Category Archives: Reading Challenges

Read Harder – March & May 2019

In 2018, I blew through Read Harder in less than one month. In 2019, I seem to be taking a leisurely stroll through it, even skipping months (like April and June). I plan on finishing RH in July as a two-week work-cation is on the horizon, and I only have four books left.

Remaining Books: Underground Girls of Kabul (#5) ; Terra Nuvilla (#8) ; Hot Art (#19) ; Cherry (#20)

Lady Susan by Jane Austen
#1 – Epistolary novel / letter collection
I love how clever and scathing Austen tends to be, but I have realized that she is not an author I can audiobook. I felt like I missed some of the nuances, and that is a bad thing, especially given how awful and salacious Lady Susan was. I definitely need to reread in print format.

 

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette
#10 – Translated book written/translated by a woman
This was an odd little book. I don’t entirely know what to make of it, but it was an uncomfortable read.  An absurdist look at an authoritarian regime, the characters dealt with the nonsensical rules and edicts while (some) tried to maintain their optimism that their cases would be heard by the government.

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh
#15 – Mythology / folklore
I know I’ve made my opinions known about short story collections, but thankfully this was one I thoroughly enjoyed, even with a few duds. I loved “Forbidden Fruit” (love between a goddess and mortal man gone wrong), “Steel Skin” (the truth isn’t always a good thing), and “The Crimson Cloak” (per Paul Harvey, “…and now you know the rest of the story.”).

big ship at the edge of the universeThe Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White
#18 – Trans/nonbinary author)
It took me several months to finish this book because the first half was frustrating (holy cow, did Nilah lack both self and situational awareness), and because it was on my Kindle, and thus easier to put aside for a library book. That being said, the second half was much better, the action ramped up, and I want to read the next book. The mash up of magic and science systems working in tandem was unique and creative, and the overarching plot was intriguing with a lot of potential.

PopSugar – May 2019

I limited myself to six books for PopSugar in May with the hope that I would focus more on the Hub (only sort of successful). My favorite May read was Skin and Earth – post-apocalypse multi-media storytelling works. All six books were from my Amazon TBR.

June Books – nothing on the docket; planning on skipping PS in June in favor of finishing up the Hub.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
#24 – Takes place during a single day
After listening to two books by Maria Semple, I need to give up on her as an author. Her style is not my style. Both Today Will Be Different and Where’d You Go, Bernadette are the same basic plots with differences in details – women having midlife crises, are unhappy in their marriages, and have whiny, precocious children. I don’t know if Semple writes the kids as whiny, or if the narrator just reads them that way. Regardless, it was very annoying.

Skin and Earth by Lights
#3 – Written by a musician
An awesomely executed multimedia story combining a comic with a soundtrack. QR codes at the beginning of each chapter linked to the corresponding music video. The story was interesting, the music was catchy, and I hope Lights writes a continuation.

 

my oxford yearMy Oxford Year by Julia Whelan
#17 – Set on a college campus
I enjoyed this story overall, though I had to suspend belief for most of it. Ella checked off enough accomplishment boxes that she didn’t feel believable, and many of the characters/subplots weren’t fleshed out. I would have liked more about her time at Oxford and Ella’s juggling of academics with her political obligations, and less somewhat saccharine love story.

Wicked Weeds: A Zombie Novel by Pedro Cabiya
#19 – Multiple POV
After finishing this book, I still don’t know how many POVs there were. 3? 4? 5? It was so damn confusing. All of the voices sounded the same, and because some of the characters’ backstories overlapped, it was hard to figure out who was narrating at any given time. While the introduction to the book offers an alternate way to read – you could either read by page order or by the “clusters” of given chapters, either method is confusing because of the lack of differentiation in the narrators. That being said, the concept was interesting. However, I would have gotten more out of it if I could figure out all of the details.

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner
#37 – Two-word title
Boy likes girl, boy pretends to be a vampire to impress girl, gets more than he bargained for. I liked the idea, but the story was surprisingly boring with some head-scratching plot points. And I really didn’t like the kids’ teacher. Or the werewolf kid.

 

mermaidThe Mermaid by Christina Henry
#38 – Based on a true story (P.T. Barnum’s Fiji mermaid)
I love Henry’s horror-ish reimaginings of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, and I was expecting a similar tone with The Mermaid. Instead, it was a straight historical fantasy. This is not a bad thing by any means, but I was looking forward to how she would twist mermaids. Getting past that disappointment, The Mermaid was the story of P.T. Barnum’s Fiji mermaid, if the mermaid was real. Both the plot and the characters were well thought out and well written.

PopSugar – March & April 2019

YALSA’s reading challenge and my drive to read down my Amazon lists have been taking over for the past several months. Consequently, I read only two books in March, and four books in April.  It was easier to combine the two months into one post. Of the books, Pride was my favorite – another good retelling of Pride & Prejudice. All six books are from my Amazon TBR; four were audiobooks.

dash of troubleLove Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
(#10 – Pop, sugar, or challenge in the title)
This was a cute book, but it’s definitely for a younger middle grade audience. Leo’s behavior was realistic, but I have children approximately the same age as her and have almost zero tolerance for the whining/it’s not fair that Leo did throughout the book. This is a me issue, and I’m sure not everyone would be bothered by it. I did like that it was about the importance of family and friendship, and owning up to your mistakes.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi
(#15 – Retelling of a classic)
Pride is another well-executed retelling of Pride & Prejudice. While there are definite overlaps, the Pride takes the basic story and owns it. The gentrification of a neighborhood in Brooklyn is the setting, and the characters have to figure out how to navigate the changing landscape as well as differences in cultures they come from.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
(#18 – Someone with a superpower)
This was a solid foray into urban fantasy, with the added bonus that the magical system was centered around Navajo legends and magical beings. The world building made me want to know more about wider ramifications of the apocalypse. My only complaints have to do with  the unresolved romantic/daddy issues. It felt like a set up for a future obnoxious love triangle.

labor of loveLabor of Love: The Invention of Dating by Moira Weigel
(#29 – Love in the title)
This is an interesting look at the history of dating, and how it has evolved as modern society has changed. From it initially being seen as a form of prostitution, to how now it’s essentially another job. This is not a dating guide, but an accessible social history.

 

dream quest vellitt boeThe Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
(Adv #6 – No chapters / unusual chapter headings)
I have never read anything by HP Lovecraft, though I have read several books/novellas that would be considered counter-HPL. Because of that, I am sure that aspects of the story went over my head. Regardless, it was interesting reading a story that takes place in one of the other worlds, from the perspective of a woman. The storytelling was dreamy and rich, and I would be all about reading another such story written by Kij Johnson.

The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
(Adv #10 – Set in an abbey / monastery / cloister)
This was interesting, but at times confusing when the perspective flipped between characters. I wasn’t always sure who was narrating. It might have been easier to discern if I hadn’t been listening to it.  It was essentially a slice of life story about four girls, all named Guinevere, set during their childhood years at a convent. It’s not a happy story, and at times the girls’ behaviors and actions were frustrating (though completely in line with their situation and their inability to exert control over their lives), but it was interesting and somewhat tragic.

Hub Challenge 2019 (plus Feb & March reads)

YALSA caught me off-guard this year with their reading challenge. I was expecting a March 1st start date like last year, but instead it began on February 12th. Sneaky, sneaky. As with previous years, there are some great books listed. Multiple books are on my Amazon TBR, such as Circe, Educated, and Damsel. And there are other books that will take me out of my comfort zone, such as Speak: The Graphic Novel and Hey Kiddo.

Because I’m getting this out so late, I’ve rolled my February reads into this post:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I love the epic-ness of Children. The world-building, rules of magic, the characters (both their growth and dynamic between them), and the storytelling were fast-paced and fascinating. I am looking forward to both the sequel and the film adaptation.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
The story itself was sweet and earnest, and I loved the dynamic between Frances and Sebastian. The climactic scene was both silly and heartwarming, and the whole thing left a nice warm fuzzy (and this is coming from a person is generally cynical).

…and also my March reads because I am now REALLY late getting this post out:

Silver Spoon, vol 1-4 by Hiromu Arakawa
I’ve come across this manga before, but never thought much of it because a city boy going to a rural ag school isn’t my cup of reading tea. That being said, I love it when I am pleasantly surprised by enjoying a story more than I thought I was going to, and Silver Spoon was definitely more engaging and earnest than I was expecting. While Yuugo’s initial motivations were less than positive, he slowly found his place (even though he slid into it sideways). Watching him figure things out ranged from sweet to silly.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
This is the second time I’ve read Akata Witch, and I was able to pick up on more of the details. I love the dynamic between Sunny and her friends, and the fact that at times they are truly tested – no safety net and the potential for death. The rules of magic and the magical society are also interesting.

#murdertrending by Gretchen McNeil
The premise of this book is what hooked me – convicted criminals are sent to an island to survive against government sanctioned executioners. However, main character, Dee, was convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, and when she arrives on the island, ends up kicking over the anthill. Overall an entertaining read, though it didn’t grab me as much as I was hoping it would.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
Illegal definitely pulled on my heartstrings. The obstacles Ebo overcomes to reunite with his brother, the journey they go on together in order to find both their older sister and a better life, the tragedy suffered (it’s a punch in the gut), and finally the reunion – it was very well-written and well-illustrated story.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown
I don’t have a lot to say about this one other than it could have been better. It felt disjointed and gave a somewhat superficial view of people’s realities in leaving/staying in Syria. It was hard to emotionally connect with some of the experiences as it felt like the readers were barely dropped in before being whisked off again.

PopSugar – February 2019

I ended up downgrading my February reading ambitions for PopSugar (my March ambitions have also been downgraded) from 8-10 books to only four. My four books were a mixed bag, ranging from absolute love (Unmarriageable) to only finished because it was for a challenge (Where’d You Go, Bernadette). Three were from my Amazon TBR; two were audio.

March Books: Labor of Love (#29) ; Blackfish City (Adv #1) ; The Guineveres (Adv #10) ; undecided (#XX)

bernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
#1 – Becoming a movie in 2019
I know this is satire, but it was incredibly grating – the narrator added negatively to this. If I wasn’t reading it for a challenge, I would have DNF’d it in a heartbeat. The entitled elite were annoying; the characters were annoying. Admittedly, there were parts later on in the book that were entertaining, but it was not worth the slog for those few bits.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
#16 – Question in the title
I agree with the description of this book being written by your funny older sister. The tone definitely pulls no punches about the reality of a high stress job (and learning how to adult at the same time), but does so humorously.  Mastromonaco is self-aware of her own flaws and strengths, and I love that she gives important life advice using her own misadventures as a building block.

josh and hazelJosh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren
#21 – Two female authors
It took a while for this book grow on me. In the beginning it felt like the focus was on how quirky and original Hazel was. I found that somewhat of a turn off, though it could be because I don’t like being around people who enjoy being a focus of attention. Ultimately, I liked the dynamic between Hazel and Josh, and I liked how the story ended.

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal
#34 – Includes a wedding
This is an extremely good retelling of Pride & Prejudice. Aspects of the story copy the original, but there are also some divergent elements (Sherry/Charlotte’s story was my favorite). Being set in Pakistan adds an additional dimension with the push and pull between tradition and modernism/feminism.

Read Harder 2019 – February

I am 2/3 of the way through Read Harder! I wasn’t planning on reading 16 books in the first two months, but it happened to work out that way (mainly because of books coming off holds and my dislike of odd numbers). With eight books remaining, I am going to force myself to only read four in March. My first (and only) non-Amazon TBR book slipped in – A Different Pond. While I have multiple books that won diversity awards on my TBR, none middle grade or picture books.

Favorite book from February? The Adventure Zone; enough so that I started listening to the podcast.

Remaining eight books: epistolary novel/letter collection – book unknown (#1) ; Underground Girls of Kabul (#5) ; Terra Nuvilla (#8) ; The Queue (#10) ; mythology/folklore – book unknown (#15) ; The Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe (#18) ; Hot Art (#19) ; Cherry (#20)

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by Clint McElry, et al
#4 – Humor
Adventure Zone was absolutely hilarious. I loved the dynamics of the characters as they bantered and played off of each other. Having the DM pop in periodically and offer his two cents was also highly entertaining – as was the apropos use of pop songs. My favorite character is a toss up between Merle and Magnus, though Taako with his culinary and sartorial elitism give them a run for their money.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
#6 – AOC, set in space
This book is essentially the worst side of the antebellum South set on a colonization ship in space. The violence and situations are uncomfortable to say the least, but the violence is not gratuitous, and it is used to show the gross inequality across the decks and the generations-long trauma it has caused. Aster is not an easy character to read. She lives by her own set of rules, values, and perceptions, but she is true to both her self and her peers.

Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
#7 – #ownvoices set in Mexico or Central America
I loved the mash up of Southwestern/Mexican and Aztec mythology with The Odyssey. I grew up with stories of La Llarona and chupacabras, and I liked the humanizing spin Garcia McCall placed on both. The highlight of the book was the dynamic between the five sisters. Their relationships with each other was realistic, and I enjoyed watching them grow as siblings and individuals.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku, Vol 1 by Fujita
#11 – Manga
Eh… Wotakoi wasn’t great. The characters felt flat with zero growth, and there wasn’t really a cohesive plot, making the story feel disjointed.

 

 

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
#14 – Cozy mystery
If a mystery could be called tepid, this would fit the bill. Half of the book was devoted to a huge infodump flashback, which while interesting, it didn’t add anything to the mystery of the Retreat. Honestly, the backstory felt like filler that was used to pad then number of pages since the main plot lacked the substance to carry the book on its own. I have zero interest in reading other books in this series.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
#17 – Business book
Elon Musk is a scarily intelligent and innovative person, who sounds like a complete boss from hell who can’t process that everyone else is nowhere near his level and never will be. That being said, I find both Musk and his ideas completely fascinating. The fact that he is actually accomplishing what he’s set out to do at a fraction of what it costs established companies and government agencies, is beyond amazing.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
#22 – Children’s/middle grade book that won a diversity award (Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Picture Book)
This is a beautiful picture book that works on multiple levels. On the surface, it is a boy spending time with his father and family. Going deeper, it is a father providing for his family, and the sacrifices both he and his wife made and continue to make in order to make ends meet.

Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon
#23 – Self-published
Rafe was Mary Sue romance, and somewhat ho-hum because of that. It was definitely a feel good story that focused on the positive and minimized the drama, and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’s a good choice. It’s a straight forward plot, though the climax of the story was less dramatic that it could have been. However, more drama wouldn’t have fit with the tone.

2018 Hub Challenge Completed!

Now that the 2019 YALSA Hub Challenge has begun, I decided that I really needed to put forth the effort to get my “challenge complete” post from 2018 up and out. I was expecting this year’s challenge to start in March, as it did last year, but discovered today that the challenge started on Tuesday, February 12th. I need to get cracking.

Going back to 2018, I read 38 books (37 during the allotted time). I didn’t read as many of the books as I had wanted to, mainly because my final semester of graduate school and putting together my portfolio got in the way. I love the wide range of genres and formats of this challenge, even if not all of them appeal to me personally. I was surprised to find how much I loved She Rides Shotgun. It is nowhere near any genre I would read on my own, and I never would have picked it up on my own. I’m looking forward to discovering the gems of 2019.

Favorites

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

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

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from a book about an 11-year girl who goes on the lam with her released convict father while he tries to find a way to protect her from a kill order. It was surprisingly gripping – I had a hard time putting the book down. The narrative flowed and was well-paced. I loved how Harper used words and cadence, and how he allowed Polly and Nate to grow. Definitely a book I will read again.

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
The magical world operates invisibly along side daily life in NYC, and it’s time for a magical competition to determine which House will be in power until the next competition. The magical world is dark and corrupt, and given that magic has been waning, they will do what needs to be done in order to retain their magic/power. Told from multiple POVs, the story focuses mostly on Sydney, the mystery of her origin, and how she uses her underdog status to upend the status quo. The pacing was a bit slow at times, but the story was very, very well-conceived.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
I almost put this book down after the boring introduction. While it was a set up, and explained aspects of the following story, removing it wouldn’t have taken anything away from the narrative. Once past that, however, and The One Hundred Nights of Hero was a dark, beautiful, and painful feminist fairy tale. The framing is similar to Arabian Nights and Scheherazade, though in this case a young woman must protect her friend/mistress from unwanted sexual advances by telling stories to her would-be assaulter. The running theme throughout was how educated and/or powerful women can be scary to men.

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo
Before I get into the actual fairy tales, I loved the illustrations and how they grew and flowed with each story. Seeing how they changed page by page was almost as fun as reading the stories themselves. As for the stories, they were clever, dark, and lush with sharp edges (they way a fairy tale should be). It’s hard to pick favorites, but “Amaya and the Thorn Wood” and “The Witch of Duva” were the two that stood out the most.

Books Read

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1 by Gengoroh Tagame
The Backstagers, Volume 1 by James Tynion IV
Black Hammer, Volume 1 by Jeff Lemire
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson
Jonesy, Volume 1 by Sam Humphries
Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green
Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
Scooby Apocalypse, Volume 1 by Keith Giffen
Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander
Roughneck by Jeff Lemire
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
#Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackkenzi Lee
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
Sandwiches!: More Than You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Making and Eating America’s Favorite Food by Alison Deering
I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina
Spill Zone by Scott Westerfield
Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing
Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy
The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Martin W. Sandler
A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival by Melissa Fleming
Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Dreadnought by April Daniels
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali