book, American Hippo, I decided to read both of them for this task. I will get my largest complaint out of the way first – there weren’t enough hippos, or at least, not enough feral hippos. Both novellas felt like unfinished parts of a whole. There were the seeds of an awesome novel, but it didn’t feel fleshed out. I would have liked more page time for the overall evil machinator, which would have tied the two halves together. I liked the characters, but didn’t really get to know any of them. Basically, this is a solid draft of what could be a kick-ass novel if it were ramped up and expanded a bit.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
#8 – Comic written or illustrated by person of color
I really liked the concept of the magical shawl and Pri having to deal with some serious life changes. However, it didn’t feel like there was a cohesive narrative. Pri was dealing with jealous of over her uncle and aunt’s baby, her mom’s unwillingness to talk about either India or Pri’s father, and the magical shawl she found in a suitcase. While there was some unity through the shawl, it didn’t feel like various elements really got resolved. When I finished, I was still questioning how Pri got over her jealousy, or how her mom’s sister handled the shawls visions of her daughter/husband. It felt like the narrative flitted from one topic to the next without there being something at the end of the story that tied it all together. There was a sort ending with the shawl being shown to help another woman, but no real closure for Pri.

Destiny’s Captive by Beverly Jenkins
#10 – Romance novel written by/about person of color
Even if you are not partial to romance novels, Destiny’s Captive was a fun book, and it lacks in-depth sex scenes, noted because that can be a deterrent to some readers. It had great opening, and the back-and-forth early dynamic between Noah and Pilar was entertaining. I liked that Pilar was a strong character without the stupid decisions/misunderstandings female leads have a tendency to make in romance novels. My only complaint was that at times it felt like things were too rosy – Pilar’s quick acceptance of her marriage to Noah, and Pilar’s acceptance into the Yates clan.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
#11 – Children’s classic published before 1980
I grew up watching Bond movies, and have read Casino Royale, but never did I realize that Ian Fleming had written a children’s book. I have never seen the movie, so I didn’t have to worry about disappointment that comes from reading the book a favored childhood movie is based upon (cough, cough Bedknob and Broomstick). The story was fun and straight forward, and I liked that it was an adventure with only enough magic to give Chitty Chitty Bang Bang her abilities.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
#12 – Celebrity memoir
I liked this book, but it was only alright. It felt like a good chunk of it focused on Fisher’s affair with Harrison Ford on the set of Star Wars, and all of the included diary entries related to this. As articulate as 19-year old Carrie Fisher was, it would have been nice had other non-Ford excerpts  been included. I also would have liked to have heard more of her thoughts overall on both filming Star Wars and its subsequent popularity. The one thing I really didn’t care for were the dialogues/monologues of when she met with fans for autographs, etc… they were annoying and didn’t seem to bring anything to the memoir.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
#15 – One-sitting book
Binti was an intelligent, creative, and grounded character; one of better female leads I’ve read in a while. I enjoyed the world building, and liked that cultural perspective was not from a mainstream white Western world perspective. My two complaints were 1) the resolution with the university and Meduse felt simplistic and anticlimactic given how the Meduse were introduced in the story, and 2) the story was too short. I would have loved to see the novella fleshed out into a full length novel. There was so much more detail that could have gone into her dynamic with the Meduse and her experience at the university.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
#16 – First book in new to you MG/YA series
Three Times Lucky was an alright book. I liked the overall mystery, but the characters felt undeveloped and Mo was excessively precocious. I like independent girls, but not when it feels unrealistic for the age of the character. My oldest is 11, and I couldn’t see her behaving or talking in way similar to Mo’s.

Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
#17 – Female sci-fi author with female main character
Fortune’s Pawn is sci-fi with some romance novel thrown in. I did like Devi. she was a strong no-nonsense woman who didn’t seem to make the lame mistakes female leads are wont to do. I wasn’t too sure of what the overall/behind the scenes plot was beyond Devi wanting to survive her year onboard the Glorious Fool in order to join an elite military group. Hints of a large conspiracy are dropped, but never really explained, and I found it somewhat confusing. It also made the novel feel like a set up instead of a complete story. There’s nothing wrong with that, but each book within a series should still have a resolved subplot even if there is a multi-book arc.

Ares & Aphrodite: Love Wars by Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens (Oni Press)
#18 – Comic not published by DC/Marvel/Image
This one volume story about a wager between a divorce lawyer (Ares) and a wedding planner (Aphrodite) ended up being cuter than I was expecting. Admittedly, my bar was set low when I realized that it wasn’t, in fact, about Greek gods/goddesses, but that was my own fault for not reading past the title when I heard about it. It was a “lover conquers all” story that wasn’t overly saccharine. It didn’t really go into depth with anything, feeling more like a snapshot than a full story.

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
#21 – Mystery by person of color/LGBTQ author
As a general rule, non-magical mysteries are not books I read on a regular basis, but my sister recommended this book to me. It was a fast-paced, well-written, convoluted story that held my attention. Michael Boatman was a great narrator, creating distinctive voices between the characters.

Reading Challenges of 2018

Another year, another round of reading challenges! Serious reading happened last year, and more of the same will happen this year. I have challenges to complete and TBRs to clear. I’m sure I will hit burn out before June because I will be taking the final two classes needed for my graduate degree during the spring semester. I should probably only take one class, but I really, really want to be done with it.

Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge
I have completed this challenge every year it’s been offered and have always managed to find categories completely out of my comfort zone and new books to fall in love with. Admittedly, when I first saw the list for 2018 I was a bit underwhelmed because very few of the categories felt like a stretch, but after spending time trying to find books, I warmed up to it. As with previous years, there are several categories that are a bit tricky, specifically #2 – True crime, #9 – Colonial/post-colonial, #13 – Oprah book club, and #20 – Book with a cover you hate. I really hope that reading challenges will slow down on using Oprah as a category because I’m starting to run out of books on her list I find remotely interesting. I also have an issue with “a cover you hate” because it is just so subjective.

To counteract my complaining, there are categories I am excited to read: all three comics categories (#4, #8, and #18), #3 – Genre fiction classic, #16 – first book in new to you MG/YA series, and #17 – Sci-fi with female author and protagonist.

As for reading companions, my husband has no interest in participating. Paraphrasing, he does not want to be told what to read. Sophia will be participating, but will be doing her own thing in regard to blog posts, most likely posting only when she gets to the halfway mark and then when she completes it.

PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge
Last year, I completed 55 of 56 challenges. It will most likely be the same this year given how much time I spend inside my house (advanced list, #3 – Being read by a stranger in a public place). As with last year, some of the categories are going to be tough to find books for, either because it is a genre I have no interest in (#2 – True crime, #5 – Nordic noir, #23 – Also a stage play/musical, and #38 – Ugly cover) or because the topic is somewhat obscure (advanced list, #4 – Tied to your ancestry and #6 – Allegory).

I am not planning on rushing PopSugar, and will try not to get mentally tied into completing it within a certain time frame. I will pick at it until I am finished with my degree, and then I’ll knock it out.

YALSA’s The Hub Reading Challenge
This will be my third year participating, and I am impatiently waiting for the list to come out (probably late January/early February). I would like to read between 25-35 books, as I have in previous years, but my final tally depends on what books are on the list. It was hit or miss last year in regard to books I had an interest in reading. I do like that this challenge pushes me beyond what I normally read in YA, and I have found hidden gems, but as with any challenge that pushes the comfort zone boundary some reads are rougher than others.

Emma’s Amazon TBR Challenge
I still have over 1000 books on my Amazon TBR list, but I did manage to make a small dent in it in 2017 – 127 books to be exact. I am hoping to get at least that number read this year. I didn’t add too many books to my list because I stopped reading my normal blogs and websites.

Emma’s PopSugar 2017

I managed to finish the PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge faster than I did in 2016. Instead of waiting until after 11pm on December 31st to finish my final book (Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers), I finished my final book in September (The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern). I read all but four books in the first five months of the year, picking at the remainder because reading challenge burnout.

2017 was another year of expanded horizons, though I don’t feel as if I expanded them as much this year as last year because many of the books fell into my comfort zone. That being said, there were still categories that caused anxiety, such as bestseller, not from your usual genre, has career advice, and 800+ pages. Those ones were particularly hard because 1.) many bestsellers are written by authors I have no interest in reading, 2.) I don’t really need career advice because I am exactly where I want to be professionally, and 3.) I didn’t have the mental patience to read an 800 page book that wasn’t Outlander, and I didn’t want to do a reread. I debated reading Sarum (read when I was around 13 years old), but by that point in the year, I was burned out and didn’t want an in-depth book to keep track of.

Favorites

Kindred by Octavia Butler
(task #5 – Person of color author)
I loved Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood trilogy, so I thought I would give another one of her books a try. Time travel is one of my preferred genres, and the concept of Kindred seemed interesting – a modern African American woman traveling back to antebellum Maryland multiple times for the purpose of keeping her white, slaveholding ancestor alive. Dana’s journeys were always a mix fascinating and horrifying. She had to learn to navigate the reality of being a slave while attempting to keep herself psychologically separate from it. Almost 11 months have passed since I read Kindred, and it is still with me. I plan on reading it again, and have been trying to get my husband to read it.

Awaken Online: Catharsis by Travis Bagwell
(task #10 – Cat on the cover)
This is the best book I’ve read in the RPG sub-genre. It takes the concept and twists it a bit, placing the main character, Jason, as the villain of the newly launched MMORPG, Awaken Online. He has to grapple with what real life has thrown at him, and with his growing realization that he has been cast as the villain online by the AI that runs the game. Both Jason and his adversaries exist in a gray zone, which adds to the interest level when aspects of  real life and online life collide. I’ve since listened to the sequel, which was almost as good as Catharsis.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
(task #19 – About food)
The basic premise of this book: private chef is kidnapped by pirate and forced to serve her an elegant dinner every Sunday. Food played a central roll, of course, and Owen, the chef, must get creative in coming up with a worthy meal while at sea on a minimally equipped pirate ship. However, my favorite aspect was watching Owen grow as a character. He started out with a very rigid and narrow worldview, but even with the brutality he saw and dealt with, he ended up accepting and embracing the fact that nothing is strictly black and white. People who might seem good on the surface are really cruel, and vice versa. It turned out to be a really lovely book.

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

Honorable Mentions:  My Holiday in North Korea, The Bees, Slaughterhouse Five, Norse Mythology, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Hotel Ruby, Pines

Completed Tasks

1. Library recommendation – Geekerella by Ashley Poston
2. Been on my TBR list way too long – Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton
3. Book of letters – The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
4. Audiobook – Pines by Blake Crouch
5) Person of color author – Kindred by Octavia Butler
6. One of four seasons in title – Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
7.) Story within a story – The Marvels by Brian Selznick
8.) Multiple authors – My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
9.) Espionage thriller – Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
10.) Cat on the cover – Awaken Online: Catharsis by Travis Bagwell
11.) Author uses a pseudonym – Feed by Mira Grant
12.) Bestseller, not from usual genre – All By Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark
13.) Author/main character has disability – El Deafo by Cece Bell
14.) Involving travel – My Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E. Simmons
15.) Book with a subtitle – The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker
16.) Published in 2017 – Eleventh Grave in Moonlight by Darynda Jones
17.) Involving mythical creature – Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
18.) Reread never fails to make me smile – Bum Voyage by David Greer
19.) About food – Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
20.) Has career advice – The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss
21.) Book from nonhuman perspective – The Bees by Laline Paull
22.) Steampunk – The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr
23.) Has a red spine – Fatherland: A Family History by Nina Bunjavec
24.) Set in the wilderness – The Revenant by Michael Punke
25.) Loved as a child – Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
26.) Author from a country you’ve never visited – Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff
27.) Title as character’s name – Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
28.) Set during wartime – The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
29.) Unreliable narrator – Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
30.) Book with pictures – The Singing Bones by Shawn Tan
31.) Main character different ethnicity than me – Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
32.) About an interesting woman – Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Janet Wallach
33.) Set in two different time periods – Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
34.) Month/day of week in title – One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
35.) Set in a hotel – Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young (also known as Hotel for the Lost)
36.) Written by someone I admire – Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
37.) Becoming a movie in 2017 – Ten by Gretchen McNeil
38.) Set around non-Christmas holiday – Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
39.) First book in new to you series – Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
40.) Book bought on a trip – Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal

Completed Tasks (Advanced)

1.) Book recommendation by loved author – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
2.) 2016 bestseller – Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill
3.) Family member term in title – The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
4.) Takes place over character’s life span – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
5.) About immigrant/refugee – The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
6.) Genre/sub-genre you’ve never heard of – The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
7.) Eccentric character – Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace
8.) 800+ pages – Winter by Marissa Meyer
9.) Bought at used book sale – The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
10.) Book mentioned in another book – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
11.) About a difficult topic – This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
12.) Based on mythology – Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman