Tag Archives: #ReadHarder

Emma’s Read Harder (The Rest of It)

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

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

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
#2 – True crime
I really enjoyed this book. It was both interesting and a fairly fast read (always a plus in a nonfiction book). I liked how she presented Robert, and Nattie, laying out the facts as she could find them. She did offer some conjectures, but those were grounded more in child psychology than personal opinion. My opinion is that the home life of Robert and Nattie was somewhat volatile, and that unpredictability and volatility of his mother while their father was at sea was the underpinning for why Robert killed her. His life after his verdict doesn’t lead one to believe he was psychotic. I am glad that Summerscale included an epilogue. It gave Robert’s story closure, and the gave readers the suggestion that some of his later decisions were made with the potential to atone for killing his mother when he was a child.

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

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
#6 – About nature
This was an interesting look at how humans test other animals for their capacity of intelligence and social behaviors. In general, humans tend to see themselves as superior to all other animals, and see their intrinsic intelligence as less than ours because it is different. When conducting experiments, we tend to take a human-centric methodology and claim animals are less intelligent instead of looking at how animals behave in their natural habitats and build experiments from those observations. Are We Smart Enough… was definitely eye-opening, creating good starting points for thinking about what constitutes intelligence.

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

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

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
#14 – Social science
Many Americans live under the illusion that we have never had class distinctions in the US, that our country was founded with the idea of equality. However, that is not the case, and the idea of such distinctions were shoved under the rug in order to fit in with an edited narrative of our history. There have been class distinctions from Plymouth and Jamestown, and those distinctions – especially with regard to how the poor were perceived and treated – have continually played a part in historical events and how America was shaped. This is not the history you learned in school, but it is definitely a history you should know and highly relevant to our current political climate.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Sophia’s Book Riot Read Harder 2018 – Halfway!

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

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

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

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

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

Completed Tasks:

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

Emma’s Read Harder Halfway Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia’s Book Riot Read Harder 2017 – COMPLETE!

This year’s Read Harder was excellent – none of the books I read rated below three stars for me.  Not even the German poetry!  I did hit a bit of a reading rut in June, so sadly I did not reach my original goal of finishing before July.  But I did finish this challenge IN July, I’m just bad about keeping up with posting, despite my sister’s frequent random “blog post?” texts.  Not even her oldest child authority can overcome the inertia of my laziness, muahaha.

Anyway. Here are the highlights from the second half of Read Harder this year:

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – I’ll admit I used the new TV show as an excuse to finally read this, but boy howdy is it terrifyingly relevant, even and especially today.  The story felt timeless and way too possible, making it easy to imagine how smoothly our society could shift in such a direction.  It was totally compelling, and the tension was consistent and constant.  This is definitely a book I plan to revisit.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This book is beautiful and heart-wrenching.  I don’t know how many times I teared up throughout the story, and I full-on cried at the ending.  Yaa Gyasi knows how to WRITE.  Her imagery, her tone, her flow, her ability to plumb the depths of emotion and characterization without weighing down the narrative – I marveled at it all.  This book deserves to be read and read again.  I listened to the audio version, and the narrator absolutely did the text justice.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – Another gorgeous book, all quiet subtlety and simplicity.  But underneath that, an edge so hard and sharp  you don’t notice the cut until you see the blood.  This epic family saga moves through four generations of struggle and change, gently lulling you with a steady narrative until it sucker punches you in the gut with little warning or ceremony.  And then the story just moves on.  Rinse and repeat.

Completed Tasks

1) Book about sports – The Fair Fight, Anna Freeman
2) Debut novel – IQ, Joe Ide
3) Book about books – How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much, Samantha Ellis
4) Set in Central/South America by local author – Things We Lost in the Fire, Mariana Enriquez
5) By an immigrant/central immigration narrative – Shanghai Girls, Lisa See
6) All-ages comic – Lumberjanes, Vol. 5: Band Together, Shannon Watters
7) Published 1900-1950 – Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
8) Travel memoir – Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
9) Book you’ve read before – Armada, Ernest Cline
10) Set within 100 miles of your location – The Red Queen Dies, Frankie Y. Bailey
11) Set more than 5000 miles from your location – Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
12) Fantasy novel – Three Dark Crowns, Kendare Blake
13) Nonfiction about technology – Tetris: the Games People Play, Box Brown
14) Book about war – The Girls of Atomic City, Denise Kiernan
15) LGBTQ+ YA or middle grade novel – George, Alex Gino
16) Banned or frequently challenged – The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
17) Classic by author of color – Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin
18) Superhero comic with female lead – Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson
19) Character of color goes on a spiritual journey – Shadowshaper, Daniel Jose Older
20) LGBTQ+ romance novel – If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo
21) Published by a micropress – We Are Legion (We Are Bob), Dennis E. Taylor
22) Collection of stories by a woman – Where Am I Now?, Mara Wilson
23) Collection of poetry in translation, not about love – Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke
24) POV characters all people of color – Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

Emma’s Read Harder 2017

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

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

Favorites

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

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

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

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

Tasks

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

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Read Harder – March

I had five books left for Read Harder, but I only finished…four. I was really hoping to complete the entire challenge, but #13 – Nonfiction about technology, was my sticking point. Reality is Broken is fascinating, but nonfiction is always slow going for me. It didn’t help that my reading challenge focus was weak, and that I spent a decent chunk of time marathoning two non-challenge series.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
#8 – Travel memoir
This is the second book about NoKo I’ve read this year, and it was interesting to see the different perspectives between the authors. There was about a ten year difference between the two trips, but there was the same general feel of oppressiveness and craziness with both accounts. A big difference though was that Delisle was less inclined to empathize with the people, focusing more on deficiencies (as compared to the Western world) and how they affected him.

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

View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska
#23 – Translated poetry, not about love
After looking at reviews online, I seem to be in a definite minority of not liking this book. Her poems were not accessible and most made no sense at all. It was like a lot of obscure and/or complex words were barfed onto the page without regard for how well they expressed a concept. Out of the entire collection, I enjoyed less than 10 poems. I had to force myself to read this because I didn’t want to hunt down another book for this task.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty
#24 – All POV characters are POC
I really enjoyed this book. It was an scathing satire filled with dark humor and absolutely ludicrous. Beatty twisted and used stereotypes to highlight that no matter how much we think we live in a post-racial America, we really don’t.

 

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Read Harder – February

I managed to gun through nine Read Harder books in March, leaving only five left until I complete the challenge. Go laser focus!

Five Final TBR Books

#8 – Travel memoir – An African in Greenland by Tété-Michele Kpomassie
#13 – Nonfiction technology – Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
#14 – Book about war – A Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life that Follows by Brian Castner
#23 – Translated poetry, not about love – View with a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska
#24 – All POV characters are POC – The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
#2 – Debut novel
I wouldn’t have finished if not for the challenge. If Ceony Twill was training to become a paper magician, then the focus should have been about her gaining and using those skills. While she did learn some rudimentary paper magic, the majority of the book took place while she was trapped inside a human heart, learning about her master’s past. Yes, she did use those skills to save his life, but it felt like it was a detail rather than the purpose. There was also no foundation created for her to start falling in love with her master. It happened because it was “supposed” to happen, but there was no legitimate path toward falling in love.

Death Going Down by Maria Angelica Bosco
#4 – Set in South or Central America, written by a South or Central American author
I chose Death Going Down because it was compared to Agatha Christie’s novels. I can see the similarities in tone and description, and the ensemble aspect of the storytelling reminded me of Murder on the Orient Express. It took a little bit of time to get into the book as the opening pages were a bit clunky and confusing. However, the story and writing evened out.

Hellhole by Gina Damico
#9 – Book you’ve read before
I read this book for Read Harder 2015 (#11 – YA). Since then, it’s been hovering in the back of my mind, whispering that I needed to read it again. It’s snarky and sarcastic, and the whole concept of discovering a devil in your basement, eating Cheetos, wearing a velour tracksuit was definitely different from what I’ve come across before. It had a madcap adventure feel to it. I liked how the characters played off of each other, and how Burg slid between helpful and selfish – it was always a bit unclear as how good or bad he actually was.

City of Light by Lauren Belfer
#10 – Set within 100 miles of home
City of Light is set in Buffalo, which is general geographic area of where I live. And if I had realized that Written in Red by Anne Bishop would have fit this category, albeit in an alternate universe, I would have chosen it instead. I had a very hard time reading this book, and had to set “reading goals” like I do for nonfiction in order to finish it. As a transplant to Buffalo, the historical aspects of the story were interesting, but they amounted to information dumps bogging down plot progression. A good 100+ pages could have been axed, which would have helped immensely with making the book more readable. The plot itself was a bit loose, with too many subplots. The main plot – power company murders – had very little page time.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#17 – Classic by an author of color
I first read this book when for an English course when I was 19. I remember loving the book, and it’s been simmering on my TBR list as a reread for quite some time. In the simplest terms, it is about the unnamed narrator’s coming of age. In more in-depth terms, it’s about alienation, invisibility (because of race, because of socio-economic status, because of not living in a way segments of society believe you should, etc…). It’s a powerful book, and I can see why it left such an impression on my 19-year old self.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#16 – Banned/frequently challenged in US
I enjoyed this book more than I probably should have. It was extremely well-written; disturbing, but well-written. Humbert Humbert was vile, but at the same time Nabokov gave him charm, made him a master of deception. HH was constantly justifying his actions to both himself and readers. On some level, he knew it was wrong, but whenever those thoughts bubbled to the surface, he shoved them down before he was forced to acknowledge how reprehensible his actions were. He pushed the blame onto Lolita. A love story this is not. It is a story about abuse and moral depravity.

The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian
#20 – LGBTQ romance novel
I picked this one up because of a mention on Book Riot. It was a nice story, and even if all the romance scenes were cut, would still stand strong. I liked that both men brought the each other out of their respective shells, and allowed each other to be a better person than they thought they could be.

 

The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr
#21 – Micropress
I first read Brian Allen Carr a few years ago for Read Harder (2015, #4 – Book published by an indie press, Motherfucking Sharks), and loved how weird and completely out there his storytelling was. I figured that I couldn’t go wrong with another BAC book, and I was right. The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World was equally weird and dark and amazing. He has a phenomenal way with words, and doesn’t use more when sparse is perfect.

Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller
#22 – Collection of stories by a woman
I enjoy reading books with flawed women as main characters, but this was not one of those books. All of the stories were depressing and pointless, and the women blended together to form a single one-dimensional person. They all felt the same, and it made reading the stories a chore. There were also several stories that had gratuitous descriptions or actions that would have had no impact on the plot if removed, but by being left in made it feel like it was there for shock value: “She stands and bends over, makes her anus pulse” is the one that comes to mind (“Big Bad Love”). While it related to a child in a non-sexual way, it had no bearing on the narrative. That being said, there were two stories I almost enjoyed, or at least I could relate to aspects of them: “Always Happy Hour” and “Charts”.

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