Posts Tagged ‘Book Riot’

Mid-year Check-in: Read Harder Challenge 2017.

June 14, 2017

We’re at the halfway point of 2017, and as I set down my summery drink* I realize how much sweat and hard work has gone into this year already, because I just wrote the challenge was for 2018, not 2017. (Yeah, I’ll get right on that correction. Oops.)

This reading year has been a struggle for me. I’ve spent most of my time re-reading favorites (thanks, Goodreads, for finally allowing those re-reads to “count”), sinking into steamy romances, and…well…not reading. The last time I had this much trouble finding time and energy to read was the year before my divorce when things weren’t going the greatest for me and so I spent my time not thinking about anything. You’d think escaping into fiction would help, but for some weird reason, it doesn’t. This year, in the middle of this political nightmare, things are much of the same. My reading tallies are a hot mess!

Except when it comes to my Read Harder Challenge.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how close I am to finishing already! But I do have a few categories I still need to fill, and I need your suggestions to help get the job done! So let’s see where I’m at…

Read a book about sports: Sudden Death, by Alvara Enrigue

Read a debut novel: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Read a book about books: My Soul Looks Back, by Jessica Harris (I cheated a little – it’s about authors more than books, but meh meh meh…)

Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author:

Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran

Read an all-ages comic: March, by Rep. John Lewis

Read a book published between 1900 and 1950:

Read a travel memoir: An African in Greenland, by Tete-Michel Kpomassie

Read a book you’ve read before: The Chaneysville Incident, by David Bradley

Read a book that is 100 miles of your location:

Read a book that is set more than 5,000 miles from your location: The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan

Read a fantasy novel: Version Control, by Dexter Palmer

Read a nonfiction book about technology: Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Read a book about war: American War, by Omar El Akkad

Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+:

Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and Jill Tamaki

Read a classic by an author of color: Amiable with Big Teeth, by Claude McKay

Read a superhero comic with a female lead: Rani Patel in Full Effect, by Sonia Patel (I make my own definitions of what is and isn’t a superhero. An outsider, a woman, who steps up and finds her voice? Superhero.)

Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey: When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel:

Read a book published by a micropress: Fish in Exile, by Vi Khi Nao

Read a collection of stories by a woman: Speak Gigantular, by Irenosen Okojie

Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love:

Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color: The Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

See? So much better than I thought it was going to be when I sat down, looked at what I had, and figured out what could go where.

Now here’s where you come in – what should I read to fill up my bingo card? For my “within 100 miles of your location” clue, think of anything in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. (It makes it easy, no?) One last requirement – if you’ve noticed (or remember from my other posts), I am filling up my challenge with books by people of color. I do diversely on my own, but this is one more way to make a very focused effort to do an even better job.

So hit me up with your recommendations! I’m only 5 books away from standing up and yelling BINGO!! …And maybe treating myself to something from the Book Riot store.

 

 

*Not really. But if wishing made it so…

#Riotgram, Day 7: Most Loved.

June 7, 2017

Today’s #Riotgram challenge, hosted by the ever-fabulous Book Riot, focuses on most loved books. But what exactly does that mean?! Should I focus on the books I love best (and show it in the wear and tear)? Talk about my Stephen King obsession? The series I re-read every year? My favorite books shelf?

My favorite books shelf – let’s start there.

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My favorites shelf is missing quite a few of my favorite books. My favorite series – Stephen King’s Dark Tower; Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman family saga; Harry Potter; The Eyre Affair series by Jeffrey Fforde; Anne. There simply isn’t room and it would hurt my heart (and the books)(shoosh) for the series to be broken up over multiple shelves. Also, this way I can fit most of my absolute favorites on one shelf.

The Christmas book is there because it’s one of those Hallmark books that let you record your voice, and my mom’s voice is in there. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, or else I’ll need a tissue or forty.

Oh! I lied – a collector’s edition of Anne is on the shelf! I’d forgotten about that! I’ll try to grab a better picture of that and post it later. It’s gorgeous!

Then there are a favorite from high school – The Great Gatsby. My girlfriends and I (who ruled AP English) fell madly in love with it, and that love was cemented in college when we discussed symbolism and motifs and, dear god, all the irony. The same with what I think of as my college favorites – Their Eyes Were Watching God; The Portrait of a Lady; The Chaneysville Incident; and The White Boy Shuffle. 

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood might be part of a trilogy, but I pretend it isn’t because of…things…that complicate favorite characters beyond the pale.

Pride and Prejudice I didn’t read until the year after Gracie was born and I was mind-boggled over how it was such a fan favorite until I got to the botched proposal…and then I couldn’t put it down.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert might be a bit hokey, but it got me through my divorce. And that’s a good enough reason for me!

The Anne Fadiman collections of personal essays were divine! I couldn’t read them for want of writing, and I couldn’t write because I wanted to keep hoovering up more of her writing! It’s my favorite dilemma, really. There are readers, though, who really aren’t all about writing, and I wonder – honestly – how well Fadiman holds up for those sorts of people.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a great family drama, one where you can’t tell where the function of family ends and the dysfunction takes over. Perhaps because the dysfunction of my family is so readily apparent, it fascinates me that for some families, the dynamic hasn’t always been that way, with one or two or three functional souls in the middle of the chaos.

White Oleander is the opposite – dysfunctional family drama at its best. You can also find perhaps the Cruella deVillest character this side of Disney. (Yes, yes – Dodie Smith, I know.)

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is – just go read it. This novel embodies the group of characters I’m most upset I can’t meet in real life. Which maybe doesn’t make sense because they’re located on a tiny island in the middle of the English Channel. Doesn’t matter; still holds true.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern wasn’t a hit the first half of the book. I trudged through to make my sister happy. The moment the love story became more than apparent, I fell for it. Which now seems silly – the reason I really love it is because it’s hands down the most imaginative book I’ve ever read. If Guernsey contains the characters I most want to meet, Night Circus is the book I most want to be real.

The White Mary by Kira Salak and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett are two stories on the same theme. Wild adventures in the remotest of remote places; feminist lenses; love vs. career vs. self…so many shared themes, but with different characters and different ways of carrying it off.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is perhaps the most adventurific character study I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, especially given that it breaks down stereotypes left and right. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan is the least likely John Green novel you’ll ever read. It, too, plays into stereotypes so hard in its identity-heavy examinations that it often shoots right past them. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork is similar, but throws in some ableism into the mix. They’re three on a theme.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is like a throwback to the 80s all the way around. It’s set during the decade, it tweaks the heart like a break-up power ballad, and it’ll make you relive all the best and worst bits of growing up.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is kind of like Elegance of the Hedgehog, but if it took place in the middle of the Serbian War. Or, wait, is that quite right? I can never quite categorize this one. Except it’s lovely.

Harriet the Spy is everything about who I wanted to be when I was a little kid. And still.

The Martian is everything about my voice as a grown-up. Except you’d never get me into outer-space.

Tiny, Beautiful Things is the best advice book I could ever recommend to anyone going through a tough time, about to go through a tough time, or who wants to be a writer when they “grow up.”

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is variant on a Ya-Ya theme. If you like one…

And the Daughters of Smoke and Bone trilogy. I’m so glad I ignored all of the praise for it when it first came out, because if I couldn’t read it all in one go, I don’t know what I would have done. I’m selective about my fantasy, and this still passed the test.

Sometimes I can’t believe I can fit all of those stories on just one shelf! What about your shelf – what favorite books do you have on yours?

#Riotgram Challenge, Day 4: Notebooks & Journals.

June 4, 2017

Sometimes, dear reader, I can be very naive. I’ve kept a reading journal since I was in high school, but I never once realized such journals were a thing! And quite a big thing, indeed.

I started my reading journal at first because I couldn’t keep straight which Agatha Christie novels I had read, and since my goal was to read them all, keeping track was somewhat important. So I started writing down every book I read in the back of my diary. It was simple: title, author, month/year I’d read it.

I wish I’d kept up with the habit, but for some reason, at some point – I stopped. I picked up the habit again after the divorce. That one I didn’t even need my therapist’s help to understand: I needed a little more order and control in my life, and this was one easy way to obtain it. So I splurged on a black leather notebook. My real Little Black Book!

The format is still simple. I write down the title, author, and month/year read. I star in the left margin if the book was one of my absolute favorites. I make a small dot in the right-hand margin if the book was published in the same year I’d read it (reading fewer backlist books was a reading goal of mine a year or two ago). And next to the date I might make a few notations – YA (young adult), NF (non-fiction), R (re-read), POC (author or characters of color). I track soooo many more categories in my digital spreadsheet, but those are the ones I found myself looking for most frequently so I could make recommendations.

It’s just a small thing, my Little Black Book, but she’s my precious.

#Riotgram challenge, Day 3: Where You Read.

June 3, 2017

Morning, morning, morning. Except…well, it’s night. It’s been a busy weekend! We’ve had sleepovers and midnight doughnut parties and chicken soup snacks at midnight and tonight is another round of parties, and somewhere in there I fixed the sewing machine and taught Bee-girl how to sew. Oh! And then she and I ran out to the fabric store real quick (as you do) and made a bunch of purchases that were wants, not needs. Whoops.

What I should have been focusing on was today’s challenge: Where do you read?

I have a bunch of answers.

I wanted to find the picture of the new book nooks the girls built, after all of the pre-planned ones failed to come into being. What happened was that after we tilted out the chaise lounge so that Kim (er, or, um, anyone else sitting there) could see the television, there was an interesting space between the kitchen bar and the back of the chaise. That space has been used for forts, hide and seek, playing house – all sorts of things. But mostly, it’s been the book nook.

Of course I can’t find any of the pictures.

But because we are a house stuffed chock-a-block full of readers, I have other pictures at my disposal. Like this one:

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Sometimes I read on my patio. It’s one of my happy places, especially when it’s sunny. Especially when I have a new Stephen King. Especially when I need some quiet, happy time.

That, um, gets blown up when your favorite girls ambush you with some silly string.

I’d tell you I was mad at them and taught them about the value of expensive hardcovers and hair that had just been washed and styled. Except I was dying of laughter and could barely control myself for chasing them around the house with the string I picked up off the ground to fling at them.

We’re a house full of readers. We read all over the place. We just don’t expect any of those places to be sacred and off-guard to anyone. Or any thing.

A little #Riotgram fun for June.

June 1, 2017

Riotgram

I thought I might make a little bit of fun for myself during June. And the best way to do that is to kick off summer with a fun bookish challenge, am I right? Of course I am!

So I’m picking up this #Riotgram that the ever-lovely Book Riot is sponsoring. We’ll see how often I remember to post. No matter how often or how little, when I do, it’s sure to bring a smile to my face. I hope to yours, too.

Today’s theme is a shelfie. Let’s see what we have!

Shelfie

#Riotgram: Day 1. Shelfie.

Corrie was over Friday night, before Bee’s infamous birthday sleepover, and in the middle of dishing with me about who knows what all (we hadn’t seen each other in awhile), my bestie blurted out: “Did you color code your bookshelves?!” With some besties, you can tell you’re in when they know if you’ve cut your hair. With my circle, it’s knowing where my books go on my bookshelf.

Although, I have to say – I can’t find anything now. Even if I know, say, that Dicey’s Song is purple, I can’t seem to find it still. So my shelfie might look entirely different at the end of next week. Ask me again!

What about you guys? What’s the craziest thing you can boast of in your shelfies? Have you ever color-coded…and regretted it?

ReadHarder Challenge: Smashed!

September 15, 2016

If you’ve spent any time at all reveling in the online reading community, you know about the wickedly awesome BookRiot and their READ HARDER challenge, in which we, as readers, are challenged to read more diversely. Read a romance novel. Read a book by an author whose gender is different than yours. Read a novel by an author of color. Listen to an audio book. I love reading, I love challenges, and while I have always pushed myself to read diversely, we can always use a little more nudging. So of course I signed myself up last year (and had a blast) and again this year. But this year, I added a bit of an extra challenge. I decided for the 2016 READ HARDER challenge that every book, in addition to the challenge presented, had to be written by a person of color.

It was amazingly fun, incredibly intentional, and wildly diverse. I felt like I was reading more mindfully than I have in ages. What could be more awesome than that? This week, in honor of #DiverseAThon, I vowed to knock out my last two challenges: Read a non-fiction book about science; and Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award. I did it. I completed the READ HARDER challenge! Here’s how it shook out…

Read a horror book. I went with Samantha Mabry’s A Fierce and Subtle Poison (Algonquin, 2016, 288 pgs, ebook). My original review: I found a deal and splurged on the ebook for Bout of Books because I still needed a horror story by a person of color for my Read Harder challenge. It might also be technically considered Young Adult, but I found it crossed over very nicely, mostly because of the way it played with local myths and legends in PR, turning the tale into an environmental scifi ghost story. One that’s quite readable, too. The ending wasn’t quite as satisfying as the set-up – the book definitely started out at 4 stars. Still worth curling up with it for an afternoon. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Read a nonfiction book about science. I’ll admit: I was struggling to find a science-y book that I would find engaging. And then I remembered everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. I chose Star Talk: Everything You Ever Need to Know about Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe and Beyond (2016, National Geographic, 288 pgs, hardcover), because hello! How gorgeous is that book?! And how could you not want to be stuffed chock-a-block full of all those interesting tidbits?! It was engaging, informative, and about space – one of my favorite subjects even if it does trigger a panic attack here and there. 4 of 5 stars.

Read a collection of essays. Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere, by Andre Aciman (2011, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 208 pages, paperback). My original review: This was one of the books included in my last Quarterly Box, and I was delighted because personal essays are my jam. Aciman didn’t quite get to Anne Fadiman level, but his lyricism was really a wonder to behold. His essays covered nearly all of Europe, it seemed, and were as varied as my mind on a particularly ADHD afternoon. Different wheres, different whens, and all with that soft, nostalgic gauziness of memory overlapping everything. Looking for a collection of essays for your Read Harder challenge? Look no further! 3 of 5 stars.

Read a book out loud to someone else. Every year I read a book for 9/11 and this year I chose the critically acclaimed Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2016, Little Brown, 240 pages, hardcover). The middle grade novel read well, as a grown-up who lived through those horrible events, and as someone who struggles how to even begin explaining what that was like (and what it meant) to my middle school-aged children. A variety of reactions were covered by students, teachers, and parents in the story, as well as the way that loss knitted into our identity as a country. It’s the first book I’ve read written from a post-9/11 perspective and it was still haunting even as I found it a bit healthier form of grieving. The girls were fascinated and I think enjoyed that the book is as much about friendship and other things, not just all 9/11 all the time. Super mega bonus points for a healthy depiction of a struggling family having to deal with shelter life. 4 of 5 stars.

Read a middle grade novel. As soon as I heard Francisco Stork (of Marcello in the Real World fame) had a new book coming out, I was all over that pre-order button. My original review for The Memory of Light (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016, 336 pages, hardcover): I pre-ordered this book on the strength of the other Stork book that’s one of my all-time favorites, Marcelo in the Real World. I didn’t quite feel the same magic, but I still really enjoyed the book, in spite of its different feel. About a girl who wakes up in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, Memory of Light follows Vicky as she learns to stand up for herself to her demanding father, make new friends with fellow “mentals” in the hospital, learn how to figure out what’s going on in her mind and heart, and what to do when she’s on her own, back in the situation she was when she did “the deed.” I really liked that Stork gave us the “but then what happened?” What happens after a mother dies from a terminal illness? How do the family members handle their grief? What happens after the suicide attempt? What happens after the leading character is released to the “real” world? If more of those books are out there, I haven’t read them yet, and it’s important that they are easily found, for middle school kids and high schoolers – and yes, even adults – the find and identify with. To learn from. The ending was a leeeeetle crazily convenient, but I was willing to overlook it with so many flashes of brilliance. 4 of 5 stars.

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography). I went with Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by Manning Marable. I took a seminar in college on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and their contrasting approaches to protesting and affecting change. Both men are so charming and had such gravitational pull that I will always pick up anything about them. Given that, I didn’t learn much new, but Marable’s portrayal of such a complex figure who was constantly reinventing his story was compelling reading. I was glad I picked it up, especially given the ideas put forth in Miranda’s Hamilton: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? 4 of 5 stars.

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel. I had so much fun with this one! Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me (Harper, 2011, 338 pages, library ebook). My original review: I wasn’t sure about this story when I started. It’s the story of a teenager/young woman trapped in a cell in an insane asylum, though the world has gone nuts and it’s clear we’re dealing with an apocalyptic tale, so for all intents and purposes, our girl – Juliette – is in a cell. Her deal? Her touch is lethal, hurting (like a taser, perhaps?) anyone who touches her. And The Reestablishment that is keeping her safehostage says it’s trying to restore order and keep the public safe, but are they? And why is their leader so singularly focused on keeping Juliette his prisoner? I was a bit wary going in. The writing wasn’t knocking it out of the park, but it was good enough, and the voice was a bit compulsive. The feel of it reminded me of The Fifth Wave. I got a bit curious and had to find out what happened, and then things did happen and I was devouring it before I knew what was happening. The ending was a bit convenient and didn’t really tie up any loose ends or, say, end the story so much as it set up the next book in the series. That bugged. Oh, and one other thing to mention – as I turned the page and was surprised to find only the About the Author section, I read a bit of it and was intrigued by the first sentence: “Tahereh Mafi is a girl.” That’s it. The very first thing they want us to know. Why? Because Tahereh isn’t a name most are familiar with? Because she’s run into confusion so often? But you guys – why does it matter? It shouldn’t. It might to her, but what message does that send? That there’s no room for confusion. It says we should all know and the answers should be definite, if not readily apparent. That everyone should know. And with everything going on right now in this country, I don’t like that message. Gender can be fluid. Gender identity isn’t always concrete. It’s Tahereh’s business if she wants us to know her gender expression, but I wish there was a bit more explanation to it than “I’m a girl and that’s the most important thing I want you to know about me.” Okay. Off soapbox. 3 of 5 stars.

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award. This week I knocked out Oprah’s What I Know for Sure, a compilation of articles she’s published in O Magazine. The audiobook was only four hours long and was read by Queen Oprah herself, which helped. I love the sound of her voice, fell in love with it watching her portray Miss Sophia in The Color Purple. The subject matter itself was a bit trite at times, and cliche. I’m not a self-help book type of person. But this wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it could have been, that I maybe worried it would be, and I needed to hear what the fuss was about. It helped me learn this for sure: a good way to be grateful for what you have in your life, to take stock of where you’re at and where you want to end up, is to listen to someone you trust read words of wisdom at you for a few hours. It’s not quite Dear Sugar levels, but it got me to a very similar place. 3 of 5 stars.

Read a book over 500 pages long. This was a tough one to settle on, but in the end it was The Famished Road, by Ben Okri (Jonathan Cape, 1991, 519 pages, library ebook). My original review: You guys! (A different kind of “You guys.”) I can’t believe I waited so long to read this! A new classic about a Yoruba spirit child who journeys through fires, captivity, destitution, searching for family, redemption, and the elusive overlap between the land of his family and the spirits. I studied Nigeria and Yoruba culture quite a bit, so this story rang so many of my bells. I didn’t realize how much I missed this kind of storytelling until I was rolling in it, banging the book against the steering wheel of my car (at lunch), yelling “Yes!” Now, it is a bit of The Wizard of Oz meets A Hundred Years of Solitude, so there are points where the story sticks in the mud a bit and you just want to get it going again. But it’s worth the patience. (Or, um, skipping ahead a bit.) 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Read a book under 100 pages. Even tougher to find! I stumbled onto Swapan Seth’s This Is All I Have to Say, which is – as best I can describe – little moments of grace experienced while traveling, in between odd moments of life, remembered, reflected upon. It’s closer to poetry and essays than it is a novel. A fascinating book that embodies more than any other the purpose of this list: I never would have picked up this book or read it if I wasn’t mindfully reading diversely. 2 of 5 stars.

Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender. With the explosion of trans memoirs and stories on the shelves, you’d think there would be more featuring people of color…except for those who understand access to the publishing world (and a reading audience) is not created equal. I read I Rise, written by former Clinton aide Toni Newman and wish I could be as sure of myself as Toni is of herself. Black. Gay. Trans. Trans. I think that’s my favorite part of Toni’s story – she decided against sexual reassignment surgery and refuses to pick a label to be central to such a big part of her identity. She’s comfortable blurring the lines. Both/and. Her. That was so fascinating to me. 3 of 5 stars.

Read a book that is set in the Middle East. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi (2014, William Morrow, 452 pages, paperback). Original review: I know I’m in the minority, but I just didn’t love this book. I was hoping for the grand, sweeping narrative of Khaled Housseini, or the quiet lyricism of Jhumpa Lahiri, but I didn’t find either one. Pearl is about three young Afghani girls who treated ridiculously  by their worthless father. Rahima, our protagonist, creates a bit of hope through the tradition of bacha posh, in which she can dress and act as a boy until she is of marriageable age. This gains Rahima a bit of freedom, which turns into hope. See, it all sounds good, but the characters just never jumped off the page for me. They were only ever so many words on a page, never filled with warmth. It’s hard for me to get invested when that happens. 2 of 5 stars.

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia. Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Bataclan (University of the Philippines Press, 2007, 155 pages) was one of the first books I read this year. I borrowed this through my library’s e-lending library and finished it for the “Read a book by an author from Southeast Asia” ReadHarder challenge. I’ve found the most delightful candidates for the challenges on my very own TBR list, delightfully! Circles is a bit of a hard-boiled crime investigated by Jesuit priests (alas, not time-traveling ones), and while I’ve mostly moved away from the genre – crime, not Jesuits – I really enjoyed this story. There was quite a bit of social justice, with enough commentary on a developing nation’s emerging infrastructure to keep me both intrigued and second-guessing the reliability of the narrator vs. author’s voice. Which was which? That criticism aside, and that of the grisly nature of the crime(s), I enjoyed where the story took me, even when it was a bit predictable. My only other criticism was that I needed a sticky note to keep track of the many characters. Nothing worse than an Agatha Christie, numbers-wise. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900. Lashonda Katrice Barnett’s Jam On the Vine is a black woman’s up-and-out struggle, a story that made me think of a blend between Toni Morrison’s Jazz and James McBride’s Good Lord Bird, and, more recently, Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House. Grand, sweeping historical fiction that covers huge changes faced by Ivoe and her family, I just couldn’t connect. It felt dry and historical, instead of cozy and historical, like Their Eyes Were Watching God. Maybe I expect too much from historical fiction, but I was left wanting. 2 of 5 stars.

Read the first book in a series by a person of color. Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra. Original review: This was much more riveting! A bit of a guilty read, actually. It’s the story of a young ballet academy where fighting is fierce for a spot in the showpiece that might get the young ladies and men a spot in the ballet company attached to the school. I had a hard time keeping the characters straight at first, but once the story got moving, it moved. It felt diverse, petty, hilarious at times, and a good drama that would adapt well to a show on prime time. If you’re looking for a first book in a series by a Person of Color for the Read Harder challenge, this is a great choice! 3 of 5 stars.

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years. ZOMG you guys! So many! I’ve discovered Joamette Gil, and Alex Araiza, and Ethan Parker, and Ashanti Fortson. My heart was captured by Lumberjanes, but while it features characters of every gender, identity, skin color, human form, and every shade of fluidity in between, it technically isn’t written by a poc. The good news is that it was the doorway that opened, making me seek out all of these other awesome creators and their projects.

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better. Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup. Original review: Yes, I’m very late to this bandwagon. I know. I picked up Twelve Years as an e-loan from the library to fulfill my “Read a book that was turned into a movie” challenge for Read Harder 2016. It’s been ages since I’ve read all of the great slave narratives and it felt a bit like coming home to slip back into one. The frame stories, the fact dropping so we could verify, the call and response, the tropes of quadroons and hair – everything was here. It was a well-crafted memoir and fits well among those of Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and the rest of the canon. 4 of 5 stars.

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014, Fourth Estate, 49 pages, ebook). Original review: Yes, I splurged and bought it on a Deal of the Day, but I have to say the published TEDx talk is worth they money at any price. One of my favorite authors talks about what it means to be a feminist today in her native Nigeria, in diaspora, in publishing, and in the world. It was interesting how Adichie tied in classism and racism (can we ever separate the three big discriminators?) and the particular examples she used to point out how institutionalized discrimination against women is. This was the first piece of non-fiction writing I’ve read by Adichie and I loved that her voice was just as sarcastic, nuanced, and unapologetically clever as her fiction writing. I would read anything by this world-class author. 5 of 5 stars.

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction). Bright Lines, by Tanwi Nandini Islam (Penguin, 2015, 304 pages, paperback). Original review: This was one of the books I got in one of my Book Riot Quarterly Boxes, and I can see why they chose it. It’s smart, multi-culti, and a wicked debut. Who doesn’t want to feature all of those things? But you know when you’re just not feeling a book? And how you kinda kick yourself because you know if you had maybe read it at a different time, you might have had an entirely different experience? That was me. I could see how smartly written it was, how carefully constructed, but that was part of my problem. Everything felt on purpose. I never really lost the sense that I was reading a story. I never fell under its spell. The characters got bogged down under all of that intent, at times, and I wanted to just shake them loose and see what happened. It reminded me a bit of a stiff Khaled Hosseini, so keep an eye on it – just be prepared for heavy reading. 2 of 5 stars.

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction). The Kindness of Enemies, by Leila Aboulela. Original review: Aboulela tells the story of a professor, half-Russian and half-Sudanese, who becomes entangled with her star student and his mother when she discovers her student is descended from the Muslim warrior she is studying. I appreciated how intense Natasha’s internal conflict over her Muslim political and religious leanings was as she interacted more and more with Oz and his mother. This book was shaded as much as I hoped This Is Where It Ends would be. It wasn’t riveting and felt much more like a “duty” read (I was reading it for the “political book” challenge on Read Harder), but it was okay. 3 of 5 stars.

Read a food memoir. Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson. Original review: I had a hard time finding a food memoir by a person of color, but I found a great one that was all the rage back in 2012. It tells the story of a young boy who grew up in Ethiopia, got tuberculosis with the rest of his family, was orphaned very young, and then adopted (with his sister) by a loving family in Sweden who already had a bi-racial child. I thought it was interesting that Marcus mentioned early that he had no race wounds, and yet a goodish part of the story that deal with his growing up in Sweden centered around how race factored into daily life. Then the foodie part of his life began and goodbye race stories! I wanted to hear more about that part of Marcus’s extraordinary life, but the foodie part was rather interesting, too. I felt like I was watching a special on TV instead of reading. It was compelling, even to a reader who could care less about food or cooking memoirs. It’s exactly the sort of book I never would have picked up without the Read Harder challenge. Good job, guys. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Read a play. Hamilton: A Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (2016, Grand Central Publishing, 288 pages, hardcover). Original review: This was a brilliant, brilliant birthday gift from Jeff and the kiddos. I maybe told him about it way back when it came out (before it came out, if I know myself), and every single notation was worth the wait. I think my favorite was when Lin admitted to going full-on Jordan Catalano at one point. GAH!!! The essays about how certain pieces of the show came to be, and about meet-cute stories of how everyone fell into their bits and parts – everything exceeded the hype. And this is Hamilton, so that’s saying quite a lot! Shell out the big bucks for this gorgeous deckle-edged hardcover: it’s worth every penny. 5 of 5 stars.

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness. Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2015, 320 pages.) Original review: I got Yoon’s debut novel for Christmas, in hardcover no less, and dove in New Year’s Day as we were all recovering. I figured a light YA drama complete with medical drama (our 17-year-old protag is a “bubble baby”) and romance (she becomes obsessed with the boy in black next door, and all his family’s -ahem- issues). Maddie (our protag) sees only her mom and her nurse and seems to have adjusted well to the fact that she has never, not once, been outside. She takes online homeschool courses and hangs out in the family solarium to feel more as if she’s outside. And then the boy complicates everything, as they do. I liked the premise, as long as I was able to suspend belief. I liked the characters enough that I crushed the book in two days. The writing was a bit cliche – but hey, it’s YA drama/romance. I was expecting it to be all Fault in our Stars. So it was fine right up until the ending. If it’s possible for a book to take a left-turn that is both unexpected and completely obvious, this was it. The ending ruined, a bit, the rest of the story for me. Yes, I’m still giving the book a good review because I did tear through it, needing to see what happened. But it could have been close to a 4-star review and the ending did disappoint. Like, I liked that Maddie was casually mentioned to be Asian-African instead of being all Hey! I’m a person-of-color! from the start. I liked the subtle ways that complicated her identity. I just wish that sort of ambiguity and shading had transferred itself onto the end of the story arc. 3 of 5 stars.

And there you go. An entire challenge, smashed in nine months. Nine months to birth a beautiful, wonderful, life-changing reading experience. I can’t wait for the next one!

Read Harder Challenge: 2016

January 18, 2016

I’ve talked about this year’s Read Harder challenge, but haven’t really laid it all out for you guys yet. It’s sponsored again by the awesomely rad folks over at Book Riot. Basically, it’s a set of 24 reading challenges (which average out to two a month, so totally manageable even if you’re not a velocireader like me) designed to encourage you to read different authors, genres and topics than you would normally pick up. Like this:

Read a horror book.

Read a nonfiction book about science.

Read a book out loud to someone else. I’m in the middle of this challenge as I read Ready Player One to the girls.

Read a middle grade novel. Did you guys know Francisco X. Stork has a new book coming out?

Read a biography (not memoir) or autobiography. I read Hamilton this year during everyone’s #HamAlong. DONE

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel. I read Laura Van Den Berg’s Find Me earlier this month. DONE

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born. I have no idea how I’m going to find one other than opening book flaps, but I’ll figure it out.

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award. It’s easier for me to listen to audio books when I’ve already read the book because my mind tends to wander. So we’ll see.

Read a book over 500 pages long. Again, I could have counted Hamilton, but my own rules (not yours – mine) dictate I can’t use a book for more than one category.

Read a book under 100 pages. This is gonna be tough.

Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender.

Read a book that is set in the Middle East.

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia. I am so sad India doesn’t count because The Bollywood Affair has been so high on my TBR for so long!

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900.

Read the first book in a series by a person of color.

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years. Not only did I smashread Noelle Stevenson’s Lumberjanes, but Bee is reading it too! I suspect she’ll be asking for Volumes 2 and 3 before long! DONE

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which was better. So many to choose from!

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes.

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction).

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction).

Read a food memoir.

Read a play.

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness.

So you can see that I already have three challenges completed, and one in the works. But here’s the thing: I have something in mind. Something big, something kind of under wraps for now. So stay tuned!

A box of (self-indulgent) Young Adult awesome!

October 20, 2015

Remember that time my sister signed me up for Book Riot’s Quarterly Box and I was over the moon excited? So excited, in fact, that I went out and signed myself up for the Young Adult version of the Quarterly Box. Hey, I read a lot of Young Adult fiction – it doesn’t deserve to be pigeon-holed nearly as much as it is. That and the unboxing was quite addictive. A box of bookish surprises delivered to your door by your favorite book community? Yes, please!

(That being said, if you have also signed up for the YA Quarterly Box and haven’t a) received or b) opened yours yet, BAIL, BAIL, BAIL! This post is stuffed with spoilers!)

Now! For the unboxing!

Box1I was so glad the box was waiting for me when I got home. Kim had emailed me to tell me what a delightful box it was; a fantastic introduction for her. But, she warned, she didn’t want to say anything else about it because she couldn’t remember if I had signed up. I had and I replied immediately to SHOOSH already. So I was fairly bouncing when I got home. Thank god it was there!

I barely contained myself as I sliced through the pretty, pretty bookish tape so I could pry open the lid.

Box2So many good things were waiting inside! There was a very lovely letter explaining how the curator chose each item (to be read last, lest you ruin the surprise, natch); two hardcover books; temporary tattoos specifically designed for one of the titles; some post-it type bookmarks designed to make a 3-D scene at the top of your book; and a fantastic print that I’m going to frame that reads “Fight evil, Read books.”

The box was horror-themed because, hello, Halloween. I swear, the titles were so scary that even my pretty, pretty rainbows looked ominous. The first book I pulled out made me scream, but with delight: The Devil and Winnie Flynn, by Micol and David Ostow. It’s been on my TBR since I heard of it! It’s the story of a teenaged girl who goes to live with her ghosts and mediums-centered reality show making aunt because her mom has killed herself. While stuck in New Jersey, Winnie writes her bestie back home about her experiences, giving us a critique of today’s world and a rather cool behind-the-scenes look at how reality shows are made. All, I’m guessing, while she’s working through a few things. I’ve heard good things about the book and can’t wait to dive in! Even if this is the less scary of the two (or so I’m told).

The other title is Daughters into Daughters, by Amy Lukavics, a story I hadn’t even heard of before, if you can believe that. But the blurb on the front describes as “Stephen King writes Little House on the Prairie” so GUESS WHICH BOOK IS WAITING FOR ME AT LUNCH? The story is apparently about a teenaged girl whose family moves from a remote mountain to a desolate prairie, only to find their new cabin covered in blood inside…and it’s supposed to get worse from there. I hope it lives up to half of the hype I’ve created in my head since just last night!

I’m tempted both to read the titles quickly (because Non-fiction November starts in just 11 days!) and slowly (because no more boxes until December). What’s a girl to do? Keep on reading, that’s what.

Box3

Box full of awesome.

September 24, 2015

Back in August, when temps were even more annoying than they are now, but it was my birthday, so I didn’t really care, my sister Kim gifted me with one of my favorite birthday gifts – and I got a ton of really cool swag this year. She subscribed me to the Quarterly Box from Book Riot (my very favorite bookish community – go check them out!). Basically, the Quarterly Box is just what it sounds like: a box sent every three months that’s filled with books and bookish goods. I was over the moon excited! I’ve been drooling over the idea, but they’re a bit pricey and so I was holding off. For the moment, at least.

Yesterday, my Quarterly Box arrived on my doorstep. You guys – even the packing tape is insanely cool! Even though I didn’t know anyone from Milwaukee who’d be sending me stuff, I knew from that tape that it had to be my box…

QtlyBox1I carefully sliced it open, with bated breath…

QtlyBox2

Pretttttty. I loved the envelope and letter explaining, piece by piece, was what inside. It’s meant to be read after you explore your box, which is just what I did, because that’s how my sister and I work our packages. Bookish mindmeld, for the win!

The box was school-themed, now that it’s Fall (elsewhere, presumably) and we’re all campus-oriented. There were two books: Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray, about string-theory and falling in love and a boy’s prep school in Dublin and how the main character ends up dead. It’s been on my TBR list since it came out – huzah! The other, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, is about how a family of immigrants adjusts in a small college town in Massachusetts and was really good. I know this because I’ve read it. (Kim thinks we should make a bet about how many books I get that I’ve already read. Sometimes being a velocireader is hard.)

Then there were the goodies! There’s a really soft bookish pennant that screams BOOKS! that is going up in my cubby at work. There’s a READ HARDER coozie that may be used for drinks, but may also be used around a glass for my pens and pencils at work. There’s a cool poster Murray designed that goes along with Skippy Dies, exclusive to the Quarterly Box. And there is a pack of Field Notes notebooks, perfect for all my bookish notes, lists, and whatnot. Ten boxes also came with a golden ticket, good for a signed copy of Murray’s next book, but alas – none were found in my box.

I knew the box would be awesome, and I knew I would have so much fun excavating each little gift inside, but I wasn’t prepared for how addictive these things would be. I may have already signed myself up for the YA box that ships in October. Which means I won’t have a box in November, and then my original box will appear in December… Must find some way to feed the bookish mail beast in November.

Thanks, Kim! But I fear you’ve only reinforced my main theory: Book addiction: better (barely) than a crack addiction.

QtlyBox3

Read Harder: A Challenge Update

May 15, 2015

For those of you who follow along, you know I’m near the midpoint of my reading year: I read approximately 200 books per year, and my midpoint – 100 books – usually falls towards the end of May. (My pace slows considerably during August, when I’m vacationing and Kim is here, and during the holidays, when I’m busy doing all the things.) Since I’m also about to hit a challenge in Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge that I thought I’d leave til the bitter end  (Read an audiobook), I thought it was time to check back in on how I’m doing.

Read Harder Challenge 2015:

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25: I’m still planning to read either Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi or Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Seems funny to me know that I haven’t hit either of these, considering how much I loved other novels by these fantastically talented ladies.

A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65: I read the new Toni Morrison, God Help the Child, in a single sitting. Easily one of the best (and most powerful) books I’ve read this year. It was so fitting that I was reading it as things were unfolding in Baltimore and one of the many themes Morrison explores is walking a mile in others’ shoes before you get all judgey. Take note, humankind.

A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people): Here’s where the challenge is already working, because I am not a fan of short stories. I say that, and I’ve already read one this year – Phil Klay’s Redeployment, which I HIGHLY recommend! I also read Ground Zero: Nagasaki by Yuichi Seirai, which was good but had a few translation gaps for me.

A book published by an indie press: I did indeed finally pick up Marie Calloway’s what purpose did i serve in your life?, which was published by an indie by the name of Tyrant Press. It examines the meaning of sexuality, intimacy and connections, and whether shame and intent behind the acts affects the labels we place on them and the meaning of it all. It packed a very strong emotional punch and reminded me at times of Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes.

A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ: I’ve read Ariel Schrag’s Adam, about a straight teenaged guy who moves to New York to spend time with his sister and gets caught up in her LGBTQ community. I’d also highly recommend Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine that I read last year, about a lesbian teen in Iran who considers sexual reassignment surgery to legally (and publicly) be with the girl she loves. It’s an amazing YA book that read well for me, as an adult reader. Farizan isn’t as well known as she should be.

A book by a person whose gender is different from your own: I crossed this one off with my first read of the year – The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, by Graham Joyce. Joyce is a British fantasist (although the book doesn’t read like fantasy – more like a hardboiled crime/noir story with creepy undertones) who is listed as one of Stephen King’s favorite writers. I can see why – Electric Blue Suit reminded me a lot of King’s Joyland.

A book that takes place in Asia: Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball started out amazing and I loved the premise – a man takes the fall for someone (we’re not sure who, though we have our suspicions) and refuses to speak in his defense or for any other reason. The second half of the book fell apart a little, and finding out I was right about puzzling out the answers was a bit of a letdown, but still a good read.

A book by an author from Africa: Half a Yellow Sun by Adichie wasn’t half the novel Americanah was, even though there are plenty of critics who disagree with me. Maybe it was the immediacy of the themes in Americanah that made me love it more than colonialism and the sorts of love and politics centered in Yellow Sun, it just wasn’t as much in my wheelhouse.

A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.): I highly recommend the short story collection by Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. It didn’t let go until the very end and is solidly on my list of recommendations for teen or tween boys who are looking for something beyond Harry.

A microhistory: Anything by Mary Roach would make me happy, but I particularly have my eyes on Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

A YA novel: I read one of the books Gracie got for Christmas, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan and OH MY GOD MY HEART. Read it, you guys, so you can be broken like me.

A sci-fi novel: Ugh. I am not looking forward to this. I wish 10:04 would count, but I don’t think it was sci-fi enough. I have no idea what I’m going to read.

A romance novel: I read some stupid, ridiculous, cowboy/hot mamacita-recovering army doctor book I got from the library and it was just as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe I’ll give this one another shot, but oof. You guys. So hard to find one that it’s dripping with bad writing and cliched themes.

A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade: I just finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I liked it…but maybe no as much as everyone else did. Is it just me, or do you guys wonder what in the world you missed when that happens. Hunh.

A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.): I’m reading Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns. It’s a memoir, but I have hopes. If you guys haven’t read Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, read that instead! It takes Snow White, turns it on its head, and makes you wonder how it ties in until BAM! you see it! I also tore through Sassafras Lowrey’s Lost Boi, a steampunk queer reimagining of Peter Pan. It was a bit heavy-handed, but still so well worth my time and there were bits so well constructed that I wrote in the margins.

An audiobook: Here’s that challenge I’m unexpectedly hitting early – though I am bending my rules and doing a re-read – Gerald’s Game for my Stephen King re-read project. Except I kinda sorta updated my iPhone and now I’m having trouble getting my apps back. Like Audible. So maybe I’m counting this chicken before it’s…um…read.

A collection of poetry: Juls recommended the incredibly hott Tyler Knott Gregson and I read his new release Chasers of the Light. Talk about hott language! Gracious! I needed to fan myself as I worked my way through it. Didn’t hurt that I was falling for a certain guy I know, at the time. Heh.

A book that someone else has recommended to you: I finally read Bossypants by Tina Fey, that my little sister has been trying to get me to read forever. I like Tina Fey (I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler collectively), but I was a lil leery of reading her memoir. Mostly because I hated the cover, though, so… And I found that it fell a little flat. It wasn’t as funny as I wanted it to be, although I really thoroughly enjoyed the chapter about her dad. That was funny enough to make me laugh out loud, and well written enough to make me want to talk Mr. Fey into adopting me. I much preferred Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please of the two. (Yes, I put a comma in Amy’s title that isn’t there. She did it wrong, what can I say?)

A book that was originally published in another language: There’s another novel in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series being published later this year, completed from a partial manuscript found after Stieg Larsson’s death. I am all over that!

A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics: Can you believe I haven’t yet read Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi? I’m thinking it’s time. I’m also reading Flora and Ulysses with the girls right now, and that definitely counts!

A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over): First – how much do you love the little instruction they added? Right?! Second: all of my reading is guilty pleasure, without the guilt! This is gonna be easy! But mine for this year is extra guilty – The Best of Me, by Nicholas Sparks. NICHOLAS SPARKS, you guys! And seriously, don’t read it. The ending was AWFUL. Like, throw the book across the room kind of awful.

A book published before 1850: Oooh, I’m going to get in a classic! I could do Candide, by Voltaire, or Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher, or Gustave Flaubert’s Memoirs of a Madman.

A book published this year: This was easy – I devoured Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, a YA book reminiscent of Eleanor and Park, except with the tears of Fault in Our Stars. Trust me – the warning is necessary.

A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self improvement”): Dear Sugar was so good I read it twice, straight through. The second time I highlighted and took margin notes, and marked the ever-lovin’ hell outta it. And have made several other people read, too.

So there you have it – I’m nearly done! Seven out of twenty-four challenges left, or about a third. Not bad for being halfway through my reading year, especially when you consider how reluctant I was to dive into some of these!

What about you guys – any recommendations for those spots I have open? How are you faring on your own challenges?