Reading Challenge 2015

Right as I began thinking about my annual book bracket, I stumbled upon this reading challenge that seems to be making its way around the net. The list by POPSUGAR contains 50 items (52 when you include the trilogy) meaning approximately one book a week. This may be tough. Outside of that one YA lit class in grad school, I’ve never really taken on such a huge volume of books before, and in that class, I really was reading a book or two a week thanks to the power of increased playback speed through Overdrive and Audible.

After reviewing the items, I’ve decided I’m going to take on this challenge, drawing primarily from titles I already own. Hey, if I’m able to knock out 52 books from my own list, I think that will merit some sort of reward. Like chocolate or something. (Maybe booze.) I’ve already drawn up some preliminary items that will satisfy the requirements for the list, and I’m trying to find as many of them in audio format as possible… which may be difficult for some more obscure titles. Luckily, thanks to the power of the library, I should be able to find many other titles in audio as fill-ins.

I know a lot of titles could satisfy multiple items from the list, but my goal is to find 52 unique titles – no cheating!

The countdown begins. I challenge all you readers, too!
You have ten days to prepare. GO!

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Spotlight: Maggie Stiefvater

I don’t often do this. In fact, I never have. But I want to take a moment and talk about an author that I’ve developed quite an appreciation for. This may become a regular thing… like an author spotlight or something… But for now, I’ll just gush about my latest author crush.

Maggie Stiefvater

maggie stiefvater raven boys

Her books preceded her. I heard about “those new werewolf books” (The Wolves of Mercy Falls) several years ago but refused to pay them any attention. In fact, I didn’t even associate her name with the book series because I forced myself to be THAT uninterested. It was probably because I was too turned off of teen paranormal romance at that time. Thanks, Twilight. Then as one of the first choices for a book club that I joined, we were tasked with reading The Raven Boys. I found the audiobook available on Overdrive and started listening.

Loved it. I’ll spare the premise, since I’m focusing on Maggie, here. But it’s awesome. Go read it. In fact, read all of her books. Cuz I pretty much have, now.

Maggie lives in Virginia – SCORE
After I moved away from the Bahamas, I lived at a boarding school in Virginia, went to college in Virginia, and ended up living there almost 10 years. Virginia has always been my home away from home. Maggie has written several of her books set in Virginia. The Raven Boys, specifically, is even about guys in a boarding school. Without needed to say much more, it was so incredibly easy for me to relate.

Maggie is an artist – AWESOME
I’ve always loved art. When I was little, I toted around a stuffed Crayola Bunny that had a pocket in its overalls to hold a few crayons. I was so obsessed with those color names too. In fact, at my primary school, I identified my peers to my parents by what color their skin was by Crayola standards: peach, tan, brown… And I was so confused when people said they were white or black, because THEY DIDN’T MATCH THE CRAYON!  My love for art continued throughout my high school career, expanding my craft into dark room photography, which I ultimately majored in when I went to college.

Maggie is a musician – OMG
For many years I played piano. I really enjoyed it, until I had to start composing my own pieces for these examinations… then I felt burnt out. Though I never practiced at home, my teacher said I showed great talent – and just imagine what I would be like if I DID practice at home! It’s been years since I’ve played, but it’s one of those things I hold dear and have such an appreciation for.

Maggie is a race car enthusiast – SERIOUSLY
Okay, so I don’t have much to say about this point, besides race car being a fun palindrome. But come on, guys… how many people do you know zip around in neat cars with custom license plates (cuz it’s so darn cheap in Virginia!) and graffiti their car in 3.5 minutes?? Seriously, check out the video on her website.

Maggie writes some seriously fantastic books – DONE!
After breezing through The Raven Boys, I decided (with some hesitation) to try out The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, then Scorpio Races. Most recently, (cuz I have to do all of these in audio now) The Dream Thieves. For a typical contemporary Young Adult author, her stories are remarkably fresh and original. The bits of romance in WoMF were tender, honest and realistic. Scorpio Races was enchanting — come on, a girl enters the ‘wild & crazy water horse’ race to save her struggling family? Who comes up with this stuff? This chick does. Oh, and she also composes and performs the music for the audio books.

Done, done, done! Subscribe me +1000 times! Fav, retweet, blast that out.  Maggie Stiefvater is a rock star. I told her once. She proved it:

twitter maggie stiefvater

Have I said enough? For an author that wasn’t even on my radar, she has sprung up out of nowhere and completely captured me. Like a bear trap, actually. Or a snake with big fangs. But a nice snake. A colorful, cheeky, magical snake. She has sunk her sharp and witty teeth in to my unsuspecting self and pumped in her intelligent prose and beautiful imagery. So read (or listen) to her books. I’m going to pine over her Tarot card illustrations and maybe dance to a tribal summoning song  and hope she comes out to Western Mass one day. Hey, there’s a thought…

 

 

Dirty Bird

 

 

 

Y’all knew my break from reading Stephen King wouldn’t last long! This may be my last King book for the year — it’s certainly the one on my to-read list for this year… there’s only a few left now! Next up is Misery: about a writer that is held captive by his #1 fan. Popularized by the film starring Kathy Bates, I was excited to work my way through this one. I also rented the movie (because why not?) to compare. King’s work has always stuck with me, and I’m glad I finally read Misery. It might not be my favorite, but Annie Wilkes is a stand-out, unforgettable character.

 misery, stephen king, kathy bates

 

Many already know the story, but to recap for those that don’t, Misery is about a writer, (as so many King books are) Paul Sheldon, who has a car accident while driving in a snow storm and is saved coincidentally by a big burly woman, Annie Wilkes, who happens to be his number one fan. She also just happens to be cockadoody crazy. Annie nurses Paul back to a some-what better health than before. As a kind of sick payment, she forces Paul to write a sequel to her favorite book series he wrote. In the meantime, she’s got him hooked on pain killers and confined to a single room.

I love books that get a reaction from me, and I found myself really cringing at some parts: especially the iconic *SPOILER* axe-to-the foot *END SPOILER* scene. Also appreciated was the background on Annie through her scrapbook. In fact, I would have loved reading even more, especially with her family, her college days, knocking off all those people in the hospital, her marriage… Long illness, short illness, whatever the case, Annie is one dirty bird that I can’t get enough of. Can there be a prequel please?? Yes, the premise of the book is interesting, but I find it to be more of a character study on poor Annie here. How often do you read a book that’s like a moving portrait of a person?

This book made me think about those times I’ve blathered on in front of authors I’ve met. Honestly, hanging around someone day in and day out for nearly a year like in Misery would tarnish their image for me. Once you realize authors, (celebrities, etc) are really just people, and they live boring lives just like the rest of us, it’s just not as exciting anymore. So let’s keep things exciting! Let authors roam free!

Verdict: READ THE BOOK. Though the movie was good in its own way, this is yet another Stephen King book that lives a better life on the page than on the screen. Absent from the movie are the cut-a-ways to Paul’s in-progress novel, Misery’s Return, which I found oddly fascinating. And what happened to the axe? Instead it’s a sledgehammer? Hey, at least Annie Wilkes is still cooky, somehow lovable, yet despicable. Kathy Bates made the movie.  I don’t often say this of adaptations to the screen, but Misery the movie was a very watered down version of the book. It’s like weak tea. It’s still tea, you still get the smell and taste of tea, it’s just not as flavorful. Misery the book ranks high on my most-liked King book list. The movie… needs to be steeped longer!

That’s all for now folks! 🙂

PS
Technically I listened to this book, and the audio is amazing. Brilliant job!

A Fever in my Blood

 

Boy, this took me long enough! I finally, finally, got around to reading Rebel Heart by Moira Young, book 2 in the Dustlands trilogy. I happened upon Blood Red Road (book 1) while I was in Canada one summer. Without having heard much about it before, I picked it up, because I couldn’t leave a bookstore empty-handed. Honestly, I didn’t begin reading it until a few months later, but once I did, I flew through the pages. Once I realized there were to be two more books following, I pre-ordered the titles as soon as they became available. That was a few years ago now, and since I loved BRR so much, I wanted to be sure Rebel Heart made it on my list of books to read this year.
Rebel Heart, Blood Red Road, Dustlands, Moira Young

 

The first thing you’ll notice about the Dustlands trilogy is the way it is written. That may sound sort of generic, but flip through the pages and you’ll see there are no quotation marks indicating speech. It is also written in the vernacular of the world. G’s are dropped from words ending with ‘-ing,’ instead of ‘for’ it’s ‘fer,’ rather than ‘afraid’ it’s ‘afeared,’ ‘can’t’ is ‘cain’t,’ etc. Honestly, it felt really odd for the first 40 pages or so, but soon you find yourself in the rhythm and you don’t even notice. Sometimes, the line spacing even makes the prose feel like verse… which may sound weird, but it works!

Moira Young does a marvelous job of supplying the reader with just enough detail. Sort of like a watercolor painting, her words suggest description while leaving us to fill in the specifics with our own imagination. It’s remarkable how liberating that feels… but I didn’t realize it until after I was through reading the book. It’s not like other writers that will ramble for pages about the bark of a tree.

Rebel Heart starts with a shift in perspective – we hear from another character’s point of view. Immediately I thought about Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, wondering if this book would follow the same pattern: book 1, one perspective – book 2, two perspectives – book 3, three perspectives. In this case, the shift serves as a prologue. The book picks up pretty much where the first left off. (I’m purposefully leaving out characters and plot points for spoilers — Yeah, I’m being nice this time. You’re welcome.) Again, it took me a little while to get into the stylized rhythm, but I adjusted. The character names were all familiar, but I had to remind myself who was who from the previous book.

Saba, the protagonist, is the same as she was – stubborn, fierce, and unrelenting. After the events of the first book, it’s rewarding to see her struggle and develop through this next installment. She’s not perfect. Often I feel as though these strong-female-protagonists-in-a-post-apocalyptic-dystopian-world-for-young-adults all start to blend together. Not so with Saba. Her inner conflict is so… I wanna say textured, but that sounds weird… It’s pebbly and rocky, if that makes sense. And a few times, her decisions made me go “what?!” — and THAT’S what makes her such an interesting read. Saba is easily my favorite protagonist in this genre so far.

Oh, and speaking of genre. Something I should mention: this is very much a Western. That may shock you readers, but I urge you to give it a try. There are a lot of John Ford and John Wayne influences… In fact, does anyone remember The Searchers (1956 film)? If you liked that, you’ll definitely like this series. Now that I think about it, I suppose book 1 sort of follows along that same kind of story too.

Hopefully it won’t be another 3 years before I read the final book, Raging Star!

 

No Awful Books – EVER!

A few months ago, I found a new website through Twitter called Blogging for Books. Immediately, I registered. The premise is simple: Choose a book, read the book, review the book. As someone who is desperately trying not to purchase any more books, I’m thankful for this little loophole of a website. That said, in my new job, I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to actually READ rather than LISTEN to books. Hopefully this doesn’t disqualify me from my review, but I happened to find the audiobook version and got through the book that way, since I was having a difficult time paging through it. So here we go: my review of Mother, Mother.

 mother, mother koren zailckas

Touted as “Mommie Dearest” and “Psycho,” I had hopes this book would be thrilling and emotionally charged, perhaps cultish. Unfortunately, by the time I finished, I was still waiting for a crazy murder scene. I will say that there was a lot of emotional manipulation, but the twist was a smidge predictable… but that’s just my own impression! There are lots of people that wouldn’t pick up on it! I still enjoyed this book and would recommend it — in fact, I have recommended it.

We’ve got a mother and father, both of whom are very concerned with her public appearance. The father is a closet recovering alcoholic. Their eldest daughter has run off and has pretty much been disowned. The middle daughter has been blamed for harming their younger autistic + epileptic brother. So as the story chugs along, we eventually discover that (kind of spoiler🙂 the eldest daughter had gotten pregnant out of wedlock. Middle daughter is in hanging out in a mental institution getting post cards/letters from eldest daughter. Little brother is being coddled and soothed by mom. (Oooh… maybe that’s where the Psycho-Norman-Bates reference comes from.) Every chapter alternated viewpoints between middle daughter and little brother. I’d say most of the story progression happened with the daughter’s chapters, while the son’s chapters provided vignettes illustrating the mother’s behavior… which is in many ways repeated in the daughter’s chapters. I’m not saying those chapters weren’t necessary, but the son didn’t really provide us with anything we couldn’t gather from the other viewpoint. Furthermore, he didn’t experience any character progression like the father and daughter did. But that’s being really picky… and I feel criticizing a character that has a disorder like that… He just felt a little one-note.

Sparing you any more spoilers, secrets are revealed, and most characters meet their appropriate ending. Reading through this again, I really don’t mean to be so critical. I did enjoy the book. I blame the blurbs and marketing for this book — I was expecting something more scary. So my expectations were a bit skewed… that’s all.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Guest Review: Landline

Love. Writing. Adventure.

by Garrett Pinder

It’s rare that I’m able to connect with a book on a level that really resonates with me, but Landline by Rainbow Rowell did. Better known for her wildly popular YA novel Eleanor & Park, Rowell carried me along with her easy flowing prose in this, her fourth book. At BEA 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting her as she signed an ARC (advanced reader copy) of the book. (Out now!)

Landline by Rainbow RowellLandline Signed by Rainbow Rowell

What’s it about?

We enter the story finding Georgie and Neal in the doldrums of marriage, struggling to manage work and care for their two young girls. Christmas is swiftly approaching, and the family has plans to visit Neal’s mother in Omaha for the holidays, when Georgie is offered a once in a lifetime opportunity at work. Unfortunately, this opportunity conflicts with travel plans, and Neal bitterly insists Georgie stay home while he takes…

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A Hero’s Impact

Why didn’t I read this when I was younger? I had to go back through my old Amazon.com orders to remember when I purchased this book, and it turns out it was part of one of the last orders I ever made when I was still living in Richmond, Virginia. I ordered this book along with The Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard, the Enchanted DVD, and a Pokemon graphic novel — a pretty odd assortment, yet strangely appropriate.

hero perry moore

 

Of the sixteen books that survived my Gauntlet, this was actually one of the first I finished. (My hold for the audiobook version came in before some of the others, which was remarkably well done.) Also of the ones I’ve read from the list, this may be one of my favorites… and it is so bittersweet. I think I said bittersweet in one of my last reviews… it is so tragic.

Hero is about a teenage boy named Thom. His mother is presumed to be dead. His father is a smidge gruff  and stern, but still lovable.  They live in a world where Superheroes exist. !n fact, his father is a Super, but has become estranged from The League. Like many teenaged boys, Thom is trying to live up to his father’s expectations… but also hide some pretty big secrets: 1) he has superpowers and 2) he is gay. Throughout the book, Thom struggles with acceptance, fitting in, dating, discovering who he really is… which is all quite typical in my opinion. So what makes this book so appealing?

First, superheroes are awesome. The cast of characters in this novel are incredibly memorable. Thom has to go through an initiation of sorts at The League’s headquarters and is assigned to a team of similarly skilled budding new Supers, including Typhoid Larry (walking CDC nightmare), Scarlett (flying, fireball-throwing pizza delivery girl), and Ruth (chain-smoking, future-seeing old crone).  Oh, Thom’s power is being able to heal things. The team is sent out on little missions and things, and start to uncover conspiracies within The League… all really solid elements. Good good good.

Second, and I point this out second because it’s not the main part of the story, Thom’s sexuality, accepting himself for not only being a Super, but for also being gay, and discovering a bit of romance. There is a tenderness to Thom that makes him so likable. He is also self-deprecating in an endearing sort of way. (Because what teen isn’t a little self-deprecating?) There are so many wonderful passages in Hero… the prose is not only elegant, but also witty. I want to paste oh, so many of them here… but instead I’ll tell you to go read the book.

As for the tragedy: Perry Moore died of an accidental drug overdose in 2011. He was the executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia film series (2005 – 2010). He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, he graduated from Norfolk Academy, interned at the Virginia Film Fest… And I knew none of this at the time I purchased the book. Moore was working on a sequel to Hero sometime before he died. Thankfully, I don’t think a sequel would be necessary, but it would at least satisfy everyone’s questions of “what next?” Hero was wrapped up pretty well. There were a few surprises that spurred on some tears, but I attribute that to the impact of the audiobook.

And so, Hero entered my life some four years ago in a rag-tag Amazon order, in the author’s hometown (that I will always fondly think of as another home,) and made the journey with me to forge a new life, where I “became more and more of who I really was, and less of this person I thought wanted to be.”

“Once in a while, life gives you a chance to measure your worth. Sometimes you’re called upon to make a split-second decision to do the right thing, defining which way your life will go. These are the decisions that make you who you are.”

Thanks, Perry Moore – your Hero made quite an impact on this reader.

 

Mid-year Appraisal

Six months ago I posted an entry detailing my method of selecting the order of what books to read next for this year. Now that it’s June, I thought I would do a quick tally of what I’ve read so far of that list, and what’s in progress. Again, strikethroughs represent finished entries, bold represents currently in progress, and asterisks* represent e-books.

  1. Reached
  2. Insurgent
  3. Cujo
  4. Dogs of Babel
  5. Hero
  6. Ten*
  7. The Brothers Bishop
  8. A Year in Provence
  9. Rebel Heart
  10. Beautiful Darkness
  11. Will Grayson, Will Grayson
  12. In The Line of Beauty
  13. Misery
  14. Better Nate Than Ever*
  15. PTown
  16. Little Children

I’ve tried to keep things in order, but after reading Cujo, reading another book about a dog turned me off a bit. I got about 30 pages into Dogs of Babel and had to switch over to Danielle Paige’s No Place Like Oz and Dorothy Must Die. (Those will have their own blog post!) Now I split my time between Ten, since I can now read in bed at night, thanks to my Kindle Paperwhite, and Dogs of Babel. Admittedly, looking back along this list, I believe all of the books I’ve finished were in audio format… which could explain why it’s taking me so long to get through Dogs of Babel. Try as I might to get a hold of the audiobook copy, the only one in my library system I could find was at a school for the blind, and my librarian said they couldn’t request it. (Why not?? Ugh…) There is a rhythm to Dogs of Babel’s chapter structure that I am finally getting in to, and I am really surprised by how much I appreciate Parkhurst’s writing style. Her dialog between characters seems so natural and ‘real-worldy’ that I am easily able to imagine illustrious scenes as I work my way through the narrative. That’s the whole point of story-telling anyway, right?

On the other hand, Ten is not as exciting as I hoped it would be… I had high hopes, but I suppose there really is little sense in recreating Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Why bother sticking modern day teens on an island and have a power outage? There hasn’t been a desperate attachment to technology that has been built upon to make the power outage worth sending the cast into a frenzy over. I’m about a third of my way into it and nothing is blowing me away… But I’ll save the rest of my judgement until I finish. Every time I sit down to read it, I’m compelled to go ‘home’ on my Kindle to try and read something else, like The Madman’s Daughter or Better Nate Than Ever, but so far, my willpower has been steadfast. Not all hope is lost… yet!

 

Besides this list, I’ve made my way through many other books, all listed on the Unmentioned page, which has just been updated. With all of the new ARCs from BEA this year, I’ll have to take another stab at that separate page… I may just combine them all together  and use a different symbol to differentiate them, similar to the e-books. Oh, I can’t wait to read those!

 

As always, stay tuned! Thanks for reading!

Strike from the Record

Today marks a big day for my Sickness. With the recent acquisition of all of these books from BEA, and little room on my new shelves, I decided it was time to say goodbye to some old friends. Taking books to the library to be donated felt like abandoning a beloved cat on the stoop of an animal shelter.

Okay, so that’s a bit over-dramatic… especially since the books I donated mostly had uncracked spines – meaning I listened to them through audiobook instead – but all the same, I can remember where I got each of those books. Some came from school classes, others from Christmas and birthday gifts, some from bargain racks…

Let’s take a moment to remember those donated today, and hereby strike the following entries from the record of my master list.

 

Taking on the Big Boys – Ellen Bravo
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
The People of Sparks – Jeanne DuPrau
The Prophet of Yonwood – Jeanne DuPrau
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith
The Girl on the Fridge – Etgar Keret
Comfort Food – Kate Jacobs
The Friday Night Knitting Club – Kate Jacobs
Knit Two – Kate Jacobs
Knit the Season – Kate Jacobs
The Cobra Event – Richard Preston

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

P.S.
Right, you thought there were going to be a lot more than that, huh? One step at a time here, people! Sheesh!

They Will Not Go Unnoticed

After updating my master list this month, and feeling a bit discouraged with my progress, I decided to create a separate page for The Unmentioned titles that I finish in between the books I own. I don’t want anyone (especially me!) to think that I’m slacking off over here. There is almost always an audiobook on my smartphone and discs in my car’s CD player. Seeing the list also makes me feel pretty darn accomplished. This new list is also a way of reminding myself that I can blog about books outside of my own shelves… Because I’ve come across some nice gems WITHOUT having to purchase them! WIN!

The Unmentioned