The Last Reading Binge of 2018

Reading is many things: mind expansion, travel, exposure to different viewpoints, inspiration, etc, but sometimes for me it is survival.  Sometimes placing one foot in a fantasy world helps me manage less structured times and the boredom I have been known to suffer in those times.  I like a break but then I’m over it quickly.  I get shifty. I keep my brain alive by darting in and out of a fantasy world of someone else’s making.

Not all books are carved out for fantasy darting.  I didn’t dart in and out of, like, War and Peace or another round of Don Quixote.  No.

Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen:

Queen of Hearts, Malice at the Palace, Crowned and Dangerous, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

This series is too unbearably easy to binge on.  I found them on one of those Audible sales where they are crafty buggers and let you have the first in a series for free.  I binged on a bunch in 2013-2014 as I was returning to feeling like myself after the entrance of a tiny little boy I made, stalling out at Queen of Hearts.

The main character, Georgiana Rannoch, is in line for the British throne in the 1930’s, too far away to actually have a chance and a poor relation to boot, but still considered aristocracy with everything that goes along with it.  She solves high society murder mysteries in the historical context of the world at that time.  So not only is it the delicious historical fiction that has me googling the people who drop into the plot line, it has a handful of very fun recurring characters who serve to up the drama, each in their own way:  a bad girl best friend, a selfish but glamorous mother, an inept lady’s maid, a reliable cockney grandfather, a horrid sister in law, and a dashing love interest.    She rarely has any money and people are always getting killed and complicating things in settings all over the world at that time and place:

Queen of Hearts is on a ship and in 1930’s Hollywood, Malice at the Palace is in the apartments of Buckingham Palace, Crowned and Dangerous is in Ireland, and most of On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service is in Italy. Georgie starts off as awkward but she is becoming more worldly and assertive as she moves through the novels, less clumsy, less shy.  Often in cozies or series the growth of the main character isn’t important, but Bowen seems to have prioritized that.  It makes Georgie more believable as a character because she is a young adult and so much change and growing up happens in that part of your life.  And with relatable flaws to make her likeable, to make you root for her to unmask the killer and save the day.

It’s a rare series for me to want to keep going, as I can get bored of the same people, but I don’t get bored of this cast of characters.  I am always amused when they show up to play their roles.

Also, these books are best enjoyed on audio. The late Katharine Kellgren was a genius with all the different voices and accents of the world at that time, even doing the men believably.  I prefer these on audio but I did devour some by reading the old fashioned way.  She brought these stories to life on audio. There won’t be another one made by Ms. Kellgren, unfortunately, but she is definitely my favorite narrator.  I think the fact I enjoy the stories so much will get me through getting used to another narrator, but I am not happy about it.

So I spent Christmas break trying to figure out mysteries for the elite in the western world of the 1930s .  It was nice for holiday down time, as I burned myself out on Christmas super early this year with the early snow and all the things we did with our son.  And I was strict about not starting with any challenges until the year actually changed over.  I am the picture of discipline.

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Christmas Reads: Love in a Castle

BookRiot’s Read Harder 2019 list was released on Wednesday!  It doesn’t matter that I am still chewing my way through 2018’s list either!  I even watched the Youtube video released and wrote it down before I could find the list I was so anxious to know what the next year’s lineup was to be.

Plotting my next year projects get me through the doldrums post Christmas and the prospect of the rest of the winter going by without all the Christmas lights twinkling on my way home from work.  Christmas lights are entirely too short lived.

I love the 2019 list.  I can’t tell you that I know how to find all of these books but it is better than the prospect of another celebrity memoir.  I am delighted to say it will be the first memoir free year in many.  Even if I hit Popsugar.

I’d rather hunt for an award winner of color, a non binary or prison author than read about white people ascending to an even more exalted status, even if white people problems will always hold a certain appeal to this Apple product loving, bangs wearing white girl.

Also white people romances in castles at Christmas, which was the intent of this post before the miracle of the new Read Harder list being released.

I lied last week when I said there are no witches in my Christmas romance lineup.  I didn’t know that Scottish time travel romances would involve a meddling magic hub in the form of a woman:

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Morna’s Legacy Christmas Novella Collection:  Scottish, Time Travel Christmas Novellas from Morna’s Legacy Series

I mean, Scotland, Christmas and time travel.  Coming from someone who enjoyed the first in the Outlander series, this was a no-brainer.  Outlander is a little more hard core on the Scottish history, which I loved in the first one but I haven’t read the rest because I heard the sex decreases and the anxiety increases, and, despite the historical accuracy of  it, it’s not enticing reading.

Morna is considerably lighter and these three books are compiled I think to appeal to a wide range of ages.   Two of the three are about older couples falling in love, kind of a second chance you really aren’t too old for this sort of thing and the other one is about traveling back in time to fix a breakup in a young couple just starting out.  Hope that last bit wasn’t a spoiler.  And they all center around the season of love and light, and being with family and finding family at Christmas.

These romances also include some mildly graphic sex, but it is love sex, not hookup sex.  It is like, soulmate sex. These are happily evers for three sets of lovers that, in the beginning, weren’t headed toward that.  It’s wish fulfillment without obstacles that are too harrowing.

All three of these stories were less than ten hours of listening on audio, and audio is always the way to go when you are listening to stories with Scottish characters. Real narrators who can do the accent but still have it understandable.   A decent price. Good background listening to a nice walk or gift wrapping.

I’d love to check out Scotland someday, even though I have heard that it is easy to underestimate how cold the place can be.

In other news, cookie baking was the seasonal activity of the weekend. And getting my husband to score me some massage gift cards for Christmas.  I wasn’t sad I didn’t have to freeze my butt off for a parade and a tree lighting like I did last weekend.

Next week is another holiday foray into a mega famous author’s works again for what I think will be the last Christmas reads post of the season.  I snuck in another read that doesn’t fit in with next week’s post but it might get tossed in anyway if I finish it in time to blog about it.  I’m really enjoying it, so I hope I finish it.

Then it’s my last two Read Harder reads.  Yes, I have three weeks to go and I haven’t finished all my reads and squeezing in the last few reads to make my Goodreads challenge goal.

gray and white castle built near a cliff
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And I am already the cheater scoping out the internet for my 2019 plan.

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Happy New Year! The Reading Challenge specs

So, reading challenges.  This is the third year I have been using them to shape my quest to be well read.  And it has done that.

Now that the 2018 lists are out, my motivation to make plans on what to procure and read to meet these has started.

And I am realizing that there will be overlap now that I have done a few of them.   I have already read celebrity memoirs and tackled books I hated/abandoned in school (there were not many, that is how uncool I am when it really comes down to brass tacks), but they are rearing their ugly heads again on the new wave of challenges.

Which is just as well, because I am considering BookRiot’s 2018 list, but what I need to be doing is focusing more on getting writing done.  Not even getting it out there, just getting it done.  Reading more specifically for writing:  reading journals I might want to submit to, reading the best examples of the genre, reading books on writing, reading books that will help me inform me into writing.

But I got the whole freaking 2017 challenge done.  This is amazing not because of the amount of reading, only 24 books of the 85+ I made it through this year, but the amount of reading what I didn’t want to read.  I like books without pictures.  I like books about white people problems.  I can only do so many books that break my heart.  And these challenges want pictures and want me to think outside my world.  What!

BookRiot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge:

A Book About Sports:  Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube:  Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North,  Blair Braverman

A Debut Novel:  The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler

A Book About Books:  The Book Thief (finally!), Markus Zusak

A Book Set in Central/South America:  The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende

Read a Book by an Immigrant or a Central Immigration Narrative: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (also finally), Junot Diaz

Read An All Ages Comic:  Angry Birds Transformers

Read a Book Published Between 1900 and 1950:  The Green Mouse, Robert W. Chambers

Read a Travel Memoir:  Eat, Pray, Love (I can’t believe I still had not read it yet either), Elizabeth Gilbert

Read a Book You’ve Read Before: The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes

Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location:  Death in Saratoga Springs, Charles O’Brien

Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location: Soy Sauce for Beginners (Also a personal Read Down): Kirsten Chen

Read a fantasy novel: The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

Read a nonfiction book about technology: Forensics, Val MacDermid

Read a book about war: A God in Ruins (Also a Read Down), Kate Atkinson

Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,  Benjamin Alire Saenz

Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: The Complete Persepolis (Also a personal Read Down), Marjane Satrapi

Read a classic by an author of color: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Nora Neale Hurston

Read a superhero comic with a female lead: Storm, Vol 1:  Make it Rain, Greg Pak, Victor Ibanez and Matteo Buffagni

Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey (From Daniel José Older, author of Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and YA novel Shadowshaper): A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. LeGuin

Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (From Sarah MacLean, author of ten bestselling historical romance novels): Drawn Together, Z.A. Maxfield

Read a book published by a micropress. (From Roxane Gay, bestselling author of AyitiAn Untamed StateBad Feminist, Marvel’s World of Wakanda, and the forthcoming Hunger and Difficult Women): A Tender Industrial Fabric, Tony Altman

Read a collection of stories by a woman. (From Celeste Ng, author Everything I Never Told You and the forthcoming Little Fires Everywhere): Interpreter of Maladies (Yeah for real I had not made it to this one either); Jhumpa Lahiri

Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love. (From Ausma Zehanat Khan, author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, including The Unquiet DeadThe Language of Secrets, and the forthcoming Among the Ruins): King of a Hundred Horsemen, Marie Etienne

Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. (From Jacqueline Koyanagi, author of sci-fi novel Ascension): The Sellout, Paul Beatty

With it all listed out before me like this, I am realizing how many modern classics I was able to knock out this year, like Oscar, like Eat Pray Love, like The Book Thief.  I feel particularly good about that. I think I made it to discussing most, if not all of these on the blog as we got through the year.

They all brought me something new, like reading challenge books are meant to do, but I have not thought up any awards, any specific ways in which some books stood out this year and apart from the others.

Your reading challenges from 2017?

I have to think over what my 2018 is going to look like before I craft that post.  This year I also did a half marathon, two sprint triathlons, wrote 12 short stories, did a ten day writing challenge and knitted many of the things.  My craft projects need a good craft down.

Comments/shares/likes are always appreciated!

Happy New Year!

I Pause in Making Christmas to be Well Read

So, in addition to the Christmas books that adorn my posts of December, I am also working on finishing the one reading challenge I made it through this year.

I considered doing Modern Mrs. Darcy but she wanted a book about modern issues and that was the last thing I wanted to read, which is pretty dramatic for me, as the books I talk about today were struggles but I made it through them.  I don’t want to read about our mad president, I don’t want to read about climate change and all the other mismanagements that will keep me up all night for the anxiety.  I would rather struggle through books I barely understand than increase my awareness of how screwed up everything is.  Argh.

Next week I shall bestow upon you all the list of everything I read for Book Riot’s Read Harder, but the ones I am discussing today are the last ones that made it under the limbo pole to count toward this year’s challenge.

A Nonfiction Book about Technology:

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Forensics, Val McDermid

I spent most of the year hemming and hawing over what to read for my book about technology as it threatened the sweet place in the sand where I bury my head. There are so many books out there about the internet and how everyone knows everything about you and I doubt there is much I can do about that other than giving up the convenience of my online endeavors, like my deep and abiding love of Amazon.  We are in the middle of a Christmas season and I didn’t want to comb stores for the Lego set I wanted for my son.

Also I need a distinct human interest element to any book about technology. I want people’s stories and how they have changed through time, not something dry on this is how this works. Some people like that, but not me.

I noticed that this gem had been waiting on audio all along in my audible app, just waiting to be discovered.  And it is narrated by a woman with a Scottish accent because McDermid is Scottish herself!  Perfect. It is a primer on the technology used to detect whodunit, complete with famous historical vignettes. I would love to write and research historical fiction like she does and if I did I would absolutely want to make something separate out of my research.

I believe the many reviewers who reported that if you watch enough TV crime shows, much of these topics you already know something about, but I have not done a lot of crime solving TV in awhile.   So I liked it.  It was perfectly tailored to my level of ignorance, and talked about the differences in justice systems around the world, which was a nice touch.

Runners Up: Thunderstruck, Erik Larssen, The Wright Brothers, David McCullough

A Collection of Poetry on a Theme Other than Love:

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King of a Hundred Horsemen, Marie Etienne

I refused to rate this on Goodreads because I didn’t understand it.  There are some brave souls on Goodreads who must have a different, or any understanding at all, of this collection, who rated it, but I needed academic help.  I read it.  The last segment of poetry about birds resonated and made sense but I wandered through the rest.  She very possibly could be brilliant, people who know something about something think she is, so I am in no position to refute that even if I find her work inaccessible.  Does this help my reader understand how little I wanted to read a book about modern issues facing our world? That I would get through a hundred pages of translated poetry I didn’t understand?

I love Mary Oliver, and Stanley Kunitz, and Roald Dahl, and the poetry collections I have on my shelves but this was tough.   I needed context, the old Gothic classrooms and an PhD student at my alma mater to get me through this.   But I did it.  There you go, Ausma Zehanat Khan, author that made me do it!  Anyone who has a better understanding is welcome to help me out here.

Also, thanks to BookRiot for posting about possible fit ins for this category.  It would have been a challenge to even find a  book that would qualify.

A Book Published by a Micropress:

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Tender Industrial Fabric, Toby Altman

This was Roxane Gay’s brainchild and I do love me some Roxane, especially on the Twitter, but I didn’t understand this one either.  There were more stanzas and pieces that made sense that I could hang on to, like some descriptions of grief, sexuality, love and nature.

This looked to me like an artistic labor of love, even though it was somewhat lost on me, which I don’t even like to admit, because I think I am missing out a little here by not getting it.  I don’t know.  My father is a poet and where I get my love of writing and he has always seemed unapologetic about not understanding a poem, even if The New Yorker took it, but really, I have a deep and abiding fear that everyone else really does know more than I do sometimes.  And I am missing out.  Even as it is sitting next to me for this review I keep reopening it and hoping the magic will beam out at me, like it got over its shyness. Naw.

But probably all micropresses and their projects are, by definition, labors of love.

All right, so the roundups continue next week with what I did for BookRiot.  I could have really binged to make it through Popsugar too but I have done slightly more writing this year.  And that is the ultimate goal whilst there is available brain space. A limited commodity.

 

Comments/shares/likes are welcome!!!

Halloween Reads: Mashup

October is closing up in that annual flurry of candy that launches us into the holiday season.

My son is a skeleton T Rex this year, with a soft T Rex skull he pulls over his head.  He has been a lion, a viking, a bat, SpiderMan and now a T-Rex.  The first Halloween of his life he was a raisin strapped into a car seat and taken home by his already exhausted and certainly not out of maternity clothes mother.  I am resisting eating chocolate birthday cake while I am writing this.

The group of books I review for the actual Halloween weekend post don’t hang together as well as the books I posted about on the previous five weeks of these posts, because I read a whole lot like usual thinking I will find the threads as I go and then I ended up with one grouping that is threaded together well, which is actually going to be my post honoring the Day of the Dead halfway through this week, and this post of stragglers.  Books I intended to get to for scary reads last year but I did not make it to.  One that kept cropping up on blog posts about quintessential horror reads that were new this scary season.  So, I’ll write, maybe there will be a thread, maybe not.

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The Curse of Crow Hollow, Billy Coffey

This did not get read last year and was one of the first that I plunged into for this year, especially since I already had the audio and a decent length car trip or two in there.

A mysterious illness overtakes some kids in an isolated Southern town following a night partying that inadvertently incurs the wrath of the town “witch” but unravels into additional layers of secrets and intrigues.

I believe this would count as a Southern Gothic novel: ironic events to reflect on the status and values of the American South, Gothic elements to explore and make social commentary.  The reader cannot determine if the town witch is really the villain or the victim until the end, if there is really illness/supernatural elements among some of the kids but the power of suggestion.  There aren’t the crumbling and scary plantations but the creepy small rural communities.  A little madness, a little despair.  Women who peak in their beauty and power in their teenage years only to have a lifetime of weight gain and raising children with distant husbands ahead of them.

The audio performance really adds to this.  The narrator brings to life the narrative style, with the perfect voice for the story, a male voice sounding exactly like I thought it should.  I will probably look into others of Billy Coffey’s dark, more American Gothic and subtle novels.  I don’t think anything could replace my love of Victorian Gothic novels but I can appreciate a writer who can apply the dark, ironic writing to a different context.

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The Witches of Eastwick, John Updike

I was in love with John Updike as a writer when I was in college.  I found him in The New Yorker to start, along with my love of Oliver Sacks, and one time in the middle of a heavy semester I looked up a book of his short stories in my college library and spent a sliver of precious brain space on that.  Part of his magic to me was not only his beautiful writing, and it is beautiful, but I liked reading about privileged white people around my age living in New England with their bored, short lived marriages.

So I always had The Witches of Eastwick on the TBR. Witches?  Updike? Yes please.  A bunch of white, promiscuous self involved women all vying for the attention of a blowhard genteel poor man?  Ugh.

His gorgeous, poignant, and astute writing is still there, but I had a hard time caring about these disillusioned women and this completely unappealing man who pushes them all off center despite their having “powers” and having been able to escape their marriages before they got too old to enjoy freedom. I guess women can have “powers” and still be brought down and against one another by a useless socialite full of half baked ideas that won’t ever pan out to paying the mortgage.

I didn’t have trouble finishing it but I definitely needed the help of audio, which had been on my wish list forever, and I am glad I tackled it off the TBR.  I don’t think I will be reading the sequel though.  And I am less enthusiastic about his complete collection of short stories of his I bought upon his death, but maybe his magic will return to me more in his shorter works, which is where I fell in love with him in the first place.  But we will see.  His wording and phrases still struck me.  He can still bust out a line that is enchanting to me. Like an old boyfriend meeting you out for a drink, there might be a tiny sparkle just for a moment for me and for Updike’s writing.

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The Girl from the Well, Rin Chupeco

Classic Japanese horror thrown onto the end of a post with a Southern Gothic and some New England witches.  Random sauce, but good sauce all the same.

So if you want a classic horror for Halloween, the most Halloween-y book on this books of Halloween on Halloween weekend post, this would be the one. There is a clear ghost story, the haunting is not random, and in true Japanese style, someone becomes overconfident in their abilities and others get screwed over by it.  Because is there ever pride without a fall?  But completely classic, almost formulaic, but that is not a criticism. This tosses back to the other Japanese horror movies I watched into my brief foray into Japanese horror films. I liked it.  It was scary and diverting and fun, the villain was humanized, there was some kind of resolution, which my readers know I care about.  Women like closure.  Whatever.

Halloween reads is going to bleed into one more week because I have some books read up that have to do with coming back to life but with the theme of siblings, which is such a YA thing…but appropriately, since siblings are so important to teens, especially in families who don’t all live under one roof.

So, here’s wishing a sweet Halloween weekend to everyone with one more iteration of seasonal reads. Looking for scary reads and all the other blog posts with scary reads has of course lengthened the wish list, filled it out a bit because it’s a never ending process.

Purgatory and Race. Because summer.

This Sunday I am actually reviewing newer books!

I am always debating with myself about if I need to niche blog to get more readers.  But I can’t.  I just love to read widely and I am gravitating again toward some reading challenges this year.  Admittedly, the books geared toward white women problems suck me in the most and some of the ones outside my favorite genres can feel like a slog, but very often I am glad I have read something outside my genre or picked up an award winner to see what the fuss was about.

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Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Now, Audible let me know, in its full Audible marketing glory, that this book is as much a performance piece as it is a book.  The last book that was marketed more as a performance piece was Their Eyes Were Watching God and hands down, that was absolutely the case. I became a believer.  I also want to hang out with the Audible staff.

I saw Lincoln in the Bardo at the library in hardcover and I didn’t even pick it up.  I caught it on audio available at my library (Overdrive…if you have not tried it as part of your local library and you love audiobooks…seriously…get it together ;)) and I am sure something would be lost by just reading. It is like the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen and how I mostly prefer them in audio because of Katharine Kelgren’s artistry with the cast of British characters.

And in case you cannot read further without knowing, a bardo is the period where a soul is between death and rebirth.  So, to me, purgatory.   The voices are souls caught in the graveyard where Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie is buried after succumbing to typhoid and Abe comes in to visit him continually and open his casket and look in on his body as a way to wrestle with that special soul crushing grief of burying a child. There are stories of people’s lives and what is unrealized that makes them stuck, against the background of the Civil War, interwoven with a heartbreaking narrative that very much humanizes the ill-fated sixteenth POTUS.

And it took me way longer to pick out David Sedaris’ voice than I care to admit.  I have listened to him in person and on the New Yorker fiction podcast. He is a major narrator and I forget that his voice is as effeminate as he is.  But he fits the character perfectly.

I still think Their Eyes Were Watching God is the best narration of a book, but this is a close second.  And I have to also admit it took me awhile to catch onto a few things, like their word for casket, and what was always going on, but my focus has also been crap lately and I feel better that my staff has admitted theirs to be on equal footing.

 

the sellout

The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Last summer, when the Man Booker Prize longlist rolled out, I perused it with my dad for something we both might like to read.  The Sellout never had an appeal to me in the blurb, in fact I have since bought four of the long listers since, but then it won.  I bought it for us to read only because it won and after The Luminaries I’ll put some faith in the selection committee.

It’s absolutely hilarious and I know I will have to read it again. The prologue felt a little frenetic to me, and it almost lost me the night I picked it up out of insomnia, but I pushed through it.  I told my father to start with Chapter one and then circle back to the prologue when he is done because the prologue makes more sense once you have read it.   Like, if you want to explore the modern state of race relations and laugh like hell, this is it.  I hope my father likes it, as he can abandon the likes of Stephen King when the one character he likes dies and he is a bit more old school than myself. And it is heavy on psychology metaphors which makes perfect sense to me with my doctorate in it, but I don’t know how much the layperson knows about basic psychology, so how funny it would be.  But it’s a biting and entertaining satire that the whities need to stay on track with racial sensitivity.  And I mean that.

Delightfully, I also took a week off in the coming week.  I am still a staycationer, with being able to have my son in school while I relax/catch up on house or life stuff.  Write in Dunkin Donuts or something.  Read compulsively and live the dream.  Hopefully train, but motivation lately has been a little rough.  Family trips will be forthcoming…when he is just a tiny bit easier.

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