2018 Reading Challenge Check-In #1

We’re one month into 2018, so how are those Reading Challenges going?

I’ve fallen a bit behind, though not as much as I thought before I went and put together this post! I went to New York in early January, then came home and promptly got a massive cold. Which I attempted to ignore while catching up at work.

The cold would not be ignored. So, that went well.

On to the Challenges!

Mount TBR (hosted at My Reader’s Block for 2018)

Goal: 24 books
End of January Progress: 16% (target pace: 8%)

Ahead of schedule, and I even posted reviews of three out of the four. Of course, the one I liked the most, The Dollhouse, is the one that I didn’t get around to actually reviewing.

 


The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge at Roof Beam Reader

Goal: 12 books
End of January Progress: 8% (target pace: 8%)

This is the only Challenge that required a list at the beginning of the year. I’m right on target pace-wise, but I’ve discovered that I might have actually gotten rid of one of the books on my list! Oops.

 


Newbery Reading Challenge at Smiling Shelves

Goal: Konigsburg (75+ points)
End of January Progress: 4% (target pace: 8%)

  • Sounder by William Armstrong: 3 points (Newbery winner, 1970)

A bit behind on this one, but no reason to think I won’t catch up soon – probably later this month, once the 2018 YMAs are announced.

 

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge 2018 at Read-at-Home Mom

Goal: 12 books
End of January Progress: 8% (target pace: 8%)

  • Sounder by William Armstrong, published in 1969

Right on target with this one. I’m also planning to re-read A Wrinkle in Time, which wasn’t on my original list, but qualifies, since it was published in 1962.


Book Riot Read Harder 2018

End of January Progress: 12.5% (target pace: 8%)

  • A children’s classic published before 1980: Sounder by William Armstrong, published in 1969
  • A one-sitting book: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
  • The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

My next challenge will probably be the celebrity memoir one, just as soon as my library hold on Jenifer Lewis’s The Mother of Black Hollywood comes through.


2018 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

Goal: Creative Conversationalist (11-20 posts – aiming for 12)
End of January Progress: 8% (target pace: 8%)


2018 Share-a-Tea Reading Challenge at Becky’s Book Reviews

I’ve fallen down on this one and not posted about any teas in January. I’ll have to get to work on that!

So, how’s your 2018 reading going?

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Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in February

There are a lot of great books coming out next month. These are just 10 that I’m especially looking forward to reading. (Plus a bonus at the end of the list!)

1. The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust by Laura Smith (February 6)

Part memoir, part real-life mystery, this looks like a really interesting read, examining the choices we make and the sacrifices we choose. The publisher says it’s “a riveting mystery and a piercing exploration of marriage and convention that asks deep and uncomfortable questions: Why do we give up on our childhood dreams? Is marriage a golden noose? Must we find ourselves in the same row houses with Pottery Barn lamps telling our kids to behave? Searingly honest and written with a raw intensity, it will challenge you to rethink your most intimate decisions and may just upend your life.”

 

2. Feel Free by Zadie Smith (February 6)

The publisher’s blurb characterizes Smith as “[e]qually at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive–and never any less than perfect company.” I enjoyed Swing Time, and this essay collection sounds great.

 

3. Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters by Charlotte Jones Voiklis (February 6)

With the movie of A Wrinkle in Time coming out this year, I’m looking forward to re-reading a favorite of my elementary school years. I’m also looking forward to this biography of L’Engle, written by her granddaughters.

 

4. The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu (February 13)

I’m looking forward to this novel, which promises to follow five women from girlhood “through successes and failures, loving relationships and heartbreaks; we see what it means to find, and define, oneself, and the ways in which the same experience is refracted through different people. In diamond-sharp prose, Kim Fu gives us a portrait of friendship and of the families we build for ourselves—and the pasts we can’t escape.”

5. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (February 13)

This looks like a super-cute comic for middle grade readers. It features a French Prince with a secret identity – “the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!” His best friend is a talented dressmaker, but her own dreams must be kept on the back burner as long as she keeps his secret. I’m trying to read more comics in 2018, and this is a great addition to my TBR.

 

6. Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill (February 20)

A short-story collection from the winner of the 2017 Newbery Award. The Minneapolis Star Tribune calls Barnhill “a fantasist on the order of Neil Gaiman” – one of my favorite authors. The blurb also says “the stories in Dreadful Young Ladies feature bold, reality-bending invention underscored by richly illuminated universal themes of love, death, jealousy, hope, and more.”

 

7. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper (February 20)

The publisher’s description says: “With the election of Donald Trump and the massive step backward this signals for both African Americans and women, Eloquent Rage offers a way forward, one that encourages us all not to be cowed or silenced by fear. It looks to the lives of Black women — one of the nation’s most maligned subjects — for direction. For it is Black women who model critical dissent as a practice of prophetic love not for who America is, but for who she can be.” I expect this book to make me uncomfortable and challenge me in necessary ways.

 

8. Don’t Call Me Princess: Essays on Girls, Women, Sex, and Life by Peggy Orenstein (February 27)

I’ve been meaning to read Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter for ages. This collection of essays is super-timely; the publisher says they’ve been “updated with both an original introduction and personal reflections on each piece. Her takes on reproductive justice, the infertility industry, tensions between working and stay-at-home moms, pink ribbon fear-mongering and the complications of girl culture are not merely timeless—they have, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, become more urgent in our contemporary political climate. Don’t Call Me Princess offers a crucial evaluation of where we stand today as women—in our work lives, sex lives, as mothers, as partners—illuminating both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.”

 

9. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker (February 27)

I’m really hoping this one will, well, give me some hope. In a very rationalistic, practical way. The description says it “makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.”

 

 

10. Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives by Rachel Simmons (February 27)

My daughter is on the verge of teenagerhood, and this book claims to offer “practical parenting advice — including teaching girls self-compassion as an alternative to self-criticism, how to manage overthinking, resist the constant urge to compare themselves to peers, take healthy risks, navigate toxic elements of social media, prioritize self-care, and seek support when they need it.”

 

And a bonus: All the Perverse Angels by Sarah K Marr (February 22)

I actually already have a copy of this book, and I’m so thrilled that it’s finally going to be available to everyone! I’m just going to put the whole description here:

Anna, an art curator, leaves a psychiatric hospital and finds herself in an English village, sharing a rented cottage with her partner. Seeking refuge from the aftermath of past infidelities, she constructs a personal reality from the brushstrokes and histories of her favourite artworks.

A chance discovery in the cottage’s attic leads Anna on a journey back to the late nineteenth century and the complicated relationships of two women studying at Oxford University.

As Anna’s investigations blend with the students’ story, and the threads of her life intertwine with those of a century earlier, she finds a way to run ever farther from her pain. But the past is not all it seems, and Anna’s escape routes are taken from her, one by one, until she must face the truth of her present.

All the Perverse Angels is a breathtaking novel about the nature of loss and the confusion of love, about the stories we are told and the stories we tell ourselves.

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The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Grownup

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.

That’s our introduction to our unnamed narrator, who has recently started posing as a fortune-teller who reads auras (in the front room of the same establishment where she has been providing orgasms to lonely men in the back room). She’s a clever young woman who grew up a grifter and relies on her keen observation skills to provide just the right story to the right person to part them from their money. But her skills at reading people might not be quite enough in this creepy, twisty tale.

This is a skinny little book at just 62 pages, a hardback the size of a thin paperback. It was originally published as a short story in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology under the title “What Do You Do?” (Which is a really excellent title for this story, actually.) It won the 2015 Best Short Story Edgar.

The narrator (I really wish she had a name) is a compelling character. She’s so sure of herself – a confidence woman in multiple senses. I was reminded a bit of Selina Dawes in Sarah Waters’ Affinity, brought up into the 21st century. She’s flawed in ways she recognizes and in ways she doesn’t. She should be one of those “unlikeable” characters, but you want to like her.

I haven’t read Gone Girl, even though it seems like everyone else has. I really enjoyed this little taste of her writing, so I can see why everyone’s been buzzing about her novels.

Source: Book of the Month club

Reading Challenges: Counts for Read Harder (Task 15: A one-sitting book), Mount TBR

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Sounder by William H. Armstrong

Sounder

Sounder by William H. Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The tall man stood at the edge of the porch. The roof sagged from the two rough posts which held it, almost closing the gap between his head and the rafters.

Somewhere in the deep South, a young black boy lives with his family in a small cabin. One morning, he is surprised to discover pork sausage and ham cooking. For a family of impoverished sharecroppers, this is an unexpected luxury. Even their hound/bulldog mix, Sounder, gets a treat. The joy is short-lived, however, as the white Sheriff and his deputies arrive at their door and take the boy’s father away in chains. The boy grows into a young man with Sounder by his side.

I’ll start by noting the elephant in the room: this book, published in 1969 (and winner of the 1970 Newbery Medal), is a story about a black family written by a white man. The book opens with an author’s note beginning, “Fifty years ago, I learned to read at a round table in the center of a large, sweet-smelling, steam-softened kitchen. My teacher was a gray-haired black man who taught the one-room Negro school several miles away from where we lived in the Green Hill district of the county.” This would have been in the late 1910s; Armstrong was born in Virginia in 1911. He goes on to explain that his teacher told him many stories, including “the story of Sounder, a coon dog.” This book is, says Armstrong, “the black man’s story, not mine.”

Perhaps that is why none of the characters, other than the dog, are given names. For that matter, the place is never specified. Or maybe the vagueness is intended to leave as much as possible to the reader’s imagination.  In any case, our protagonist is always referred to as simply “the boy” – which feels a little awkward and uncomfortable. The particular racist use of the term is touched on in the novel itself: “‘Stick out your hands, boy,’ ordered the second man. The boy started to raise his hands, but the man was already reaching over the stove, snapping handcuffs on the outstretched wrists of his father.”

Throughout the short novel, we see the institutional and casual racism of the place and time through the boy’s eyes. He’s led a fairly sheltered life, rarely leaving the warm circle of his own family. His interactions with the people he encounters over the years reflect the prevailing attitudes.

I think this would be a great book to read with a group (a classroom or a book group) paired with an Own Voices book like Linda Williams Jackson’s Midnight without a Moon or Sharon M. Draper’s Stella by Starlight.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Reading Challenges: Counts for the Old School Kidlit Challenge (published 1969), the Newbery Reading Challenge (Medal Winner: 3 points), and Read Harder (Task 11: A children’s classic published before 1980).

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A Disappointing Start

It’s been a bit of a rough start to my reading year here in 2018. I had high hopes for the first book I read this year, but it was not quite what I expected. I knew going into the second book that I hadn’t loved the book to which it was a sequel. And the book was okay, but that’s it.

Both books count for the Mount TBR challenge, and one counts for the TBR Pile challenge. Neither one satisfies a Read Harder task, so I ought to get cracking on that. I really need something good, too. (I am also reading A Study in Scarlet as part of my personal Canon Reading project, but that’s a known quantity.)

How is your reading year going? Are you working on any challenges? Did you choose a book specifically to be your first book of 2018?

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Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes, #2)Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Does anyone really believe what happened at the Reichenbach Falls? A great many accounts have been written but it seems to me that all of them have left something to be desired — which is to say, the truth.

It is 1891, and Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty have just had their confrontation at the side of the Reichenbach Falls. The novel opens with a brief account of a murder in London before joining our narrator, who identifies himself as Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase, at the Meiringen police station. He tells us that he is on the trail of an American crime boss named Clarence Devereux. It seems that Devereux was planning to join forces with Moriarty. Chase was trying to prevent such a merger, and now he wants to take the opportunity to put a stop to Devereux’s activities in London for good. He teams up with Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones – a name recognizable to readers of The Sign of Four. Jones and Chase go back to London, where they follow a grisly trail to unmask Devereaux. Jones attempts to fill the gap left by the loss of Sherlock Holmes, with Chase as his Watson. But Chase has his own agenda, and things are much more complicated than they appear.

This is another book that I’ve had on my shelves for a long, long time. It was a selection from the Mysterious Bookshop’s Historical & Traditional Crime Club. I think it was the first book I received, actually. At the time, I hadn’t yet read House of Silk, so I put this book on the shelf. I eventually that one from the library, but found it rather darker than I was expecting, and I wasn’t in a hurry to drop back into that particular vision of Victorian London.

As it happens, the subject matter in this book was easier for me to handle, but there’s a twist in the book that I found more irritating than thrilling. Plus, queer coding a villain (along with our narrator letting us know that he “had seen his type many times before and felt revolted”) feels like a cheap shot.

Source: Purchased from the Mysterious Bookshop (New York, NY)
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Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon

Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits Are Taking Over the WorldGeek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits Are Taking Over the World by Leslie Simon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, to be labeled a “geek” was a fate worse than death. It meant you were an outcast. A loser. Destined for a solitary existence where a twelve-sided die would provide you with the only action you’d ever know. However, over the past decade or so, four-eyed social pariahs have been waging a quiet — yet powerful — revolt.

Over the course of this relatively-slim volume, Simon describes the “Fangirl Geek”, “Literary Geek”, “Film Geek”, “Music Geek”, “Funny-Girl Geek”, “Domestic Goddess Geek”, and a handful of others lumped into “Miscellaneous Geek”. For each type that gets a whole chapter, there is a quiz for the reader to test her own category knowledge, a “character sketch” of personality traits, a “Geek Mythology” section recounting relevant historical events and people, a “Geek Goddesses” section of short biographies of celebrities who fit the particular type, a list of “Frenemies” to beware of, and a “Geek Love” section describing the type of guy who would be a perfect match for the girl who identifies herself as a Fangirl/Literary/Film/etc Geek.

It’s a fun idea, and the Mythology and Goddesses portions are the best part of the book. Unfortunately, they’re weighed down by the snarky jabs in both the “Frenemies” lists and the quiz sections, and occasionally in the opening “character sketch”. But it was the “Geek Love” bit in each chapter that really left me mystified. It just seemed completely unnecessary. If the overarching theme of the book is “Hey, Geeky Girl, find yourself in this book and take pride in your quirks!”, then what is the relevance of several pages on What Kind of Guy You Should be Looking For? The idea that the reader might not be looking for a guy at all is never even suggested. Apparently, all girl geeks are heterosexual.

I had such high hopes for this book, which just makes it doubly disappointing. I made it my first read of the new year, thinking that it would help set a tone of empowerment and pride. I finished it mostly because I didn’t want to DNF the very first book I was reading for the TBR Pile Challenge.

Source: This book has been sitting on my shelves for years. I’m honestly not sure if I bought it, was given it as a gift, or picked it up at a conference as a freebie.

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Reading the Canon 2018

Along with the challenges I signed up for, I set a goal for myself to read the four novels and 56 short stories of the Canon in 2018. I went through my handy single-volume, 1122-page Doubleday and divided it over the year. The way it worked out, I’ll be reading A Study in Scarlet in January, The Sign of Four in February, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in March and April, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in April, May, and early June, The Return of Sherlock Holmes in June and July, The Hound of the Baskervilles in August, The Valley of Fear in September and into October, His Last Bow in October and November, and finishing out the year with The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes in November and December.

I anticipate reading some of the stories in digital form on my iPad rather than in my Doubleday, because there will be some travelling during 2018, and I’m not about to pack an 1122-page book in my suitcase!

This is the break-down by week, for anyone who wants to read along with me:

1/1 – 1/7 A Study in Scarlet, part 1 chapters 1-4
1/8 – 1/14 A Study in Scarlet, part 1 chapters 5-7
1/15 – 1/21 A Study in Scarlet, part 2 chapters 1-4
1/22 – 1/28 A Study in Scarlet, part 2 chapter 5-end
1/29 – 2/4 The Sign of Four, chapters 1-4
2/5 – 2/11 The Sign of Four, chapters 5-7
2/12 – 2/18 The Sign of Four, chapters 8-10
2/19 – 2/25 The Sign of Four, chapter 11-end
2/26 – 3/4 A Scandal in Bohemia
3/5 – 3/11 The Red-headed League and A Case of Identity
3/12 – 3/18 The Boscombe Valley Mystery and The Five Orange Pips
3/19 – 3/25 The Man with the Twisted Lip and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
3/26 – 4/1 The Adventure of the Speckled Band
4/2 – 4/8 The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb and The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
4/9 – 4/15 The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
4/16 – 4/22 The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
4/23 – 4/29 Silver Blaze
4/30 – 5/6 The Yellow Face and The Stock-broker’s Clerk
5/7 – 5/13 The “Gloria Scott” and The Musgrave Ritual
5/14 – 5/20 The Reigate Puzzle and The Crooked Man
5/21 – 5/27 The Resident Patient and The Greek Interpreter
5/26 – 6/3 The Naval Treaty
6/4 – 6/10 The Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House
6/11 – 6/17 The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
6/18 – 6/24 The Adventure of the Dancing Men
6/25 – 7/1 The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
7/2 – 7/8 The Adventure of the Priory School
7/9 – 7/15 The Adventure of Black Peter and The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
7/16 – 7/22 The  Adventure of the Six Napoleons and The Adventure of the Three Students
7/23 – 7/29 The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez and The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
7/30 – 8/5 The Adventure of the Abbey Grange and The Adventure of the Second Stain
8/6 – 8/12 The Hound of the Baskervilles, chapters 1-4
8/13 – 8/19 The Hound of the Baskervilles, chapters 5-8
8/20 – 8/26 The Hound of the Baskervilles, chapters 9-11
8/27 – 9/2 The Hound of the Baskervilles, chapter 12-end
9/3 – 9/9 The Valley of Fear, part 1 chapters 1-3
9/10 – 9/16 The Valley of Fear, part 1 chapters 4-6
9/17 – 9/23 The Valley of Fear, part 2 chapters 1-2
9/24 – 9/30 The Valley of Fear, part 2 chapters 3-4
10/1 – 10/7 The Valley of Fear, part 2 chapter 5-end
10/8 – 10/14 The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
10/15 – 10/21 The Adventure of the  Cardboard Box and The Adventure of the Red Circle
10/22 – 10/28 The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
10/29 – 11/4 The Adventure of the Dying Detective and The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
11/5 – 11/11 The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot
11/12 – 11/18 His Last Bow
11/19 – 11/25 The Adventure of the Illustrious Client and The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
11/26 – 12/2 The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone and The Adventure of the Three Gables
12/3 – 12/9 The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire and The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
12/10 – 12/16 The Problem of Thor Bridge and The Adventure of the Creeping Man
12/17 – 12/23 The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane and The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger
12/24 – 12/30 The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place and The Adventure of the Retired Colourman

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2018 Discussion Challenge

Welcome to the 2018 Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Even when I’ve failed to complete specific reading challenge lists, I’ve still read a lot of books. What I haven’t done is post about them! This challenge is all about starting discussions on book blogs.

There are five levels for this challenge:

  • 1-10 – Discussion Dabbler
  • 11-20 – Creative Conversationalist
  • 21-30 – Chatty Kathy
  • 31-40 – Terrifically Talkative
  • 41+ – Gift of the Gab

I’m aiming for “Creative Conversationalist” with a personal goal of 12 posts, because one post each month sounds reasonable.

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Share-a-Tea 2018

Like I could resist this one.

This is a pretty laid-back “challenge”, as it’s all about slowing down and enjoying a book along with a cup of tea. And discussing said books and tea with like-minded folks. You may have noticed that I like tea. A lot.

Becky says, “If you write a post on your blog announcing the challenge (and making a place to keep track of what you’ve read), consider sharing a bit about yourself–your reading and drinking habits.”

So, hi! I’m Beth, a Librarian at a busy branch library in the San Fernando Valley. I’m a transplant from Chicago, but I’ve been here 15 years. I’ve been told that my accent has even changed. (Of course, I can’t hear it!) I’m obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, knitting/crochet/spinning, and tea.

I drink a lot of black tea blends from Adagio. I also get a monthly subscription box from Tea Runners. I like lapsang souchong more than is probably reasonable. I also have a completely ridiculous sweet tooth. I recently won a tea-themed gift basket at a work function, in which there were 13 kinds of tea. (The basket was donated by my area of the library system. Three of those teas were donated by me.)

I’ll admit I was a tiny bit disappointed that that was not actually one giant Lindor truffle.

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