2017 Reading Challenges in Review

I’m back! Sorry for about the long absence. Storytimes stopped for the winter session, I crammed in the last March book before flying out to the in-laws for Christmas, and then I went out of the country for 2ish weeks. So not a lot of time to blog (although I didn’t read anything aside from the March books anyway).

I did pretty well on my reading challenges this year (although I don’t think I was the greatest at blogging about them all). I had grand plans to read on the plane and in the car while on my trip, to finish up Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge, but that didn’t happen. In the end, I completed the PopSugar and Modern Mrs. Darcy challenges. I almost finished Book Riot, but did not read “A book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author,” “A travel memoir,” or “A classic by an author of color.”

Popsugar Reading Challenge:

A book recommended by a librarian After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
A book of letters I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin
An audiobook Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
A book by a person of color Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
A book with one of the four seasons in the title That Summer by Lauren Willig
A book that is a story within a story Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A book with multiple authors The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig
An espionage thriller Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Ella MacNeal
A book with a cat on the cover Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson
A book by an author who uses a pseudonym Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen
A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
A book by or about a person who has a disability The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A book involving travel The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
A book with a subtitleA book with a subtitle Little Boxes: 12 Writers on Television edited by Caroline Casey
A book that’s published in 2017 On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen
A book involving a mythical creature My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
A book about food The Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Standhal
A book with career advice Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
A book from a nonhuman perspective Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan
A steampunk novel Rebel Magisters by Shanna Swendson
A book with a red spine Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson
A book set in the wilderness The Poet’s Dog by Cynthia MacLachlan
A book you loved as a child Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
A book with a title that’s a character’s name George by Alex Gino
A novel set during wartime When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi
A book with an unreliable narrator Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
A book with pictures The Marvels by Brian Selznick
A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
A book about an interesting woman One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
A book set in two different time periods The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A book with a month or day of the week in the title The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
A book set in a hotel A True Home by Kallie George
A book written by someone you admire The English Wife by Lauren Willig
A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017 Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies by Greg Rucka
A book set around a holiday other than Christmas The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig
The first book in a series you haven’t read before Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
A book you bought on a trip I’ve Got your Number by Sophie Kinsella

Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge:

Put the Oomph Back in Your Reading Life
A book you chose for the cover Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson
A book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
A book set somewhere you’ve never been but would like to visit Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
A book you’ve already read I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
A juicy memoir Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
A book about books or reading Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell
A book in a genre you usually avoid Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies by Greg Rucka
A book you don’t want to admit you’re dying to read On her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service by Rhys Bowen
A book in the backlist of a new favorite author Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A book recommended by someone with great taste The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
A book you were excited to buy or borrow but haven’t read yet Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen
A book about a topic or subject you already love Rebel Magisters by Shanna Swendson
Stretch Yourself in 2017
A Newbery Award winner or Honor Book The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
A book in translation Load Poems Like Guns: : Women’s Poetry from Herat, Afghanistan edited by Farzana Marie
A book that’s more than 600 pages The Marvels by Brian Selznick
A book of poetry, a play or an essay collection Poisoned Apples: Poems for You My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
A book of any genre that addresses current events One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
An immigrant story When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi
A book published before you were born Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Three books by the same author Maybe in Another Life, After I Do, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A book by #ownvoices or #diversebooks author Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
A book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
A book nominated for an award in 2017 George by Alex Gino
A Pulitizer Prize or National Book Award winner March: Book 3 by John Lewis

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge:

A book about sports Spinning by Tillie Walden
A debut novel The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
A book about books The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
A book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (what I planned to read)
A book about an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi
An all ages comic Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
A book published between 1900 and 1950 Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A travel memoir Paris in Love by Eloisa James (DNF in time)
A book you’ve read before I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
A book that is set within 100 miles of your location The Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Standhal
A book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
A fantasy novel My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
A nonfiction book about technology Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec
A book about war The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ The Marvels by Brian Selznick
A book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country George by Alex Gino
A classic by an author of color Indigo by Beverly Jenkins (DNF in time)
A superhero comic with a female lead Wonder Woman Vol. 1: The Lies by Greg Rucka
A book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey March: Book 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
An LGBTQ romance novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkis
A book published by a micropress Little Boxes edited by Caroline Casey
A collection of stories by a woman One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of this Will Matter by Saachi Koul
A collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love Load Poems Like Guns: Women’s Poetry from Herat, Afghanistan edited by Farzana Marie
A book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
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The English Wife

It’s no surprise that I love Lauren Willig. Especially her Pink Carnation series, but her standalones as well. I love how readable her books are, while still being full of historical information and literary references. Kind of like reading “chick lit” but with much more substance. When I saw Willig was coming out with a new standalone novel, I knew I had to try and get it off Netgalley, and I was lucky! I downloaded The English Wife a month or so ago, but didn’t start it until last week.

The English Wife opens with the death of Bayard Van Duyvil, the heir of an old Knickerbocker family in New York City in 1899. The rest of the story follows his sister Janie trying to discover the truth behind the murder, and also jumps back in time to when Bay meets his English Wife.

It took me a while to get into the book, but once I got through the introduction I was hooked. Willig does a wonderful job weaving together the two storylines and maintaining the mystery and making (almost) every character sympathetic (or at least understandable). Usually, when a book has two different storylines I like one better than the other, but not here. The mystery kept me on my toes, and remained true to the era and the story. I also love the amount of detail Willig puts in her novels, from the copious amount of research to the inclusion of other pieces of literature (in this case Shakespeare).

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

I’m being lazy today. I blame it on the lack of coffee. So, I’m going to copy and paste the Goodreads blurb of Mr. Churchill’s Secretarythe first in the Maggie Hope Mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal, and my short Goodreads review.

Goodreads:

For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it.

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character,  Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.

My Review:

If I had half stars I’d give it 2.5

This series has been on my radar since publication in 2012(ish) but after reading this one I won’t be reading the rest. Which is unfortunate, because this is right up my alley, and it even says right at the top “for fans of Jacqueline Winspear,” and I definitely fall into that category. But MacNeal’s writing is awful, there are too many characters, it jumps from one narrative to the next with no break in the page so it’s hard to tell what’s going on, and the story goes well beyond where it should have ended. With that said, once I got into the mystery I had to know what happened (which is why it’s 2.5 stars).

Graphics

Graphic novels are not my forte. However, I read a few this fall, including Wonder Woman, which I already blogged about.

In addition to Wonder Woman I read the first Amulet book, The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi in September. When I worked at the school library in Louisiana back in 2011 and 2012, all the kids read Amulet. I could not keep those in stock or in good condition. However, I personally never had an interest in reading the series.

I have to say, I still don’t really have an interest, but it was a slow evening in September and a kid returned a copy, so I decided I should finally give it a go. The artwork is lovely, but for me, the story is too weird. The world they are in is full of talking robot things and moving houses and eerie landscapes. I guess I see the kid appeal, but it’s not for me.

Last week I read Spinning by Tillie Walden as my book about sports for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. Spinning got a lot of buzz, and I have no interest in reading about football or baseball, so it seemed like the perfect solution. Spinning is ostensibly about Walden’s figure skating youth with practices before and after school, but it’s also about depression, sexuality, and being a high schooler. I found the subject interesting, but there were so many random asides and spreads it was hard for me to keep track of the plot. Mostly, I impressed that Walden wrote this at such a young age!

 

Forbidden

A few weeks ago I was catching up on podcasts while driving to my parents and Jeff and Rebecca from Book Riot talked for a long time about romance authors and the lack of diversity in romance. This piqued my interest, and decided to read one of Beverly Jenkins’ novels. I’m trying to read more diversely in terms of author and protagonist (but mostly #ownvoices), and also genre. I’m doing a lot better with #ownvoices than I am with genre, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine both.

I also decided to use a Jenkins novel for the prompt “a best seller in a genre you don’t normally read.” And let me tell you, it was difficult figuring out which books exactly are best sellers. Everything says, “Beverly Jenkins, USA Today bestselling author,” but I could never find out which books were bestsellers. So, I went with one of the most recent publications: Forbidden.

Forbidden follows Eddy and Rhine (who apparently was briefly introduced in another novel way back in the 80s) in a booming mining town in Nevada post-Civil War. Eddy is determined to make her way to San Francisco and start a restaurant but finds herself alone and close to death in the desert. Rhine is a scion of respectability and money in town, but he harbors a deep secret. Rhine was born a slave, the result of abuse between the slave owner and his mother, and is now passing for White. Rhine rescues Eddy and instantly feels drawn to her, but in order to be with her he must sacrifice all he has worked towards.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Jenkins’ writing style, I like how seamlessly she weaves history in with the plot. The last few pages are full of notes and bibliography, so she clearly did her research. I’m also ashamed to realize just how little I know of postbellum history, aside from the highlights featured in textbooks.

Through Smart Bitches Trashy Books I found an interview with Jenkins from Jezebel and I thought this bit was most illuminating:

You’ve talked a little bit about what draws you to the nineteenth century—why does the postwar period to the end of the century interest you so much as a writer?

There was so much going on and it’s not a typical time that we know about, regardless of what race we are, and I think the more we know about each other the better off we’d all be. And it also has its parallels with the twentieth and the twenty-first century. Because right after the Civil War you had those great gains with Reconstruction—this huge amount of Black men in Congress and representatives through the states, you had the lieutenant governor in Louisiana, you had Black folks in positions of power and businesses and colleges going up. And then when Reconstruction died in 1876, everything started to unravel. You had the rise of the Klan and you had the Redemption period. And lynchings and blood and death and destruction. And folks said we’ve got to leave the South. They moved into places like Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, California. Which is where I set my very first book, Night Song, in one of those Black townships in Kansas.

In the ‘70s you had African Americans retaking their places in Congress and in the Senate and in local elections. So there’s a parallel in us rising and then the ‘90s and stuff started to sort of peter out again. It’s an up and down cycle. Great things happening in both centuries, both bittersweet.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience reading Forbidden and am definitely going to check out another of Jenkins’ books.

Little Boxes

I heard about Little Boxes: Twleve Writers on Television edited by Caroline Casey on Book Riot’s All the Books podcast and it sounded really interesting. It’s a collection of essays about television and how the shows we watched as children influenced us and our childhoods. I have to admit, All the Books made it sound much more interesting than it actually was, at least for me. And I had the song “Little Boxes” stuck in my head the whole time. Of the book, I thought only two essays were really strong. The one on The Cosby Show and the one about Daria.

It probably doesn’t help that the TV shows people wrote about were mostly before my time. In the introduction it states that all writers grew up in the time before Internet as we know it today, and when classic black and white shows were still playing on reruns and Nick at Night. Given that introduction I thought I’d know all the shows (I watched a lot of I Love Lucy and Bewitched and The Munsters on Nick at Night), but I only watched two of the shows, and was familiar with one other– Anne of Green Gables and Daria were the shows I watched and Dawson’s Creek is the one I’m familiar with. Other shows touched on are Blossom, Twin Peaks, Cosby Show, and then some I’d never heard of before (mostly 1990 and earlier).

One thing I did learn, is just how different shows are today on Netflix or on DVD because when originally aired, they weren’t anticipating re-watches and DVD releases, so many shows had great music, which is then changed to canned music or cheaper music when re-released. Now I wonder what music was originally on some of my favorite shows (Friends and Sex and the City) specifically, since they originally aired pre-home video release of TV shows. Also, Friends has some pretty awful transition music, so I’d love to think it was better originally.

Also, fun fact. This book is published by a small press in Minnesota. I think it’s pretty exciting the book made it to a (relatively) popular book podcast.

Airplane Reads

My husband and I flew out east for a wedding/leaf peeping trip (what a weird phrase, by the way) last weekend and I devoured two different YA books. YA books are the best for flying, I’ve found. At least the fluffy ones.

On the plane ride out I read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. A year or so ago I read This is What Happy Looks Like so I knew what I was getting into with Love at First Sight. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is the story of Hadley and Oliver, who meet by chance (Hadley missed her flight and was put on Oliver’s) at an airport and find themselves sitting next to each other on the trip from New York to London. As the title suggests, they fall in love. It’s a very sweet story, and exactly what I was looking for, so I forgave the too-quickly-wrapped-up-ending. The sweet love story and the angsty family drama play off each other nicely and I imagine would have been very appealing to teen me (it certainly appealed to adult me, so I have to assume).

On the plane ride back, I read Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson and even downloaded the sequel, Rebel Magisters on overdrive during our layover. Rebel Mechanics introduces us to an alternate universe. What if the British ruling class were magic, and that’s why they controlled the colonies? If that happened the American Revolution would not have turned out the way we know it today. What if, the Industrial Revolution occurred because the non-magical people were finding ways to build machinery that would give them the same sort of power as the Magisters (the magical people)?

I don’t think I’ve ever officially read a Steampunk novel before and I loved the concept! The writing and the characters certainly left something to be desired. Which is unfortunate. Rebel Mechanics is a very clean and chaste YA novel. Not that all romances need bosom heaving, but this one seemed particularly full of romantic tension and I kept waiting for characters to make moves, and it was very frustrating. Kiss! Declare your feelings! At least hug. It doesn’t help that the characters themselves reminded me a lot of those found in The Pink Carnation series, which is for adults and therefore the romance has more adult content. So with that comparison in mind, I kept waiting for things to happen (that never did).

My guess is that Rebel Mechanics did not perform well sales wise, as according to Goodreads, the sequel was self-published. And you can tell. Although that didn’t stop me from reading the two books in two days.

I originally checked out The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Rebel Mechanics for the “book with a red spine” category on the PopSugar Reading Challenge. In the end, I used The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight for the “book involving travel” category, Rebel Mechanics for the “book with a red spine category” and Rebel Magisters for “a steampunk novel.”  

I believe I originally had Rich People Problems as my “book involving travel,” but The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight seemed more fitting. I like to play around with the categories as I read and fill in the slots. So many can fit for so many different categories!