Tag Archives: reading challenge

A Year of Reading: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”

— Max de Pree

I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.

February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance

March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy

Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.

What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.

A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.

Overview from Goodreads:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. 

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IMG_2217I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies. 

Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).

This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:

A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.
― Joy HarjoCrazy Brave

I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.

It really should be read aloud.

Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre? 

What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend? 

 

 

 

 

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A Year of Reading: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

51j4xd2ntcl-_sx355_bo1204203200_I’m behind on blogging about my reading challenge.

Ok, let’s be honest, I’m behind on blogging in general. Transitions, yo. I’m taking it easy. 

Something I’ve enjoyed so far this year has been picking a title each month from the book A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.

Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from March: Justice.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

***

I listened to this while traveling to the Writers Institute.

I’m a big nonfiction reading fan. I love memoirs and biographies, so I was gripped right away by Stevenson’s writing. Threaded throughout the book is Stevenson’s involvement with the Walter McMillian case, meetings they had, court appearances and processes, interviews with family and witnesses, and police involvement. Intertwined amongst this case are stories of many cases Stevenson worked on that portray how he got his start into the battle of death row cases, and how his work would shape his path from then on. The writing kept my attention because you learn more about Stevenson and his work in chunks of casework, but there’s also this ongoing saga of what’s happening with Walter.

Stevenson began his own nonprofit practice that focuses on helping minorities and underage victims of the criminal justice system, specifically those placed on death row. His book is an intimate look at capital punishment law and how many people, guilty or not, end up on death row. He uncovers all kinds of issues within the system, such as tampering with evidence, tampering with jury selection, and larger social issues of racism and economic status.

I was first made aware of racism in the justice system after attending a local talk led by my city’s League of Women Voters chapter. In the talk, we looked at racial disparities in our court system in my own city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as well as nationally and internationally. Once you see those numbers, it’s kind of hard to ‘unsee’ them. You’ve got to know there’s a problem.

I witnessed it myself during my months working as a public health educator and teaching at the juvenile detention center. For the percentage of minority populations in my city, there’s a disproportionate amount of teens of color (mainly black and biracial teens) being sent to juvie.

As a country, we are largely punishing people of color in more violent manners than we are their white counterparts. Since that eye opening talk several years ago, I’ve been active in starting up a local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), where white folks put in the time and work and energy of educating themselves on the issues, partnering and learning from people of color led organizations, and working to create change.

It’s upsetting to me that so many people are still (color) blind to the issue, or simply unwilling to discuss it. Today, for example, a (white) friend of mine is in court contesting a fine she and her daughter each received for writing messages of inclusivity and peace in SIDEWALK CHALK outside a public space. The city fined her almost $1000 between the original fine and restitution saying they spent seven hours washing off SIDEWALK CHALK that took her less than an hour to write. ???

You can read about her case here, but it’s clear from the way the city alderman addressed the issue, that the problem wasn’t really with the chalk (though that is what they fined her for, however there are chalk messages all around the city now that have not been washed away). The problem was with her messages.

Messages that were written were, “Black Lives Matter,” “You Are Standing On Ho-Chunk Land,” “I Stand For Love,” “Peace Be Unto You: As-Salaam-Alaikum,” “You Are Welcome Here,” “The Time For Racial Justice is Now” and “There is Enough For Everyone.”

I stand with my friend and her messages of inclusivity and diversity as strength. I highly encourage everyone to read more about systemic racism, as we all play a role in it when we don’t actively unlearn and fight against it.

Just Mercy is a phenomenal book that tackles racism in the judicial system. And the most powerful part of the whole read are Stevenson’s thoughts on mercy. Given the many examples of hate we can see every day on the news, or right in our own hometowns, it’s more important than ever to question our own biases. I hope you’ll grab a copy of Stevenson’s work as I found it incredibly thought provoking, emotional, and timely.

A few of my favorite quotes: 

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”

Have you read Just Mercy yet? Or perhaps another title about racial justice?
What are your thoughts?

A Year of Reading: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

It seems love is in the air, as the theme of February’s A Year of Reading book challenge was romance. I am not normally a reader of romance books, so I went with the nonfiction recommendation, Modern Romance, by comedian Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg.

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Ansari was curious about the dynamics of falling in love and relationships in the modern age. Were things easier before so much technology? How have dating websites changed the name of the game?

Whether you’re single, dating, or married, this book has plenty of interesting viewpoints on love. The authors (Ansari and Klinenberg) conducted focus groups around the world and spoke to leading sociologists, anthropologists, and economists.

Even with all that research, it’s a fast read. It’s not as in depth as you might want it to be or think it would be from its premise, but it does touch on multiple reasons why we date the way we do.

One thing I found interesting was the impact geography had on love. I’m a bridge Gen X/Gen Y baby, so for my peers, we’re on the cuff of cyber-dating’s rise. I have lots of friends who married someone they met online. For our grandparents, that didn’t exist. Most couples met and married someone that grew up in their neighborhood, many times in the same apartment building! The notion of e-meeting someone across the country and long distance dating, or the willingness to relocate based on a connection with someone they met online, is pretty new.

Texting is big in this book. The art of the text, and even the sext, is well examined by Ansari, who in his stand up, shared examples of text conversations he had with women he liked. They’re often nerdy and humorous. He would also call others up on stage to share confusing text messages they’d received from potential partners. If you’re fascinated by reading the meaning between the lines, dissecting the denotation between phonetic spelling and emojis, and just plain curious about some of the texts you’ve received, you will laugh your butt off in these chapters. But probably learn something too.

My most favorite A-Ha! moment from the book was this: The idea of the soulmate is a relatively newer trending ideal. For our grandparents, they selected individuals who would be good partners. And that partnership was most commonly about work duties. For example, if you were a farmer, you needed a partner who could weather long days, hard work, planning ahead for the seasons, money pinching, etc. Among all the elderly couples Ansari and Klinenberg interviewed, this was a reoccurring statement. Courtships were shorter, both people knew their roles, and love came later, over time. (Note* I’m simplifying this a bit, as the book does cover an example of discriminatory gender roles and an abusive marriage. I think that bears mentioning as it’s still an all too real issue today.)

Couples today are much more likely to say they’re looking for their “soulmate”. We want a partner that “completes us,” we want them to understand, know, and accept us like no one else on earth can, we want intimacy, AND we also want a partner to work with – they need to pay their share of the bills, keep the house clean, raise the kids, fix dinner, etc.

We’re asking a lot.

That hit me. Maybe because I’m a language nerd and the emotions and needs tied to the language we use for our partners is powerful. We want them to be EVERYTHING for us. Of course I think all unions should have partnership and love to be happy. But now, I understand why that feels so stressful to maintain.

We want our partner to be the person we tell our secrets to and we want them to take the damn trash out already! It is really, truly, and undeniably hard for one person to fill every single role all the time. They are bound to fail. We fail. We’re all only human.

That’s one idea why relationships today appear to struggle more than the “good old days” when “things were simpler.” And it did make me more appreciative of my partner and all that we do provide for each other.

Don’t take my word for it! Listen to Ansari himself, in this fabulous mockumentary dating vid about the book!

Aside – I need to watch the movie Singles like right now thanks to this clip. Seriously, remember that movie? When Sheila Kelley makes her singles dating video that looks like she’s flying over the city and invites guys to “Come to Debbie Country.” 

Anyway…

What are your thoughts?
What do you think of modern romance?

Ever watched Singles? It’s so good. 

 

 

Reading Challenges: A Year of Reading, and more!

books-552572_1280How many of you have a stack of books you’re planning to read? Someday, right? And how many of you add to that list every year? I’m with you! I needed to know what happened in the Lunar Chronicles too!

books-1841116_1280That’s why I love the reading challenge created by Estella’s Revenge called #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. I joined up last year and read 38 out of 131 books. I think I started with double that amount on the shelves (and floor), but one of the books I read was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and I sold/gave away 125 books.

I’ve created my current bookshelf list for 2017, should you wish to peruse my shelves.

(And it’s safe to say I’ll be doing this reading challenge for years to come, because let’s face it, I will keep buying books. But now, I do read more that I currently own versus buying QUITE so many.)

***

51j4xd2ntcl-_sx355_bo1204203200_I’m also using the book A Year of Reading to diversify what I read this year. This guidebook separates each month with a theme and gives six different book ideas for that theme. I love its diversity in authors and in genre.

It’s inclusive of authors of color, something I was looking to include more of this year in my reading, and the genre options include fiction and nonfiction, but also more marginalized categories like graphic novels, poetry, and short story anthologies.

The themes range from serious to fun, with a mix of genre styles within them. January was all about happiness, so very timely for that new year, new you vibe.

This month, I completed The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman. 

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Kalman’s book is different than most books I’ve read because it is also an art book. The pages are her colorful paintings and photography of people, places, and things that catch her eye – whether passing by on the street or musing over a historical figure.

This is a book you could read in a day. But I chose not to. I wanted to savor it.

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On a surface level, it’s an easy book to read for reading’s sake. But I wanted to muse along with her. Sometimes I learned about a historical figure, or a family member of hers, or even the intricacy of a tassel on a chair. So what you really get out of Kalman’s book is that happiness is found in the little things. The day to day moments where we stop. And just look. Just listen.

What reading challenges are you doing this year, formal or otherwise?
What books have you read recently that made you think? 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven’t Talked About Enough

Hello Lords and Ladies,

I’ve been happily audiobooking like a fiend lately – even managing to finish 14 books so far on my Goodreads ChallengeMy goal is 55. 

A big motivator has been the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge hosted by Estella’s Revenge. And the #2016readmybooks challenge hosted by The Worn Bookmark.

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Both reading programs challenge the reader to crack the bindings of the books they already own on their shelves. And I have a very long list.

(At this point I won’t say whether any new books have or have not been purchased in the process of this competition. But if my husband or parents are reading this, I could use another bookshelf please. Thanks.) 

Another favorite book blog I enjoy is The Broke and the Bookish who host Top Ten Tuesdays, a weekly series of top ten lists around a variety of book themes. This week we’re sharing…

Top 10 Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven’t Talked About Enough

1. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

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I’d been meaning to read this one for awhile. It was in my TBR pile. After watching Steve Martin hang out with Jerry Seinfeld on the show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, it made its way higher up in the stacks. And I must say it was really nice to get back into humor books and memoirs. I really enjoyed this book and how vulnerable and honest Martin was with sharing family stories and the career path he took. Biggest takeaway: Keep working. Keep following your dream.

2. The Dog Says How by Kevin Kling

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Technically, this one wasn’t part of my existing bookshelf. I heard about it through an adult storytelling class I’m taking and after watching numerous videos of Kevin Kling on youtube, I knew I wanted to read his book. It did not disappoint. Equal parts humor and heart. I highly recommend it. If you don’t have time to read it, check out his storytelling on youtube and you’ll probably find you do have the time to read his book. 😉

3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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I don’t normally read a lot of romance books, but after watching the movie trailer for Me Before You, I went out and bought the last copy in my city. No, I’m not joking. I had to go to 3 different places. And once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. Me Before You is more than a love story, though. It’s the story of a man dealing with quadriplegia. I really appreciated the amount of research Moyes had to have done to write so thoroughly about living with quadriplegia and what options you have in life. You will cry, but this is worth a read in my opinion.

4. Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

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Ketchup Clouds is a little bit of a coming of age story. The protagonist Zoe talks about the boy she likes, going to parties, all the normal things a teenage girl would share. Except that Zoe shares these moments with a death row inmate. Told through a mix of narration and letters, Zoe reveals the worst possible secret she ever could to the only person she thinks will understand.

5. Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

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I’m a big fan of memoirs and biographies and this may have been my favorite one read last year. I didn’t grow up during the Kennedy era, but I visited the Kennedy Museum and library in Boston a few years ago with my parents and heard several stories from their memories as we toured the exhibits and highlights of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Rosemary was his sister, but the public rarely heard about her. Due to preventable complications during labor, Rosemary was born with some cognitive disabilities. In a poor attempt to “fix” his daughter, Joe Kennedy consented to have Rosemary undergo a lobotomy which went horribly wrong and left Rosemary in a worse state, losing a vast amount of her speech and mobility. My parents remember Rosemary because the care facility the Kennedy’s sent her to happened to be in Jefferson, WI, the town where my family owned a restaurant. And Rosemary use to eat at our family’s restaurant with the nuns who looked after her. This book is a heartbreaking history lesson of how laws around the disabled changed and how all families have their secrets.

6. Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

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I loooooved Shotgun Lovesongs. And I met the author, Nickolas Butler, and interviewed him. He’s pretty spectacular and you should check him out. The book is about five high school friends who reunite at a wedding and how their relationships change. What I loved about this book so much is how poetic the writing is. One of the first characters Butler started writing about was the character who is a musician, and the book’s title is the album title of this character. It makes sense to me that the whole book is written in different points of view and done so lyrically, just like a great playlist on an album.

7. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

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I love watching the Olympics whenever its on, but I’d never looked into its history. The Boys in the Boat is the story of the 1936 U.S. men’s Olympic rowing team. First off, I had no idea how strenuous rowing actually is. They make it look so graceful, yet they’re using so many muscles, rowing is the equivalent of playing four back to back basketball games. Second, and more importantly, historically this was a time of so much perseverance on every team member’s part. Surviving the depression and the war, as well as going to school and starting families. These men bonded in a unique and focused effort to give America something to be hopeful for, to be proud of. A gold medal.

8. Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

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Do yourself a favor and get the audiobook for this one! Written as though famous literary characters – and pop culture ones too – are texting one another, the audiobook includes more variety with voices and you get to hear the tone of voice used. It is laugh out loud hysterical. My favorites: Jane Eyre, Hamlet, Katniss and Peeta.

9. I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

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Now that Samantha Bee has her own television show, I’m incredibly sad we canceled our cable. I wouldn’t watch anything else, but I’d want to watch her show. Her memoir was surprisingly even funnier than I thought it would be. I loved her journey to finding success, it even included playing Sailor Moon for shows that took place in a mall. It all just made me so so happy.

10. Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova

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Wildalone is a haunting and breathtakingly beautiful story that weaves Bulgarian legend and Greek mythology together. It tells the story of the samodivi, or “wildalones,” also known as forest witches. As a kid I was a Greek mythology nerd and of course my husband and I were married in Greece, so I love the infusion of familiar greek myths and new to me Bulgarian legends in this tale. And Zourkova’s writing is very fantastical.

***

That’s my top ten.
What books have you recently read and loved and wished you’d talked more about?

 

 

 

Final Book Reviews for the To Be Read Pile Challenge

2015tbrbuttonThe end of another year means that reading challenges are wrapping up all over. For the last three years I’ve participated in the TBR (To Be Read) Pile Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. The goal is to read 12 books off your bookshelf that have been sitting there for more than a year.

Not a bad way to save money too! 

I’m proud to report I completed the challenge by finishing my book list.

My 2015 TBR Pile Challenge List:

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)
  3. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1905)
  4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965)
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (1969)
  6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling (1999)
  7. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (2012)
  8. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
  9. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (2011)
  10. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (2004)
  11. Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (2013)
  12. Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (2012)

My favorite read was probably In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I hadn’t read it before and his attention to detail really makes you feel like you’re in the room with the characters. Plus, it’s based on a true crime, a despicable crime, and yet the way he writes it, the reader is drawn to the story of the killers and what happens to them.

The final two books I have to report on are: 

ketchup_clouds_pitcher_novelKetchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

I loved this book. It’s the story of a teen girl who starts writing letters to a death row inmate. And in her letters, she confesses to a crime that she got away with.

I listened to this one on audiobook and highly recommend the audio version if you’re into them. While being a YA book, it deals with a lot of serious themes such as family dynamics, first love, finding oneself, and guilt.

What’s interesting about this book is we never actually meet the death row inmate. He’s a key character as Zoe, the teen girl, tells her story to him, revealing aspects of his own crime as she reads about it. We learn about him, but we never actually meet the inmate. I thought this book was exceptionally well written and very interesting.

29044The Secret History by Donna Tartt

On the literary end of things, Donna Tartt’s Secret History also deals with a murder.

The book opens with a group of college freshman narrator. We know a body was found beneath the snow, and that the narrator was somehow involved, but we don’t know how.

Then the book zooms back to his first days at college, making friends, scraping money together for bills, and how Richard, the narrator, gets involved with a select group of students in a greek language class.

The students in the greek class are nothing like Richard. They come from wealthy families with summer homes in Europe and wear expensive suits to class and dine at fancy restaurants multiple nights a week. But Richard does his best to fit in.

Everything has a cost. And that’s all I’ll tell you about this one.

*****

For those of you that are looking to join up with a reading challenge in 2016, I must sadly report that Adam is not continuing the TBR Pile Challenge, but will have other reading challenges available you can check out on his blog.

So I partnered with Adam and some of my favorite book bloggers to find another reading challenge that focused on the stacks that no longer fit on my bookshelf. Here’s what they recommended.

2016 Reading Challenges

In 2016, I’m joining forces with Andi from Estella’s Revenge for the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge and Maren from The Worn Bookmark for her #2016ReadMyBooks challenge.

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Both challenges focus on reading books you already own, but that can be actual paper copies as well as ebooks.

There is no set number you have to read, it’s up to you to decide what is manageable and what you want to achieve.

Andi and Maren are both setting goals of 100 or more! I am shooting for 24. That’s 2 books/month. So truly, go as big or as small as you want!

Another bonus, you don’t have to pick the book titles ahead. (This is helpful to me since my reading varies on my mood. I like that these challenges allow for flexibility.) I’ll be adding a page soon with my full library to list all my reading options. Feel free to share your recommendations with me in the comments too!

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If you have a blog, the hosts encourage you to write reviews of the books you read and share them with the hashtags above. You can also catch them on Instagram!

The first thing you have to do is count up how many unread books are on your bookshelf…and floors and desk and bedside table. 

I have a grand total of 161 unread books. 

And I asked for more for Christmas!

I’ll be kicking off the challenge with my gluttonous consumption of the Outlander series. I’m working on Voyager now.

So who’s with me?
Are you participating in reading challenges in 2016?
If you did any this year, how did they go? What was your favorite read? 

*****

P.S. Need help writing a book report? Check this out! 😉

 

P.P.S. In case you missed it, I guest blogged at Coach Daddy last week, hanging out with my pal, Eli Pacheco! I shared 3 books, 3 songs, and 3 quotes to inspire the world! Eli is always writing honest and inspiring blog posts. He just did a great one this weekend about gratitude. Stop by and hang out with us, it’s a fun group!

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What I’ve Been Reading

The one good thing about colder weather is it’s the perfect excuse for curling up with a good book.

I’m an avid coffee shop attendee and I love seeing so many students bent over the tables with their books, and sure homework too. I love seeing people with their newspapers and novels and a big mocha next to them. November is also the start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Thousands of writers from all over attempt to write 50,000 words in a month’s time.

How’s everyone doing on their reading challenges this year? Anyone participating in Roof Beam Reader’s To Be Read Pile Challenge or make one up of their own?

I’m 2 books away from completing my list, but feeling wary whether I’ll finish. I hope to read The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher yet this year.

I’ve had some interference with my book list, you see.

His name is Jamie Fraser. And he lives in the Outlander series.

Oh hello there. When did you come in?
Please stay awhile. In fact, let’s plan a trip to Scotland together. 

Where was I?

Oh yah, my TBR pile.

It’s growing. Look what I just scored from the library’s fall book sale!

holding up a dozen books

Having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card! 

I have been diligently trying to space out my series reading and catch up my TBR pile. Here are a few recommendations I have for whatever mood you may be in.

TBR Pile Challenge Update

For lovers of family dynamics ~ The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry 

A little bit paranormal, a lotta heart, The Kitchen Daughter tells the story of Ginny, a twentysomething with Aspberger’s Syndrome, but she doesn’t know that. She was always raised to believe she had “a personality” and nothing more.

The book opens at the funeral of her parents, and now Ginny and her sister are forced to learn how to communicate together in an unknown future. What’s more troubling for Ginny is the fact that she’s seeing ghosts. By cooking handwritten recipes of loved ones who’ve passed, Ginny can talk with them.

Written from Ginny’s perspective, The Kitchen Daughter is a unique glimpse inside someone’s head – a woman who is just as independent and caring as the rest of us, but shows it differently.

I loved the paranormal element the most in this book. I love how Ginny was able to take an experience like a conjuring and see it as a way to learn more about her family. And I liked the relationship between Ginny and her sister, which felt very real as each struggled to navigate what they thought was best for the other. This would be a great book for book clubs to read.

For fans of YA ~ Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book was nothing like how I expected.

For starters, while published in 2013, it takes place in 1986. I wondered whether today’s teens would understand the magic of the mix tapes exchanged between these two. I loved it.

Eleanor and Park couldn’t be more different, or more the same. This book ended in a place I least expected, and I don’t want to give any spoilers, so you’ll just have to read it yourself.

At its core, this is a story of two misfits. Park gets by in school, but feels like the odd duck at home, unable to live up to his father’s strict requirements. Eleanor wears armor in her zany form of dress as a way to look tougher than she is. Behind her wild hair and colorful clothes, is someone hiding a painful secret.

Together, life feels a little bit easier. But it also gets more real.

These characters tugged at my heartstrings.

For fans of sci-fi ~ The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

I picked this book out for my book club to read when we decided to each pick a different genre. As I read a lot I didn’t have a preference on what genre I was assigned. But I admittedly know little about science fiction beyond Kurt Vonnegut, who was a favorite in high school.

I struggled with this book, as did my entire book club. I recommend researching the author and the book first as the history and symbolism built into the book made it more interesting to read.

And warning, it doesn’t get really good til about 100 pages in. So you have to stick with it.

This story takes place on the planet, Winter, where the people have no gender. Once a month, they enter a transition period called kemmer where they can take on male or female form and partner with another person. They have no choice in which gender they take, and could fluctuate from each one each time they enter a kemmer period.

The book has a lot of feminism between the lines. In a world where there is no gender, and all the people are on equal ground, there is no war. Two ideas which LeGuin played with in many of her works.

And what’s fascinating is that it’s written from an outsider’s perspective, Ai Genly, who is sent to Winter as an ambassador, in hopes of convincing their people to join the Ekumen – AKA what we know as the United Nations. The story follows Genly’s mishaps in communication and tactics because he doesn’t understand the people he is speaking with. Isn’t that very fitting for where we are in the world today? We all rush to identify and place people in social constructs we know and understand, without really understanding them at all.

If you can stick with it through the unusual names and long backstory, this is an interesting read. Certainly a thought provoking one.

*****

What books have you recently read and enjoyed?
What books do you hope to finish before year’s end? 

The Practical Person’s Reading Challenge, the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge Begins

The new year kicks off the start of many new year’s resolutions and challenges. Some of my favorites to participate in are reading challenges, and this will be my fourth year joining in the TBR Pile Challenge.

Adam from Roof Beam Reader is hosting the 6th annual To Be Read Pile Challenge of 2015!

Here’s the Scoop:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).

Specifics:

1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2014 or later (any book published in the year 2013 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with Mr. Linky below – link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.

3. The link you post in the Mr. Linky below must be to your “master list”. This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review (so there’s one easy, convenient way to find your list and all your reviews for the challenge). See THIS LINK for an idea of what I mean. Your complete and final list must be posted by January 15th, 2015.

4. Leave comments on this post as you go along, to update us on your status. Come back here if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2015 TBR LIST! Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from Amazon.com or The Book Depository!

5. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published before 2014!

Isn’t that the smartest idea for a book challenge? To finally read all those books I know you bibliophiles like me keep buying and don’t get to?

You have until January 15th to post your 2015 TBR Pile list. Books can be read in any order. I like to do a mix of genres so I always have something I’m “in the mood” to read.

And this year, you can also stay connected to others doing the challenge via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #TBR2015RBR.

My 2015 TBR Pile Challenge List:

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)
  3. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1905)
  4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965)
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (1969)
  6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling (1999)
  7. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (2012)
  8. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
  9. Where’s My Wand? by Eric Poole (2010)
  10. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (2011)
  11. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (2004)
  12. Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (2013)

Alternates:

  1. When Life Gives You Lemons…At Least You Won’t Get Scurvy! by Madge Madigan (2013)
  2. Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (2012)

Will you be participating? Do you do any other reading challenges?
What’s on your TBR pile list?

 

What’s the Best Book You Read in 2014?

With December here, the 2014 To Be Read Pile Challenge is coming to a close. This is my favorite reading challenge as it stresses reading books you already own. Like so many writers, I have a book buying problem. I love bookstores and even when I’m shopping in a place like Target, I have to peruse the book aisles. I just love books!

What that leads to is multiple shelves of books that I haven’t read yet because I’m always buying more or renting some from the library or listening to ones on audiobook.

Unread books

The To Be Read Pile Challenge focuses on reading 12 books that have been sitting on your shelf for more than a year in one year’s time. You’re also allowed to pick 2 alternates in case one of the books you choose is impossible to get through.

This year I read all my 12 and one alternate! (And I just looked at my Goodreads shelves – I read 40 books total this year! Hoping to finish the two in my sidebar before 2015 as well.)

What were the final 2 books I completed for the TBR Pile?

*****

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

I hate to admit I did not really like this one. But here’s the honest scoop. I think Jen Lancaster is a great writer! She is funny and witty and has a great writer’s voice.

I think the problem for me was that I could not identify with her in this book. Bitter is the New Black is Jen’s memoir about having it all – six figure salary, name brand clothes, posh apartment, all the witty comebacks and snide comments one can muster. Then she loses everything, and has to learn how to budget, shop less, and live less extravagantly.

I didn’t grow up or ever achieve a six figure lifestyle, so I’ll be honest and say the most bitter person in this book, was ME, the reader. I had a poor attitude reading Jen’s story because I couldn’t handle her complaining about loss when it seemed she didn’t appreciate what she had for so long.

Bitter party of one! I admit I wasn’t in a mindset to appreciate this book like I could. Sorry Jen!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Bookworms will love this paranormal read by Deborah Harkness! Diana Bishop is a researcher at Oxford, who haphazardly uncovers a book that is filled with all the secrets of the magic world – vampires, demons, and witches. Now, all those creatures are showing up in the library and everywhere else Diana roams.

With the help of a tall, dark and handsome vampire named Matthew, Diana must discover the secrets of the book before the others do.

I liked this one. It’s an interesting spin on how the worlds of paranormal creatures intertwine. And there’s a historical element to it because Diana is descendant from Elizabeth Bishop of the Salem Witch Trials.

Anyone read the next one in this series?

*****

I want to know what your favorite book(s) you read this year was!

When I look back at my list, I had books that I hated (One Thousand White Women), I had a few classics I completed (Anne of Green Gables, Mansfield Park, Rebecca), and I had books I loved (The Night Circus, Official Book Club Selection, Love With a Chance of Drowning).

But my favorite book I read this year was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

A young adult novel by genre, this book is phenomenal for any audience. It won the National Book Award – and BONUS* it’s one of the most banned books of all time! (Shhh – it talks about masturbation. hehehehe)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the story of Junior, an American Indian growing up on a reservation who takes a risk and attends the all white school in the next town.

I learned so much from this book. I think it should be required reading for students. It talks about race – yes – but it does it from the voice of a high school student – with honesty about both sides.

It talks about poverty and the downward spirals that poverty fosters – alcoholism, abuse, depression. Still, Junior is able to show us these things with some sense of humor and humility.

Get the book if you can. I read this one via audiobook which I loved, because the author reads it and I so appreciate hearing any story about a different culture in the voice of a native speaker, but if you get the book there are really fun cartoon drawings in it because that’s how Junior makes sense of his world, through drawing.

I cannot speak highly enough about this book. I didn’t want it to end. It was so good. And I learned so much.

*****

What was the best book(s) you read in 2014?
What titles will you be putting on your 2015 To Read Pile list?

Exciting news! Adam from Roof Beam Reader has kicked off the sign up for the 6th annual To Be Read Pile Challenge this 2015, so be sure to create your must read list and sign up!

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