2018 Reading Challenge – The Year of the Woman

It’s time once again to announce my book choices for the coming year. Sometime during this past year I began looking at my TBR pile and noticed a certain disparity. More than half of my books are by men authors. Nearly all of my favorite authors are men. Now there isn’t anything wrong with this necessarily, but I thought I should try reading more women authors.

Consequently, I’ve declared 2018 to be The Year of the Woman. For my reading list then, I’ve deliberately tipped the scale in the other direction and chosen books only by women. I may or may not be able to keep to this plan, however, as many of the books I’ve been anxious to read aren’t by women.

For my 2018 reading list, I decided to go with the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge. I’ve run across this challenge before, but never felt I was capable of taking on a challenge of this size. Fifty books is a lot to commit to. It’s more than I ever thought I could possibly read in a year, nearly double what I set out to read in 2017.

Here then, is my 2018 Reading Challenge list:

A book made into a movie you’ve already seen – How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell (reviewed here)
True crime – The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story, by Ann Rule
The next book in a series you started – City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare
A book involving a heist – Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Nordic nior – Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson (reviewed here)
A novel based on a real person – Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest
A book set in a country that fascinates you – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke
A book with a time of day in the title – The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh
A book about a villain or antihero – Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
A book about death or grief – The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr.
A book with a LGBTQ+ protagonist – The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A book that is also a stage play or musical – The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou or The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
A book about feminism – Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay
A book about mental health – The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
A book you borrowed or was given to you as a gift – City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare
A book by two authors – Havemercy, by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett (reviewed here)
A book about or involving a sport – Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand
A book by a local author – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
A book with your favorite color in the title – Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
A book with alliteration in the title – Wings of Wrath, by C. S. Friedman
A book about time travel – The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
A book with a weather element in the title – Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
A book set at sea – Circle of Bones, by Christine Kling
A book with an animal in the title – Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
A book set on a different planet – Valor’s Choice, by Tanya Huff
A book with song lyrics in the title – Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini
A book about or set on Halloween – Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn
A book with characters who are twins – Anne of Avonlea, by L. M. Montgomery
A book mentioned in another book – To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
A book from a celebrity book club – Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts
A childhood classic you’ve never read – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume
A book that’s published in 2018 – Sightwitch, by Susan Dennard
A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner – City of Lost Souls, by Cassandra Clare
A book set in the decade you were born – Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to – Boys Should Be Boys, by Dr. Meg Meeker
A book with an ugly cover – Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
A book that involves a bookstore or library – Voices, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Favorite prompt from Popsugar 2015, 2016 or 2017 challenge: a book based on a fairytale – Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, by J. M. Sullivan
A bestseller from the year you graduated high school – The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
A cyberpunk book – Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place – TBD
A book tied to your ancestry – House of Day, House of Night, by Olga Tokarczuk
A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
An allegory – The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz
A book by an author with the same first or last name as you – Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
A microhistory – Breaking Into the Current, by Louise Teal
A book about a problem facing society today – This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein
A book recommended by someone else taking the Popsugar Reading Challenge – The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

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Thoughts on The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay & James Madison

The Federalist is a collection of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison under the pseudonym of Publius. The essays were written over the course of several months from October 1787 through August 1788, as an argument in support of the newly proposed Constitution of the United States. It’s an interesting piece of American history that joined my 2017 Reading Challenge as #3, a nonfiction book.

I think this is an important document that more Americans should read and study. It speaks of a time when the fate of this country was not at all assured. So many things could have gone differently that would have dramatically changed the course of American history, probably even world history.

From a political science perspective, it’s fascinating. These men were building a government. They were preparing to subject themselves and the American people for generations to come, to a system of law and oversight that was new and untried. Their goals were simple, if their task was not – to preserve for the American people the freedoms that had brought them here in the first place.

Thirteen years after the Declaration of Independence and the war with Great Britain, the fledgling nation of the United States was on the edge of a precipice. The thirteen separate colonies that had come together to fight for independence now struggled to work together. The government established under the Articles of Confederation wasn’t strong enough to hold the semi-sovereign states together.

Reading these papers now from a perspective of more than two hundred years removed from the events surrounding the proposed Constitution, it’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like creating a brand new system of government. Not only that, but to witness the failings of the original system and be faced with the necessity of starting over.

As I read through The Federalist Papers, I was struck by one thing in particular that I hadn’t considered before when studying the early history of my nation. The Articles of Confederation had only been in place for eight years when a convention was assembled to revamp the national government of the United States. The discussion that ensued in the earliest papers – mostly by Hamilton, though also by Jay – demonstrated just how precarious the situation had become. If something significant wasn’t done, and done quickly, the United States was about to crumble into smaller confederacies, possibly as many as thirteen separate sovereign entities.

What this dissolution would have meant for America is difficult to say so many years after the fact. I’m convinced, however, that the shape of North America would be far different today if things had continued as they were and the Constitution had not been adopted.

This wasn’t an easy read, and it certainly warrants further study. It isn’t something to pick up and breeze through just for fun. I read this book to learn something. And I think that I did. Now, I want to go back and read some of the arguments in opposition to the Constitution.

Rank the Rainbow – 2017 Reading Challenge: Year of the Series

About this time last year I began pulling together a list of books to read in the upcoming new year. I chose seventeen books off my shelves that I’d been eager to read for a long time, all of which were part of a series. I arranged them in order by color and declared 2017 the Year of the Series.

Most of the books I read were the first book of a new series, a couple of them a continuation of a series I’d already started, and in one case a book I’d read before. I rediscovered some favorite authors, and found some new ones along the way. I’ve had a lot of fun this year.

I read some really fantastic books, and though it proved difficult, I put them in order of how I would choose to continue reading the different series if given the opportunity. And so, the seventeen books from my 2017 Rainbow List:

1. Red Rising, by Pierce Brown – I would continue reading this in a heartbeat! Oh, wait! I already did. There was no way I could stop reading these books once I started. They are just that good.

2. The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss – I don’t even need to finish reading this book to know it is right here at the top of my list. I was drawn right back into this world within the first ten pages!

3. The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher – This was my first experience reading anything by Jim Butcher, and it won’t be my last. I loved this book, and I can hardly wait for the next book!

4. Shadowmarch, by Tad Williams – Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors, and this series has been on my shelves for way too long. I finally started reading it, and book two will be on my list as soon as I can fit it in.

5. Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson – This was a new series for me, and one I truly enjoyed. It could honestly be a toss up whether I read this one first or the next Tad Williams book (see #4).

6. Windwitch, by Susan Dennard – I am thoroughly enjoying this series, and am only waiting to read the next one because it isn’t released yet!

7. City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare – I did manage to read on to book two of this series before I resumed my previously arranged reading schedule. I’ve been eager to return to these books ever since.

8. Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas – I loved this book even more than I expected to. It combines all the elements of my favorites genres – fantasy, murder mystery and romance!

9. The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan – This book was so much fun. I will definitely read the rest of the series! Though I may have to wait for my son to finish with them first.

10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling – This was the one reread on my list for 2017. I’m really glad I picked it up again, as I couldn’t remember reading it. I loved this book, again, and can’t wait to continue.

11. The Maze Runner, by James Dashner – Though I may have been slightly disappointed in this book, I still want to read the rest of the series.

12. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman – Another fun read that wasn’t at all what I was expecting. This was a truly fun read.

13. Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin – I loved this book. The story is intense, and well-written. Brutal, to be sure, but never boring! Nevertheless, the series isn’t complete yet, so it’s easier to not rush into the next book.

14. The Selection, by Kierra Cass – This was a fun, light read that I truly enjoyed. Though I might not have continued reading it right away if the reading prompt hadn’t been to read a trilogy.

15. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson – I had a difficult time getting into this book, but once I finally did, I couldn’t stop.

16. I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore – I had been eager to read this book for quite some time. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but I did enjoy it. I’ll read the rest of the series eventually, but I’m in no hurry.

17. Prince Caspian, by C. S. Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia series are classic books that almost feel like compulsory reading. That’s sort of what reading these books has been like for me. I may have enjoyed them more if I wasn’t reading through them (very slowly!) with my children.

There, in a nutshell, is my Year of the Series. So many good books out there! If only there was more time for reading!

The Year of the Woman – Book Recommendations Wanted!

For my 2017 Reading Challenge, I chose to focus on book series. My core list included books from seventeen different series. It’s been an incredibly fun year so far, reading books by favorite authors, as well as discovering new authors. My favorite new discovery this year is probably Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy.

Though the year isn’t over yet, and I have a few books on my list still to read, I’ve begun looking ahead to 2018. In looking at the books I’ve read over the last few years, and the books currently waiting my my TBR list, I can’t help but notice a preponderance of male authors.

Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. Most of my favorite authors are men – Tad Williams, Brandon Sanderson, J. R. R. Tolkien, and many others. But my reading list feels a little one sided, and I’d like it to be more balanced.

Therefore, I’ve decided that my focus for 2018 will be on women authors. There are women writers I’ve never read, but feel like I should have – such as classic fantasy writers like Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. Leguin. And there are books that have been on my list for way too long like The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

My hope is that I can broaden my reading experience and discover some amazing writers along the way. So along with focusing on women writers, I want to include books from various genres, writers from all walks of life, and as much diversity as I can pack into the year.

Here’s where I need your help. I have a huge stack of books on my shelf already to choose from, but most of these fall into one of two of my favorite genres – fantasy or suspense. There’s also a good representation of young adult fiction. What’s missing more than anything else are the non-fiction categories such as poetry, biography and essays. I’d also like to find more independent/self-published writers.

So I’m looking for recommendations. Particularly in non-fiction genres as well as translations into English. Who are your favorite women writers? Who should I consider adding to my reading list next year? Please, let me know!

The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher: A Review

With my writing obligations of late, I’ve fallen a bit behind on my reading obligations. I’m still reading, however and number two on my 2017 Reading Challenge list, is the category, “a book published last year.” Technically speaking, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher, was published two years ago, but I decided to stretch things a little for this book.

I’ve never read any of Jim Butcher’s books before this one, though I know he has two other ongoing series. My book club has often talked about his books, so I was somewhat familiar with him already. This book joined my list because I went to my friends on Twitter and asked for a recommendation for a book in the steampunk sub-genre, something I’d never read before. This book was recommended, and I am so glad I picked it up. I loved this book!

I love this quote on the back cover by David Weber, which sums the book up very nicely:

It’s steampunk meets magic with a dose of sci-fi for seasoning.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the first book of The Cinder Spires, a new series by Jim Butcher. It features a Captain Grimm, formerly of the Fleet of Spire Albion. He now captains his own private vessel, working as a privateer, attacking and disrupting trade vessels of rival spires. His ship, however, is something special. It’s a fascinating combination of an old time sailing ship and a zeppelin style airship, but powered by special crystals rather than steam engines or wind. Though both are also possible in addition to the crystals.

The story opens with an amazing air battle scene between Captain Grimm’s Predator and a much larger trade vessel, and then an even larger battle cruiser. Butcher expertly draws the reader in and sets the story up to be an incredibly fun read. I was not disappointed.

Butcher’s action scenes have a cinematic feel, bringing the reader right into the action. So much so that I felt like I was right in the middle of it, seeing the action, feeling the wind on my face, watching the expressions of the characters change as they respond to what’s happening. There is one scene in particular that I will likely never forget. I’d share it, but I don’t want to spoil anything. You’ll just have to read the book!

The characters in this book are delightfully complex. Besides Captain Grimm, there is Benedict Sorellin, a warriorborn (what seems to be some sort of human and animal hybrid), his cousin, the Lady Gwendolyn Lancaster, a pair of etherealists who are very likely insane, and Bridget Tagwyn, a young woman of the lesser nobility. This group of mismatched individuals are sent on a mission to save the spire from the invading force of a rival spire.

Even the villains are fun to read. The rival armies are filled with honorable officers, some I can even sympathize with. The main villain at the heart of the worst treachery is great. She’s fabulously wicked, and someone I loved to hate. I am still intrigued by her, and want to know more about her motivations.

And let’s not forget one other significant member of the party of heroes, Rowl of the Silent Paws. Rowl is a cat, to whom the Lady Tagwyn (known to Rowl as Littlemouse) belongs. The relationship between cats and humans in this story is complicated. And absolutely wonderful. The cats in this story are brilliantly written and add an extra layer of fun.

This book is a truly great read. And, oh! What an ending! I look forward with great anticipation to the next book! In the meantime, I’m going to have to look into the other series written by Jim Butcher.

Tyrion Lannister, Body Image & Books That Make You Think

My first thought when I saw today’s word prompt, was of Tyrion Lannister. If you don’t know the name, Tyrion is a character in the book, Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

I began this conversation with myself this morning with the word squat, and with trying to think of what I could write. I saw a number of posts taking the word “squat” and talking about its meaning of “nothing.” I didn’t want to go there, having been suffering of late from this “nothingness,” and an inability to put words to paper.

That’s when I thought of Tyrion Lannister.

I am currently reading Game of Thrones as part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. I am about two thirds of the way through the book, and I haven’t yet decided if I like this character, or despise him. Tyrion is a squat, little man, affected by dwarfism. He makes up for his lack of physical size with a keen mind and a brash, often impertinent tongue.

This compensation of his frequently gets Tyrion into trouble, opening his mouth at the wrong moments and saying all the wrong things. The reverse is just as often true as well, however. He can talk his way out of certain death as quickly as he got himself into the trouble in the first place.

It is human nature to hide our weaknesses from others whenever possible. In Tyrion’s case, however, his physical stature is an obvious weakness, plain for all to see. Rather than hide it, Tyrion instead hides within his weakness. He embraces it, and uses it to his advantage over those who would discount him for it.

Negative body image is a huge issue in our real world today. We don’t really need characters like Tyrion to remind us of this fact. But I couldn’t help wondering what could we learn from Tyrion about dealing with those who would shame us for our physical attributes. He says:

“Let them see that their words can cut you and you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a name, take it, make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you with it anymore.” – Tyrion Lannister

I found myself surprised that I would think of Tyrion when this word prompt came up. I haven’t had much to write lately, and I didn’t really think a little word like squat could inspire me. As I wondered about my apparent inability to write, and what to do about it, I asked myself the question, what have I been writing about lately? Aside from my fiction projects currently in the works, I’ve mostly been writing about what I’m reading. And currently, that is Game of Thrones.

Unlike another book I’ve read recently, a collection of stories by H. G. Wells, I haven’t been inspired to write much about Game of Thrones. I’ve been too busy reading it! I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the book, completely absorbed in the story.

While reading the Wells book, on the other hand, I had several ideas pop into my head along the way. My curiosity was triggered about a lot of different things. Such as this impromptu mini-study on the discovery of helium. Or this ongoing investigation into the treatment of gender roles in fiction. Reading through the Wells collection also generated ideas for several new stories I hope to one day pursue.

There are, of course, any number of differences between these two works that could account for this variance between them. Wells wrote his stories more than a hundred years ago. His language and styling are vastly different from Martin’s contemporary storytelling. Also, Wells is a collection of stories, as opposed to a single work. Make that part of a single work.

The bottom line is, there are some books that make you think. They instruct and inspire curiosity about the world around you. The H. G. Wells collection was such a book. Then, there are other books like Game of Thrones that simply take over your world, and devour you whole.

What does all this have to do with Tyrion Lannister? Ultimately, not much, I suppose. But he does fit the description of squat, and for that I am grateful, as he has inspired me to write these words.

And, what do you know, I suddenly find myself intrigued by dwarfism. What causes it? How many people are affected by it? How do those affected manage their day to day lives? …