Last year’s Reading Challenge was completed well before the end of the year. 2016’s Reading Challenge is a much shorter list (only 41) so I anticipate some free-wielding posts scattered about towards the end of the year. Let’s see how I fare this go-round!
This post, and many of the following posts, had been drafted and never published. Due to some significant life changes, I’ve held off from publishing these entries. This 6-month hiatus wasn’t exactly planned, and though I may have put my writing on hold, my reading has never stopped. I feel as though I’m finally at a point where I can pick up where I left off, and I hope, dear Reader, that you’re still out there… and that you bear with me while I roll the following entries out.
Let’s get this ball rolling! After having hosted Christmas for my family for the first time ever — which was no small feat! — I have survived with most of my sanity intact. As the new year begins, and the holiday tide ebbs, it’s time for a bit of reflection. Again, I strive to read as many books from my own personal collection as possible to complete the list.
We begin with three, listed favorite to least:
I was pretty self-serving when it came to choosing The Lover’s Dictionary. Leading a book club at work grants me the opportunity to choose practically any book as ‘a book from the library’ and this one was a quick, yet powerful read. Levithan tells a narrative in an uncommon method: dictionary entries. With some ‘chapters’ as sort as a few letters, to others that span several pages, I felt engaged. Though one might think at first glance this would be an uplifting, romantic, hopeful book, it really is quite sad… this is one that deserves more than a single read-through. I found myself noting certain pages/words/entries to turn back to and read over and over. Think of those you hold dear to your heart. Recognize how love is so closely tied to joy, and also pain. No one is perfect, no love is perfect, and no one lives without feeling heartache. There’s nothing wrong with hope. There’s nothing wrong with fear. Remember to be kind, understanding, and patient. Thanks for another lovely book, David.
Coming off of Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, I wondered what else this universe might contain. If you consider her first trilogy as the mythos… the legend… Six of Crows feels more like the real, present-day (Grisha) world. With that trilogy as prologue, you have a richer understanding of this new book. Six of Crows is much more of a heist/action/thriller than a fantasy, but those elements are still present. It felt more focused, and I know how proud Leigh is of this book. (I still have the manuscript around here somewhere!) While it’s not necessary to read Shadow & Bone (etc.) before this, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you do.
Though I purchased Russo’s book on a whim during one of my trips to The Cape, I’ve never taken the time to read it out on the beach as I intended. During this winter, I figured it was time to start thinking warm thoughts. Honestly, I don’t have too much to say about this one. It didn’t thrill me, but it didn’t bore me. The characters were flawed, which made them endearing… and the story was pretty light. I’ll probably let this one go now that I’m done with it. This is perhaps an unfair assessment of Russo’s work, since I know people don’t just win Pulitzers on a whim, but I may take some time before picking up another one of his books.
With my reading challenge over, I feel like Super Mario, super-star blasting through bonus books like crazy! While I didn’t document each and every one that I read this month, I did happen upon a lovely little gem that I’ll share soon… But first:
Highs & Lows! — Where I name my Top 5 favs and not-so-favs from this past year. Rather than rank in the traditional sense, (because I can’t make up my mind) I’ll state the book and a brief ‘why.’ Obviously, go read my favs.🙂
Favs: Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan. — Inspirational, in the non-preachy sense. Timely. Also: it’s David Levithan. Gold.
The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black. — Beautiful characters and imagery. Also (spoiler): The gay boy gets his prince. It’s about time!
Mort(e), by Robert Repino. — Insert picture of a crazy badass cats wielding machine guns. Also: Friendship is love too.
Anything Could Happen, by Will Walton. — Debut author with a voice as brilliant as a sparkler. Also: An updated coming-of-age/coming-out story.
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. — Courageous, sorrowful, yet completely necessary. Also: We need to feel the feels.
Not-So-Favs: The Tempest, by William Shakespeare. — It’s Shakespeare, and I have flashbacks of english classes. Also: Don’t even bother watching the movie. (I didn’t.)
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. — Saw the twist from a mile away. Popular for the sake of being popular. Also: Don’t drink.
Killing Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard. — Historically inaccurate. Also: Seriously? The Oval Office wasn’t even build yet!
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. — Drilled into the ground because of racial topics. Also: Skeptical of sequel.
The Night Angel Trilogy, by Brent Weeks. — The story ended right as things were getting good. Also: Writing thousands of pages doesn’t make an Epic Fantasy.
I’ll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson. — Hidden gem of the year! I’ve heard many talk about this book in the past, and I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading it… but holy moly! (Winner of the Stonewall Book Award.)
Fraternal twins Noah and Jude tell the story, in alternating chapters at two different periods of time, of their parents divorce and their mother’s death… but it’s SO much more than that. The twins are both a creative but face troubles of their own, such as romantic interests and grief. Also: Noah is adorable in his admiration of a boy…
I’m getting a metal taste in my mouth. Brian’s reading the titles of the spines of books on the shelves like he’s going to be tested on it.
“I love you,” I say to him, only it comes out, “Hey.”
“So damn much,” he says back, only it comes out, “Dude.”
He still won’t meet my eyes.
Never before have I taken pictures of passages of text and shared them with friends as often as I did with this book. This was made exponentially more special when I received a signed copy for Christmas. *Beaming like the sun*
Sound the trumpets! The finish line has been crossed! (Early, might I add.) What a title to wrap up the year with, too. So here we go!
Thank you to everyone on Facebook who submitted recommendations — I’ve made a list of those that I’ll work through eventually. This recommendation comes from a coworker. I admire her strength, her positivity, and joie de vive. Knowing how close-to-home this book is for her, I knew I had to pick this one.
Despite being a beautifully illustrated book, by the truly amazing Jim Kay (most now recognize his name from the new illustrated editions of Harry Potter), the audiobook was the format specifically recommended — and it did not disappoint! Though, I did still page through the book at times, I was grossly immersed in the story, thanks to the narration of Jason Isaacs.
“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”
Ness weaves a beautiful and tragic story of a 10 year-old boy losing his mother to cancer. The methods in which the boy deals with his grief, and the stories that are told, feel both nostalgic and heart-wrenching. Applicable to so many things and completely quotable. I don’t often cry at books, but this one had me blubbering a bit in the car before going in to work.
““Stories don’t always have happy endings.” This stopped him. Because they didn’t, did they? That’s one thing the monster had definitely taught him. Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions you couldn’t expect.”
“If you speak the truth, the monster whispered in his ear, you will be able to face whatever comes.”
This profound book demonstrates such courage and strength… just like my dear friend that suggested it. Read it, listen to it. Watch the movie when it comes out in 2016. Please bring tissues and friend to drive you home.
This is turning out to be the penultimate post for the 2015 Reading Challenge! Is that spoilery? Oops…
As things are wrapping up, I almost feel a bit anxious — What am I going to read next?! — yet in other ways, I feel rather liberated in my reading choices for the rest of the year. This is also making me think about what this blog will look like in the new year. I haven’t quite figured that out yet… as it is right now, Pop Sugar hasn’t posted any challenge for 2016. Of course, that doesn’t mean I should stick to their challenge; I’m sure there are others out there. So while I putter around in the background, here’s what I checked off this month.
Though I’m showing SEVEN of the Outlander books here, I only read the first. I happened upon an INSANE deal: $1.99 for all seven of them on Kindle. On top of that, for some reason, I had some residual promotional credits on my Amazon account, so really, I got them all for free! This MUST have been some kind of mistake… Not 20 minutes after finding this deal, I recommended it to a few fellow readers, but when they checked, the promotion had expired and the price was back up, well over $50. Now, the offer isn’t even available… Sorry folks.
That aside, I haven’t seen the Outlander TV show, yet… and I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but I was able to jive with it rather well. I know Gabaldon spends a lot of time, years even, researching for her books, and since I heard that endorsement before I started, I quickly set my skepticism aside and allowed myself to get swept away. Boy, it got rather steamy in parts! Is that why people read these?? Lemme tell ya, if you’re looking for some racy period fiction, I’m sure there are more direct titles out there! While I appreciated Outlander, I felt like it was also taking a really long time to get through. When I finished and realized there were another six (now seven) more books, I just had to stop. Let’s the show next… Maybe it will be another Game of Thrones situation and I can idly watch rather than trudge though thousands of pages of text.
The Night Angel Trilogy:
Oh, Night Angel… So, let me preface this by saying I bought this boxed set back when I was still in boarding school. That was well over ten years ago, and it was still shrink-wrapped until I broke it open for this challenge. Why in the world would I have a shrink-wrapped boxed set sitting around for ten plus years? Well… I don’t know what possessed me to buy these books initially… I don’t even think it was a recommendation. So, I thought, hey — I have a perfectly good trilogy right here waiting to be read!… I started reading book one back in February. The overall arc in the trilogy was good, but I felt like book one started strong… things dipped til about the middle of book two, then fell again. Book three started okay, then dipped, and then by the end I felt actually invested in the story. WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG??
I had a hard time keeping secondary and tertiary characters straight. Some of the dialog seemed too contemporary for the medieval time period the story was set in, which kept pulling me out of the narrative. Though I was actually starting to get pretty invested in the characters and the story by the end of the third book, I still give this series a side-eye. There was quite a bit of world building… but… it didn’t quite… stick. I’ve come away from the series ready to open up some space on my book shelf.
The Glass Sentence:
I suppose there are a few interpretations for this category, but I took it to mean “a book with an attractive cover.” While I tried working on a few titles, I ended up using them for other categories instead, or just not getting through them fast enough. This one, I breezed through! I don’t often read middle-grade books, but considering this is targeted to ages 10-14, I thought it reached far enough into the world of young adult that I could concede to reading it. (That sounded snobby… but it’s not, I promise.) In fact, just starting off in this book, I had to stop and check myself — this was really advanced! Really complex ideas and themes… advanced vocabulary… beautiful story… memorable and fun characters… Thank goodness this is a trilogy! It harkens a bit to Pullman’s His Dark Materials — but throwing in cartography and time… well, not travel… but… just read it! Oh, and pirates! Yes. Done. Go now!
Looking back at the three titles I completed for The Challenge this month, I realized things were pretty gay — and that wasn’t even on purpose. As the year draws to a close, my list of remaining titles shrinks. In the meantime, here are this month’s completed books.
Since there were only three this month, and they all have a pretty clear theme, I’ll touch on each of them.
Boy, oh boy… Bless Susan from Waldenbooks all those years ago, my first personal bookseller who somehow knew exactly what I needed to read and never judged me. She put Rainbow Boys (book one in this trilogy) into my apprehensive hands and I am so appreciative. She also put Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton into my hands… which… maybe I shouldn’t have read at that age! — but she must have known I was a precocious reader. Susan also gave me The Perks of Being a Wallflower and a few others that really left distinct impressions on me. (Thank you, Susan! Wherever you are!) Rainbow Road was published the fall of my freshman year of college, and I suppose since I came out in the spring of my senior year of high school, I guess I felt that I didn’t really -need- the book anymore. I had only made it to page 26 and stopped. It took me a little while to pick this book up again for this challenge, and as someone mentioned: it looks like it could be a cheesy Lifetime movie. While I put such stock in these books when I first read them, I realize how drastically gay literature has changed over the last 10 years. There have been a few brand new gay YA books this year that I’ve read. Somehow they left me feeling… well… normal? Now that I’m older, I think that reading these ‘coming out’ books have a very different feel than when I was actually growing up and experiencing the feelings explored within the pages. Rainbow Road was in many ways frustrating (character and story-wise) but so nostalgic that I couldn’t help but want to finish it. They definitely do not resonate the same way they used to… and now I question whether or not to keep them in my collection at work or to weed them for fresher titles. Shocking, I know!
I remember watching a bit of the TV mini series with Jeremy Irons at some point, and while I remember bits and pieces, it was very different to read. So much of the friendship between Sebastian and Charles is subtle and touching (and heartbreaking)… I hadn’t remembered how much of the book was focused on how bloody drunk Sebastian was all the time! Honestly, I was a bit bored with the relationship between Charles and Julia… but maybe that’s because he should have been with Sebastian… Oh, the fanfic that could be written! Speaking of fanfic… (well, sort of) apparently there’s a new YA retelling of Brideshead Revisited?? “Even In Paradise” by Chelsey Philpot. Charlotte Ryder instead of Charles… Hmm… we’ll see how THAT turns out!
Finding a book that scares me is a challenge in itself. Thanks to reading Stephen King at such a young age, I don’t think I’ve ever found a book that actually scares me… makes me cringe? — Yes. Haunted me? — well… this one maybe will. It’s an older book, but it’s about a young black dancer who is living in New York City with his white southern journalist boyfriend… who share some interesting sexual exploits… The boyfriend is brutally raped and murdered in a hate crime, and the main character moves in with a female dancer from his studio and develops a relationship with her. Something about the first chapter captured me and forced me to read on. While it’s certainly a bit dated, a lot of what Dixon writes still resonates today, not only with regards to inequality between gay and straight members of society, but also the racial divide. I do feel like there was a lot of back story for each of the main characters that should have been explored more in-depth, but at the same time, I appreciate the brevity of the story. I can see why Dixon was noted as being the next Toni Morrison before his death in 1992 due to complications from AIDS. It was truly an emotional novel. Did I cry? No. Did I cringe? Yes. Did it scare me? In some ways… so I suppose I can call that a completed item.
The end is near! After this month, only FOUR titles remain in the 2015 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge. All that remains: book three of a trilogy, a book based on its cover, a book a friend recommends, and a book based on or turned into a TV show. Gosh, what am I going to do if I finish ahead of schedule??
While I read many other books this month, sadly (is it really sad?) they did not help me knock off items for my Challenge. I’m talking at least four books for various book clubs, along with another two or three just for fun. BUT — Since this is the Year of the Book, I’m going to stay on target and stick to the script! Despite going on a little vacation this month, I didn’t actually read all that much, so these are the ones I scratched off the list:
I sorta pulled a fast one this month… Recently, I read Jenny Hubbard’s debut novel, Paper Covers Rock (OMG go read it now), and I was so entranced that I tweeted her about it. I also creeped on her site and saw that she is planning on coming up to the area for a Poetry Festival in October… So, I’ve said in the past that I try really hard not to buy books until I read the ones I already own… I mean, that’s the whole reason I started this blog. Then I told myself that buying a book is okay IF I’m getting an author’s signature. You see where this is going yet? Yes — I dashed out and bought both of Jenny’s books in anticipation for her arrival. As if that weren’t enough, I thought: Hey, while she’s up here, why not host an event for her at the library?? I think one of my favorite parts of my job is to unabashedly spaz out over authors and the amazing works they create. So here’s to you, Jenny! Can’t wait to meet!
And We Stay is set in a fictional girls boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts (note the local interest). We follow Emily Beam, a teen recovering from a traumatic event that occurred at her old school. With the help of some new friends and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, she begins to find peace. As with her first novel, Hubbard blends poetry and prose into a beautiful and haunting narrative.
Ugh. I’ll try to keep this short. I was really excited to ask my mother for the name of a book she loved for this challenge. 180 degrees later… Killing Lincoln was staring at me. “But it’s a really good story!” she said. Well… I think Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter had more truth to it. (Kidding. Sort of.) I got a lot of flack for reading this book… and I’ll remain impartial to political engagements. SO, let’s just say I read it, and I did more research than O’Reilly did in “writing” this book. But thanks, Mom! — It’s a book I wouldn’t have otherwise read, and that’s gotta count for something!
The Ugly: With all the chatter and controversy (?) surrounding Harper Lee’s “new” book, Go Set A Watchman, and knowing that I have never read it, I thought why not try reading To Kill A Mockingbird for the umpteenth time. I never had read it for school, which I sort of kind shocking, and though I tried reading it before, I never got past chapter four. I listened to this one and once I got past hearing Sissy Spacek’s voice as Scout (I previously listened to Spacek narrate Carrie by Stephen King… Now THAT was good!) I finally accepted that I just had to get through it. Honestly, I didn’t care for it. I understand it’s important place in literary history and why it’s taught in school etc., etc., but since I wasn’t reading this through an academic lens, I found little joy. The issue of race will always be an ugly subject in this world. This poor book has been beaten to the ground… I appreciate the idea behind the book and the overall message it delivers rather than the act of reading/listening to it.
For those keeping track, that leaves under 10 books left for the Reading Challenge for the year! That said, many of the remaining titles are books that do not have audiobook versions, so I will probably take my time to trudge through them. I’d say I’m pretty on-track to finish them all this year!