Reading Challenge for 2017

Monday, January 02, 2017

As you can tell in my previous 5 posts (here here here here here) I'm built some great momentum with reading and hope to carry it into 2017! I've set a preliminary/meaningless goal via Goodreads of 45 books but quality over quantity, always.

Aside from this arbitrary number is my plan to follow along with the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge for the first time ever! I'm so excited. I'm doing the Reading for Fun track (shocker) but may borrow a couple categories from the other track too (Reading for Growth). I've recruited my aforementioned reading pals Erin & Leanne to do this with me—we're going to do one of the 12 per month, January-December.



The categories are:

- A book you chose for the cover
- A book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able
- A book set somewhere you've never been but would like to visit
- A book you've already read
- A juicy memoir
- A book about books/reading
- A book in a genre you avoid
- A book you don't want to admit you're dying to read
- A book in the backlist of a new favorite author
- A book recommended by someone with good taste
- A book you were excited to buy but haven't read yet
- A book about a topic/subject you already love

We're gonna go in order January for the first, February for the second category, and on.



Here are the picks I've come up with so far:

- Book you chose for the cover:
One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood — I bought this one on MMD's Kindle Deals earlier this summer (check this site daily if you use a Kindle and don't already, it's amazing!). Heard so many good things about this book from multiple sources.

- Book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able:
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (another Kindle deals purchase I already had!)

- Book set somewhere you've never been but would like to visit:
A Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell — I've always been intrigued by Scandinavian cultures and would love to visit one day.

- Book you've already read:
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith — I absolutely LOVED this book when I read it 5 or so years ago and think of it often. I'm excited to have something propelling me to reenter this world (I haven't reread anything for a while).

- Juicy memoir
You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein — I saw this on several best-of-2016 lists, and heard it mentioned on the reading podcast I listen to, and then it popped up on Kindle deals so bam! Easy decision.

- Book about books/reading (love this category!):
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch — also heard this one mentioned on the podcast a while ago, and it sounded so charming back then. My library doesn't have the digital version, which is why I haven't read it yet. Sounds like a charming read for book lovers/nerds.

- Book in a genre you avoid (this is the only category I chose 2 books for):
Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequest — shamefully, I don't read a lot of faith-based or parenting books lately....as I mentioned before, I'm trying to keep my eyes open currently. Ha! But, I've heard a lot of good things about this book from lots of friends/internet friends, and then (whadya know) it went on sale on Kindle deals, so I snatched it up! Glad something will prompt me to pick this up.
and
Columbine by Dave Cullen — someone mentioned this as one of their favorite books on a podcast I listened to, and my library has it readily available on Kindle, so I'm looking forward to reading this. I don't usually read books in this genre (which is what exactly?) but have heard really high praise.

- Book you don't want to admit you're dying to read:
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham — I'm not ashamed to admit to wanting to read this as a dedicated Gilmore Girls fan, but nonetheless it fits well into this category and is outside my usual reading sphere. Can't wait to read all the behind-the-scenes stuff.

- Book in the backlist of a new favorite author:
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara — as I mentioned in my Q3 2016 post, I have immense admiration for Hanya Yanigahara and was bowled over by what she did with A Little Life. I've heard that this book is completely different from A Little Life, but I'm nonetheless excited to read more of Yanigahara's work to see if its brilliance is even close.

- Book recommended by someone with good taste:
Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith — my friend Leanne names this as one of her top favorite books of all time. Good enough praise for me!

- Book you were excited to buy but haven't read yet:
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance — so much has been spoken/written about this memoir, especially in light of the election, and I grabbed in on a Kindle sale and just haven't gotten to it yet. I don't know if I'll be able to wait until late in the year to read it.

- Book about a topic/subject you already love:
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Hughette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman — yet another Kindle sale I'd snagged and am excited to read. I love books that focus on small facets of American history and can't wait to read this one too.

As you can see from the list, I'd already bought 7/13 books via Kindle sales, which is how I picked a lot of them—went through my Kindle library to see what I hadn't read yet and what would fit. I'll try to keep up with quarterly posts on how this is going (along with my other reading!) just for fun/nerding out. 2017, baby.

2017 Calendar

Monday, January 02, 2017

It has been sweetly brought to my attention that I never posted the 2017 One-Page Calendar on my blog. I'm so sorry!

Here's the link to download it!

Happy New Year!

Favorite Books I Read in 2016

Sunday, January 01, 2017

It wouldn't be hard to glean from my previous posts, except then you'd have to comb through them all, so I'll make a handy list here! These are not books that were released this year necessarily, just books I read this year! In no particular order:

1. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
2. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
3. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
4. A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara (but please read a little about it before you embark!)
5. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
6. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante



Be my friend on Goodreads and let me know if you read/loved any of these too!

2016 // What I Read in Q4

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Backstory // Q1 // Q2 // Q3

Onward to finish out the year's list (I've still got 2 hours til midnight! This is the craziest New Year's Eve ever, ha ha ha).



At the beginning of October, I finished Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (another one of the few paper/non-digital books I read this year, you're welcome for that insignificant detail). I was familiar with Bryan Stevenson from his watching his TED talk, listening to him on a couple of podcasts, and reading about him on a really long (fantastic!) Ta-Nehisi Coates article via the Atlantic, but was nevertheless floored by the skill and readability of this book. As you can see from my year's list, I've not been reading very much nonfiction at all lately, so I was immensely impressed by the pace of this book and how he draws you into his world. Five stars, and would recommend this book to everyone. I thought it was one of the most important books I read this year, and enjoyed it, too.


Thanks to my library hold popping up at the right time again, I moved on to Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. It had been several years since I read Little Bee (which, to this day, I'm not sure if I really "get" that one)—I'd forgotten how downright cheeky his writing style is (in a really, really impressive way). Everyone in his world is so much wittier than mine, unfortunately! I did really, really like this book, but I don't feel gushy over it. I enjoyed reading it, enjoyed the characters, but it didn't sweep me away as much as All the Light We Cannot See, which you cannot help but compare it to, as it's also a WW2 story. His turns of phrase are downright masterful, and in a different way than you expect.


I blew through Rules of Civility by Amor Towles in a couple days, thanks to a long airplane day. I love how books about New York City feel so timeless. This one is set in the Gatsby era, very glittering and smoky. I didn't find the characters particularly endearing at all, nor the book super absorbing, but the writing was good. Again, not super gushy. This one has had even less staying power than Everyone Brave...


Our next book club selection was Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, and apparently out of 9 people, I am the only one who read every word of it (and this is from a book club that supposedly falls on the "hard-core" range like finish-the-book-or-die type thing). Sooooooo dry, I don't know why I pushed through. No reward at the end. It was so disappointing, because the subject matter sounds so interesting at first glance! "New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?" See? Doesn't it sound like it should be good? And another New York City book, at that. Skip this one.


I then bit off a hefty, hefty project next, which took me more than the entire month of November to finish—Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark. My fascination with reading this book was solely based on this post from Hanya Yanagihara's @alittlelifebook Instagram account, ha, how's that for rando? She made this book sound so magical (it was), and not-to-be-missed. I thought the craft of this book was amazing—clever, clever, and definitely absorbing. What I wished was that there was more plot driving you a long. It's a lot to ask for almost 1,000 pages and you're sometimes wondering where the plot went. I'm really glad I read it, but I can understand why one would abandon it (it would be so easy to put it down and not pick it back up because there's not much plot compelling you to finish, especially for the first half). I need to look up and watch the miniseries, because it probably translates well to TV.


My aforementioned friend Erin and I decided to read something together next, which we'd heard much mention of on the What Should I Read Next podcast and had had on my TBR list for a while—My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, which is the first installment in her Neapolitan Novels series of 4. I just loved this book. It kept me up late into the night reading "just one more chapter," a condition I adore. I thought the translation of this book was brilliant (it's originally written in Italian), because I could hear it spoken in an Italian accent almost. I can't explain it, but I thought the phrasing was absolutely superb. This first book is lots of coming-of-age situations (it's my understanding that this series follows a pair of friends from childhood through late-middle age), which may not be for everyone, but I do like. I'm currently reading the second one (after a hiatus of two books), and am excited to finish. This is a series I'd like to have on my shelf in paper copy (though have had no trouble getting on Kindle via the library). Definitely recommend, but not sure everyone will enjoy. Falls in the category "literary fiction," I'd think.


The hold on Before the Fall by Noah Hawley from the library came to me at the perfect time after finishing My Brilliant Friend, and I finished this in just a few days. It's a very fast-paced, thrilled-type book and easy to breeze through/absorbing. I do have to admit that I was a little disappointed with the ending, but it's always nice to get through a book quickly because you're so absorbed. This wasn't brilliant or anything, but a good read.


And finally, last night, I finished The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano for book club (we'll meet to discuss it on Tuesday), which is interestingly another Italian translation. It kind of reminded me of Eleanor & Park in several ways, though a bit more quirky and quietly heart-breaking. I'll be interested to hear what everyone else thought of it, too. I didn't think the language was quite as masterful, but it was definitely a quick read.

On audiobook in Q4, I listened to:

- The Boston Girl by Anita Diamante (ABSOLUTELY charming, loved this, especially on audio!)
- Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (A new Pride & Prejudice retelling that was actually fairly clever!)
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (soooo good, can't wait for the Spielberg movie in 2018. Lived up to the hype! Actually bought this one in paperback because I knew Jonathan would enjoy reading it, and he did!)
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (I'm not sure this was the book/audiobook for me. I could appreciate that it was a really well-done audio version, but the story did not captivate me, and I'm not sure it would have in paper version either (I'd heard sev people say they preferred the audio). Meh.)


I'm currently listening to the second Louise Penny book, A Fatal Grace (which is perfect since it begins during Christmas!), and reading the second Neapolitan Novel, The Story of a New Name. I've also been listening to Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before off and on, on audio, for months now, ha. It's like a podcast I listen to when I feel like it (I actually wouldn't mind owning a hard copy of it for reference).

I'll be back with my plans for 2017 in a separate post! Thanks for indulging me if you made it this far. :)  (I finished these before midnight!!!!)

2016 // What I Read in Q3

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Jonathan's working tonight, and I'm sort of determined to finish this series of posts before 2017 rings it in! Ha!

Backstory // Q1 // Q2

July/August/September we cruised right along and hit some more highlights (serious highlights) of the year.



A close second to Mudbound for fave of the year is The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I should pause here and put in a plug for a big component to my reading year, which was listening weekly to the What Should I Read Next podcast. I look forward to it every week! Anyway, sometime in the summer she recommended The Thorn Birds to someone and made it sound so intriguing. Then my pal Leanne started it/immediately loved it, and I started not long after. What a perfect summer read—I freaking loved that book, and loved the experience of reading it too. It was kind of like watching Friday Night Lights for the first time—so sad when it was over and jealous of people who hadn't experienced it yet. The writing, the story, the sweeping grandeur of everything it covered, generations, love, loss, etc...ooooh, it has everything. If you haven't read it, DO IT.


Next was another big chunk of book with 11/22/63, my very first Stephen King read. I think I heard it mentioned on that podcast too—what often happens is that I'll hear a book mentioned, add it to my to-be-read list on Goodreads or somewhere, and then request it via Overdrive (kindle) or OneClick Digital (audiobook) and then whenever it comes up my turn on either format, I'll go ahead and start it. What happened with this book is that it came up on audiobook first, and I listened to a few hours of it (it's easily over 30 hours I think, read aloud!) and then switched to paper version (one of the few books I read in paper this year). I've always been intrigued by the Kennedy assassination because 11/22/63 was my dad's 9th birthday, and he lived just down the road from Dallas (in Waco, Texas) when this world-changing event happened. Then, Amazon Prime (or was it Hulu?) made a miniseries of this book, which I have yet to finish... Anyway. Solid 4 stars, good summer read. And Stephen King... I get it. A man for the masses! (Can I say that?)


Book club rolled around again, and with it was The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. I enjoyed reading this book, but it was not life-changing or mind-bending by any means. The subject matter was pleasant and interesting enough (a jump between New York City of the '50s, 12th or whatever century Netherlands, and modern-day Australia), but it wasn't enthralling.


I'm nervous to even write about this next book. This was also for book club, and being such a hefty book, I started it early, not realizing I'd fly right through it (sometimes against my own will). A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. Oh boy, what to say. This falls in the category I've heard described as a "before and after" book—you thought one way before you read it, and you think another way after. I may think of this book at least once every day and it's been months since finishing it. The writing is absolutely superb, she takes you right through the most difficult subject matter (almost imaginable), but the reading experience itself feels...effortless. I've never experienced anything like it before. I can't say I'd recommend this for everyone, because it is so, so difficult at parts to get through. If you qualify as a "highly sensitive person" in any capacity, I'd skip this one. But wow. A real, true masterpiece of a book.


It would've been difficult to follow A Little Life (in fact, it took me a while to come down from the experience of reading it and being so completely absorbed)... next, I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I took a race relations class at church in the fall, which was amazing, and this book was part of the reading list. It was a timely read, considering all of the current events/impending election, etc. Coates is definitely a commanding contemporary voice, and I'm glad to be familiar with his work.


A good follow-up to Coates was a highly-acclaimed book of the 2016—which happened to pop up on my Kindle from the library at just the right time—was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This story follows two African sisters from centuries ago, one who was sold into slavery, and one who stayed in Africa, and where subsequent generations found themselves, taking the reader through the Civil War, Jim Crow, integration, and on. I found this book fairly easy to feel engaged in (and again, timely!), although I did read people say that they would start to feel invested in a character and then the story would move along, and I identified with this. But definitely, a really worthwhile read!


On audiobook, I went through:

- The Nest by Cynthia d'Aprix Sweeney (meh...I do not get all the hype. At all. Yes, it has a pretty cover?)
- The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes (maybe I would've gone through this faster and enjoyed it more in non-audio? It fell a little flat to me.)
- The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Gailbraith (pseudonym for JK Rowling... good, but took me a while to get into on audio, even though again, yay for British accents where they're due.)


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