December Books

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

Audiobooks (12)

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

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

Novels (5) / Novellas (3)

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pope-joan date-night princess-saves-herself why-women-should

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

Read Alouds (2)

bunnicula clementine

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

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Sophia’s Read Harder 2016 – Complete!

Success!  I missed finishing Read Harder 2015 by just one book last year (which I still haven’t read…) and I was worried that would happen again this year.  The final book was a hefty non-fiction tome I started at the end of August – a great book, though dense and not really binge-able.  BUT I got it done.

I’ve already discussed what are arguably my three favorite reads from this challenge elsewhere on the blog, so I’ll list them here with links to the original posts:

  1.  A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
  2. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
  3. Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Among the other fantastic books from 2016:

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Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly – This one was an unexpected delight.  Recommended by one of my librarian friends, this fun YA novel features whip-smart dialogue and finely-tuned chemistry among the main characters.  The story is zany and somewhat improbable, but it’s nicely balanced against true intrigue and emotion.  Very much looking forward to the sequel.

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor – The book that almost kept me from finishing the challenge!  That fault is my own, however (nonfiction always slows me down).  Helen Castor is an excellent storyteller, and she captures the complex lives of these powerful women in fascinating detail without coming across as a dry textbook.

1) Horror book – Slade House, David Mitchell
2) Nonfiction about science – A is for Arsenic, Kathryn Harkup
3) Collection of essays – Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit
4) Out loud to someone else – Mother Bruce, Ryan T. Higgins and The Princess and the Pony, Kate Beaton
5) Middle grade novel – Echo, Pam Munoz Ryan
6) Biography (not memoir or auto) – Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon
7) Dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel – Ex-Heroes, Peter Clines
8) Originally published the decade you were born – The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
9) Audiobook that won an Audie Award – Life, Keith Richards
10) Over 500 pages long – A Court of Mist and Fury, Sarah J. Maas
11) Under 100 pages – A Late Verdict, Milo Bell
12) By or about a person who identifies as transgender – All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
13) Set in the Middle East – The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
14) By an author from Southeast Asia – Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Stephanie Tromly
15) Historical fiction set before 1900 – Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee
16) First book in a series by a person of color – Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley
17) Non-superhero comic debuted in the last three years – Get Jiro! : Blood and Sushi, Anthony Bourdain
18) Adapted into a movie – The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
19) Nonfiction book about feminism or feminist themes – Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein
20) About religion – Battling the Gods, Tim Whitmarsh
21) About politics – She-Wolves, Helen Castor
22) Food memoir – Voracious, Cara Nicoletti
23) A play – Hamlet, William Shakespeare
24) Main character has a mental illness – Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson

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Emma’s PopSugar Fall Challenge 2016

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

Favorites

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

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

List of Tasks

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
#1 – Scary book

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

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

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore
#4 – Celebrity memoir

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

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

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

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

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

Sabriel by Garth Nix
#10 – Published in 1995

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

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

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

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

The Gentleman by Leo Forrest
#15 – Orange cover

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PopSugar Ultimate – November

PopSugar Ultimate (5 tasks)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Sophia’s PopSugar 2016 – Complete!

I actually finished!  Last year I only made it about two-thirds of the way through the PopSugar challenge, so it’s exciting to get it done with time to spare.  This challenge led me to a lot of fantastic books this year, and there were a handful that stood above the rest in the second half of the year:

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Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman – This book was beautiful.  It addresses mental illness perfectly, without judgement or glorification.  The story unfolds in such a way that you really feel like you’re not just reading about Caden’s struggles but actually experiencing them with him.  It’s disorienting and tense, and it made me cry.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – The last of Jane Austen’s novels that I somehow never read, despite taking a college course devoted solely to her work.  I listened to the audio version read by Donada Peters, which I think made it more entertaining.  It was the first novel she completed, and you can tell – her satire is sharp but less polished and the overall tone isn’t as well balanced as her primary novels.  But I will never not love Jane Austen.

The Colossus and Other Poems by Sylvia Plath – Poetry is not really within my comfort zone and is often hit or miss with me as a result.  However, I genuinely enjoyed this collection.  Not all of the poems caught my attention, but a great number of them had me still thinking about them after the fact.

Other favorites include The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, and The Troop by Nick Cutter.

Completed tasks:

1) Based on a fairy tale – Speak Easy, Catherynne M. Valente
2) National Book Award winner – Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman
3) YA bestseller – A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas
4) Book you haven’t read since high school – Go Ask Alice, Anonymous
5) Set in your home state – The Road Through the Wall, Shirley Jackson
6) Translated into English – The Vegetarian, Han Kang
7) Romance set in the future – Cowboy from the Future, Cassandra Gannon
8) Set in Europe – The Core of the Sun, Johanna Sinisalo
9) Under 150 pages – The Visitor, Maeve Brennan
10) New York Times bestseller – The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware
11) Becoming a movie this year – A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
12) Recommended by someone you just met – The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, Jenn Bennett
13) Self-improvement – You Are a Badass, Jen Sincero
14) Book you can finish in a day – Rolling in the Deep, Mira Grant
15) Written by a celebrity – The Bassoon King, Rainn Wilson
16) Political memoir – Trump and Me, Mark Singer
17) At least 100 years older than you – Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
18) More than 600 pages – Winter, Marissa Meyer
19) From Oprah’s Book Club – The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
20) Science fiction novel – Illuminae, Amie Kaufman
21) Recommended by family member – Anna Dressed in Blood, Kendare Blake
22) Graphic novel – Nimona, Noelle Stevenson
23) Published in 2016 – Travelers Rest, Keith Lee Morris
24) Protagonist has your occupation – Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, Molly Harper
25) Takes place during summer – Burn Baby Burn, Meg Medina
26A) A book… – Glass Sword, Victoria Aveyard
26B) …and its prequel – Cruel Crown, Victoria Aveyard
27) Murder mystery – In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ruth Ware
28) Written by a comedian – The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer
29) Dystopian novel – Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins
30) Book with a blue cover – The Clasp, Sloane Crosley
31) Book of poetry – The Colossus and Other Poems, Sylvia Plath
32) First book you see in a bookstore – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling
33) A classic from the 20th century – A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
34) Book from the library – The Turner House, Angela Flournoy
35) An autobiography – Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon
36) Book about a road trip – The Road to Little Dribbling, Bill Bryson
37) Unfamiliar culture – The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, Joshua Hammer
38) A satirical book – The Sellout, Paul Beatty
39) Takes place on an island – The Troop, Nick Cutter
40) Guaranteed to bring you joy – As You Wish, Cary Elwes

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PopSugar Fall – November

PopSugar Fall Challenge (6.5 tasks)

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

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

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

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

 

hobbit

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

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

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

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November Books

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

Audiobooks (10)

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

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

Novels (8) / Nonfiction (1)

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

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

Graphic (8)

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Read Aloud (1)

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