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?