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!
This month I was able to take a big-big chunk out of the challenge list — thank you, summer! — I’ve only got 12 more until I finish the whole list! That’s crazy!! AND that’s only the challenge books, not even the other books on the side that I’m reading that sadly don’t fit into any of the remaining criteria. That said, this was probably my most enjoyable month so far — I loved all of these books! So here we go!
If I were to highlight all these books as much as I want, this entry would be a mile long…This time, let’s try something different: 5 words (or less) to describe why I loved each book, so you can skip all the ramblings underneath.
Red Queen — Local debut author hits big!
I remember picking this book up sometime in the fall of last year while it was still an ARC. It was in such a pretty little Velcro case, too! I had to practically pry it from the bookseller’s fingers because she said it was THAT good — then the next day, WHO shows up at the bookstore looking for it, but Victoria Aveyard herself! I had to tweet her out and admit to taking it… Then I had her sign that very copy at her launch event 🙂
Mort(e) — BAD-ASS CAT.
I met Rob at Book Expo America in 2014. It was my first time attending and everything was shiny and new and I was snatching books from all over the place. While things were winding down on a particular day, I was slowed down by a long signing line spilling out into the walkway. This abrupt roadblock awkwardly placed me right in front of the SoHo Press booth. I spotted the nifty cover and so I picked up a copy to read the back — “The author is signing right over here!” said a tall, slim African-American woman. “What’s it about?” I asked. “It’s about a cat and giant ants that want to take over the world… and… well… The author can sign it for you!” Admittedly, I was apprehensive, but also greedy for a signed book. A very nervous looking Repino was sitting at a table full of his books… I knew I had to say something to break the ice, so I mentioned I was a blogger and I would TOTALLY write a review for his book when I finally got around to reading it. He chuckled a bit and said he appreciated it. WELL, Rob… Here we go!
Yes, Mort(e) is about a cat and giant ants that want to take over the world… but it’s also a touching story of unrelenting dedication and the bonds of friendship (& love). Told in a refreshing voice, Repino chronicles the life of a house cat and his connection with the dog next door. Yes, a normal, non-talking house cat — at least at first. Down below the Earth’s surface lives a gigantic (gross, grubby) queen ant that has decided to rain Hell down on the humans for stomping on and burning all of her little children. She unleashes a “hormone” into the atmosphere that causes a mutation in the animals on the surface enabling them to walk upright and speak (and fire guns and stuff). Suddenly it’s an all-out war between humans and animals, and the animals are kicking some serious butt. Our hero comes to his self-awareness during a traumatic event between his family and the neighbor, resulting in his dog-friend’s disappearance.
With a little nod here and there to Animal Farm by Orwell, Repino’s engaging Sci-Fi is action-packed and even humorous at times. I may not know a whole lot (nothing) about ants and their biology/chemistry, but if what Repino has written about their ‘colony-mind’ and seemingly immortal/never-ending consciousness is at all true… that’s freaking creepy! Bonus points for having a remarkably satisfying ending. (AND even MORE points for a sequel in the works!!).
The Awakening — Everything deserves a second chance.
This is one of those books I HAD to read in school… which, of course, means that I didn’t. In fact, I got to page 11. At least that’s the conclusion I draw based on the dog-eared page. Now I’m going to say something that I never though I would say, but good literature like this is simply wasted on the young! Why would you ever force a teenager to read a story about a woman who is struggling with the monotony of her marriage and the thrill and infatuation of new love (or is it love??). Teens are trying to work through their first loves and infatuations and unrequited feelings and sexual frustrations. Okay, so some teenagers are certainly more emotionally mature than others, but seriously. Come on english teachers. How can they relate? I’m so thankful that I gave this book a second chance by someone’s glowing recommendation. Hmm… what OTHER books did I “read” in school that I should revisit?
Anything Could Happen — I needed this at 14.
I met Will this year at Book Expo America. The ARC of Anything Could Happen somehow ended up on my desk, and I knew from the cover: “Op, this is a gay book. I need to read this… I haven’t read one of these in a while.” I had the intentions of reading it once I finished up with grad school (which maybe tells you how long I had it) — well, meeting Will bumped it up to the top of my list.
When I was young and reading gay literature, I realized it was so much of the same story over and over again… the secrets, the surprise outing, the betrayal and heart ache… and while those all factor into the overall experience of the ‘coming out’ narrative, Will’s book is a much needed upgrade from the traditional. We’re faced with a character in the South, which we can assume is conservative. We’re also presented with a heterosexual love interest that has two dads. The story has some classic elements such as school bullying and unrequited love, but Will wrote a much more realistic take on a young man coming out to himself and his family — and in such an uplifting and positive way, leaving me hopeful and joyously celebrating our protagonist by the end of the last page. Good for you, Will. And good for Tretch — what a cute little bug that boy is 🙂 Thank you for such a beautiful, and current, gay young adult novel.
Fangirl — So relevant to college life!
Okay, I’m started to get pretty long-winded now! Time to crank through these next few. Fangirl reminded me of one of my best friends in college. Though, actually, when I recommended she read this book, she said she did and she didn’t like it (whoops)! But that’s okay! It’s not a reflection of my time in college, but it certainly reminded me of my experiences. Few (if any) people know that I was contemplating writing fan fiction in my middle school days after reading some written about Sailor Moon, and OMG, Gundam Wing! In college I began that contemplation again, and while I never put fingers to keys to type anything up, I certainly had a number of stories and slash-fics in my head. So this one was nostalgic in some ways — which always feels warm and fuzzy.
Anne of Green Gables — Who knew she was funny?
I CRACKED UP when I listened to this book on double-speed. Anne is such a vibrant character on her own, not to mention an incessant chatterbox, but to have her prattling on at twice the normal talking cadence made it seem like she was all tweaked out on caffeine. Towards the end I picked up to read the book, since I was gifted such a beautiful copy by Aracely’s Books, and I still found some humor in the voice. What a treat!
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl — Youtube sensation turned book? YES!
In my quest to find “a book that scares me” I’ve turned to a few spooky/creepy books in hopes that SOMETHING jostles me. This will make me sound like a freak, but I love stories and movies and shows about the supernatural and demons and possessions and all that (sorry Mom). I got to meet Paige at Book Expo this year (notice a trend, folks?) and though I knew I recognized her name, I hadn’t yet watched any of the YouTube series this book is based on. She was kind enough to give me not only a copy for my job at the library, but also one for -me- to have, so if course I had to read it! And while the subject matter was spooky and creepy, which I enjoyed… It’s difficult for me to get scared by a book. But I still liked it a lot, and I’m looking forward to book two. Maybe I should start watching the web series too…!
Bioshock: Rapture — 40/50’s era underwater dystopia.
So, an interesting take on “somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit” — Since Rapture is a fictional place. I was actually considering reading one of the Oz books, or perhaps The Secret Garden. I really wanted to read a book based in Australia, but since I’m drawing titles from books I already own, I’m fresh out of Outback stories. I was hoping this book might also possibly be a “book that scares me” — especially since the games were so enchanting and terrifying…oh gosh, the music alone! — yet again, I closed the book unafraid and unspooked. I blame it all on reading Stephen King at such a young age. Anyway, all the same — I’ve never read a book based on a video game franchise, and this served as a nice prequel. Actually, it made me want to play the games all over again! (Which reminds me, I still have to play the last one set in the flying city of Columbia…)
If you’re still with me, congratulations! You made it through this super-sized entry! I felt I had to compensate for posting late… even though I’m being slick and backdating to the end of July. See ya next month!
June, June, June… Yet another month to fly by all too quickly this year. This month was all about trying to catch up with life — to fall back in step with the day-to-day. While I made some progress in the Reading Challenge, I was able to squeeze in a few non-challenge books, too. But first… A whoops from last month:
Last month I had reported only reading one book. Well, I forgot that I read this one… Probably because I didn’t find it memorable.
The Girl on the Train has been one of those wildly popular bestsellers that we can’t keep on the shelves in the library. I had this on hold for months… everyone raving about it… That should have been a clue. For anyone that is interested in reading it… just read a Wikipedia or Goodreads summary. That’s all you need.
A quick love & hate story…
Loved the Baum biography! I may actually read it again some time! Since the history classes I took in school never covered a whole lot of American history, I felt like I stumbled upon this little treasure trove of information — who knew most children barely survived infancy?? I didn’t! This is one that I’ll be passing around to a few people for sure.
The City of Ashes on the other hand… So, I was never too keen on the first book… though I was really excited to read the series! In fact I bought the first three books all at once. Then I read the first one… and it took me a really long time… then the movie came out… and that was atrocious… then I met the author… and after I was finished being star struck, I settled on accepting that the books were popular, and that I found them to be ‘okay.’ Not bad. But… okay. I think I dislike the series because it IS so popular and I’m still trying to chase down the bandwagon to hop on. And I’m no good at running. So I’m a bit spiteful, for no good reason other than me being a little pouty brat. Still, got another one crossed off my list!
A few extras:
Both of these books made me tear up. Between the nostalgia I have for Charlotte’s Web and remembering what it was like to be a 13/14-year-old boy — these two books hit me in the soft underbelly. Nice job, authors. 🙂
Anything Could Happen by Will Walton ❤ It should have made this month, but I got distracted… But more on that later!
Okay, April was tough. I only finished book from the challenge this month.
But I did a bit of reading for three other titles! I was asked to moderate an author panel at The Odyssey Bookshop, featuring Nova Ren Suma (The Walls Around Us), Lance Rubin (Denton Little’s Deathdate), and Tommy Wallach (We All Looked Up). I did my best to make dents in each of the books to get a strong sense of their stories and themes… and I really enjoyed each of them! Despite each of the books dealing with dark topics like death, our panel was lively and in high spirits. And, I must say, the authors were all adorable. It has been one of my favorite panels — I hope we cross paths again, guys! (BEA?? :D)
The Good: I’ve always enjoyed Murakami’s work. Ever since I read Sputnik Sweetheart during my freshman year of college, there’s been this odd connection I felt. I realized how Murakami’s work had inspired an anime I had watched in high school (Haibane Renmei, for anyone interested). Since then, I’ve collected several of Murakami’s other books, and though I’m looking forward to reading them one day, I may take a break after this one. 1Q84 is about… well… how can I describe this? I enjoyed the characters. I appreciate Murakami’s splitting of the book into three volumes. The overall story was interesting… Hmm…
So… Can I just skimp and say that I liked it in general?
The Bad: Too long. Now I know why some of my friends preferred reading the book in three separate volumes. I listened to the audio as I typically do, and I couldn’t believe how long it took me to get through! I felt like certain parts of the story were drawn out unnecessarily, but then other areas could have been developed more. Perhaps it’s more of an editing problem? This book could have (should have?) been reduced by at least a third… There was quite a bit of repetition. As with other Murakami books, I feel like many of his themes are waaay over my head. Two moons? Little people? And wtf is an air chrysalis, anyway? I just wanted to read more and more about the Cat Town, the Dowager, and Tamaru.
In the end, while I enjoyed it, I had different expectations for 1Q84. To be fair, perhaps if it didn’t take me as long to get through, I may have appreciated the book more. I knew I had to finish it before beginning something else… and now it’s done! Whew!