Posts Tagged ‘Read Harder’

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…

Challenge(s) accepted, 2017.

January 10, 2017

Everyone who knows me knows that the amount of reading I accomplish is directly linked to how healthy and stable my sanity quotient is. Now whether a healthy emotional outlook begets more reading, or more reading time brightens my perspective – that’s a chicken or egg question if ever I heard one! But I can say for sure that they’re related.

As I think about other challenges I have going on in other spheres of my life, and as other friends very purposefully on living better, stronger, healthier lives, I’ve been thinking about how I might be able to harness my reading for good. What reading challenges do I accept for this year? Can they make a difference?

Obviously I think they can. Very simply put, I think reading adventures let us practice our empathy systems, and prepare us for facing in “real” life the same challenges, situations, and characters we meet in the pages of the stories we explore. What we choose to read matters. Because I want as broad an experience as possible so that I can have as close to limitless opportunities to learn and grow as a person, I want to read big-big. I need to be mindful of that. Which is why I’ll be focusing first and foremost on two challenges meant to help me read more diversely. BookRiot’s READ HARDER challenge I’ve talked about before. It’s my third year participating in their challenge, and I love it more and more every year. It’s helped me get my reading diversification up to 25% by people of color, and that’s with an intense mindfulness about what I read; it’s why I go bananas when people say if they’re left to their own devices, they’ll read outside their comfort zone just fine.

I’ve also decided to join the 2017 Diverse Reads Books Challenge. I like that it’s more elastic than a concrete number of challenges offered by READ HARDER, and that it can grow (or shrink) with me as I read more (or less) this year. The trade-off is that I have to define it as I go along, and sometimes I need a little more direction than that if I’m swimming outside my lanes. (For those who think the same way, the co-hosts have posted a monthly theme to help you focus your story searches.) I also like that Diverse Reads asks that you not only consume stories, but review them, as well. If you’re gonna participate, go all out. Don’t “just” read without contributing. Lend your voice to the cause. Give back. And that, for me, is raising a few more questions. What will it mean for me, a CIS-gendered white woman, to review diverse books? Sure I qualify as #ownvoices for some of the categories – chronic illness, mental health – but I can’t say I’ve felt marginalized much in my life, and that makes me very, very privileged. So how do I walk that tightrope? I believe the point is that I try, and I do so very deferentially.

I will continue, though less fervently, my Great Stephen King Re-Read Challenge. I’ve gotten more than halfway through, towards what I think of his modern career (his adult life, when I came into the pack…somewhere around Insomnia) and not quite “post-modern” (when he un-retired). These are the books I’ve usually only read once, so it will be fun to revisit them.

I’ve decided to officially halt my read-through of presidential histories. Presidential history is – for me, right at this moment – incredibly painful and supportive of our most shameful selves. I literally just can’t right now, not when I could be giving my time to causes so much more worthy that need my time and support.

I am already looking forward to repeating #NonFicNov in November, because how else would I round out a reading year that gravitates so naturally towards fiction? All year I hoard non-fiction selections to binge on that month, and it’s a fantastic change of pace.

The last challenge that I’m tossing around possibly joining in a rather half-hearted fashion is the A-Z challenge on Litsy. With everything I have going on, I don’t really need another challenge. I’m like the kid burdened with so many extra-curriculars I’m gonna topple right over! On the other hand…I do read a lot, and so why not see if I can check off one more box? So I think this one might be a “if I get it done, great; if not, meh” kinda deal.

There you go: more challenges than I can shake a stick at! Now’s where I admit to the downside to such directional reading – having all of these challenges makes me want to stack up my reading in a hurry! So many challenges that I need to have more than “just” five books read!

And so off Katie disappeared, white-rabbiting her way through her 2017 reading lists, not to be seen for many, many months…

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!

#24in48 Update.

January 19, 2016

This past weekend, the very fabulous Rachel hosted a #24in48 Readathon. It’s pretty self explanatory – the goal is to complete 24 hours of reading during the 48 hours of Saturday and Sunday. We had close to 450 participants (we could honestly have gone over – I was so busy focusing on busting my challenge that I stopped paying attention to the count) and you guys – what a fun bunch! I had a blast with the call and response on social media; it really enhanced the experience for me.

So what did I get accomplished during my 24 hours?

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrick Backman. Holy bananapants, you guys – this book very well might be my favorite of the year! The book was translated from Swedish, and sadly doesn’t count for any ReadHarder challenges this year. But don’t let that stop you! It’s the tale of a precocious almost-eight-year-old who is terribly close with her wacky – no, Ya-Ya – grandmother. Her grandmother is the only person who understands her and has helped her deal with her parents’ divorce and remarriage to others, the impending arrival of her half-sibling, the bullies at school, and all manner of things. She does it with secret languages and made-up fairy tales about the Kingdom of Miamas. Oh, and secret languages. You guys – I desperately want to be Granny when I grow up. The plot was riveting, the voice was one we all pine to perfect, and the characters were well developed, complex, and unforgettable. It was like the next saga in Harriet the Spy’s life, mixed with Turtle’s from Westing Game, mixed with the craziness of the Ya-Ya-hood. I finished it for the readathon, and it’s a MUST-READ, people. 5 of 5 stars. Obviously.

This Is Where It Ends, by Marieke Nijkamp. Another Scandinavian author, another missed challenge. It’s a Young Adult read that translates well for “grown-ups” and is the story of a school shooting told minute-by-minute by four voices: two high school girls caught inside the gymnasium with the shooter; one who is in the school, but missed the principal’s Welcome Back speech; and a fellow senior who was practicing with her track team instead of being inside with the brother she’s bound to protect. I was really looking forward to the release – in fact, I pre-ordered the hardcover – but was disappointed by the characters. I didn’t find Tyler, the gunman, as one-dimensional as many other reviewers did. I did have a problem with how over-the-top evil Nijkamp drew Tyler. He was like many school shooters: he felt unloved, bullied, and abandoned every last person in his life. He had nothing to live for. But to make him a rapist and a bully and everything else? C’mon; we can be less black-and-white than that. Let’s draw complex characters! I applaud the diversity the We Need Diverse Books author created; now let’s make them less like cardboard cutouts without any storylines. Or two-line storylines thrown in. Bottom line: I raced through it, but wanted more than what I found. 2 of 5 stars.

The Kindness of Enemies, by Leila Aboulela. 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.

Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra. 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.

The Best American Travel Writing: 2005, Jamaica Kincaid, editor. I felt like this was cheating a bit on the Travel Writing challenge for Read Harder since the POC is the editor, and not all of her choices for the collection were writing by diverse authors. Still, it was nice to have shorter selection (each piece was about 3-10 pages, most on the shorter side), so it was easy to pick up and put down as I was doing laundry and other house chores. Nothing in there really knocked my socks off, though. 1 of 5 stars.

Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson. 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.

So there you go! I also started Dumplin‘, by Julie Murphy, but I didn’t get very far before time expired and I had to go be a mom and a girlfriend and a homeowner again. Escaping into my reading-only bubble was fun while it lasted, though! I’m so glad I played along!

So….how soon can we Readathon again, guys? Heh.

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!

My reading year, 2015.

December 31, 2015

It’s been quite a year, 2015. I fell in love; trained for a half-marathon; faced health challenges; saw one daughter change schools and start (pseudo) middle school; tackled my daughter’s health scare; watched my other daughter blossom in school; moved in with a boy; watched a lot of football; did a fair bit of writing; learned to step-parent; gained another dog; lost a dog; and spent a lot of time laughing and venting in betweens.

And because I am me, I spent a lot of time reading. Reading is how I cope, how I learn, how I practice empathy and devotion and new and meaningful interaction. It’s how I re-orient myself in the world. How I remember to breathe. Looking back at how I spent my reading year is one of my favorite year-end traditions.

So how did I do?

By the numbers. I read 215 books in 2015. That means for the first time since the divorce, I did not read more books than I did the previous year. (Do I care? Not one bit. I was going to top out at some point and this year I spent more time doing things than reading. But I was rather curious how long the upward trend would continue.)

Of the books I read, 28 books were starred as favorites. 117 books were written by women, and 98 by men. (That’s a 55/45 percent split.) That’s a stat I like. One I don’t: only 20% were authored by people of color. Shameful. I need to make more mindful reading choices in 2016. 46 books were considered part of the Young Adult genre. I far more preferred make-believe worlds to real one: 169 books were fiction, only 46 non-fiction. 27 books were memoirs. (Fun fact: while memoirs made up on 13% of my overall reading, they made up 59% of my non-fiction choices.) I read only 5 classics – far fewer than previous years, though I also only re-read 25 books, which is also much lower than usual. 164 of the books I read were borrowed from either friends or the library. I only had 3 books left on my shelves that I bought, but didn’t read (yet).

Favorites. Twenty-eight (or 13%) of the 215 books I read I loved enough to consider favorites. And because I have excellent taste, you want to know what they are, don’t you?

Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan
Annihilation – Jeff VandermeerAuthority – Jeff Vandermeer
Acceptance – Jeff Vandermeer
Redeployment – Phil Klay
Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Chasers of the Light – Tyler Knott Gregson
The Last Policeman – Ben Winters
I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson
Dead Wake – Erik Larson
Mosquitoland – Dave Arnold
God Help the Child – Toni Morrison
Twisted – Bert Ashe
The Waking Dark – Robin Wasserman
Prayers for the Stolen – Jennifer Clement
Ana of California – Andi Teran
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavendar – Leslye Walton
My Sunshine Away – M.O. Walsh
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
The Star Side of Bird Hill – Naomi Jackson
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
The Tsar of Love and Techno – Anthony Marr
Stiff – Mary Roach
Sisters in Law – Linda Hirshman
The Heart of the Sea – Nathaniel Philbrick
Dryland – Sara Jaffe

I don’t know if I could rank my favorite books of the year, but if I had to pick a Top 5, in some random order, they would be: Vandermeer’s Southern Reach series, Tiny Beautiful Things, I’ll Give You the Sun, Mosquitoland, and Between the World and Me. At least, I think so. Ask me again in five minutes.

Challenges. You guys, I really had all of the fun – ALL OF IT! – with reading challenges this year! I participated in some #24in48 and 24-hour #readathons. I rocked #NonFicNov. I limited the number of new-release books I purchased (24, which was my max), while still reading an impressive 53 books published this year (god bless libraries), as part of a self-challenge. I read another presidential biography (Thomas Jefferson), in my quest to read one for each president (and all the First Ladies). And I read 13 Stephen Kings for my great SK Re-Read Challenge. (I’m up to Wizard and Glass.)

But my favorite challenge this year was BookRiot’s debut Read Harder challenge, in which the point is to read much more diversely across genders, genres, topics, publication dates, and what have you. I’ve posted updates throughout the year, but here’s how mine finished.

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25: Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65: God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison.

A collection of short stories: Ground Zero, Nagasaki by Seirai Yuichi.

A book published by an indie press: what purpose did i serve in your life? by Marie Calloway, published by Tyrant Books.

A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ: Adam, by Ariel Schrag.

A book by a person whose gender is different from your own: The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce.

A book that takes place in Asia: Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball.

A book by an author from Africa: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie.

A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.

A microhistory: Stiff by Mary Roach.

A YA novel: Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

A sci-fi novel: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

A romance novel: Sweet on You by Laura Drake.

A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.): Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey.

An audiobook: Gerald’s Game by Stephen King.

A collection of poetry: Chasers of the Light by Tyler Knott Gregson.

A book that someone else has recommended to you:  Bossypants by Tina Fey.

A book that was originally published in another language: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante.

A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind:  Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure: The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks.

A book published before 1850: Memoirs of a Madman by Gustave Flaubert.

A book published this year:  My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh.

A self-improvement book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

A nice group of books, no? My favorite part is that there were 25 challenges, and 8 of the books ended up in my 28 favorite books of the year. Nearly a third of my favorite books came from the Read Harder challenge. I can’t wait to see what I find for next year’s challenge!

So there you go. A small glimpse into my reading life from this past year. Probably a much bigger glimpse than you wanted, but we readers – we are voyeurs. And I can’t wait to show off for you again next year!

Happy New Year’s everyone! See you in 2016!

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?