Tag Archives: #popsugarreadingchallenge

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.

Sophia’s PopSugar 2017 – COMPLETE!

Like this year’s Read Harder, the PopSugar challenge was a good one – lots of fun categories that led me to many new and amazing books.  However, I will admit to fudging my own rules for the last book of the challenge by reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to fulfill the 800+ page task.  I prefer not to use re-reads for these challenges, but I’ve been working my way through Harry Potter again as a nod to the 20th(!) anniversary of the first book being published, so I decided to let it count.

Here are three awesome new-to-me books from the second half of the challenge:

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Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky – This is a fun story all on its own – crazed fangirls take increasingly drastic steps to get their hands on their beloved boy band – but listening to the audiobook brought it to life.  It’s narrated by Barrett Wilbert Weed with that slow, slightly marble-mouthed valley girl vocal fry, which just elevates the already dark, dry humor to another level.  The plot moves in unexpected ways, making it feel fresh and surprising.  This is one I plan on reading more than once.

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – Another fun book that truly deserves to be described as quirky, but without the implication of being overly twee or saccharine.  There’s plenty of bite here.  It’s solid social satire, touching on mental health, PTA moms, and the unique sensibilities of the Pacific Northwest.  I’m a sucker for books that use ‘found documents’ to tell a story, and this one does just that to great effect.  The plot never sagged or waned, and I felt compelled to read just one more chapter, I swear! so I could get to the bottom of the mystery.

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – Gorgeous, painful, and moving.  This book had me full-on crying by the end of it.  I had been listening to the audiobook during a long day of mindless data entry, and I was so engrossed I kept listening on my drive home.  And when I got home, I took off my coat and sat down to listen to the rest of it.  TEARS.  It’s beautifully written from multiple perspectives and captures a World War II event I’d never even heard of – the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship filled with refugees fleeing war-torn Europe.  It’s an amazing story.

Completed Tasks

1) Recommended by a librarian – Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
2) On your TBR list for way too long – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
3) A book of letters – Griffin & Sabine: an Extraordinary Correspondence, Nick Bantock
4) Audiobook – Gemina, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
5) By a person of color – When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon
6) One of the four seasons in the title – Summerlong, Dean Bakopoulos
7) Story within a story – Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book, Jennifer Donnelly
8) Multiple authors – The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares, ed. Jason Blum
9) Espionage thriller – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carre
10) Cat on the cover – The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis
11) Author who uses pseudonym – The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket
12) Bestseller from genre you don’t normally read – milk and honey, Rupi Kaur
13) By or about a person who has a disability – The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
14) Involving travel – The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
15) With a subtitle – Trainwreck: the Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, Sady Doyle
16) Published in 2017 – King’s Cage, Victoria Aveyard
17) Involving a mythical creature – The Gentleman, Forrest Leo
18) Read before that never fails to make you smile – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
19) Book about food – Cinnamon and Gunpowder, Eli Brown
20) Career advice – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson
21) Nonhuman perspective – Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw
22) Steampunk novel – Etiquette & Espionage, Gail Carriger
23) Book with a red spine – Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
24) Set in the wilderness – Beauty Queens, Libba Bray
25) Loved as a child – From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
26) Author from a country you’ve never visited – Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
27) Title is a character’s name – A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro
28) Novel set during wartime – All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
29) Unreliable narrator – Kill the Boy Band, Goldy Moldavsky
30) With pictures – The Singing Bones, Shaun Tan
31) Main character is different ethnicity than you – The Gauntlet, Karuna Riazi
32) Book about an interesting woman – Shirley Jackson: a Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin
33) Set in two different time periods – Shadowbahn, Steve Erickson
34) Month or day of the week in title – The Last of August, Brittany Cavallaro
35) Set in a hotel – The Witches, Roald Dahl
36) Written by someone you admire – Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick
37) Becoming a movie in 2017 – Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
38) Set around a holiday other than Christmas – The Accident Season, Moira Fowley-Doyle
39) First book in a series you haven’t read before – These Broken Stars, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
40) Book bought on a trip – Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller
41) Recommended by an author you love – Unmentionable: the Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, Therese Oneill
42) Bestseller from 2016 – The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena
43) Family-member term in title – Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Laini Taylor
44) Takes place over a character’s life span – Perfume: the Story of a Murderer, Patrick Suskind
45) Book about an immigrant or refugee – Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys
46) Genre/subgenre you’ve never heard of before – Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
47) Eccentric character – Trouble Makes a Comeback, Stephanie Tromly
48) More than 800 pages – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
49) Got from a used book sale – Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
50) Mentioned in another book – The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling
51) Difficult topic – Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
52) Based on mythology – Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman

PopSugar – May

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

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

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

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

 

 

ADVANCED LIST

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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PopSugar – April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

ADVANCED LIST

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

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

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

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PopSugar – February

My dedication to timely completing all book challenges this year is paying off. I hit and passed the halfway mark for PopSugar in February. I’ve been trying to stay focused on challenge books instead of being lured by the siren’s song of every other book. If I can finish the main list of 40 books by the end of April, I will be thrilled.

Kindred by Octavia Butler
#5 – Author is person of color
I loved Octavia 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 fascinating and horrifying. She had to learn to navigate the reality of being a slave while attempting to keep herself psychologically separate from it.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick
#7 – A story within a story
I was absolutely in love with the book for the first 400 pages (the illustrated story), and then the prose section happened. The prose story was well-written, but it ruined the magic created by the illustrations. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me when the connection between the two stories was revealed. Ultimately, though, it was a beautiful story. A sad story, but a beautiful one.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
#8 – Multiple authors
I remember hearing about this book before it came out, and thought it sounded interesting, but not one I would ever read. While it was a fun, tongue-in-cheek fantastical reimagining of how Lady Jane Grey became queen, it was also trite, mired in tropes and clichés, suffered from a lack of solid rules of magic, and had many moments of characters behaving stupidly.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
#9 – Espionage
I grew up loving James Bond (especially Sean Connery), and both of my parents were fans of the books/movies. Espionage isn’t really my genre of choice, but I figured giving Bond a go wouldn’t be too awful. It’s definitely a book of its time, especially in how women are treated. I prefer the movies, even though I know they are equally sexist.

Feed by Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire)
#11 – Author uses pseudonym
A blood and guts zombie book, this is not. It is political espionage set against the backdrop of a post-zombie apocalypse world. Blogger journalists are part of the staff, covering a presidential candidate on the campaign trail, and end up uncovering a conspiracy. Aspects of it are eerily similar to some of the behind-the-scenes machinations going on in current politics.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
#13 – Author/MC has disability
This felt like a down-to-earth telling about Cece Bell’s experience as a child, warts and all. I can’t imagine the social intricacies of navigating elementary and middle school while wearing a phonic ear, the frustrations of dying batteries, or dealing with people treating you like a small child who equate lack of hearing with a lack of competency.

Eleventh Grave in Midnight by Darynda Jones
#16 – Book published in 2017
I really enjoy this series (though I don’t recommend binge reading/listening as the character flaws tend to be overwhelming). Charlie is still willingly obtuse and complains about not understanding how to use her powers, even though she doesn’t make an effort to figure them out. Uncle Bob and Reyes are still keeping secrets from her in the name of “protection”, and then keep getting mad at her when she doesn’t do what they want her to. That being said, Charlie finally, finally started to experiment with her powers, and Reyes finally, finally started showing her how to use them. We also got to learn more about Reyes’ past, which was good. But the overall series plot didn’t advance much.

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 found them to not really be my thing (even though I’m a fan of urban fantasy). 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.

The Bees by Laline Paull
#21 – Book from a nonhuman perspective
The Bees was a quick read, and held my attention, though I was still able to put the book down. The hive was a religious dystopian society, and completely non-human (and completely non Nature Channel). How the bees interacted, how they were controlled by the Queen and Sages, was fascinating. The worldbuilding was a little uneven at times, specifically with regard to the anthropomorphization of the bees. However, it was an enjoyable read.

The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr
#22 – Steampunk
Steampunk has been one of my favorite genres since I stumbled upon Soulless by Gail Carriger almost five years ago, so finding a book for this challenge consisted of pulling from an already long TBR list of steampunk titles. I liked the riff on Jekyll and Hyde, but the the pacing was off and there was a lack of plot focus – too much going on. Neither plot nor characters were captivating.

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
#27 – Title is character’s name
This book was much shorter than I expected it to be. Given how the book was written, it wouldn’t have worked in a longer format. It had a dreamlike quality to it, and was disjointed, offering fairly superficial snippets of Margaret’s life instead of in-depth narration. That being said, the style fit with her personality of never quite behaving the way an adult should.

Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach
#32 – Book about an interesting woman
Getrude Bell was a very singular woman, and had an incredibly solid understanding of the geopolitical climate of the Middle East. She also had strong personal connections with many of the region’s powerful men. There are definite parallels between how Great Britain et al. wanted to reshape the Middle East after WWI, and how current international relations with the Middle East stand.

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Sophia’s PopSugar Ultimate – Halfway!

Passed the halfway mark on the PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge a few days ago!  I also hit 50 books out of the 150 I pledged to read on goodreads.  My goal now is to finish both PopSugar and Book Riot Read Harder by the end of June, if not sooner.  I’m not so much keeping pace with my sister anymore – originally I was maintaining a gap of only 3 books, but she’s since pulled ahead by 8 books.  I’ve had a lot of new movies come in for me at the library, OKAY?

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So far this year, PopSugar has been a lot of fun.  They expanded their task list to include 12 bonus categories, which I had at first intended not to attempt until I finished the main list.  In the interest of efficiency, though, I’ve decided to just consider them part of the challenge as a whole.  A good number of the books I’ve read up to now ended up earning five star ratings from me.  Here are three of them:

23513349milk and honey by Rupi Kaur – I’ve mentioned it in other posts: poetry is not my thing.  It’s often too opaque for me, though I can appreciate the lyricism of it at times.  This volume, however, hit me right at home.  I loved the free verse, I loved the language, I loved the artwork that appeared on some of the pages.  This work is accessible without pandering to any one sensibility.  It was emotional and moving.  At some point, I intend on purchasing a copy.

30555488The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – This book was brutal and compelling.  It often gave me chills, made me cry, and had me on the edge of my seat.  I liked how he conceptualized the Underground Railroad as a literal subterranean train system – the descriptions of the different stations made me wonder about the people who protected them and the places they were hidden.  The book also contains what has become one of my all-time favorite quotes.

29358401Trainwreck: the Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why by Sady Doyle – Participating in reading challenges has really pushed me to read beyond my fantasy/sci-fi/lady classics comfort zone and start picking up more books like this one.  Social and cultural analysis has always fascinated me (anthropology major), and feminism is becoming more important to me – this book makes a great contribution to the discussion in both areas.  It’s well-researched, nicely balanced, and very readable.

Completed tasks:

2) On your TBR list for way too long – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
3) A book of letters – Griffin & Sabine: an Extraordinary Correspondence, Nick Bantock
4) Audiobook – Gemina, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
8) Multiple authors – The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares, ed. Jason Blum
10) Cat on the cover – The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis
11) Author who uses pseudonym – The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket
12) Bestseller from genre you don’t normally read – milk and honey, Rupi Kaur
14) Involving travel – The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
15) With a subtitle – Trainwreck: the Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, Sady Doyle
17) Involving a mythical creature – The Gentleman, Forrest Leo
18) Read before that never fails to make you smile – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
20) Career advice – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson
21) Nonhuman perspective – Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw
22) Steampunk novel – Etiquette & Espionage, Gail Carriger
25) Loved as a child – From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
26) Author from a country you’ve never visited – Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
27) Title is a character’s name – A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro
28) Novel set during wartime – All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
30) With pictures – The Singing Bones, Shaun Tan
35) Set in a hotel – The Witches, Roald Dahl
36) Written by someone you admire – Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick
37) Becoming a movie in 2017 – Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer
39) First book in a series you haven’t read before – These Broken Stars, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
42) Bestseller from 2016 – The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena
47) Eccentric character – Trouble Makes a Comeback, Stephanie Tromly
51) Difficult topic – Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
52) Based on mythology – Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman

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PopSugar – January

pinesPines by Blake Crouch
#4 – Audiobook
I don’t exactly know how I came across this book – probably Audible – but it was amazing. I couldn’t stop listening to it. There is definitely something creepy and off about Wayward Pines, and various citizens are champion gaslighters. The weird ratchets up even more once Ethan starts his attempts to escape, and what he discovers upon his partial success. I plan on watching the TV show once I’ve finished the trilogy, especially since I’ve seen multiple reviews saying the show is better than the book.

scandal-in-springScandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
#6 – One of the four seasons in the title
This book was only alright. The basic romance was enjoyable, but there was a lot of POV-time spent on characters secondary to Daisy’s and Matthew’s romance. Lillian also had some serious blinders on, and was a downright shrew. I liked her hardheadedness in It Happened One Autumn, but I did not like her in Scandal in Spring. Lillian dragged the book down, with her inability to accept that Daisy had a valid opinion regarding Matthew.

awaken-onlineCatharsis: Awaken Online by Travis Bagwell
#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 MC, 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. Aspects of both his real life and online life collide, and both he and his adversaries exist in a gray zone. Is the hero really good? Is Jason really bad? I can’t wait to listen to the sequel when it comes out.

holiday-in-nokoMy Holiday in North Korea by Wendy E. Simmons
#14 – Involving travel
A look at the surreal alternate reality that is NoKo. It’s funny, but not ha ha funny, more like the I can’t believe this is real/really happening/don’t know exactly how to react funny. Alice in Wonderland quotes start each chapter, and they are apt metaphors to what the author experiences. She doesn’t disparage the people, but she questions the government and country that forces people to live like in those conditions. After a while, she likens her visit to living in a psych ward – you can tell things aren’t right, but you can’t necessarily discern the truth from the lies. Her questions were not always answered, her guide deflecting them or throwing out random answers. I liked her concept of “proptalking”, the constant stream of propaganda talking she listened to. It reminded me of 1984 with the doublespeak. NoKo seemed like a parody of modern life that doesn’t quite get it right. It has to be incredibly hard for the people who work with tourists; to reconcile their reality and their indoctrination with what tourists say the outside world is like.

cinnamon-gunpowderCinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
#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.

fatherlandFatherland by Nina Bunjevac
#23 – Red spine
Part family history, part Croatian/Serbian history, Fatherland looks at Bunjevac’s father’s actions as a Serbian terrorist in Toronto. It traces his personal history and discusses potential reasons for his actions through the lens of actual history. She tries to sort information out and make sense of it in order to have a better understanding of the father she never knew. I liked how bigger picture history was woven through personal history. My only complaint is that the book ended too abruptly. I am really curious as to how all of this effected her older brother, Petey. The history is fascinating because it’s not something that really gets covered in school beyond Tito = Yugoslavia.

revenantThe Revenant by Michael Punke
#24 – Set in the wilderness
My sister has been after me to read this book for the past two years. My husband read, and enjoyed it. I figured it would be a good read. It was, don’t get me wrong, but after all of the brutality and hardship that Glass has to endure, the ending was incredibly anti-climactic. I know that endings aren’t necessarily clear cut, but after what happens when he crosses paths with Fitzgerald at the end, coupled with the fact that it just kind of peters out after that…I wish there had been a bit more to close it up.

dragonsongDragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
#25 – Book you loved as a child
While Bunnicula was the first chapter book I ever read, it was Dragonsong that got me hooked on reading. When I was nine, my librarian mother, who despaired about my middling interest in reading, thrust this book into my hands one day. It was all downhill from there. I connected with Menolly, with her feelings of being unwanted and out of place. This segued into a love of dragons, and my obsession with their existence and the possibility that I might get lucky and end up being adopted by one. I don’t deny that I had some issues.

singing-bonesThe Singing Bones by Shaun Tan
#30 – A book with pictures
A collection of very short fairy tales, supplemented by photographs of sculptures that added a dreamlike and sometimes unnerving weight. It felt like movement was happening just beyond the edge of perception. Some of the stories are snippets of the fairy tale, or the entire thing boiled down to its most salient point. I loved that Neil Gaiman wrote the foreword, and I agree with him that Tan gave the fairy tales a tactile dimension that adds to heft of the stories. He captured the feeling fairy tales evoke – magical, but also uncomfortable and gruesome. Tan made these fairy tales his own, and gave them new dimension.

bollywood-bride

The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
#31 – MC different ethnicity than you
This is the second book by Sonali Dev that I’ve listened to. Both were light and fluffy romances, but even with that in the background, it was fun reading a romance novel through the lens of a different culture – same, same, but different.

 

hotel-rubyHotel Ruby by Suzanne Young
#35 – Set in a hotel
If “Hotel California” and “The Sixth Sense” had a YA novel baby, this would be it. It was creepy – things were slightly off. Not a lot, but enough that a little thread of WTF started running through my head. I couldn’t put it down, staying up way too late on a work night in order to finish it. I did figure out what what going on part way through the book, but it didn’t detract from the story. The ending was satisfying. (It looks like the paperback version of this book is known as Hotel for the Lost).

medium-rawRedium Raw by Anthony Bourdain
#36 – Written by someone you admire
I’ve enjoyed Anthony Bourdain since I first saw him sarcastic and ranty on No Reservations. I enjoy is perspective and the way he uses words. I admire him because he not only knows and understands his flaws and failings, but he embraces them, never trying to push the blame on to someone else. He knows exactly who he is, warts and all. The essays of Medium Raw did not disappoint. I will never look at food the same way as him, but it is still fun to live vicariously through his descriptions. “Go Ask Alice” was my favorite, and showcases Bourdain’s snark, but also his understanding of his own pessimism and why others might love what he hates.

tenTen by Gretchen McNeil
#37 – Becoming a movie in 2016
This book piqued my interest because of its comparison to And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, but if it was turned into more gruesome teen slasher book (not gruesome for some, but I have a low tolerance for anything horror-related). It was an interesting read, and I will probably watch the movie when it makes its way to DVD.

moon-calledMoon Called by Patricia Briggs
#39 – First book in a new to you series
Tentatively on my TBR list, I decided to give it a listen when I learned that Lorelei King (Charlie Davidson series) was the narrator. It was alright. I know that’s not high praise, but I’ll give the second book a listen to see if the pace picks up a bit.

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