The 2021 AW Reading Challenge! New Year; New Hope; New List.

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Chris P

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Well, that didn't take long: Girl, Interrupted by Suzanna Kaysen. After only a 20 minute evaluation, 18-year-old Suzanna is sent away to a mental institution for a few days, which stretch into 18 months. The author gives us a run down of the various fellow patients, their trials, the staff, and other matters about what life was like in such an institution in 1968. It was honest without wallowing.

I kept having the eerie feeling that I've read this before, but none of the scenes were Ah ha! enough for me to know for sure. One scene I was expecting to happen didn't, so I must have read a similar book or story with many of the same elements. I'm sure there's a combination of the influence this book had on other books that followed, as well as influenced by those that came before.

  1. Laughing Matters: A humorous or satirical book. Nothing to see here – Kevin Wilson
  2. I spy: A book featuring spies or espionage. Need to know – Karen Cleveland Done
  3. Local hero: A book by a local author. First cosmic velocity – Zack Powers
  4. 21st Century, 21st Year, 21st Letter: A book by someone whose first or last name begins with the letter U: House of Broken Angels – Luis Alberto Urrea Done
  5. Locked up: A book taking place in a prison, mental institution or treatment center. Girl, Interrupted -- Suzanna Kaysen Done
  6. What your parents read: Any novel from the year you were born. Love in the Ruins – Walker Percy
  7. Out of this world: A book taking place in space or on another planet. Artemis – Andy Weir Done
  8. Keep up with the Joneses: A book everyone else seems to have read but you have not. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak Done
  9. Feisty feline fiesta: A book with a cat on the cover. Cat Chaser – Elmore Leonard Done
  10. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy. Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
  11. Run for the border: A book about or taking place in Central or South America. 100 years of solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez Done
  12. Vast critical acclaim: A book that has won a prestigious award. Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Man Booker International award).
 
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Gatteau

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Hello all! So good to be back! I have even made some progress with my list:

1. It’s all fun and games: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo Finished 1/10
2. Laughing Matters: Animal Farm by George Orwell (or You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day)
3. That old black magic: Soulless by Gail Carriger
4. Keep up with the Joneses: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5. Succinct: Renegades by Marissa Meyer
6. I’ve met them: The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (ALA 2016 in NOLA, briefly for a book signing) Reading
7. After the Fall: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
8. Out of this world: The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
9. Freebies: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde (Christmas present from my sister, from her book club last year) Reading
10. Holy moly some authors like to use an awful lot of words: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer Finished 1/24
11. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (also The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold Finished 6/18)
12. How we got to where we are: A Promised Land by Barack Obama Finished 4/17

Bryony Gray was a very interesting premise: our heroine Bryony is the daughter of Dorian Gray (of The Picture of...) and seems to at least have inherited his passion for Beauty and all things Beautiful, which she channels a bit more constructively into art, painting portraits of high society ladies and gentlemen as demanded by her totally horrible aunt and uncle. Who keep her locked in the attic. Very pleasant. Things go awry when it seems her paintings are becoming sentient and sucking the life out of their respective real subjects (or just anyone nearby). I finished this one a while ago and I'm trying to remember precisely how the catastrophe progressed or what they ended up doing to stop it. There was a lot of running around London, keeping away from all the other paintings which had come to life as well, and some more trapping Bryony in rooms and forcing her to paint. I did like it more when I was reading it than it's coming across here, but it certainly had some awkwardness and disjointedness to it. It's meant for middle grade, and the style does read that way, but I think the subject matter itself would be much more intriguing and impactful if the author had gone straight for adult horror.
As a side note, this made me go back and start to read Dorian Gray itself again, which I haven't in at least ten years now, but I have always loved. I'm definitely finding some themes that the author of Bryony Gray picked up and ran with, and I think that was what I most appreciated about reading this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Promised Land. But damn, that man writes a lot of words! (And there's a whole 'nother volume to come!) It's a very humanizing look at becoming and then being the most powerful man in the world. So many moments where he's not sure he actually wants to continue down the path he's begun, but knows he must in order to enact the change he truly and deeply seems to believe in. He also offers a (very) detailed look into the policies and difficulties he dealt with during his administration, which gave me a lot more clarity about what was actually going on then. For instance, back when the housing crisis was a thing at the very beginning of his presidency, I didn't really understand what the whole problem was (and also didn't really care because it's not like I had a house or was even thinking about houses at the time) and I feel like I have a better grasp of it all now.
I also read Michelle's Becoming last year and loved it, too. It's so revealing and sweet - and again, so human - to see a lot of her moments from his perspective as well.

The Curse of Chalion, my sister and I have decided, can best be described as Game of Thrones but with Pride and Prejudice pacing and manners. In a good way. Cazaril is such a humble, noble and loyal man - it's hard to call him the hero, because he acts nothing like one. He literally wants nothing for himself (and is shocked when anything is offered to him), throwing every fiber of his being into protecting the lady he serves and breaking the curse that surrounds her. I was struck again and again by how tired he was trucking through his quest as the world tossed obstacle after obstacle in his way - just let the man rest! - yet never letting up, never losing sight of his goal. He is absolutely the sort of man I would want as my advisor, were I a classical princess caught up in a myriad of court intrigues. (I still intend to read Spinning Silver, but this was on another list with my sister so I went for it first and it works for the same category.)

I am nearly finished with Early Riser, and have just begun The Only Thing to Fear which is relatively short, so I think I'm basically on track. Happy reading!
 
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Chris P

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I read Dorian Gray for last year's challenge. Quite good! I had only read one or two of Wilde's short stories, and I can see why he's still popular. It was still fresh after all these years.
 

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I agree! I got to take a whole Wilde class in college (badgered my favorite professor into teaching it, actually) and it was fantastic. Really interesting expanding my horizons from just knowing Importance of Being Earnest prior to delving into his poetry, essays, shorts, plays, and of course Dorian. He really wrote well across the board, and it definitely holds up. Even now revisiting some of these things, I'm finding new revelations I completely missed back then, or that continue to speak to the current era.
Of his shorts, I always particularly liked "The Happy Prince" and "The Selfish Giant"; beautifully told and unexpectedly allegorical. I had no idea before that he wrote fairy tales.
 

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Finished only one challenge book so far -- Secret Agent: Britain's Wartime Secret Service by David Stafford. It was a history of Britain's Special Operations Executive, a WWII organization that used spycraft tactics and disinformation to fight against the Axis powers. Interesting, but dry. I actuallly found out more about the SOE after I finished the book, which was written to accompany a BBC miniseries. Like how the SOE played a role in the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhardt Heydrich. That hadn't even been mentioned at all! So not a great book, but it served as a jumping-off place for further explorations into the espionage world. I watched several good movies because of it, one about the Mossad's pursuit of Adolf Eichmann and another about the Mossad's top spy.

Am reading a book of dragon short stories now. Good so far.
 

Brightdreamer

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Am most of the way through Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler, first in a new epic fantasy series set in a world riddled with old magic and old tech from an almost-forgotten war between vanished races. Thus far, I'd call good-not-great; the characters are decent, if not hugely complex, and the worldbuilding has some nice tweaks that set it apart from standard epic fantasy, plus it's actively paced, but thus far nothing is leaping off the page as spectacular. Still, fairly solid and enjoyable, though I have about a hundred pages to go, so I shall see how things wrap up.

And I may end up swapping out my re-read; picked up Moon Dreams, one I read multiple times when I was a teen, but just could not get into it this time through. Far too cringey in the male-gaze description of women. Might give it one more try before giving up.

Updated List (finished 6/12):
-1 - Year of the Ox: Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire - FINISHED 2/6
-2 - Freebies: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, by Nghi Vo - FINISHED 6/11
3 - The Other Side: The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, by Seanan McGuire
-4 - Out of the park on first at-bat: Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko - STARTED 1/12, FINISHED 1/18
5 - Waxing lyrical: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
-6 - I’ve met them!: Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler - ONGOING
-7 - Out of Time: The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig - FINISHED 5/30
8 - Dearly Departed: Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine
-9 - Keep up with the Joneses: Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov - STARTED 1/8, FINISHED 1/11
-10 - Vast critical acclaim: The Forever War, by Joseph Haldeman - STARTED 6/11, FINISHED 6/14
11 - Read it again, Sam: Moon Dreams, by Brad Strickland
12 - Bits and pieces: Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection, by Seanan McGuire
 
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I've decided to change my "What your parents read" book from "A Scanner Darkly" to Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon."
 
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Brightdreamer

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Finished off Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler. Active, interesting, fast reading, not especially deep or complex but some nice ideas. It struck me as the "beach read" equivalent of epic fantasy, if that made any sense. Nothing at all wrong with that, as long as you aren't expecting more.

Updated List (finished 7/12):
-1 - Year of the Ox: Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire - FINISHED 2/6
-2 - Freebies: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, by Nghi Vo - FINISHED 6/11
3 - The Other Side: The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, by Seanan McGuire
-4 - Out of the park on first at-bat: Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko - STARTED 1/12, FINISHED 1/18
5 - Waxing lyrical: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
-6 - I’ve met them!: Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler - FINISHED 6/27
-7 - Out of Time: The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig - FINISHED 5/30
8 - Dearly Departed: Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine
-9 - Keep up with the Joneses: Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov - STARTED 1/8, FINISHED 1/11
-10 - Vast critical acclaim: The Forever War, by Joseph Haldeman - STARTED 6/11, FINISHED 6/14
11 - Read it again, Sam: Moon Dreams, by Brad Strickland
12 - Bits and pieces: Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection, by Seanan McGuire
 
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mrsmig

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My Succinct selection, Stephen King's Later, became available from my local library, so I bumped that ahead of other books on my list and finished it last night. King is always a fast, pace-y read, and this book is no exception, but it felt...I don't know, padded? It seemed more like a short story wearing a fat suit. His main character, Jamie, is clearly inspired by the little boy in M. Night Shymalan's The Sixth Sense, and that bugged me as well - although King, in typical brazen King fashion, references the movie right at the start, so you're aware he's aware you're aware. (There's also a completely repellent character introduced toward the book's end who appears to be modelled on one of King's least favorite people, the 45th president of These United States.)

I'm still working my way through the 2019 BA Science and Nature Writing anthology, but if I read one more piece about a species going extinct, I may burst into tears. Ghostways is still nagging at me to pick it back up, but I know it's going to be a struggle.

1. Year of the Ox. The Children's Blizzard, by Melanie Benjamin. FINISHED 1/31/21

8. Girls chase boys chase girls. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. FINISHED 1/11/21

10. 21st century, 21st year, 21st letter. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic. FINISHED 3/28/21

22. Tag team. Ghostways, by Robert MacFarlane and Dan Richards. CURRENTLY READING

27. Succinct. Later, by Stephen King. FINISHED 7/12/21

30. I've met them! Warlock, by Oakley Hall.

32. Verboten. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. FINISHED 5/30/21

33. What your parents read. Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie. FINISHED 3/9/21

36. Bits and pieces. Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. CURRENTLY READING

37. Out of this world. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. FINISHED 4/3/21

38. Freebies. Vesper Flights, by Helen MacDonald. FINISHED 2/20/21

42. LOL random. Uncle Wiggily's Story Book, by Howard Roger Garis.
 
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mrsmig

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At last, I completed the 2019 BA Science and Fiction Writing anthology. Some excellent articles in this collection, including an especially prescient piece by Ed Yong, "When the Next Plague Hits." Articles like these make me want to cry out: "He saw this coming. A bunch of other people saw this coming - people in government, people in positions of power. And yet COVID-19 still managed to catch us with our pants down. WHY???"


1. Year of the Ox. The Children's Blizzard, by Melanie Benjamin. FINISHED 1/31/21

8. Girls chase boys chase girls. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. FINISHED 1/11/21

10. 21st century, 21st year, 21st letter. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic. FINISHED 3/28/21

22. Tag team. Ghostways, by Robert MacFarlane and Dan Richards. CURRENTLY READING

27. Succinct. Later, by Stephen King. FINISHED 7/12/21

30. I've met them! Warlock, by Oakley Hall.

32. Verboten. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. FINISHED 5/30/21

33. What your parents read. Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie. FINISHED 3/9/21

36. Bits and pieces. Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. FINISHED 7/16/21

37. Out of this world. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. FINISHED 4/3/21

38. Freebies. Vesper Flights, by Helen MacDonald. FINISHED 2/20/21

42. LOL random. Uncle Wiggily's Story Book, by Howard Roger Garis.
 
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Gatteau

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I finished The Only Thing to Fear. It is an interesting YA alternate history, asking what if the Nazis won WW2? I do feel like the world was build up quite well, throwing in immersive details like oh, that changed when Churchill surrendered or they assassinated Roosevelt, and clearly placing our heroine in a lower class because she's not German. But, naturally, she's got hidden powers. I have no problem with the sort of "chosen one" trope, where someone comes out of nowhere to be THE ONE to save the day, but I would have liked to see it built up a little more in this case. She suddenly discovers this new power, and then the next day is expected to go on this huge assassination mission. I just would have liked to see a bit more development before they jumped right into the thick of it. I keep picturing some fantastic cheesy 80s training montage... If I was making the movie, that's exactly what would have happened right there.

1. It’s all fun and games: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo Finished 1/10
2. Laughing Matters: Animal Farm by George Orwell (or You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day)
3. That old black magic: Soulless by Gail Carriger
4. Keep up with the Joneses: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5. Succinct: Renegades by Marissa Meyer
6. I’ve met them: The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (ALA 2016 in NOLA, briefly for a book signing) Finished 7/16
7. After the Fall: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
8. Out of this world: The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
9. Freebies: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde (Christmas present from my sister, from her book club last year) Reading
10. Holy moly some authors like to use an awful lot of words: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer Finished 1/24
11. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (also The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold Finished 6/18)
12. How we got to where we are: A Promised Land by Barack Obama Finished 4/17
 
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Chris P

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I'm pretty sure my parents didn't read this, but I finished my What Your Parents Read (book from the year I was born) selection: Love in the Ruins, by Walker Percy.

Doctor Thomas More discovers that most modern mental illness, including the political upheavals of the late 1960s, are caused by an imbalance in radioactive isotopes in the respective warring groups' brains. Not only that, he has devised a meter than can measure the precise location of the brain's electrical impulses that give rise to the combative behavior. He finds he can treat the disorders through targeted electrical impulses, but with the side effect that it could release even more of the very radiation causing the disorders in the first place. Should the device fall into the wrong hands, such as those of an enterprising and unscrupulous patent troll, it could send the already teetering-on-the-edge American society into total chaos and ruin.

More of a dystopian psych thriller with sci-fi elements, many of the political and societal observations ring true to today. Dr More is, as becomes clear fairly early on, an unreliable narrator. It's mostly well executed, but that did make the narrative harder to follow; it wasn't clear what was actually happening, what was flashback, and what was delusion. It's a good example of the literature of the time, gritty and in your face like the mid-60 gonzo fiction of Hunter S Thompson, but with more story-like structure.

  1. Laughing Matters: A humorous or satirical book. Nothing to see here – Kevin Wilson
  2. I spy: A book featuring spies or espionage. Need to know – Karen Cleveland Done
  3. Local hero: A book by a local author. First cosmic velocity – Zack Powers
  4. 21st Century, 21st Year, 21st Letter: A book by someone whose first or last name begins with the letter U: House of Broken Angels – Luis Alberto Urrea Done
  5. Locked up: A book taking place in a prison, mental institution or treatment center. Girl, Interrupted -- Suzanna Kaysen Done
  6. What your parents read: Any novel from the year you were born. Love in the Ruins – Walker Percy Done
  7. Out of this world: A book taking place in space or on another planet. Artemis – Andy Weir Done
  8. Keep up with the Joneses: A book everyone else seems to have read but you have not. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak Done
  9. Feisty feline fiesta: A book with a cat on the cover. Cat Chaser – Elmore Leonard Done
  10. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy. Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
  11. Run for the border: A book about or taking place in Central or South America. 100 years of solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez Done
  12. Vast critical acclaim: A book that has won a prestigious award. Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Man Booker International award).