Tag Archives: book challenge

2017 In Review & 2018 Reading Goals

10 Jan

While my blogging goals certainly fell by the wayside in 2017, I actually had a pretty decent reading year! Along the way I realized that some of my priorities had shifted, which led to me missing out on a few goals. Shockingly, I am okay with this: the me of a year ago would have been panicked to finish “perfectly.” I think the roughest part was the blogging. Once I got one month behind it seemed like an insurmountable place to come back from, and I stopped writing reviews on Goodreads even. But new year, new me! Or at least new, more motivated blogger-me. Anyway, let’s get on to talking about my 2016 goals.

 

For 2017 I wanted to read 200 books. I surpassed that with 240! However, this is less than last year, and in fact it’s the first time since I started tracking my reading that the number went down. For comparison, here are the past few years: 2013-130, 2014-159, 2015-191, 2016-268, 2017-240. Not a huge drop, and it’s due to 1) reading more dense literary fiction and 2) spending a lot more time doing social activities. I’m fine with the drop and for 2018 I am setting my goal a bit lower at 150 books. Less pressure is always good!

 

My Series Challenge was… okay this year. Well, let’s be honest, I failed! I had planned on reading 3 big series: The Dark Tower, the Asian Saga, and one to-be-determined other chunker. I only read The Dark Tower (all 8 books) and Shogun. So… not the best. BUT about a third of the way into the year I switched my focus to literary prizes and I honestly did not have time for 800-page+ books along with all my other goals. I am dropping this challenge for 2018!

 

My TBR Challenge was probably the highlight of the year. I wanted to read 75 TBR books and I read *drumroll* 95!! I actually kind of improved and expanded this challenge over the year to be “stop impulse reading!” I want to read only books I will really love, so: books from my TBR, owned pile, ARCs, or on Kindle for 1+ month, books from a loved author or series I am already reading, buddy reads, anything that fits a challenge (like Read Harder), book award books, or gifts. This gives me a pretty huge selection, right? And it worked! I read 230 goal books and 10 impulse books. That’s right, only 10! And they averaged a much lower rating than my goal books. So for 2018 I want to read 50 TBR books, 15 physically owned books, and less than 10% impulse reads.

 

I attempted Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, and it went… okay. I did all but one of the challenges. The thing is, I had more than enough time to squeeze in a book that would fit it, especially since it was one of the graphic novel challenges. But I just didn’t feel like it! So I am proud of what I did but I will not be doing Read Harder in 2018: I found it made me read a bunch of stuff I had no desire to, which is the opposite of my aims for 2018.

 

I have two new challenges in 2018, and they’re kind of related. As a kid I used to mainly re-read books and loved it, so this year I want to re-read my top 10 favorite books of all time and read David Mitchell in publication order. I’ve read all but one of his novels (Cloud Atlas) so most of those will also be re-reads for me.

 

This may seem like a lot less goals than previous years, and well… it is! I want to focus more on reading what I enjoy and less on meeting numbers. All the goals I have set are pretty casual for me, and I have no worries about meeting them. I’m doing a book bullet journal this year tracking all of my stats and goals (maybe I’ll post about it?), which I find a lot more relaxing than the constant “you are 6 books behind!” pressure of 2017 (I was behind on my # goals until April, believe it or not). I am very happy with the direction my reading took last year even if it went off the rails in terms of my challenges, so this year is relatively loose and unstructured. Let’s see how it goes!

Favorite Books of 2016: Series

10 Jan

I read a lot of books this year, so narrowing it down to favorites is so hard. I’m always impressed by those people who manage to pick 5 or 10 books that they loved the most in a calendar year. For me, that’s pretty much impossible! To make it a little more manageable, I’m going to split my favorites into two posts. The first will be my favorite books I read that are part of a series, and the second will be stand-alone along with some honorable poetry mentions. Let’s get to it!

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2016 In Review & 2017 Reading Goals

5 Jan

Last year I set quite a few reading goals for myself. Enough to structure my reading year and make me feel accomplished, but not enough to be suffocating. I’m really a mood-reader, and I like my goals to reflect that! And it worked, because 2016 was absolutely my best reading year of all time. Which is nice, because it was kind of terrible in almost every other respect. So let’s look at how I did, and set some 2017 goals!

For 2016 I wanted to read 175 books. I ended up with 268 read, so I definitely accomplished that one! I tend to keep my book number goal low because I end up feeling pressured if it’s close to what I read last year. So for 2017, I am aiming to read 200 books.

Like the previous year I did a series challenge, but I mixed it up a little. Instead of trilogies I wanted to tackle some big ones. Initially I had it at 3 series, but I ended up altering my goals pretty early on and read the entire Culture series and Realm of the Elderlings, along with the new Peter Hamilton duology. I am going to do a series challenge again, and right now I plan on reading the Dark Tower series, the Asian Saga, and possibly Kushiel’s Legacy.

My TBR Challenge went much better than what I expected! I set it at 50 books and reached an even 70, so for 2017 I am bumping it up to 75 from my TBR and 25 physical owned books I haven’t read. My Goodreads TBR is massive (over 300 books!!), so I should have no issue picking mainly from it. I’d really like to cut down on impulse reading this year and stick mainly to owned, TBR, and Netgalley books.

In 2015 I attempted a Big Book Challenge, and I failed. I attempted in 2016 and did… a little better? I mean, I got over 200 pages into Infinite Jest, so that’s something. I was supposed to read that along with Gravity’s Rainbow and Ulysses, though. After 2 years of getting nothing done I need to admit that this particular challenge is not working for me. I get intimidated when I feel forced into reading massive classics: I still want to get to them, but I think setting them as a goal made me less likely to pick them up.

I also did an Around the World Challenge, which entailed reading books from authors from 15 different countries. This was both easier and harder than it thought it would be. It was easy to hit 15, but I found that I don’t read as widely as I thought. I got to 27 countries which is good, but not as good as it could be. For 2017 I will not be setting a specific goal or challenge, but I will still track where I read from.

In the middle of the year, I also impulsively picked up Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, because I realized I’d already accomplished about 2/3rds of it without trying. I finished it, and you can find my full list in the gallery below the jump! I had a lot of fun going out of my reading comfort zone with some of these, so I will be doing the 2017 version of the challenge as well.

And that’s it! It may seem like a lot, but for the most part I’m just trying to structure my reading around things I know I’ll enjoy. Looking back on this year, a lot of my lowest-rated books were ones I picked up because I read one good review or saw it mentioned in a video. Picking things mainly off my TBR or to-read piles makes a lot more sense!

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September Reading Wrapup: National Book Award

19 Oct

I never used to care at all about book awards. But last year two of my favorite reads came from the Man Booker shortlist, and I had an absolute blast reading the longlist this year. So when the longlist for the National Book Award popped up I just had to read them all. Or at least attempt to: I had tried What Belongs To You earlier this year and dnf’d it, and I also struggled so much through the first few chapters of The Portable Veblen (too cutesy, not enough substance) that I didn’t finish it. But other than those two, neither of which made the shortlist, I powered through the whole thing! Just kidding, I didn’t read New of the World because it wasn’t out when I started reading the list, and by the time I finished I just didn’t care about it enough to start. So… 7 out of 10. Good enough!

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Sweet Lamb of Heaven, by Lydia Millet. Finished September 16th. I have no idea what I read. I should have realized this book would be a big pile of wtf when I saw it was written by Lydia Millet, who wrote Mermaids in Paradise: a comedic tale of ecological destruction with the most “what the hell” ending I’ve ever encountered. I’m convinced that Millet’s books are all going through identity crises.

So what exactly is Sweet Lamb of Heaven? It has thriller elements (woman running from a psycho ex), it has supernatural horror elements (main character hearing a voice stemming from her infant child), it has mystery elements (a general sense of “what the hell is going on”), it has quirky slice-of-life elements (her life in the Maine hotel). Yet it is not a thriller, a horror novel, a mystery, or a quirky slice of life book. I’m… I’m not really sure WHAT it is. More importantly, I don’t think the book knows what it is. I did originally rate this 3 stars but after thinking about it, it’s just such a hot mess that I can’t in good faith keep that rating. Even if it was an interesting read.

Basically, this is a book where you have no idea what is going on or how you are supposed to feel about anything. Our narrator has elements of being unreliable: she’ll spend a whole chapter talking about something like it’s still going on, then a chapter later will say “but all that ended years ago” and you’re like… ??? what? Time shifts, events are glossed over, it’s a real sense of unease. But I don’t think it’s executed well–I love books that keep you on your toes mentally, but Sweet Lamb just felt intentional obtuse and confusing. No bueno.

There were elements I liked, though. Millet’s writing is slow-paced but compulsively readable. And there are lots of odd, almost random scientific discussions that I adored. Animal language! Pando! Orcas! These are all areas of study I’m very interested in so I loved seeing them pop up in the story. Even if, you know, it didn’t 100% make sense. But whatever, I’ll take a random paragraph about orca language in literally any book for any reason.

It was actually going well enough until the end, confusion aside. The last chapter was just really, really bad. Nothing made sense, plot points came out of nowhere, it was incredibly rushed and felt like a different novel. I went from “this is weird but enjoyable” to “no why I don’t want this at all.” I don’t think it’s a bad book, but I don’t think it’s a good book either. Is it even a book? Did I just read blank pages and hallucinate the whole thing? Who knows. Certainly not Lydia Millet.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Miss Jane, by Brad Watson. Finished September 20th. I love reading through the longlist of book awards because 9 times out of 10 I’m picking up a book I probably wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise. And while there are always some flops, there are winners too: like this book, which (aside from the beautiful cover) seemed not at all appealing to me. How wrong I was!

This is a slow, character-driven piece of historical fiction that centers on Jane, a little disabled girl. The novel follows her life from birth to death, though the majority of it focuses on her childhood and early teen years. That’s probably my only criticism: events at the end felt very rushed. I really wanted this to be a 600 page chunker so I could spend days and days with these characters. It’s a very short novel, just over 200 pages, and I do think it suffers just a little bit because of the length. But that’s literally the only negative.

It’s such a beautiful book. Jane has a rare disability (a genital malformation that makes her permanently incontinent and also unable to conceive a child) and the vast majority of the book is about her dealing with her situation. From realizing as a child that there’s something different about her, to fighting her disability as a teen, to finally accepting it as an adult. I have several disabled family members so of course this is a topic near and dear to my heart, and Brad Watson handled it so deftly and with so much compassion. Jane is a complex, dynamic character who is not defined by her disability, but this is not some “rah rah learn to overcome your problems!” type of narrative. It’s about Jane accepting that her disability is part of her: it doesn’t define her, but it’s certainly part of the overall definition of who she is.

Of course there are other plot threads and characters. We follow the doctor who diagnosed her, my personal favorite character, along with Jane’s dysfunctional family. A bitter mother, and alcoholic father, an older sister who just wants to leave. Issues of sexism and racism are deftly woven into the narrative. This is a book that hits some heavy topics, but it’s really just a book about life. About dealing with the hand you’re dealt and finding happiness anywhere you can.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson. Finished September 21st. I wanted to like this book more than I did. It has so many elements I enjoy: set in NYC, coming-of-age, intense female friendship. And while I liked it, there was nothing I particularly loved. It was a pleasant but unassuming read.

I think a large chunk of that is because of how short it is. I’m not sure what is up with this current “super crazy short” novel trend: the majority of the books on both the Man Booker and National Book Award longlists are under 300 pages. Many are under 250, and this one is under 200. There’s a way to make a short novel work (for example, I thought Hot Milk was the perfect length) but overall I tend to find lengthy books more enjoyable.

There’s just a lot to cover here and not enough pages to bring the emotional impact. We follow our main character August, but there are SO many side stories: her mother’s mental illness, her father’s conversion to Islam and how it affects her family, the lives of August’s 3 very close friends, and snippets of her current life as an anthropologist. The last was definitely my favorite part, and one I wanted a lot more of. I am an absolute sucker for cultural anthropology in novels and it seems so on-trend now which makes me very happy.

I felt like, aside from August, no one was very fleshed out. I wanted to feel the tight relationship between her friends, but the pace was so rapid-fire I had trouble even keeping track of who was who. Compare this to A Little Life, a book about four friends who are so amazingly separate and distinct. Considering some of the struggles these girls go through, I felt like 200 pages was incredibly insufficient. I wanted so, so much more of them.

I also wasn’t a fan of the writing style. It’s very repetitive. For example:

“The government owns the pecan trees now. What had once been my family’s has been taken. By the government.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a writing style like that, but it’s never something I enjoy. I don’t like repetition and stripped-down, simple sentences. It’s meant to feel colloquial and casual but I always have problems with it, like in My Name Is Lucy Barton. It’s just not for me.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Throwback Special, by Chris Bachelder. Finished September 23rd. I expected to like this book, but was honestly surprised by how much I loved it. My favorite on the NBA longlist, and I can’t imagine another book knocking it off that spot (though Miss Jane is close). What first drew me to The Throwback Special was that it’s about football: I love football pretty passionately, so whenever it pops up in serious literature I am all over it.

You don’t really need to know anything about football, or even like it, to appreciate this book… but I think it definitely helps. There are many scenes discussing the Theismann-LT play that may read as a little dry if you’re not a fan. And there are also clever elements that can easily be missed if you don’t follow football (their lottery mimicking the NFL draft, for example). I usually have a pretty strong aversion to “manly men discussing being men” type of books, which this definitely is, and I loved it despite that. I mean I kind of hated All That Man Is from the Man Booker list and I think The Throwback Special could definitely go into “boring man stuff” territory but it veers so hard in the opposite direction.

This is a quiet book that is absolutely stuffed with brilliant observations on human nature and life. I have entire pages highlighted because of how meaningful and beautiful I found the passages. They just rang so true to the universal human experience–sometimes a book just strikes right at the heart of things, and The Throwback Special does this with incredible finesse.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Finished September 26th. When I was a kid, I thought the underground railroad was not a metaphor but a literal, physical railroad under the ground like a subway that saved slaves. It was all very exciting and I thought American history was super cool. Then a teacher told me that it was not, in fact, literal. Much sorrow was had that day. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out there was a book that took that concept and ran with it!

I’ve read one of Whitehead’s book in the past, Zone One, and I feel like there’s a huge emotional element missing in his writing. The Underground Railroad is a book that deals with a very heavy topic, slavery, and some scenes are incredibly hard to read. There’s a lot of brutality and it’s based on history, which makes it that much more powerful. But while you cringe and sympathies with the characters, I never felt like I knew them or their motivations.

This didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, though given the content perhaps “enjoy” is too strong of a word. It’s beautifully written, moving, and impactful… but I wanted more of all those elements. I wanted more emotion, more gut-punching sadness (what can I say, I’m a book masochist).

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Imagine Me Gone, by Adam Haslett. Finished September 27th. This is a hard book to rate. I can’t say I enjoyed it–the reading experience was tense in a not-so-pleasant way, and it filled me with anxiety. Most reviews start off with trigger warnings for depression and mental illness, and of course I ignored them because let’s be honest: just from the description and first chapter, it’s very clear the direction this book is going to go. There’s little surprise when the wham moments come (one of the few negative things I can say about Imagine Me Gone), and in fact the entire plot seems laid out neatly in the first 5 pages.

But. But. There is this sense of unease and dread suffusing every chapter, and if you suffer from anxiety and depression yourself I think certain chapters (aka any of Michael’s) will be hard to get through. His pulsing, roving anxiety is so aptly described that it’s hard to keep your own reigned in. Whenever Michael stuffed a bill in the drawer of his desk without opening it or got increasingly obsessed with some trivial detail of his day I felt my own heart beat a little faster: in sympathy, yes, but also because I related to his situation in a way that made me very uncomfortable. This is a harsh look at what mental illness does to both the sufferer but also to an entire family. It’s raw and, at times, almost unbearable. Even though you know what’s coming, the tension doesn’t let up: in fact, I think knowing the ending makes it just that much harder to get through.

This could have been a 5-star read for me, but I felt a little let down (and upset) by the ending. I think certain characters acted in incredibly stupid ways. I also felt the last few chapters were kind of lackluster: for a book that takes such a hard look a tragedy, all the time-jumping felt a bit flat and detached.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Association of Small Bombs, by  Karan Mahajan Finished September 29th. While the subject matter of this book is quite heavy, it left basically no impression on me. I don’t really feel one way or another about it. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it either.

If anything, I found it boring. I flew through the first half and then suddenly found myself dreading picking it up again. I really had to push myself to finish it. I’m pretty sure I will struggle to remember a single detail in only a few weeks. Just super forgettable.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

My obvious favorites were Miss Jane and The Throwback Special, though sadly only one of them made it to the shortlist/finalists.

Reading Challenge Goals

212/175 Books

24/35 Series Books

57/50 TBR Books

22/15 Different Countries

April 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

1 May

I know I said that April would be the month of no new books (aka only reading what I already own, both physical and digital copies). But I ended up getting a lot of ARCs in the middle of the month, which are obviously top priority. So I decided to devote some time to reading them, which goes against my initial goals. But hey, what can I say, I was distracted by shiny new things. I also (finally) did Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon on Saturday, leading to a LOT more books read than what I would usually tackle. Like, way way more–I read 6 books in that one chunk of time. So let’s get started!

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April 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part I

22 Apr

April is my birthday month, which gives me 1) an excuse to buy books I probably shouldn’t and 2) an excuse to read way more than any human should. So April started off with a real bang, and a reading pace that I definitely won’t be able to sustain the whole month! This month I resolved to only read books that I already own (both physical and digital) with no new purchases/downloads, and it’s been going really well so far… though the second half of April will be different for some very good reasons, which I’ll get to when that part goes up.

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Summertime All The Cats Are Bored, by Philippe Georget. Finished April 1st. Let’s be honest, I picked this up because of the absolutely amazing name. I saw it on the shelf at B&N and it was love at first look. It’s a noir, but a very different noir: our main detective is a homebody who doesn’t want any promotions, no one at the station really wants to do a ton of work, people make actual mistakes, there are no red herrings, and the main detective is not some crazy super-genius–the police force actually works together to solve it! It’s definitely a breath of fresh air in the mystery genre. The mystery itself isn’t really the highlight: the characters and the intricacies of the language take the forefront here.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Dream Houses, by Genevieve Valentine. Finished April 1st. I have a thing for space horror set in alien and/or abandoned space ships. It’s a very small subgenre, but man, when it’s good… magic happens. Like in Dream Houses, which is about a woman on board a ship ferrying goods from one star to another. She wakes up very early to find that the crew has been murdered, and the ship is… shall we say… not entirely sane. It’s so gorgeous. Lyrical, haunting, creepy, evocative. I loved every second of this.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila. Finished April 2nd. Read for the Man Booker International longlist. I’d like to point out that I read, like, 6 books off of it and not a single one made the shortlist. Not even Man Tiger! My luck, guys, is horrible. I know I rated this book pretty lowly but it’s really on me, not the book. It’s just very… masculine? 2 guys in a club talking about women in a super objectifying way (there’s lots of child prostitution here that’s scarily normalized), there’s very little plot. It’s just nothing I like in a book and I wouldn’t have read it if it wasn’t on the longlist, so I feel kind of bad trashing it. Because the writing was very inventive and cool, but I didn’t like any of the content.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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The Silent History, by Eli Horowitz. Finished April 5th. World War Z meets disability. This is about a silent plague that sweeps the world: children are suddenly born unable to talk or even understand language. It’s told in snippets from many different people (everything from parents to scientists to stray people obsessed with the Silents). I don’t know if everyone will love this, but my brother is autistic so this hit really close to home and felt very important. The Silent children are a clear metaphor for both autism and deafness, and really highlight the messed-up way that our society treats disability. It’s a hard read, but wonderfully told with an absolutely spectacular ending.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Mad Ship, by Robin Hobb. Finished April 7th. I love fantasy, but I don’t tend to read high/traditional fantasy because it’s usually either too Tolkien or too grimdarkedgy for me. These books? Perfect high fantasy. Everything I’d ever want from the genre. A cool world where the worldbuilding is shown, not told. Really fantastic and diverse characters that you get SO attached to. An intricate and complex plot. Cool beasties. Lovely writing. It’s just amazing! I can’t say a single thing about the plot without spoiling the first book (and possibly some of the first trilogy), but if you like fantasy and you haven’t read Hobb…. what are you doing?? Get on that asap.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Ekback. Finished April 8th. This is a magical little book. It’s part historical fiction, part mystery, part magical realism. Taking place in Lapland in 1717, it features an isolated community hit by a brutal winter in the midst of a murderer running around. It’s everything I wanted from White Hunger. The writing is so lush, I was lost in the descriptions of the woods and countryside. It felt so claustrophobic, and is one of those books that induce a little bit of anxiety. Plus, witches! I read this shortly after seeing The Witch and it has a similar vibe (goats! witches! isolated houses!) so it was really the perfect time for me to devour this.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi. Finished April 9th. I had so many issues with Boy, Snow, Bird, but there was no denying that Oyeyemi’s writing is absolute magic. So I was really excited to pick this up, especially because most of the stories are fairytale inspired. It’s a little bit Angela Carter, but mostly wholly unique. Each story is a glittering little gem of inventiveness. I loved some more than others, as is always the case with story collections, but it’s surprisingly cohesive: there’s lots of character overlap and the theme of keys runs through every one. I think this is a really good place to start with Oyeyemi: bite-sized chunks of her unique and spectacular style.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The North Water, by Ian McGuire. Finished April 10th. This is a super-hyped book, and I’m… kind of confused why? It was okay. It was, mainly, disgusting. Just so many scenes of violence and illness in graphic, graphic detail. I’m not at all squeamish but some of these were really hard to read for me. High ick factor. I was expecting more atmosphere: guys stuck in an arctic environment on a whaling boat! But it’s more about the bad dude on the ship and murder and maiming and rape and people getting teeth embedded in their arms and cutting open stomachs to let out pus. Well written, but a little over the top for me personally.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Eileen, by Otessa Moshfeg. Finished April 10th. This is such an interesting book. It’s a character study first and foremost, with little in the way of plot. Eileen is a very disturbed and strange girl, and we spend the book in her very odd head. The third act is drastically different, but very cleverly so. I think for what this was, it was pretty much perfect. It’s just not the kind of thing I really enjoy? I mean, I love character-driven books and sometimes character studies, but the thriller-combo with that was a little odd for me. Enjoyed it, didn’t love it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Book Collector, by Alice Thompson. Finished April 10th. This book got a lot of hype around the same time as The Dumb House (which I loved) so of course I wanted to pick it up immediately but it took a while for me to find a copy. And the hype train didn’t lie! This little fable about a woman who marries a mysterious bookseller is just fantastic. Like “The Yellow Wallpaper” x Angela Carter, with more murder. Our narrator gets postpartum psychosis and the real draw of the book is how much we can rely on her narration. Some things are clearly fiction, but how much is the truth? Very creepy and short little read.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Collected Stories, by William Faulkner. Finished April 11th. I started this way back in the beginning of March and read roughly a story a day. I have such mixed feelings about it: there were a few stories I genuinely loved (“Two Soldiers,” “Hair,” “A Courtship,” “Crevasse,” “Golden Land,” “Beyond,” “The Leg,” and “Carcassonne”) but many I found boring or downright disliked. There’s just a LOT of racism and sexism that I found it hard to overlook even if it was just part of the time when he wrote. Also a lot of war/”the glory of the South” stuff that’s just not for me. I am happy that I read it, but very few felt worth the high effort you have to put into untangling these stories.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Islanders, by Christopher Priest. Finished April 12th. This book is compared to Murakami and David Mitchell, but I think it’s more Invisible Cities meets Abarat. It’s a blurry line between magical realism and fantasy and this book walks it finely. It’s about a group of islands (a HUGE group of islands) and the different people and cities that populate it. Each island that we focus on gets its own chapter, some short and some very long, with a few overlapping characters who appear on many of them. There’s many plot elements: a murder mystery, the history of a famous author, etc. But it’s not a plot-driven book. It’s about the evocative descriptions and the magical quality of the islands. If you liked Invisible Cities I think you’ll love this too.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Crow, by Ted Hughes. Finished April 13th. I read this “in preparation” for another book but I love crows so I probably would have read it anyway. Everything in here is just amazing, I was highlighting practically every line. There’s just so much: grief, pain, and sorrow mixed with mythology and folktales about my second-favorite animal, the crow. And what a character Crow is. In turns devious, coy, vicious, tricky, and sweet, Crow is really just wonderful to read about (if a little painful). You can feel Hughes’ grief soaking off the pages. It’s funny: I’m not usually into poetry but when I find something I love I’m pretty passionate about it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, by Max Porter. Finished April 13th. This is the book that I read Crow for! It’s about a Hughes scholar whose wife dies, and Crow comes to take care of him and his two sons. No joke. It’s… it’s just amazing. Crow is SO accurate to the poems, and his chapters were so perfect and amazing. This book is like evil magical realism: it’s so dark and twisty and grief-laden, a rough read at points but suffused with enough magic to not make it a real downer. Highly, highly recommended–but read Crow first.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. Finished April 15th. So, I dnf’d this book last month because I found a section of it really triggering–something I don’t usually experience with books. But it made the Man Booker International shortlist and no other book I attempted did, so I felt obliged to pick it up again. And, um, I’m not super happy I did. Once you get over the rape sections, it’s just… I don’t even know. Trying SO hard to be ~bizarre~ and ~weird~ and ~whimsical~ and ~dark.~ I mean, the writing was good so I can’t knock it down too far, but the plot went nowhere I was expecting (in a bad way) and while I did enjoy the second section, the first was horrible for me and the third was weirdly dull.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks. Finished April 17th. After the incredibly disappointing Inversions, I was hesitant to pick up the next Culture book. I shouldn’t have been, because this is by far my favorite of the series (yes, more than Excession!). It shouts out to the first book, which I enjoyed because there’s barely any overlap between the series, and takes us to so many places: a strange caste-based society, one of the Culture’s magical orbitals, and a very, very unique and strange world where a scientist lives on a giant blimp-like sentient beast. It tackles some really serious questions about war and humanity while giving us a really engaging plotline. It also has probably my favorite Culture character: Kabe, the philosophical alien who plots along through the book and gives us some truly hilarious scenes. This was everything I want in science fiction.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Ship of Destiny, by Robin Hobb. Finished April 20th. The last Liveship Traders book stabbed me right in the heart. I laughed, I cried, I cried some more and cursed Hobb for making me feel such feelings. Most of all, I was shocked about how neatly all the disparate threads were drawn together. Her craftsmanship is masterful: like Peter Hamilton, there is a LOT going on in this series and you think “hmm, there’s no way this will all be nice and neat at the end.” But it is! All the threads, from the strange serpent chapters to Malta’s unexpected transformation (a character I started out loathing and ended up loving) come together brilliantly. But this book is a rough read: harder even than some of the most brutal moments of Farseer. My heart may never recover.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Progress

97/175 Books

14/33 Series Books

34/50 TBR Books

17/15 Different Countries

February 2016 Wrapup: Part I

16 Feb

Ah, February, the month of love! And reading a lot of books. I don’t know why this year has gotten off to such a good start, but I’ve been a reading fiend! And I haven’t just been reading a lot of books, I’ve been reading a lot of good books. My goals this year (focusing on my TBR, series, and authors from many countries) have me tackling things that I almost always love. I mean, if a book has been on my TBR for 1 year+ and survived all my purges, I’m probably going to like it. And that’s definitely been the case so far!

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The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 1st. After finishing Shadows of Self last month, I absolutely had to read the next Wax & Wayne book. At first I was kind of skeptical about this series. I am sorry for doubting you, Lord of Fantasy Brandon Sanderson. This book is just… amazing. The plot goes in really weird places I was never expecting. The character development is ridiculously good. I can’t say anything about the plot without spoiling 5 other books but it’s safe to say that I am going to die waiting another year for the final installment.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Mistborn: Secret History, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 2nd. A surprise Mistborn book! This one takes place during the first trilogy, and gives us a peek at what was going on behind all the big events. I have mixed feelings about it: on one hand, I loved all the Cosmere mythos we got and I loved the characters. On the second, it kind of spoiled some of the mystery and I almost liked it better before I knew what happened “behind the curtain.” But I still liked reading it? Very confusing!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Shadows For Silence In The Forest Of Hell, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 3rd. I was really on a Cosmere kick at the beginning of February. This is one of Sanderson’s novellas that doesn’t directly tie into any of his book series, but it does contain bits and pieces of Cosmere info. I feel like Sanderson is not at his best in short format: there’s not enough time for character development or his signature twists (though we do get some of both). I liked this, but didn’t love it. The world was amazing though and I’d love to see a full-length novel set in the Forest.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Suicide of Claire Bishop, by Carmiel Banasky. Finished Feb 4th. This book is hard to describe. It has two plotlines. One is about a woman named Claire in the 1950′s (and onward) who has a portrait painted of her but the artist paints Claire committing suicide. The second plot is about a schizophrenic man named West in the present time who becomes obsessed with Claire’s portrait and is convinced that the artist who painted it is also a (young) woman he knows. Claire’s story takes place over decades and just gets more and more bleak. West’s takes place over a week or so and his madness becomes more and more pronounced, coinciding with Claire’s downward spiral. It’s a strange, beautiful novel with the lightest touch of magical realism and a heavy focus on personality, identity, and madness.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Our Endless Numbered Days, by Claire Fuller. Finished Feb 5th. A girl is kidnapped by her father who takes her out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and tells her the world has ended. It’s a horror/survival novel which is right up my alley. I love bleak, depressing stories! I love horror! I love the woods! The writing here was gorgeous and lush, and while I had a few issues (mainly I felt like it was way too short) I was just in love with it. Though I will admit that I only picked this up because the title is an Iron & Wine lyric (and also because of the hype).

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Into The Forest, by Mark Z Danielewski. Finished Feb 5th. THESE GODDAMN BOOKS. I am so wrapped up in this strange little world, even though I have basically no idea what is going on. I love all of it, even the incomprehensible bits. If you like weird, experimental, postmodern fiction this is a must. Also if you like cats. Potentially very creepy and evil but cute cats.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud. Finished Feb 5th. I hate The Stranger. “Oh, woe is me, I’m so ~tortured~ and filled with ennui that I have to kill a guy to feel anything!” Lol no thank you. So this book, which is about the unnamed man who was murdered (and set in a universe where The Stranger was published as nonfiction, so clever) was everything I ever wanted. It’s philosophical, clever, witty, deep, moving, and at times shocking. I’d recommend this to anyone who has read The Stranger, whether you love it or hate it. It’s an excellent companion novel/counterpoint.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts. Finished Feb 7th. Have you ever felt like a book was written just for you? The Thing Itself starts out with a The Thing/At The Mountains Of Madness sequence with scientists in Antarctica when ~strange things~ start to happen. After that it skips back and forward in time, giving us many different perspectives though the main storyline centers on one of the scientists. And it involves philosophy and sentient computers and so many references you could get lost chasing them all down. It’s hilarious and sad, with a very strong focus on the “what ifs” that science fiction is such a good platform for. Plus it tackles the Fermi Paradox. What’s not to love?

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Z Danielewski. Finished Feb 8th. I have this weird quirk when it comes to authors I love. I have trouble reading all their books, and tend to pick one to “set aside” and read “later.” Later usually = never, because I have this strange fear of running out of their books. I actually got this book in the original pressing of only 1,000, not the re-release. I have had it for AGES. But I read House of Leaves and Only Revolutions and Danielewski used to publish so slowly that I was terrified there would be no more, and I would have already read this–my last book of his. But with The Familiar, which is going to have 25 (!!) more volumes, enough to last me many years, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have to read this. So I finally did! If you like Danielewski, you will like this. It seems like most people don’t, and that’s understandable, but I love weird, experimental, and creepy books. So of course I adore him. I actually think this is his most accessible text: sure, the format is a little strange, but you don’t need to dissect it to understand what is happening and the core story is really straightforward. Plus, pretty pictures. It might be a good introduction if you’re put off by the density of HoL, the strangeness of The Familiar, or the downright bizarre journey of OR.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Way Inn, by Will Wiles. Finished Feb 8th. This has been on my TBR for ages, and I never paid much attention to it. But there is a reference to it in The Thing Itself, so of course I bumped it right up to the top! It’s the kind of book I love (for the most part). A quirky book where there’s a ~spooky hotel~ that’s bigger on the inside. It also has some nice discussions about the same-ness of modern life. It gets very strange, but for some reason the ending fell a little flat for me. It was weird but not as weird as I wanted? If that makes sense. I loved the first 2/3rds but I do wish the author had pushed the envelope a little bit more towards the end section.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Demon Theory, by Stephen Graham Jones. Finished Feb 10th. If you like House of Leaves and The Raw Shark Texts, this book is always the next one recommended. And those are two of my favorite books (top 10 favorite, serious business) yet I never read Demon Theory? What is wrong with me, seriously. This book is about a trilogy of horror films: or rather, it’s a scene for scene description of a trilogy of horror films. It’s super meta and I freaking love horror movies. And books centered on fake media. And footnotes. And did I mention horror movies? This book was just… perfection. Everything I want.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami. Finished Feb 11th. There are only a few Murakami books that I haven’t read, and I am trying to get over my “leave one book unread per author” thing and tackle the remaining ones. This is a short story, really a children’s tale, with some gorgeous illustrations. Like many of his shorts it’s… really weird. And it has the Sheep Man! It was a little too short with not enough explanation for me to really love it, but it was an enjoyable read.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. Finished Feb 13th. My first series book of the year! Unlike last year, I’m not set on reading each series straight through so I took a short break from Culture to read the first Realm of the Enderlings book. So how do I describe this? It’s a fantasy, but it’s majorly focused on the characters. There’s worldbuilding, but it’s not “hey here is how things work!” It’s subtle and you learn so much just from character interactions. The plot is very much in the background. The magic is fresh but also feels very classic. I see already why people are so crazy about this series. If you like character-driven fantasy and slow burn plot, you absolutely have to pick these up.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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American Housewife, by Helen Ellis. Finished Feb 13th. This was a real impulse read for me. The description kind of sounds like Desperate Housewives but with more murder, so I was all about it. And it was! Kind of. This is a collection of clever little short stories that very much work as satire on modern life in America. It’s absolutely hilarious in a grimdark sort of way. You know, if you think people possibly getting eaten by mutant housecats and a reality show about dumpster diving are hilarious. Highly recommended for people who like comic darkness and short stories.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Dare Me, by Stella Rhys. Finished Feb 14th. I have been really sick for the past few days and reading got really difficult. I picked up the next Culture book and read the same page 5 times (!!) before I accepted that I needed to read something stupid if I was going to read. So, for Valentine’s Day, a romance! The blurb sells this as the story of two kids who played twisted truth or dare. That’s, like, 3 scenes in the book. It’s really your stereotypical romance/erotica with a ~so rich so handsome so perfect~ dude and a ~mysterious past gorgeous SO TORTURED~ girl who the universe just keeps trying to keep apart. It’s dull and predictable and the girl’s “mystery past” was so freaking stupid I wanted to die. But, um, it could have been even worse? And hey, this is only the fourth below-3-stars book I’ve read this year, so it’s hard to be mad about that!

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Progress

41/175 Books

5/36 Series Books

11/50 TBR Books

11/15 Different Countries

 

Reading Goals For 2016

9 Jan

2015 was a great reading year for me, but I’m always looking for ways to improve my reading experience! So, of course, I have a new set of goals for 2016. I know for a lot of people having a number, or really specific goals, can be stressful or ruin reading for them. But personally I find goals & challenges really motivating, so I’ve set up quite a few for this year. Not as many as last year (for example, I am not going to be doing a specific page number goal–though I will be tracking how many pages I read), but enough to keep me on track.

First off, I’ve set my book goal for 175, up from the 150 last year. I did get about 15 books past that in ’15, but I have some clunkers on my list this year so I don’t want to overdo it.

Like last year, I will be doing a series challenge. But instead of the 12 series I aimed for last year, I will be tackling 3 big ones in 2016: Iain M. Banks’s Culture, Robin Hobb’s Realms of the Enderlings, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower. These are of course subject to change if I start one of them and dislike it. Though I do have a few smaller series (3-4 books) I’d like to get to, I’m not going to put them on my list of goals but I’ll count them if I finish them!

Perhaps most importantly (for me), I’m doing a TBR challenge. My TBR is massive (170+ books), so my goal this year is to read 50 books off my TBR. This shouldn’t be an issue at all, since the books on it are all ones I want to read. Basically, I need to stop adding every new book that catches my eye to the pile and focus on what I know I want to read. Of course this leaves lots of wiggle room for new & impulse books!

From last year, I’m carrying over the big book challenge. I’ll be reading Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Ulysses. My problem last year was the time commitment these books take up, but I have a solution! I do all of my reading at night before bed, but for these I’m going to devote 30 minutes to an hour during the day to reading one of them (or other hefty books). This way I can take my time without worrying about all the books I am “missing out on.”

Last but not least, I’ll be doing an around the world challenge. I want to read books written by authors from 15 different countries. To be honest, this one won’t take any extra work: between my other goals and the Man Booker International longlist coming out soon I should be set. This is more so to track how diverse my reading is. I’m also going to be attempting to read more diversely in terms of content: hopefully I’ll get to some poetry & non-fiction this year, though I’m not making that a set goal.

So that’s it for 2016! It might seem like a lot, so we’ll see if these change as the year goes on, but at the moment I’m really happy with what I have set up for the months ahead.