Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon – April 2020

I haven’t been posting much lately about my reading progress. To be honest, my reading time has taken a hit since the stay-at-home order went into effect. Since the schools were closed, my children are distance learning and I am home from work to help them.

After three weeks of homeschooling, two of those official distance learning with the school, I’m ready for a break. It’s perfect timing then, for Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon this weekend!

I have a pile of books I haven’t been able to get to since playing Teacher Mom. I’ll be working of this list:

The Clinic, by Jonathan Kellerman (currently reading)
Rage, by Jonathan Kellerman
Empire of Grass, Tad Williams (currently reading)
Obsidio, by Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff
Wonder Woman: Warbringer, by Leigh Bardugo (reading with eldest)
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia (reading with middle)
The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden (ebook)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (audio)

Clearly, I will not be able to read all of these books. I do hope to finish at least one, and make progress on several.

On a side note, my eldest son might be joining me for the Read-a-Thon. At least to some degree. His line up includes:

Dogman: Lord of the Fleas, by Dav Pilkey
Minecraft: The Lost Journals, by Mur Lafferty

This weekend, I’m doing as little as possible, other than read, read read! In my time zone, the read-a-thon starts at 5 a.m. I’ll be starting in the dark and early. Assuming I can open my eyes that early.

Happy reading!

Monstrous March – Reading Challenge

Kathy over at Books & Munches hosts a monthly reading challenge, and this month is Monstrous March. This simply means that you include at least one book on your TBR for March that qualifies as a “monstrous” book. This could be a book with monsters, characters behaving like monsters, or even a monstrously large book. Thrillers, suspense novels, horror, ghost stories and the like, all are fair game for March!

This challenge seems particularly timely for me as I have several thriller/suspense types coming up on my list that I can’t seem to get especially excited about. This challenge could prove just the thing to get me over this suspense novel slump and make room for more of the books I really want to read.

On my to-read list I have several books that will meet this challenge, including:

  • Several of the Kinsey Milhone books by Sue Grafton
  • The Last Innocent Man, by Phillip Margolin
  • A handful of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware books
  • Or how about a monstrous nonfiction – Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, by Jeremy Scahill

I will not get through all of them, but it would be nice to mark a few off the list. This is assuming, of course, that I don’t get completely sidelined by John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series. Though, to be fair, these books also fit very neatly into this monstrous challenge. What isn’t monstrous about a zombie apocalypse?

Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon: A Review

I chose to read Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon for the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #32, a book by a WOC (or, woman of color). I had several fantastic choices just from among my own bookshelves, so I didn’t have to look far. I added this book to my library after reading Nicola Yoon’s other book, The Sun is Also a Star for last year’s challenge. I fell in love with her breezy, hopeful style in the midst of tragedy and family drama. And Everything, Everything did not disappoint.

This book tells the story of Madeline, an 18-year old girl suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency. She has essentially been locked away inside her own home her entire life, with very little contact from the outside. The only people she has regular contact with are her mother and full-time nurse, Carla.

Madeline knows she must stay inside and that her mother is doing everything possible to keep her from getting sick. While not always, she is at present content with her life – with her books, her online classes and movie nights with her mom. But then a new family moves in next door, and Madeline’s contented life begins to turn inside out.

I couldn’t help being drawn into Madeline’s story. I felt very sympathetic toward her and her situation despite the sometimes foolish decisions she made. And the end that came was not the end I anticipated.

I chose the audio version of this book, excellently narrated by Bahni Turpin and Robbie Daymond. I enjoyed this book very much.

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt: A Review

For the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #3, a book with a great first line, I chose to read Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt. I ran across this book sitting on my kitchen counter where my fourth grader had left it. He was reading it for school. Like any good mom, I picked it up and took a look at it to see what sort of material the school expected my children to read. I read the prologue, and I was hooked.

Here’s the first line:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.

The metaphor is carried along for a few more sentences and the book comes back to this image again later in the story. As I read this line, I could feel the hitch in my breath and the anticipation that comes from being at that top position of a Ferris wheel. This is the sort of sentence that drops you immediately into place within the fictional story world.

This is primarily the story of Winnie Foster, a ten-year-old girl living at the edge of a wood. She’s bored with her extremely orderly life, strictly enforced by over-protective parents. It is also the story of the Tuck family, who after drinking from a magic spring, are unwittingly blessed – cursed? – with eternal life.

The Tucks have been living as discreetly as possible, and have managed to keep their secret for 87 years. Until Winnie reaches her breaking point and runs away from home. She wanders into the wood and stumbles on the Tucks’ secret. The Tucks take Winnie to their home with the goal of getting her to agree not to tell anyone their secret.

Winnie doesn’t know whether the Tucks are telling the truth, or if they are crazy. She wants to go home, but is at the same time, intrigued by the lifestyle of this other family which is so different from her own. The situation grows even more complicated when it turns out Winnie was followed to the Tucks’ home by a curious stranger who seems to know more than he should.

I enjoyed this book very much. It is written for children, so therefore short. It didn’t take me very long at all to finish it. It is funny and surprising and even a little bit sad. I’m not entirely sure it lived up to the breathless anticipation initiated by that opening line, but it is still a good read. My son enjoyed it, and was anxious for me to finish it so we could talk about it. If for nothing else, that would have made it worthwhile to read this book.

Lucky Suit, by Lauren Blakely: A Review

I picked up Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely as an Audible freebie some months back. I finally got around to listening to it as it works well for the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge, prompt #15, a book about or involving social media. This might be sort of stretch as the social media involved is an online dating site and an online poker site. But I think I’ll go with it anyway.

In this story, Kristen has had too many failed blind dates set up by her grandmother, so she’s decided she is done with IRL dating. Unwilling to give up on the idea of a romantic partner, however, she turns to an online dating site and begins chatting with a few potentials. Then she meets one who could possibly be The One.

Meanwhile, Cameron is in Miami on business and meets Kristen’s grandmother at a car auction. He is amused by this “old lady” who acts nothing like one, and they quickly become friends. They join an online poker site and play a few rounds while waiting for the auction to begin.

When Kristen and Cameron finally meet in real life, both are intrigued. There is a connection between them, but something is just a little bit off. It isn’t clear if the relationship will survive the truth.

This was a fun romantic comedy. It was short enough I could finish it in a day. I haven’t read much romance fiction for awhile, and I really enjoyed this one. It was just the right sort of light reading I needed after the much darker fiction I’ve been reading lately.

The Stand, by Stephen King: A Review

The 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge, prompt #17, bids me read a medical thriller. I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant. My first thought was of the Kay Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell. After perusing the suggestions by the Popsugar group on Goodreads, however, I ultimately settled on The Stand, by Stephen King. This was already on my want-to-read list after PBS put out their Great American Read list in 2018.

To be honest, I’ve avoided reading Stephen King’s books, never feeling that horror was a genre I could really enjoy. One of the purposes of this reading challenge is to expand my reading experiences, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m really glad that I did.

The Stand is the story of a man-made pandemic. A bio-engineered virus leaks out of containment and sweeps rapidly across the country. The first part of the book introduces a large number of characters, spending a bit of time on several. We meet Frannie Goldsmith from Ogunquit, Maine, a young college-age woman prone to the giggles who has just found out she’s pregnant. There is Nick Andros, a deaf-mute drifter who finds himself in the small Arkansas town of Shoyo when the epidemic hits. And Larry Underwood, a rather self-centered singer-songwriter caught up in the throes of sudden success who returns home to his mother in New York deeply in debt. These three, along with a handful of others, find themselves among the few survivors.

In the second part of the book, King makes what felt to me like a sudden shift. All those who survived the flu seem to have an unexpected psychic connection. They begin experiencing shared dreams, many of which are nightmares. The dreams direct them to one of two places where survivors are gathering, one in Boulder, Colorado and the other in Las Vegas, Nevada. The final section of the book brings the rising conflict between these two communities to its ultimate end.

Stephen King is a master of suspense. In this book he turns an innocent cough or sneeze into a terrifying threat. His characters are well-drawn and believable. My favorite is Tom Cullen, a man in his forties who is mentally challenged. Nick Andros encounters Tom as he is passing through Oklahoma on his way to Nebraska in response to a dream. Tom’s childlike innocence is funny and delightful in the midst of the truly horrible circumstances going on around him.

This story is brutal and gruesome. King doesn’t hold back on the horror. But there are also moments of humor and tenderness. The characters change and grow as a result of their circumstances. Some for the better, some not so much. The supernatural element of the story comes on very strong in the middle of the book, and with little preparation. Other than that, however, this is a great book. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge – Year of Clear Vision

In 2019 I took on two reading challenges, the Popsugar Reading Challenge and the Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge. Both challenges consisted of 50+ reading prompts to complete which meant I had 105 books I was committed to reading during the year. This was an achievable goal in theory. In practice, however, things turned out differently. Towards the end of the year it became clear to me I would not be able to complete both challenges, so I set aside the ATY books in favor of the Popsugar books. Even this, however, was too little, too late, and I failed to complete either challenge before the end of the year.

Therefore, for 2020, I’ve decided to go back to only one challenge – the Popsugar Reading Challenge. I have expanded a couple of the categories, and there were a few I couldn’t decide which book I wanted to read, so the total books on my list, then, is 68 instead of the usual 50.

Here, then, is my list of books I intend to read in 2020:

A book that’s published in 2020 – Peace Talks, Jim Butcher
A book by a trans or nonbinary author – Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee
A book with a great first line – Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
A book about a book club – Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi
A book set in a city that has hosted the Olympics – Junk, Les Boehm
A bildungsroman – Go, Kazuki Kaneshiro; The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
The first book you touch on a shelf with your eyes closed – Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk; Inkheart, Cornelia Funke; Gone, Michael Grant
A book with an upside-down image on the cover – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mark Haddon
A book with a map – Fool’s Errand, Robin Hobb; Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Kwame Mbalia
A book recommended by your favorite blog, vlog, podcast, or online book club – A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
An anthology – Sword and Sorceress XI, Marion Zimmer Bradley
A book that passes the Bechdel test – The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
A book with the same title as a movie or TV show but is unrelated to it – Foundation, Isaac Asimov
A book by an author with flora or fauna in their name – Killer Dreams, Iris Johansen
A book about or involving social media – Lucky Suit, Lauren Blakely; Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
A book that has a book on the cover – Arcanum Unbounded, Brandon Sanderson; Anne of Windy Poplars, L. M. Montgomery
A medical thriller – The Stand, Stephen King
A book with a made-up language – Watership Down, Richard Adams
A book set in a country beginning with “C” – Anne’s House of Dreams. L. M. Montgomery
A book you picked because the title caught your attention – What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, Lesley Nneka Arimah; The Accidental Highwayman, Ben Tripp
A book published in the month of your birthday – Q is for Quarry, Sue Grafton; Gemina, Amie Kauffman
A book about or by a woman in STEM – The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal
A book that won an award in 2019 – Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Meg Medina
A book on a subject you know nothing about – The World Peace Diet, Will Tuttle
A book with only words on the cover, no images or graphics – U is for Undertow, Sue Grafton
A book with a pun in the title – White Night, Jim Butcher
A book featuring one of the seven deadly sins – Rage, Jonathan Kellerman
A book with a robot, cyborg, or AI character – All Systems Red, Martha Wells; Stars Above, Marissa Meyer; Neuromancer, William Gibson
A book with a bird on the cover – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien
A fiction or nonfiction book about a world leader – Becoming, Michelle Obama
A book with “gold,” “silver,” or “bronze” in the title – Golden Fool, Robin Hobb; Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
A book by a WOC – Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon; Silver Phoenix, Cindy Pon
A book with at least a four-star rating on Goodreads – On a Pale Horse, Piers Anthony
A book you meant to read in 2019 – Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Leigh Bardugo
A book with a three-word title – Bringing Up Boys, Dr. James Dobson
A book with a pink cover – Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan
A Western – Defiant, Bobbi Smith
A book by or about a journalist – Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill; The Wrong Enemy, Carlotta Gall
Read a banned book during Banned Books Week – The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
Your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge:
2015 – A book with a number in the title – The Power of Six, Pittacus Lore
2016 – A book of poetry – The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson
2017 – The first book in a series – Falling Kingdoms, Morgan Rhodes
2018 – The next book in a series – Bearing an Hourglass, Piers Anthony
2019 – A book with an extinct or imaginary creature – Fool’s Fate, Robin Hobb; Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton
A book written by an author in their 20s – I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
A book with “20” or “twenty” in the title – Catch-22, Joseph Heller
A book with a character with a vision impairment or enhancement (a nod to 20/20 vision) – Superman: Dawnbreaker, Matt de la Pena
A book set in the 1920s – Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, Elizabeth Forman Lewis
A book set in Japan, host of the 2020 Olympics – Wildcard, Marie Lu
A book by an author who has written more than 20 books – L is for Lawless, Sue Grafton
A book with more than 20 letters in its title – The Best of Writers of the Future, L. Ron Hubbard
A book published in the 20th century – With a Tangled Skein, Piers Anthony
A book from a series with more than 20 books – O is for Outlaw, Sue Grafton
A book with a main character in their 20s – Anne of the Island, L. M. Montgomery

Year of Clear Vision: 2020 Reading Challenge

I have decided to call 2020 the Year of Clear Vision. Seems obvious, and not very clever, I suppose. When I first had the idea, I wasn’t sure what exactly this meant for me, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. The thought wouldn’t leave me, however, and I think I may have come up with a plan.

Clear vision means to me that I should have clearly defined goals I hope to accomplish in the year 2020. As this post specifically refers to my new reading challenge for 2020, I will list my clearly defined reading goals.

1. Finish reading all the books on my list of 100 books to read that I created in 2015.
In 2015 I was invited to join a group on Facebook, the premise of which was to create a list of 100 books to read before acquiring more. I filled my list with books on my overcrowded shelves, trying to focus on the ones I’d had the longest. I started out not really anticipating that I could possibly read 100 books in a year, but I was going to give it an honest try.

Well, I failed miserably at the original goal. The Facebook group in the meantime has all but disappeared. My list, on the other hand, has not. I still have 47 books on my original list that I have not read yet. As I have managed to read over 100 books each the past two years, I don’t see it as impossible to finish this list once and for all. It’s about time to move on to the next 100 unread books sitting on my shelves!

2. Complete the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge by December 15.
If I plan things well and don’t allow myself too much distraction, this should not be impossible. I completed the Popsugar challenge in 2018, but it took me right up to December 31. In 2019, I was behind on the reading challenge all year, and failed to complete the challenge by 3 books. That’s because I foolishly took on a second reading challenge which made it very difficult to allow for “extra” books. And that’s just no fun.

3. If I start a series, I will give myself permission to finish it.
One drawback to the yearly reading challenge is that it isn’t always possible to include an entire series in the challenge. This often means that I will read one book in a series, but be unable to continue with it if I hope to stay on target with my reading challenge. I want to have the flexibility to finish reading an entire series if the mood strikes me. Without feeling guilty about it.

4. Write the review within a week of finishing the book.
The biggest issue I’ve had this year with trying to read so many books, is I haven’t been able to keep up with writing and posting reviews. In 2020 my goal is to write and post my review within a week of finishing the book in question. With a smaller challenge, this should be very doable as I won’t feel so much pressure to immediately pick up the next book in line, without taking the time to write my thoughts about the first one.

So, there are my clearly defined reading goals for the new year. I’ve already planned my list of books I’ll read for the 2020 Popsugar reading challenge, and I’ll post that soon.

In 2019, I failed to complete my reading challenge. Because of that, I’ve really tried to keep this year’s goals simple and manageable. I overextended myself last year and it made things less fun. I’d like for this year to be more fun, while still challenging.

What are you reading in 2020? Are you participating in any reading challenges? What are your specific reading goals?

Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne: A Review

I’ve had several of Jules Verne’s books on my shelf waiting to be read for quite some time, and I managed to fit two of them into the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge. First, Around the World in Eighty Days for #50, a book that includes a journey, and second, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for #15, a book by an author from a Mediterranean country.

Around the World in Eighty Days begins as a wager. Phileas Fogg and his companions are discussing the advancements in transportation. Fogg proposes it is possible to circumnavigate the globe in eighty days. When his friends scoff, Fogg proposes a wager.

A true Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager,” replied Phileas Fogg solemnly. “I will bet twenty thousand pounds against anyone who wishes, that I will make the tour of the world in eighty days or less. Do you accept?”

The story that follows is a series of wild adventures as Phileas Fogg travels by ship, train, sled and even elephant across nineteenth century India, China and America. He is pursued as a suspected bank robber, kidnapped by native Americans and sidetracked by a damsel in distress.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is the story of Captain Nemo and his famous submarine, the Nautilus. Though really, this is the story of Professor Arronax, a scholar of natural history. A strange creature has been spotted in the oceans around the globe and has been the cause of multiple disasters.

Professor Arronax is among one of several experts in various maritime occupations invited to help hunt down this mysterious menace. In the process of this pursuit, Arronax, along with his body servant and a Canadian whaler, is abducted by the master of the ship he had just previously been hunting – Captain Nemo, of the Nautilaus

Forbidden to ever leave and thus reveal Nemo’s secret, Arronax and his companions are nevertheless treated as honored guests. They embark on an extensive underwater tour of the world. Arronax is at first delighted as he is privileged to see things those in his profession can only dream of seeing from the surface world. Soon, however, it becomes increasingly clear Nemo never intends to release them, and Arronax and the Canadian begin plotting their escape.

Considered to be one of the “fathers of science fiction,” Jules Verne is one of those authors you often encounter on “must read” lists. Both of these novels are among his Extraordinary Voyages series which were apparently very popular at the time of their original publication in the late 1800s. I read these two along with a third – The Mysterious Island – via audiobook. While I enjoyed the first book very much, the second was not as much fun. And the third I found just plain boring. Verne was clearly writing at a different time, and for a different audience. What may have passed for normal then, is a little harder to swallow today. Especially his portrayal of women characters – those that even exist in these stories.

Overall, I still recommend Jules Verne. Though his novels are not all created equal. Of the three I read, there was a huge variation in how much I enjoyed them. Still, it is clear he meticulously researched his subjects that he wrote about.

The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene: A Review

I have been wanting to revisit some of my favorites reads from my childhood, and book one of the classic Nancy Drew series, The Secret of the Old Clock, fit so nicely into the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge, prompt #23, a book inspired by the wedding rhyme #1: something old. It has been a really long time since I read any of the Nancy Drew books, and I’m fairly certain I never actually read all of them. I’m not sure if this was one I ever read.

In this series opener, we meet Nancy Drew, an 18 year old girl with an insatiable curiosity. The only child of a well-to-do, widowed attorney, Nancy is clearly among the privileged class. The story opens with her driving in her brand new convertible – a gift from her father. She is also generous to a fault, with a heart full of compassion for others. She willingly jumps into any situation to help out someone in need, whether that’s saving a child from drowning or finding a missing will, bringing financial freedom to countless downtrodden neighbors.

In this story, that is precisely what Nancy does. She stumbles onto this mystery after witnessing a child falling from a bridge. Nancy meets a family down on their luck trying to do the best they can to care for this child. She learns they had been expecting to inherit from a distant relative, but the will in question has mysteriously disappeared. Nancy’s interest is piqued and she sets about to solve this mystery.

Who doesn’t love Nancy Drew? Okay, I suppose not everyone. Still, these books remain popular among young people, dated though they may be. What’s not to love about a girl who can change a flat tire, fix the outboard motor on a boat and escape a locked closet? Nancy is still a good example of an empowered female character. She is strong-willed, curious and daring, and she has the support of her father through all her wild adventures.

The Nancy Drew stories were definitely written at a different time. They are dated, but still have something to offer. I enjoyed this story despite its age. It brought me back to my childhood, reminding me of where many of my own stories originated.